General Question

LocoLuke's avatar

What laptop should I get? (~$1000 or so)

Asked by LocoLuke (1126points) June 11th, 2010

I’m going to be going off to college soon, and having a laptop seems like a required piece of equipment.
What laptops have you people had good experiences with in the $1000 range?
Price/performance is going to be a big factor in my decision, but looking pretty (form factor, gadgets like webcam, firewire, etc) certainly don’t hurt.

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30 Answers

JONESGH's avatar

Macbook in my opinion. Definitely head to your local Apple store if you’ve never used one though and try it out.

Randy's avatar

I second a MacBook. When I got mine it changed computers in my mind forever.

jerv's avatar

And the Macbook will use your entire budget. While not a bad computer, the value is questionable. Now, if you can get a good student discount on one then by all means, but for what the Macbook offers compared to the rest, I wouldn’t pay more than about $700 or so. There is also the matter that many courses that actually require a laptop generally require a PC.

Personally, I never bought a laptop that high up since I only ever needed one as a second computer, so my $500 Toshiba T135–1305 is perfectly fine for me, but likely lacks features you would want if it were your only computer, so I wouldn’t recommend the T135 for you. However, it is hard for me to answer a question that I feel is vague with specifics.

Since you mention price/performance, I would have to recommend looking at some of the Acer models. While teh educational lineup isn’t the sexiest looking, they are technically quite good, solid, and reasonably priced, especially with student discounts. If you are willing to spend a bit more on something better looking then the Toshba Satellite series is a good bet. I was eyeballing a custom configured M500 series myself before going for the T135,

MarthaStewart's avatar

First decide what you need it to do. If you want lightness above all, you get a netbook. If you want to play serious games, you get a an Alienware; there are many different good answers depending on what your needs and budget are.

lilikoi's avatar

I would never get an Alienware…not even for playing serious games.

I’d probably never pay the premium for a Macbook either.

I do agree that what you want depends on what your needs are. I’d get a something affordable that can at the very minimum do word processing, spreadsheets, and internet. If you’re in graphic design, computer programming, engineering, or ? you may want more PC power. You also want a decent screen size as you’ll probably spend considerable time in front of it. Lightweight is also more convenient. I had a pretty heavy one at one point and it was more a compact desktop workhorse than the portable laptop.

LocoLuke's avatar

I’m going into bioengineering.

LocoLuke's avatar

keep in mind i’m also bringing my pc to college, it doesn’t really have to be able to play the latest games. Has to run smoothly though and be able to play movies etc with any hitches.

chels's avatar

You can get the Macbook with a student discount, you know.

jerv's avatar

@LocoLuke If your needs are that modest then maybe a Toshiba T135 would suffice for you. Make sure you look for one with the SU4100 CPU though; the SU2700 and AMD chips suck.

Mine is about the same size and weight as a Macbook,(can use the same cases and weighs about 4 pounds) and it has all of the stuff you’d expect (card reader, webcam, three USB ports, VGA, HDMI, Wireless-N, Bluetooth) in a thin-and-light. The battery life that starts at 5–½ hours and can go past 8 if you tweak things right is a nice plus. Granted, it does not have a built-in optical drive, but I use mine so rarely that an external is just fine for me. I don’t think you’ll find a Macbook for $500 so look into it.

DeanV's avatar

Check ebay for a Macbook. Seriously. I got mine for 800$ (was 1600) at the time, and 4 years later it’s still running almost everything except Half-Life 2, sadly.

It’s even got Windows on it.

Unless you have any issue with used computers, that’s where I’d look first. In my opinion, it’s the best value you can get.

jerv's avatar

@dverhey Not a terrible idea since eBay does have good deals. I’m just thinking that any Mac that you get that steep a discount on is at least a generation (if nt 2–3) behind, leading to poor performance for the same price you’d pay for a new PC.
Factory refurbs are a great thing too; reduced price for a new computer than just cannot legally be sold as “new”.

BraeBoy's avatar

I’d say try a Mac too with the excellent student discount. If you need to ever run a Windows only app, just run Windows on it. my first Apple laptop is now over ten years old and still working fine.

DeanV's avatar

@jerv Mine was about a generation behind, but I was okay with that because it was top of the line in that generation. The only thing really awful about it was the graphics card, but both Apple and PC manufacturers were still putting that same card into laptops 2 years ago, so I’m okay with it.

I suppose it all comes down to your personal decision on the everlasting Mac vs. PC debate. The fact is, you’re not going to get a new Mac with the same hardware as a PC laptop, but I think that if you’re willing to get a used one, you can get a better computer for the same price as a new PC. Or at least I did.

