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Help me build a laptop for a college kid? :D





quex
Hey all. My youngest sister is headed to college this fall (Arizona State, and maybe Purdue in the future), where she intends to begin a path as a mechanical engineering major. She needs a laptop, and it has to be a PC. It has been nearly a decade since I had to shop for a PC or a laptop, and you brilliant chaps were the first gang I thought of for advice. :D Any suggestions? (...Please?)

A homebuild is, unfortunately, out of the question. I guess the advice I need most is how the various brands/models currently stand in terms of hardware longevity vs. price. (Are Sony VAIO machines still crap? Is a Dell worth the money? Things like that.) Also, what range of RAM would you choose for a machine that would be used largely for word processing, mp3 playback, Internet, and light gaming? Alternatively, what RAM (and graphics card) would you want in a laptop that might have to handle 3-D rendering software, IE AutoCAD and the like?

Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated (and thoroughly relied upon). Thanks in advance!
jwellsy
The banking/financial industry around where I live replace most of their pc's about every year. They consign the liquidiation of the old machines to a local mom and pop computer store where they blow them out at about a third of the price of a new one. Right now they have some Sony netbooks with 2gig of RAM and a dvd/cd burner that would be a great choice given the weight, performance, battery life and cost.

I would suggest calling the largest banks in your area and find out what they do with their old laptops. Also call local mom and pop computer shops and ask if they carry used business consignment laptops.

She needs at least 2gig of RAM.
Nemesis234
most brands of laptop all use the same internals so they are all going to be similar in the longevity side, the only difference will be what you get for your money.

quex wrote:
Also, what range of RAM would you choose for a machine that would be used largely for word processing, mp3 playback, Internet, and light gaming?


256mb of ram will suffice for the above, and i highly doubt you will find a laptop running that low so that wont be an issue, but then you say

quex wrote:
Alternatively, what RAM (and graphics card) would you want in a laptop that might have to handle 3-D rendering software, IE AutoCAD and the like?


and that "might" is very important. for 3d rendering you are talking a whole different ball game for laptops. you will need a graphics card aswell as plenty ram. most laptops dont even come with graphics card currently so you will need something special with atleast 256mb dedicated and 2gb ram IF you are doing 3d, if not then no graphics card and 256mb ram is sufficient.
william
Erm, longevity varies greatly amongst laptops. You won't believe how lousy some cooling systems are. Also, 256 MB of RAM in this day of age? No...if you plan on running Windows 7, 256 MB isn't even close. Consider this, cell phones have more RAM than that. 2 GB of RAM is the minimum you want, but I see very few laptops today offered with anything less than 4. As for the graphics card, AutoCAD isn't that demanding, but getting a mainsteam or performance card would be ideal.

I can give you some possible notebooks to look at, I just need to know, roughly, what your budget is.
Nemesis234
william wrote:
Erm, longevity varies greatly amongst laptops. You won't believe how lousy some cooling systems are. Also, 256 MB of RAM in this day of age? No...if you plan on running Windows 7, 256 MB isn't even close. Consider this, cell phones have more RAM than that. 2 GB of RAM is the minimum you want, but I see very few laptops today offered with anything less than 4. As for the graphics card, AutoCAD isn't that demanding, but getting a mainsteam or performance card would be ideal.

I can give you some possible notebooks to look at, I just need to know, roughly, what your budget is.

windows 7 for word processing and surfing may be considered a bit over the top in my eyes.
jwellsy
Windows 7 doesn't do word processing. Windows 7 is a good choice for college because it will be supported longer than other current OS's, and it's not over the top money wise if she gets it through school.
Windows 7 Pro runs $65 https://elms.e-academy.com/uiuc/index.cfm?loc=estore/soft_browse/soft_display_product&parentID=223&ID_Product=4102 .
MS Office 2007 runs $60 https://elms.e-academy.com/uiuc/index.cfm?loc=estore/soft_browse/soft_display_product&parentID=223&ID_Product=3338
the full blown Adobe CS5 Master Collection ($2600 retail) is $611 http://elms.e-academy.com/uiuc/index.cfm?loc=estore/soft_browse/soft_display_product&parentID=112&ID_Product=4229
jwellsy
Check out a Lenovo G550.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834146745&cm_re=g550-_-34-146-745-_-Product
IBM thinkpads were about the most reliable units. Lenovo bought out IBM's laptop division so hopefully the quality will continue.

Anyway, this G550 comes with Intel Pentium T4400(2.20GHz) 15.6" Wide XGA 4GB Memory DDR3 1066 250GB HDD 5400rpm Dual layer DVD Burner Intel GMA 4500M and windows 7 Home.

