Jun
14
2009
0

How to Buy a New Computer: Part III Basic Laptops

New Laptop

New Laptop

I recently posted about how to buy a new computer.  First, you need to think about balancing wants versus needs.  My second post was about the new laptop category of cheap and lightweight netbooks.

Why should you choose a basic laptop?

If you are highly concerned about cost, portability, battery life and not as concerned about optical drives [1] , screen size, or keyboard size you probably want a netbook.  It will probably run you between $300 – $500.[2]

If cost-be-damned you just must have absolutely everything, well, then get yourself a high end laptop.[3]  The sky’s the limit with a computer like this.  You can configure an Alienware laptop that will make Deep Thought hide its processor in shame for $5,000.00 or so.

If you are concerned about cost but just cannot sacrifice optical drives, screen size, or keyboard size, you probably want a basic laptop.  A basic laptop is all about compromises.  You get the hardware you need from a desktop, but without the thin, light, elegant, and portable design.  These laptops typically weigh between 6 and 8 pounds and cost between $600 and $1000 or so.

There are so many nearly indistinguishable computers in this category, there is no real point in suggesting a particular laptop.  Just about every manufacturer has several choices for basic laptops.

  1. DVD/CD drives []
  2. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  3. Scroll to the bottom for my pic k. []
Mar
24
2009
0

Drooling over the Dell Mini 9

New Laptop

New Laptop

Since I reviewed available netbooks about two months back several new options have opened up.[1] There’s the new Samsung NC110[2][3] and a slew of new Acer One’s.

However, none of them can touch the 4GB Dell Mini 9 on sale right now for $199 with Ubuntu.

I know I had earlier said that 8GB was too small for my purposes. I had even suggested that I was more interested in some of the other available netbooks over the Dell for this reason.  However, I want to make my next computer a Dell, true to my word.

The reason I’m considering the 4GB version where I was dismissing the 8GB version before is the incredible price and the purposes to which such a laptop would be put.  In order to do about 98% of what I need with a laptop, I could easily use a netbook.  On any given day I use:

  • Firefox for web browsing
  • Thunderbird for e-mail
  • Pidgin for instant messaging
  • FileZilla for FTP transfers
  • Notepad++ for programming/text editing
  • OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets
  • TightVNC for remote access

All of these programs are open source software and available for Ubuntu[4] and Windows.  So, in shopping for a laptop, I really don’t care about which operating system I use.  The 4GB Dell Mini 9 with Ubuntu could do all of these things – and for a $199 price tag.  Plus, with the Mini’s SD card slot, I could pop in an extra 16GB of memory for only $26.

  1. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  2. The Samsung NC110 is the successor to the NC10 []
  3. A review of the NC110 I found helpful []
  4. An easy-to-use Liniux installation. []
Jan
07
2009
2

How to Buy a New Computer: Part II Netbooks

New Laptop

New Laptop

Yesterday I discussed the basics of buying a new computer.  The most important first step is figuring out what you need and what you want out of a new computer.  There are three main types of portable computers available these days: netbooks, basic laptops, and high-end laptops.  Today is all about “netbooks.”[1]

(Scroll to the end to see my picks…)

Netbooks

A netbook is a very small laptop designed to extremely mobile and portable.  They are optimized for portability and wireless connectivity.

Netbooks typically have a display of 10″ or less. [2] They usually don’t have any CD or DVD drives. [3]  They usually have very small solid state drives or mid-sized hard drives.  On the plus side, they usually have bluetooth, media card readers, and WiFi.  They’re typically between 2 to 3 pounds, depending upon brand and type of battery.  They’re also relatively cheap – between $350 to $500.