GracieT's avatar

I also was able to purchase a Macbook for around $800.00— keep in mind that a Mac doesn’t have the virus and spyware problems that Microsoft is famous for. Dverhey is correct. If you purchase Parallels for your Mac you will be able to run all three platforms- Unix, Macintosh, and yes, if you must, Windows. You would be purchasing a much better

jerv's avatar

@GracieT Does that $800 include the additional software required to run Windows? Last time I checked, dual-booting a Mac to Windows still required a licensed copy of Windows, which adds quite a bit to the price tag. Now, it that $800 is an “all included” price then it is a good deal, especially for the ability to run every major OS.
As for being a much better computer…. subjective at best. Personally, I cannot think of any area where a Macbook qualifies as much better than a PC; it has an edge in some areas but is deficient in some, thus in my mind making it a contender rather than a no-brainer. In other words, it’s good, and well worth considering, but not great unless you find an awesome deal on one.

@dverhey It’s a laptop; you aren’t going to get great graphics. Some—but not many—lappies have good graphics though, and since I can view HD video on my T135, that is good enough for me. Besides, FPS and RTS games look better on a desktop monitor driven by a video card that sucks more juice than most laptops have anyways so I don’t mind.

@LocoLuke Regardless of which way you go, you’ll want to shop around for a good deal. As much as I like my T135, I would not pay the $650 MSRP for it. Part of it’s charm was the value and if I wanted to pay $650 then I could’ve gotten a laptop with an MSRP in the $800–900 range.
My biggest beef with Macbooks in general is that the street price generally is the MSRP unless you are a student at a school that offers good discounts, and since the price/performance ratio seems to be the biggest priority for you, that is why I am recommending Toshiba or Acer.
The Acer Aspire Timeline series is also good, but there are quite a few to choose from so, if I had to pick one, I would look for a few prices first. The 1410 and 1810T were also on my “short list” when I got mine, so you may want to look into them as well.

LocoLuke's avatar

Thanks for the help guys.
@jerv I’m probably gonna get one of the toshibas you recommended. Not sure which one yet, but I’ve got time to decide.

jerv's avatar

As I said, make sure you avoid the SU2700 and the AMD processors. The SU4100 is a decent dual-core with low power requirements (which leads to longer battery life) while the Core i3 and i% are speedy, though they generally suck a bit more juise so you’ll get shorter run times (not an issue if you only need to be away from a wall outlet for 2–3 hours).

JONESGH's avatar

Not to troll or anything but I cannot stand my Toshiba laptop. I purchased a Toshiba Tablet and it really is the worst computer I have ever owned I’d much rather go with a gateway or dell if I’m getting a PC, but all in all I’d have to say Mac is my preference and, in my opinion, much better than any PC you will get for under $1000.

jerv's avatar

@JONESGH I think that every company has a few misses. Dell had the non-standard power supplies and motherboards that caused many people to fry their computers. Apple had the Newton and the Lisa. And Toshiba is no exception; if I followed the advice of the people who reviewed the T135 with the single-core SU2700 CPU then I would have gone elsewhere myself.

BTW – Acer acquired Gateway in 2007 and passed Dell as the #2 PC maker in 2009, so that is why I usually mention them as well. I figure tehat they must be doing something right :)

lilikoi's avatar

@LocoLuke I highly recommend NOT getting a mac. I did mechanical engineering and there were software programs that were not mac compatible that I ran on my PC like solidworks, ansys, autocad. In bioengineering, you may not use these programs, but there may be others that are not compatible. We always laughed at the people in engr that carried macs because they are totally impractical. I’ve always had about 2GB ram I think…which allows you to run these larger programs with the occasional lag, stream TV cleanly, and watch movies / play casual games. You’ll probably want at least 40gb of hard drive space supplemented with a massive external hard drive or two, or a larger hd. 17” screen is what I had in college; would not want to go smaller than that but many people I know did. I’d watch Best Buy and/or sales. You can get a laptop with decent specs nowadays on sale for ~$500 or less, which is about the most I’d probably shell out for one.

jerv's avatar

@lilikoi I don’t think that the 40GB hard drive is going ot be an issue. Netbooks generally come with 160GB and my T135 has 320GB. It seems that 250GB or more is pretty much the norm unless you are going with SSDs or buying a really old used/reburb laptop.

