#1 Edited by Mikemcn (6982 posts) -

So I need a laptop for college, and i've found myself completely lost. There are a ton of brands with a huge selection of laptops and a million different sites saying different things about which one you should get. (I'm starting to miss Tested.coms tech reviews.) I was hoping some GB duders could point me in the right direction.

  • I'm fortunate enough to have most of my other college expenses covered so I can splurge a bit on a laptop. But it should be less than $1,200 or so.
  • I pretty much need it for schoolwork, and for the internet (particularly Giant Bomb, so it should be able to play 720p videos smoothly, i don't even know if laptops have problems with that nowdays but who knows), i really don't need to be playing the latest games on it.
  • Screen should be <15 inches. I kinda feel like 15 inches is a bit too big to be carrying around so if anyone could vouch for that being a manageable screen size i'd appreciate it.
  • I've been spoiled by having an i-7 desktop which makes doing a dozen things at once a breeze, I'd like that in a laptop but with that comes alot of extra heat, noise, cost and a decreased battery life. Is it worth it?
  • I've always used a PC, but Mac Books are very popular (And much more expensive) maybe it would be worth it to reach for one? My school says you can use either but most students use PC.
  • Is there a PC brand I should go for? My family has always used Dell and i've liked them but i hear inconsistent things about their reliability, and my brother has had two dell laptops die on him while my other relatives have had theirs for years (I just think he's bad with computers)
  • If I get PC, should I be prepared to buy windows 8 when it comes out?
  • I don't plan on doing video editing/music editing in college.

I don't know if that's enough to go on. Any help would be greatly appreciated, maybe a brand to look into or a particular product you've had a good experience with. Thanks!

#2 Edited by believer258 (11801 posts) -

For $1200, you could probably pick up something that's OK (read: medium settings on intensive games like BF3) for gaming and fantastic for everything else.

As for carrying a laptop around to classes? I hardly ever see that where I'm going to college. I do see it, but it's often done only a few times before the habit is dropped. I'd strongly recommend a good old notebook and pencil myself, but that's just me.

Any laptop worth its salt these days can display 720p video. That's actually what most laptop screens seem to display natively.

An i-5 processor will do fine. An i-3 is plenty fast enough to multitask with no issues.

A recommended minimum screen size is 15". Remember that you will probably have to stare at this thing for a few hours when writing papers or studying, so anything smaller than that will cause some eye strain after a while.

As a personal thing, I wouldn't get a Mac. However, there doesn't seem to be any issues with getting schoolwork done on a Mac and they also seem quite reliable. Not much gaming on them, though. I realize that isn't your concern but, again, a $1200 laptop could probably game fairly well and I'm guessing that you like video games since you're on GB and all.

#3 Posted by nintendoeats (5975 posts) -

One thing that I would look out for is monitor and speaker quality. I have a ~$700 HP that can actually run games playably at native resolution, but the sacrifice is that it has the cheapest panel and speakers possible. I don't know what brand to go with, but if gaming isn't your primary interest I'd recommend making that part of your purchase decision.

#4 Edited by Zelyre (1175 posts) -

Since you're not gaming on the laptop and are wanting it for college, I m going to suggest you wait for the Ivybridge refresh of the MacBook pro 13". Without a strong gpu, I always remain focused on my school work. I run win7 through boot camp and parallels for work and it runs both smoothly. Slap an SSD in it and you'll fly. Unless you're doing a lot of virtualization the performance difference between the i5 and i7 are not huge. Not big enough to warrant the price premium. Most importantly, some Apple fanboy will pay decently for a MacBook in great condition. Selling my xps 13" a year after buying it wasn't worth it. My MacBook goes for a few hundred. Also simple text editor on the iPad = wall of text. Sorry.

#5 Posted by Hizang (8532 posts) -

If its for school work a Macbook Air is a good choice.

#6 Posted by SarjuTheRapper (279 posts) -

dude 1200 is an awesome budget. believer258 has pretty much got it down pat. 
do you plan on doing any video/audio editing and stuff like that? in that case you might want to get a laptop with a nice budget

#7 Posted by gamefreak9 (2358 posts) -

I think Onlive is a great way to make laptops good for gaming. So really as long as you have an average laptop you can play hard to run games.

#8 Edited by Mikemcn (6982 posts) -

@believer258 said:

For $1200, you could probably pick up something that's OK (read: medium settings on intensive games like BF3) for gaming and fantastic for everything else.

As for carrying a laptop around to classes? I hardly ever see that where I'm going to college. I do see it, but it's often done only a few times before the habit is dropped. I'd strongly recommend a good old notebook and pencil myself, but that's just me.

Any laptop worth its salt these days can display 720p video. That's actually what most laptop screens seem to display natively.