Damn nice specs for $500.
snowboardalliance
Nemesis234 wrote:

256mb of ram will suffice for the above, and i highly doubt you will find a laptop running that low so that wont be an issue, but then you say


I'm going to agree with other posts and say get more like 2GB+
Unless she wants to run linux or something, because Windows won't handle that. Also need more power for 3D rendering. At least a dedicated video card. Honestly you can get way more than you need though from just about any manufacturer. I got a nice 25% discount from Dell 2 years ago, but I wouldn't say they come highly recommended (no major problems for me but there have been minor things). Anyway, just find some models in your price range and read reviews to see how reliable they are.
quex
jwellsy wrote:
The banking/financial industry around where I live replace most of their pc's about every year. They consign the liquidiation of the old machines to a local mom and pop computer store where they blow them out at about a third of the price of a new one. Right now they have some Sony netbooks with 2gig of RAM and a dvd/cd burner that would be a great choice given the weight, performance, battery life and cost.

I would suggest calling the largest banks in your area and find out what they do with their old laptops. Also call local mom and pop computer shops and ask if they carry used business consignment laptops.

She needs at least 2gig of RAM.


This is an excellent idea, but she wants a brand new machine. -_-; Can't blame her; it's her first laptop.

2 Gig RAM to be sure... I learned to buy cards and self-install when I got my first Mac. I'm assuming it will be equally economical to do the same with a PC. Any manufacturers to be wary of, or are such components all pretty much coming from the same factory these days?
quex
william wrote:
Erm, longevity varies greatly amongst laptops. You won't believe how lousy some cooling systems are.


This is my big concern. When I started at college, they were offering a choice of three machines from the on-campus tech shop at a big student discount. I got the Gateway (old!), but the popular choice was the Sony VAIO. In short, my Gateway STILL runs (although it has outlived both its spare battery and its on-board clock battery), while all those VAIO's burnt out and crashed before graduation.

Quote:
As for the graphics card, AutoCAD isn't that demanding, but getting a mainsteam or performance card would be ideal. I can give you some possible notebooks to look at, I just need to know, roughly, what your budget is.


Okay, here's where my amateurism is going to shine. What is a "mainsteam"? I mean, was that a typo, or is a mainsteam a heavy-duty card? I am seriously not trying to be a dick here; I have no modern experience with 3D rendering requirements, graphics cards, etc. Is a "performance card" different than a video card?

Budget is probably... well, as cheap as we can get a solid machine, but probably along the lines of $1000 max including software and accessories (mouse, battery, add-on RAM).
quex
jwellsy wrote:
Check out a Lenovo G550.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834146745&cm_re=g550-_-34-146-745-_-Product
IBM thinkpads were about the most reliable units. Lenovo bought out IBM's laptop division so hopefully the quality will continue.

Anyway, this G550 comes with Intel Pentium T4400(2.20GHz) 15.6" Wide XGA 4GB Memory DDR3 1066 250GB HDD 5400rpm Dual layer DVD Burner Intel GMA 4500M and windows 7 Home.

Damn nice specs for $500.


DAMN nice, indeed! OwO I've heard good things about Lenovo, too. I had no idea the price had come down so far on packages like that. Thanks a ton!
jwellsy
These Lenovo G550's are selling out fast at most retailers. They may not make any more of them. They have a G560 model that will probably replace it. The only dif in models is that the 560 has a 500Gig HDD and a higher resolution webcam for ~$678. I like the $500 price point myself. Amazon is out of stock on them and some dealers are showing them as discontinued. If you want one and find one near you or on line don't wait too long to jump on it.
william
quex wrote:
william wrote:
Erm, longevity varies greatly amongst laptops. You won't believe how lousy some cooling systems are.


This is my big concern. When I started at college, they were offering a choice of three machines from the on-campus tech shop at a big student discount. I got the Gateway (old!), but the popular choice was the Sony VAIO. In short, my Gateway STILL runs (although it has outlived both its spare battery and its on-board clock battery), while all those VAIO's burnt out and crashed before graduation.

Quote:
As for the graphics card, AutoCAD isn't that demanding, but getting a mainsteam or performance card would be ideal. I can give you some possible notebooks to look at, I just need to know, roughly, what your budget is.


Okay, here's where my amateurism is going to shine. What is a "mainsteam"? I mean, was that a typo, or is a mainsteam a heavy-duty card? I am seriously not trying to be a dick here; I have no modern experience with 3D rendering requirements, graphics cards, etc. Is a "performance card" different than a video card?

Budget is probably... well, as cheap as we can get a solid machine, but probably along the lines of $1000 max including software and accessories (mouse, battery, add-on RAM).


Sorry, that was a typo, Embarassed I meant mainstream. Basically a mainstream card is a lower end dedicated card (as opposed to integrated) whereas a performance card is a class above. Above that, you have the enthusiast cards which, if DirectX optimized, are only to be found on more powerful gaming machines. Before nVidia messed around with the naming scheme, a card with a second digit around a 4 was a mainstream card and a second digit around 6 was a performance card. I just found this that might help. Again, with AutoCAD, you really don't need too much, but you mentioned light gaming, so getting a nice, efficient, dedicated card is probably ideal.