As for RAM, I have seen quite a few systems out there with only 2GB, but aside from netbooks you almost have to look for systems with less (at least if you buy new). And it’s not uncommon to see 3 or 4 GB systems either; I have 3GB in mine. Again, not too big an issue if you buy new.

Screensize is a matter of personal preference, but I would recommend looking at various sized laptops in the store and picking a size that way rather than taking a blind guess. Macbooks run about 13” and many people (myself included) like that size whereas some people prefer to haul around a billboard. I would keep an eye on resolution though; I feel that resolution is actually more important than screen size. I’ve seen computers with bigger screens than mine that can’t match my HD-friendly 1366×768.

Price-wise, you and I seem to be in total agreement though; look for a sale and snag it for $500 or less.

LocoLuke's avatar

I’m also considering just bringing a laptop, in which case I’d be willing to spend up to about $1500 because it would have to fulfill the duties of a desktop relatively well.
It would have to be able to play games pretty well (meaning HD5850 mobility equivalent or better and i5 processor), have good resolution (1080p is best,up to ~17 inch. I still have to be able to carry it around), and last a minimum of 2 hours away from a socket. Do you think this is feasible?

I was looking at the Sager NP8760, which would fulfill all of my requirements other than battery life, with the possibility of buying a portable psu

jerv's avatar

Sager… now there is a name I haven’t heard in a long time :D
I haven’t heard anything bad about them, but that may be because I haven’t heard anything from them in years. I have to say that I am not impressed by it though.

If we go with Toshiba, there is the Qosmia with available i5 or i7 CPU, an 18.4” 1920×1080 screen, Harman/Kardon speakers, a GeForce GTS 360M graphics chip (a bit better than the HD5850, or my desktop’s GT240) and a video playback battery life around 2 hours. The top trim model has Blu-ray and a 64GB SSD in addition to the 500GB hard drive.

The Gateway P-series also has a couple of decent gaming models that I feel are superior to the Sager, but that site is a little bit of a hassle to navigate.

And then there is the Acer Aspire 8940 with the Core i7, GTS 250M graphics, Blu-ray, and a battery life of over three hours. While the graphics are a little weak (on par with the HD5730) I think that the rest of the package makes up for it, especially at $1350. I mean, an i7 with bluray and that sort of battery life for that price? I’ll take a slight hit to my framerates for that!

Yeah, they all are a little bigger than you want (18” instead of 17”) but since you want a gaming rig/desktop replacement, those are the best I can come up with for your price range. There are some in the $3000 neighborhood, but they really don’t offer anything that you can’t get for half the price except for being an inch smaller.

LocoLuke's avatar

hmm thanks for the feedback again jerv =)
The desktop i’m running on right now only has an e8400 @ 3.6 ghz, 8800 gts 512 (g92), 4 gb ram. How do those laptops compare to my current setup? I realize that my current one isn’t very powerful, i just want to compare it to that i can easily relate to
yea, an extra $1500 isn’t worth the extra inch of performance.17 inches is pretty much the limit unless the extra performance justifies lugging that much more weight around. Especially since I will be carrying this to class.
If I go 17 + inches, I’d like a 1080p resolution to counter the size of the screen I’d be carrying around.

jerv's avatar

Well, even my Core i3–530 has it beat on CPU power by about 20%, is more than double what the CPU in my T135 has my CPU was designed more for 6-hour-plus battery life than power, and the i7 is between 1–½ and 2 of the i3 chips.You won’t be sorry for the performance, though the battery life may suffer a little. And for the sake of future-proofing, I would go that route instead of the Gateway with it’s Core 2 Duo.

You are not going to find a laptop that has quite the graphical chops of a good desktop. A good desktop graphics card will draw enough power to suck a laptop battery dead in minutes and given that laptops have limited space for cooling fans and heat sinks heat up enough to cause equipment damage and/or personal injury.
That said, your 8800GTS is a pretty high-end card so that should come as no real surprise. Most of the gaming laptops I’ve mentioned have chips about on par with the GT 240 I have, which is enough to run Mercenaries 2 at a smooth framerate at 1600×900 with all of the options cranked.

The Toshibas mostly have 4GB while the Acer has 6GB, and the Core i-series has a faser bus, so you will likely notice a boost. And since my T135 with it’s mere 3GB rarely fills more than 70% of the RAM, you should be fine there.

Oh, and I think you misread. You could pay $1500 for an 18” with good specs or $3000 for a 17” with the same specs. It seems that 17” screens are not a popular size at the moment or something, but the rigs I found were all in the 18.x” range. But they were all 1920×1080 so they are 1080p.