An i-5 processor will do fine. An i-3 is plenty fast enough to multitask with no issues.

A recommended minimum screen size is 15". Remember that you will probably have to stare at this thing for a few hours when writing papers or studying, so anything smaller than that will cause some eye strain after a while.

As a personal thing, I wouldn't get a Mac. However, there doesn't seem to be any issues with getting schoolwork done on a Mac and they also seem quite reliable. Not much gaming on them, though. I realize that isn't your concern but, again, a $1200 laptop could probably game fairly well and I'm guessing that you like video games since you're on GB and all.

Thank you! I'll keep that in mind, I do like games, haha, but I don't plan on sinking as much time into new releases, so a laptop that can run my older favorites is fine, which as you said should be normal in my price range. Whether or not i'll feel like carrying it to class remains to be seen, i'm sure a notebook would be fine.

@Zelyre: @SarjuTheRapper: I won't be doing anything involving video.audio editing or any virtualization work. An I7 may be a bit overkill.

#9 Posted by Andorski (5270 posts) -

What will this laptop be used for? Other than internet browsing and watching video, will you be using it to play games? If so, what kind of games (BF3-intensive style stuff, Starcraft 2 on medium settings, or TF2 on settings that a graphing calculator can handle)? Does school work require you to run processor intensive programs like CAD or video editing. How important is the laptop's speaker's sound to you? What is the lowest screen resolution you are willing to have? How long do you expect battery life to last on a single full charge?

#10 Posted by Ben_H (3342 posts) -

13" MacBook Pro (Not the Air). Powerful enough to do almost anything you will need to do for school, compact so you can carry it around, 8-10 hour battery life unless you are playing games or watching Flash-based video players non-stop (This is why I say go for a Pro over an Air. The Air's battery life is lackluster. If you want portability get the Air, they're identical other than battery life), it's a well built machine, and they're crazy reliable, something many other laptops struggle with.  Don't be like most people and get caught up in specs, they don't mean a thing on laptops, dependability and battery life are much more important. Who cares if your machine can run modern games at high graphics if you can only use it for an hour and a half for actual work because it eats through battery so fast. 
 
If you don't want to go the Mac route, check out Lenovo's Thinkpad T-Series, particularly the T420 (It has a 14" screen), you can order them off of Lenovo's site for quite cheap and you can customize them like crazy through the site.  You can get a fairly good one for roughly your budget and if you want you can order spare batteries and whatnot.  They're known for being incredibly dependable machines that last years (hence why businesses use them a lot). They won't be great for gaming, but they will be amazing for anything else.  Super reliable machines.
 
Don't go higher than 14" for the screen, after that portability becomes a pain as the laptops seem to grow bigger and heavier and seldom fit well on the tiny desk-arm-thingies they have in classes.  Once you get used to smaller laptops you can't go back to big ones because they just seem so unnecessary.  The difference in screen size between 13" and 15"+ is negligible for basic usage (If you were using Photoshop or something it could be a pain but you said you aren't so that doesn't matter) but the difference in physical size of the machine makes getting a 13" or 14" machine well worth it over 15".

#11 Posted by Mendelson9 (402 posts) -

So I am in the same boat as you I am looking to buy a laptop and what caught my eye was the Alienware m11x. I want a computer that is small and can play games and the Alienware is the only affordable laptop I could find. It has a small 11 inch 720p screen and i5 Sandy Bridge prossessor at 1.6/2.3 with turbo boost. That sounds slow compared to my 2.8 i5 in the desktop. Will that make the computer slower in general tasks? It also has integrated and dedicated GPU that I think you can switch on the fly to save battery life. The biggest downside is the weight, 4+ pounds witch is 2x of any ultrabook. The price is good at $999 and I am now stuck between this and getting an ultrabook with Ivy Bridge or the MacBook Air. http://www.dell.com/us/p/alienware-m11x-r3/pd EDIT: After about an hour working on this post, I REALLY WANT this now. I need to stop this before I make a quick purchase.

Here is the first model reviewed by Tested.com.

http://youtu.be/sxz8m5bACD0?hd=1&t=4m30s Here is another video running Battlefield 3 at 30-35 FPS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMa4ozRM3oU Turn the volume off on this one, the song sucks. Battlefield 3 may be a bad idea to play without a mouse but if it can run this, I expect it can run just about anything else.

If the Alienware is not for you, I would wait for Ultrabooks with Ivy Bridge proccessers. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/254385/patiencewait_for_ivy_bridge_ultrabooks.html They are launching in the beginning of June and have upgraded integrated graphics that should make the occasional game run good. If you are going for a Apple computer, I would go MacBook air since the 13 inch Pro only has integrated graphics and the air is supergangsta.