Anyway, it is a shame that many notebooks don't have decent cooling systems. I have a few friends with Toshiba Satellites that have literally melted the plastic, and I know another person with, I think , an HP dv5 that runs at nearly 100*C. I'm not saying HP and Toshiba have bad cooling systems across the entire lineup, but there's no doubt that some models are abysmal. That G550 has a very solid cooling system, and it's a notebook I've recommended to many in the past. However, it's starting to show its age, though at $500 it's still a very good buy.

Anyway, here are my suggestions for now. (I'll give you some more momentarily, I just have to look up if they haven't been replaced by newer models).

-Dell Studio XPS 16. With your budget, you can get a solid Core i5, a Radeon HD 3670/4670, 15.6" 1080p LED display, and Windows 7 Home Premium. Cooling system is above average, not class leading, but it won't let you down. Note, Dell has deals all the time. Many of the people I recommended Dells to got 25% off the purchase. These coupons come all the time, so you'll be able to get excellent value for money.

-Compal NBLB2. Rather unknown to most people, but it does offer excellent value for money. Performance wise, it's a bit better than the Dell and based on reviews, the cooling system is pretty darn good. Drawbacks: you may not like the style and the keyboard is substandard.

Will be back with a couple more suggestions.

Edit: Oh wait, I forgot one, the IdeaPad Y560. Lenovo build quality, stellar performance, and excellent price. The only downside is that the screen isn't on the same level as the Dell or the Compal.
quex
william wrote:
Sorry, that was a typo, :oops: I meant mainstream. Basically a mainstream card is a lower end dedicated card (as opposed to integrated) whereas a performance card is a class above. Above that, you have the enthusiast cards which, if DirectX optimized, are only to be found on more powerful gaming machines. Before nVidia messed around with the naming scheme, a card with a second digit around a 4 was a mainstream card and a second digit around 6 was a performance card. I just found this that might help. Again, with AutoCAD, you really don't need too much, but you mentioned light gaming, so getting a nice, efficient, dedicated card is probably ideal.

Anyway, it is a shame that many notebooks don't have decent cooling systems. I have a few friends with Toshiba Satellites that have literally melted the plastic, and I know another person with, I think , an HP dv5 that runs at nearly 100*C. I'm not saying HP and Toshiba have bad cooling systems across the entire lineup, but there's no doubt that some models are abysmal. That G550 has a very solid cooling system, and it's a notebook I've recommended to many in the past. However, it's starting to show its age, though at $500 it's still a very good buy.

Anyway, here are my suggestions for now. (I'll give you some more momentarily, I just have to look up if they haven't been replaced by newer models).

-Dell Studio XPS 16. With your budget, you can get a solid Core i5, a Radeon HD 3670/4670, 15.6" 1080p LED display, and Windows 7 Home Premium. Cooling system is above average, not class leading, but it won't let you down. Note, Dell has deals all the time. Many of the people I recommended Dells to got 25% off the purchase. These coupons come all the time, so you'll be able to get excellent value for money.

-Compal NBLB2. Rather unknown to most people, but it does offer excellent value for money. Performance wise, it's a bit better than the Dell and based on reviews, the cooling system is pretty darn good. Drawbacks: you may not like the style and the keyboard is substandard.

Will be back with a couple more suggestions.

Edit: Oh wait, I forgot one, the IdeaPad Y560. Lenovo build quality, stellar performance, and excellent price. The only downside is that the screen isn't on the same level as the Dell or the Compal.


Thanks very much, william! Sorry for the dumbassery and the late response; and I really appreciate the good explanation. Having consulted my sister, I don't think the kind of gaming she's thinking about is the kind that needs any special card... but we will definitely heap on the RAM. Your recommendations and other advice from the 'net are getting me awfully keen on the Dell machines... the education discount makes several models very affordable. Are you aware of any chronic Dell problems with any particular models, or are they all pretty stable...?
william
Alright, well for the Studio XPS 16, I looked into it again and found that they have been having throttling issues with the newer models. The old XPS 16 didn't have this problem, but supposedly the new ones required a BIOS upgrade and a larger, 130 W, power supply to allow the computer to run properly. For some, this didn't help. I'm not 100% if this only applies to the model with the higher end graphics cards or not, but it's something I'd be weary of. You did mention that she won't need a special card, in which case I can speak highly of the Studio 15. I actually have personal experience with an older Studio 15, and hardware wise, it was very stable. The new one should also be just as good, and I haven't seen too many complaints with it, just some random problems here in there that are to be expected from any notebook. The only downside is the build quality, which while better than most consumer notebooks you'll find at retail stores, it is a bit cheap feeling. I didn't find it a problem, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people did, so if at all possible, try handling it before purchasing it.

If that does end up being a problem, then their business lineup (Vostros) has usually proven to be a good move, and often also has the 25% off coupons. Lenovo's IdeaPad is also a good option, IMO.
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