The ones I’ve mentioned all tend to run around 10 pounds, which is why I like my 13” at a mere 4 pounds, but you are wanting a desktop replacement with good graphics so some sacrifices have to be made. You don’t see many SUVs fitting into a compact-only parking space, or Ferraris getting 45 MPG, if you know what I mean. The reason mine is so thin and light is that I was fine with the integrated graphics (I never intended my laptop to be a gaming rig and it does HD video just fine) and the fact that it had about one-third the CPU power of my desktop rig since I am not stuck with just one machine, so I went for a portable rig with long battery life.

FYI – my two rigs combined cost about $1260; $500 for each computer, another $200 for the desktop’s LCD monitor. and $60 for the wireless router which we needed anyways so that our roommate could share the DSL. So, depending on how tight space really is, you might be better off going the route I did and getting two different machines rather than going for a universal multi-purpose monster.

LocoLuke's avatar

Right now the best bet for me seems to be to get a T135, and use the left over money to upgrade my desktop. That way I get the best of both worlds. Light laptop to carry to class, take notes / write assignments / watch youtube on, and a heavy-duty desktop back in the dorm to do cpu/gpu-intensive stuff.

lilikoi's avatar

@jerv I was just saying what minimum specs it should probably have since money is usually an issue with college folk.

@LocoLuke My first laptop was a Sager. It was great bang-for-buck. It did freaking everything. It also weighed a ton. It eventually died of old age motherboard fry because the cooling system left a lot to be desired. That was like many years ago, though, and they have much lighter systems now and probably much better cooling system too. Light laptop and desktop back at dorms really is ideal.

jerv's avatar

@LocoLuke I would definitely recommend keeping your current graphics card if possible. From what I have seen, that 8800 GTS is pretty high on the food chain even now.

I would not bother with any upgrade short of a full mobo/CPU swap unless you are short on hard drive space or want to add Blu-ray capabilities since you can usually cannibalize drives from old systems to new ones.

That Core2 Duo is already practically obsolete, so an meaningful upgrade would require a motherboard/CPU swap if you find your current CPU too slow. If you get an Core i3/5/7, you should have a PC that you will consider zippy even a couple of years down the road. The superior memory bandwidth of a Core i3/5/7 over any previous generation CPU, eliminates or at least mitigates one traditional bottleneck in PC performance, and while you may or may not understand the technical stuff, you can see/feel the difference.

However, it’s not much more money and a lot less hassle to just get a new tower. Part of why I chose the one I did was the combination of price and the fact that is actually has an upgrade path. For instance, I could replace the Core i3–530 with an i5 or i7 in a couple of years and literally double my CPU power without having to replace any other components; an option you lack with your E8400 since that chip is already pretty much the top of the line in that family.

Don’t worry too much about RAM on an i3/5/7 system since 6GB of DDR3 is plenty for a Win7 system. That amount is pretty common in prebuilt desktops at least the ones I’ve seen, and rather inexpensive if you buy it separately for a DIY build/upgrade. That means more money for other things.

Or you could just keep your current desktop for now and save yourself a few hundred dollars. Up until a few months ago, I was running an old 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 and your current rig would drink that rig’s milkshake, so don’t feel like you have to upgrade. Just buy the laptop, enjoy the new range of capabilities you have, and stock up on Ramen like a normal college student :D

@lilikoi That is why Sager caught my eye so many years ago; at the time, they were the only people putting out inexpensive laptops. Note that I did not say “cheap”, since they actually were decent rigs.
However, now that laptops are more mainstream (everybody and their dog has one), the demand for low-price laptops that do not suck has changed the marketplace considerably, so Sager isn’t as good a value relative to their competition as they used to be.

LocoLuke's avatar

hmm, you make a good point.
I guess it would be better to save up for a new tower, pretty much the only things i’d save if I had the money to upgrade my current computer are the PSU (650 watt, been good to me so far), the case, and the hard drive. Memory, gfx, and cpu would be changed, which generally are what cost the most in a new computer anyways.

jerv's avatar

If you were prepared to spend a grand or more on a laptop alone then you really don’ t need to save much. I mean, it’s not that difficult to find a decent Core i3 system for $500 or less, and i5 systems are not much more than that. The reason I spent so much was that, quite honestly, I was sick of my 20” CRT monitor. Well, that and the 9.5% sales tax I paid on the tower :(

If you like your current monitor then you should have little problem getting a T135–1305 and a Core i3 tower with 6GB of RAM and a 1TB drive for under a grand.

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