One small thing for me...if anyone knows any other gaming laptops that are below $1100, please let me know in the forum.

#12 Posted by Aus_azn (2224 posts) -

@Mikemcn said:

So I need a laptop for college, and i've found myself completely lost. There are a ton of brands with a huge selection of laptops and a million different sites saying different things about which one you should get. (I'm starting to miss Tested.coms tech reviews.) I was hoping some GB duders could point me in the right direction.

  • I'm fortunate enough to have most of my other college expenses covered so I can splurge a bit on a laptop. But it should be less than $1,200 or so.
  • I pretty much need it for schoolwork, and for the internet (particularly Giant Bomb, so it should be able to play 720p videos smoothly, i don't even know if laptops have problems with that nowdays but who knows), i really don't need to be playing the latest games on it.
  • Screen should be <15 inches. I kinda feel like 15 inches is a bit too big to be carrying around so if anyone could vouch for that being a manageable screen size i'd appreciate it.
  • I've been spoiled by having an i-7 desktop which makes doing a dozen things at once a breeze, I'd like that in a laptop but with that comes alot of extra heat, noise, cost and a decreased battery life. Is it worth it?
  • I've always used a PC, but Mac Books are very popular (And much more expensive) maybe it would be worth it to reach for one? My school says you can use either but most students use PC.
  • Is there a PC brand I should go for? My family has always used Dell and i've liked them but i hear inconsistent things about their reliability, and my brother has had two dell laptops die on him while my other relatives have had theirs for years (I just think he's bad with computers)
  • If I get PC, should I be prepared to buy windows 8 when it comes out?
  • I don't plan on doing video editing/music editing in college.

I don't know if that's enough to go on. Any help would be greatly appreciated, maybe a brand to look into or a particular product you've had a good experience with. Thanks!

I'll answer you point-by-point:

  • It's pretty easy to find a decent laptop for less than that.
  • Don't get a netbook, and you won't have problems on this front.
  • Anywhere from 11-14" is good enough on this front. I had a 15.4", and it was too big to carry around.
  • Heat and noise aren't a problem; I wouldn't really say battery life is either. The i7, though, compared to the i5 and i3, will break the bank and won't give you an exceptionally great boost over the i5 for what you want to do.
  • Never buy a Mac. Those are just iSheep who don't really buy a Mac for what it's good for (and seriously, you could get Mac level performance if you really wanted on any standard PC if you installed Ubuntu).
  • Dell is okay if you go with their Latitude or Vostro business lines; just stay away from the consumer crap and you should be alright on that front. However, I would HEAVILY RECOMMEND Lenovo, more specifically their ThinkPad line. You cannot get better for the money.
  • Depends. I think Windows 7 has been good enough that it'll become a sort of long-term-service release, much like XP was. I've yet to be really sold on Metro for desktops, so I'd hold off on it. Also, Microsoft offers very cheap Windows Professional licences to students. Take advantage of it.
  • All the more reason to not buy a Mac (as that's pretty much allt they're good for as specified earlier).

I personally would recommend the Lenovo ThinkPad X series and T series. Solid business machines, no fluff. Avoid AMD like the plague, no matter the cost.

#13 Edited by louiedog (2335 posts) -

I've been happy with Lenovo products, especially the Thinkpads. The Thinkpad line definitely looks more business focused, but they also have the more consumer focused ideapad line. I think both are much more attractive than most of the big, rounded, plastic looking designs that a lot of other companies have been sporting lately. The build quality of both lines is pretty solid. The Thinkpad is probably the best built laptop that I've seen before moving up to something specifically made to take a beating.

The last time something went wrong with a Dell that I had, things went bad very quickly trying to deal with support. It was my girlfriend's and it took months before she had a working laptop after what should have been a simple fix. I'd also be very wary of HP. 2/3 of the HP laptops that people I know have bought in the last couple of years have had serious hardware issues that seem to be due to design and not easily fixable. One of those is an i5 with 8 GB of RAM that runs about as well as my netbook and sounds like a vacuum because it's constantly overheating. I've seen quite a few others from various HP product lines with similar issues. They make some good machines, but if you consider them read as much as possible about the specific models you're looking at. There's a reason they almost got out of that business.

Go for portability over screen size. With your budget you can get a nice machine and a 20"-24" monitor no problem depending on your available space. A good 24" monitor will go on sale for $150 fairly often at sites like Newegg. A 20" can often be purchased for $100 or sometimes less. Foregoing an internal optical drive for an external drive via USB (if you even need one, I haven't in a few years) means a thinner, lighter laptop. Even people I know who still use a lot of discs rarely use an optical drive when they're at the library, a cafe, traveling, etc.

#14 Posted by Mikemcn (6982 posts) -

@Aus_azn: @louiedog: I should check out lenovo (their website keeps freezing up though...)