My requirements may differ from yours.  If I were to buy a netbook, I would want:

  • Minimum 2 USB ports, preferably 3
  • Minimum 100 GB hard drive
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Bluetooth
  • WiFi aka 802.11a/b/g, and preferably also 802.11n
  • Ethernet port
  • Modem port

Other things people might care about (but I don’t):

  • Webcam
  • Keyboard size
  • Monitor size

Keep in mind, I’ve never used any of these laptops – I’m just evaluating them based on their prices and my own opinions as to their respective brands and specs.  Although, I’m enough of a nerd that I put together a spreadsheet to compare those five netbooks as well as about another dozen or so models and submodels.  If anyone is interested in seeing the spreadsheet, mention it in the comments below or drop me a line.

Dell has a new netbook too, but it only has solid state drive options – which are too small to be of use to me. [4] However, I’m sure it would be perfect for some people.

My picks are, in rough order of preference:

If I were to buy a netbook today, I’d probably go for the Acer Aspire One.  It occupies a sweet spot in terms of price, is a decent brand, and has very comparable specs to the higher-end models.

Next, basic laptops!

  1. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  2. TV’s and monitors are always measured by the diagonal. []
  3. This means they’re no good for watching DVD’s or playing CD’s. []
  4. 8 GB of hard drive space is barely enough to run an operating system and a few programs these days… []
Jan
06
2009
3

How to Buy a New Computer: Part I: Balancing Want and Need

Broken Laptop

Old Laptop

Out With The Old…

Unfortunately, its that time again.  When my laptop died for the first time I got it repaired.  When it died again, it had the good manners to at least do so within the repair warranty.

My trusty sidekick died for the third and final time on December 31, 2008.[1]

…And In With The New!

Now its time to get a new laptop.  I’m reluctant to buy another Dell.  Dell installed nVidia graphics chips on the motherboard.  Those nVidia chips have  a critical flaw in that they overheat and pull away from the motherboard.  Sound familiar?  Well, this was the exact problem I was having with my laptop.  Apparently this problem has spawned a lawsuit against nVidia.

New Laptop

New Laptop

I’m undecided what kind of laptop I want/need.  A netbook?  A basic laptop?  A high-end laptop?[2]

Figure out what you need, then figure out what you want

Needs

Its all about what you want and what you need.  I need a laptop that will let me program, surf the web, listen to music, and send e-mail.  This accounts for roughly 98% of my computer usage.

The last 2% of computer usage is comprised of processor intensive activities such as watching DVD’s, video games, video editing, DVD and CD burning, and manipulating large amounts of programming code.  For instance, the WCAB legacy number to EAMS number converter involved more than 4.6 million lines of code. [3] My previous laptop struggled with that one. I probably only do these things once every six months or so.

For what I need, a netbook would actually work very well for me.

Wants

As any computer user knows, its very frustrating to have a computer that will not do what you want or takes to long to do it.  My wants are a super slim, light-weight, battery efficient, computer that has the processing power to deal with large amounts of data and the ability to burn DVD’s and CD’s.

A netbook fulfills the wants of a slim, light-weight, and battery efficient computer.  A basic laptop would suffice for the processing power and CD/DVD burning capabilities.

Having it all

When it comes to laptops, sometimes you can have it all – it just depends how you’re going to compromise.

  • If money were no object, this would be a no-brainer: buy a high-end light and powerful laptop.  These cost $1500 and start climbing steeply after that.
  • The other compromise is not so intuitive.  A very decent external CD/DVD burner combo drive would probably only cost $75 or so.  If I’m only burning discs 2% of the time, this is a very reasonable solution.  The bigger problem is the underpowered processors in netbooks.  They simply do not have the ability to play new games, handle large amounts of data, or deal with too many simultaneous tasks.  The only possible work around here is where you use your underpowered laptop to remotely control a more powerful computer and use that more powerful computer to crunch numbers.[4] However, this won’t help with video games.  ;)

Decision Time

What am I going to get?  I’m going to run down the pro’s and con’s of netbooks, basic laptops, and high-end laptops next time.  Stay tuned!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3 []
  2. Photo courtesy of Ciccio Pizzettaro []
  3. Seriously.  4.6 million. []
  4. Scroll down to the part about TightVNC. []

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