Picking out a laptop

planetfall · 2204

planetfall

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on: August 11, 2016, 02:50:41 am
I'm taking a programming class that starts in a couple of weeks, and I need a laptop for it (as well as to grudgingly drag myself into the 21st century). Trouble is, I've never owned or shopped for one before, and the whole concept is kind of daunting. This is less "what do y'all recommend" (though that's certianly welcome) and more "is there anything I need to keep in mind." I'm more a software guy myself (and only a dabbler at that) so I have a poor idea of how a given activity translates into required performance specs. I'd rather buy than build.

Here are the things I do know:

  • Usage will probably be fairly light. Probably the most intense thing I might use it for is playing CW3 to pass time between classes. Course we all know how some maps can be...
  • My longest day is about 5 hours, I don't know how that compares to common battery lives.
  • It needs to be small enough to fit in my backpack (14"x12" if anyone has particular models im mind, though I suspect the vast majority are smaller than that.) (I take public transport, and I'm paranoid it'll be stolen if I have a conspicuous laptop bag)
  • Despite that I need something sizable because my eyes are going before their time and I despise (almost) nothing more than dinky keyboards.
  • I'd like to install arch linux on it simply because that's what I already use, so anything bundled with an OS as a selling point will be a waste

Soo... given all that vague non-descriptive nonsense, am I missing any key attributes? Any scams to watch out for, or misc tips for an electronics-shopping n00b?

The nap takers are here to... welp.

"Build a ladder to the moon" is simple as a sentence, but actually doing it is not.


Karsten75

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Reply #1 on: August 11, 2016, 10:33:28 am
I would consider only two manufacturers.

Lenovo or Microsoft themselves. Of course, neither gives you the ideal platform for Arch Linux. :)

Many Lenove laptops can probably be loaded with some variant of Linux. I'd buy online from the Lenovo web store and  check on the Lenovo forums for Linux compatibility.

The  T-series lenovo laptops are the true business class laptops. They're good to go with everything and everywhere. There is a consumer-based Ideapad range that is pretty good, as well as their top-market Carbon and the Yoga that is a 3-in-1 configuration.

I've had lots of troubles with Toshiba  and HP laptops, for various reasons. There is also a low-end, el-cheapo Asus somewhere here in the house. No-one likes it, because it is weak and underpowered (cost $200), but it's great to throw in the luggage if we travel. 

Sometimes Best Buy has great deals, especially on open-box or close-out items. I bought my sister a Lenovo there at a really good price.  Micro Center and Fry's are rip-offs and have enormous markups.

Newegg.. I have looked a lot, but never found any deal there that was more compelling than the Lenovo website.

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Grayzzur

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Reply #2 on: August 11, 2016, 11:37:43 am
If you're not going to play games, then video won't be an issue. Any decent laptop should do fine with CW3 type stuff with the integrated graphics.

Depending on how much programming you intend to do... the higher end processors (i7 class) that tend to do stuff like video editing better also do better at compiling large chunks of code, but the mid-range (i5 class) do just fine too.

SSD drives tend to be faster and more rugged, but less space. Traditional hard drives give you more space.

Sounds like you have conflicting goals on screen size, so you'll have to figure that one out for yourself.

Keyboard I find to be very important for programming. Check the builtin keyboard to see if it has any keys in odd places.. like a right shift over past a set of arrow keys, or a backslash key in an odd place. It may seem trivial, but I find when programming, they tend to be used more often than you'd think, and having them in an odd place messes with my mojo. You'll probably want a full size USB keyboard for extended sessions at home.

Just got my son one of the Lenovo Yoga series laptops for his use at college. It does the 2-in-1 tablet thing, as well. You're going to have a hard time finding a laptop that doesn't come with Windows 10 already on it. I haven't run linux on a laptop in a long time, my only linux box right now is a Raspberry Pi.

"Fate. It protects fools, little children, and ships named 'Enterprise.'" -William T. Riker


Cavemaniac

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Reply #3 on: August 11, 2016, 03:44:39 pm
  • It needs to be small enough to fit in my backpack (14"x12" if anyone has particular models im mind, though I suspect the vast majority are smaller than that.) (I take public transport, and I'm paranoid it'll be stolen if I have a conspicuous laptop bag)

Just a caution if you're going the 'normal' backpack route rather than a laptop specific bag:

The biggest cause of broken laptops (in my experience anyway!) is dropping the backpack they're in, or even just putting it down hard.

This is a really good way to crack the screen or casing.

Laptop bags have a sleeve inside slightly shorter than the height of the bag which prevents the laptop going all the way to the bottom, and substantial padding.

If you don't believe me, select something expensive, reasonably heavy and moderately breakable from your house, put it in a bag - then drop it on the ground or whack it on a door frame, such as would happen when exiting a bus.

 ;)

I don't know much about laptops, but I know backpacks, having worked in the outdoor/travel trade for years.

In summary, padding.

Lots of padding!

Or look at a dedicated backpack - many bags on the market, while not specifically laptop bags, have the above mentioned sleeve so they offer a stealth capability.

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Karsten75

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Reply #4 on: August 11, 2016, 04:24:46 pm
Many new laptops are thin enough to have a sleeve and still fit in a backpack. But the padding advice is good advice.

"Any leftover cabbage can and will be mixed with mayo"
   - Cole's Law


planetfall

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Reply #5 on: August 11, 2016, 04:41:12 pm
Excellent advice all around. Many thanks to everyone who replied. Now to see what's available both online and locally...

The nap takers are here to... welp.

"Build a ladder to the moon" is simple as a sentence, but actually doing it is not.


GoodMorning

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Reply #6 on: August 11, 2016, 05:08:20 pm
It may be too late to throw my advice in, but if you want it...

I have a HP laptop that I got some time ago for a similar purpose, which is still useful. I think I agree with all of the above, but would personally consider the '2/3 -in-one' to be a marketing gimmick.

Padding is a good plan. The cost in time and money of adding padding to anything must be weighed against the odds and irritation of breakages.

As to drives, probably SSD is the better way. There is a certain amount of space that can be practically used, and if CW3 is the most heavyweight, you should be fine for space. That said, mainstream OSs can use a significant amount of memory. (There's one case I know of where the OS took up 20% of the drive, with another 60% going to standard software).

One thing that may be a useful measure: check the casing quality. Thin is bad, thick probably means that the manufacturer meant it to last for a while or to take impacts.

Really, it depends on the budget. With an unlimited one, you could arrange development of a bespoke system and have exactly one manufactured. Without, you will need to compromise somewhere below "wonder". Given that you are carrying it in a backpack already, weight is probably the best point to sacrifice.

Now, on a cynical note,
Buying laptops: Practice makes Perfect
Does that sound like anyone's marketing to you?

A narrative is a lightly-marked path to another reality.


Grayzzur

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Reply #7 on: August 12, 2016, 10:43:02 am
Yes, agree on the backpack thing. Get one made for a laptop. There are many options now that don't scream "I'm a laptop bag" that have adequate protection.

"Fate. It protects fools, little children, and ships named 'Enterprise.'" -William T. Riker