My school also offers their own laptop packages, the only real advantage being that they'll help you should you break it during my time there, they're all HP Elitebook series laptops, is HP any good?

#15 Posted by Aus_azn (2224 posts) -

@Mikemcn said:

@Aus_azn: @louiedog: I should check out lenovo (their website keeps freezing up though...)

My school also offers their own laptop packages, the only real advantage being that they'll help you should you break it during my time there, they're all HP Elitebook series laptops, is HP any good?

Your school will probably rip you off, but that's another story for another day.

HP, in their consumer line at least, tends to install a lot of crapware on their computers, and they are not exceptionally durable. As we speak, actually, I'm doing maintenance on a friend's HP because it just packed up with a little over a year on the clock. It's also very loud and very slow. To be fair, business laptops are usually a totally different breed as compared with their consumer counterparts: Dell's Inspiron line is extremely bad, while their Latitude and Vostro lines are decent.

I also forgot, check out Asus. They make very decent laptops for the money.

#16 Posted by Veektarius (4772 posts) -

For a durable, high functionality, highly-reliable laptop that will be bad enough at games to discourage you from misusing it, I recommend a Lenovo.

#17 Posted by LiquidSword (73 posts) -

@Mikemcn: If you are looking for something that you can play games on check out http://www.xoticpc.com/

They have tons of laptops at different price ranges and they have a ton of customization options. Also excellent customer service.

Online
#18 Posted by Aus_azn (2224 posts) -

@Veektarius said:

For a durable, high functionality, highly-reliable laptop that will be bad enough at games to discourage you from misusing it, I recommend a Lenovo.

Most anything comes with the Intel HD 3000 package now, which is hardly bad at all. Back in the days of yore, we had to deal with crap like the Intel GMA950, which didn't have shaders, or Intel EXTREME Graphics, which were anything but extreme or graphics.

#19 Edited by csl316 (8451 posts) -

I bought a Dell XPS 17 for $1,100 a year and a half ago. 17 inch screen, i7 processor, 1tb of storage, fast as hell, runs Starcraft 2 on max settings. I pretty much have it on all day and can use it as a radio because of the neat speakers. It's perfect in every day, even has a number pad. Only downside is that Dell's run hot, so I'd recommended a $20 cooling pad (though only if you're playing games on it or something). No problems since I bought it.

I got mine kind of fully loaded, but this was a while back and may have changed. Page is right here.

And Dell's are highly customizable. 17 inch screen is kinda big, but you can always get something smaller.

#20 Posted by crazyleaves (645 posts) -
@Mikemcn lenovo.com is having a sale, til Tuesday. Go for it, I'm getting one you should to.
#21 Posted by ShadowSkill11 (1783 posts) -

I guess peoples definition of the word "difficult" is relative.

#22 Edited by BestUsernameEver (4825 posts) -

@Mendelson9: I have the cheapest variety of M11x that is no longer being sold and I am extremely happy with it, great battery life, small, great build quality and light. And it runs most games save for the very new or GTAIV. Also, this is coming from a guy with the lowest possible spec m11x you can't even buy, so when I say it can't run everything, it means this one can't, im sure the just recently refreshed m11x fares much better.

#23 Posted by sarge1445 (676 posts) -

M11x or m14x are both perfect for you I have an M11x R2 bought it for college could not have chosen a better laptop to meet my needs of720p video, gaming, podcasting, and school work. that and switching to the intergrated chipset makes it so you can save battery life.

#24 Edited by ShadowSkill11 (1783 posts) -

Yikes, are you all using your HDMI ports in the M11x or M14x's to output to a tv or monitor? I had to get the M18x customized because I couldn't deal with a screen that tiny that doesn't even do 1080p.

#25 Posted by sarge1445 (676 posts) -

I occasionally hook it to my big screen but for the most part im fine with gaming on this screen

#26 Posted by Mendelson9 (402 posts) -
#27 Posted by crazyleaves (645 posts) -

I just bought an i3 thinkpad E430 with 500gb drive and WAN upgrade for $588, I needed something besides my desktop and this is perfect. It should last till I'm done with school.

#28 Edited by Mikemcn (6982 posts) -

How much does hard drive speed matter? Am i going to be at a disadvantage with a 5400 rpm drive versus a 7200 rpm one?

@ShadowSkill11 said:

I guess peoples definition of the word "difficult" is relative.

I find picking an item to spend a large sum of money on from amongst a wide range of products of varying qualities to be difficult, sorry you don't feel the same way.

#29 Posted by crazyleaves (645 posts) -
@Mikemcn faster drive means faster loads and boot.
#30 Posted by Flawed_System (388 posts) -

I do not recommend a Mac if you want to play games.