Laptop shopping: questions

I'm starting to shop for my first laptop and am not too tech-savvy, just starting to dig into it, but am learning. With so many options to choose from, I'd like to narrow things down a bit by asking a few questions:
* Can I get something decent for $1,200 or less?
* What features are must-haves for purposes of chasing?
* What features should I avoid? (I read, for instance, of someone having problems with the wide-screen setup.)
* Which brands and models do you love, and why?
* Which brands would you avoid?
* Those of you who use the bright-screen models, do you still love 'em?
* How long do your laptops last you?

I suppose many of these questions have been addressed before, but technology keeps changing and I don't see any recent threads on this. Feel free to redirect me to an older thread if I'm just tracking over old ground, but otherwise, I'd value your up-to-date input. Thanks!
 
* How long do your laptops last you?

I've had my current laptop for 2 years now and its still doing great. Memory/storage/hardwear/processor are all competive with the newer models. After 2 years my previous model was totally bogged down. Memory and storage were constantly exceeded, and it couldn't handle newer software.



* What features are must-haves for purposes of chasing?

Personally, I'd say wifi. Internet is the most important reason you use a laptop on the road, and wifi is the best way to get it. Maybe some of the newer models have larger built in antennas, that would be a great help to increasing reception.
 
* Which brands and models do you love, and why?

Although it seems they have declined in recent years, I still swear by Dell as this one has been going strong for almost four years now.

* What features are must-haves for purposes of chasing?

Absolutely the best processor/RAM combination you can afford. You will need it when you are running a browser, GR, wifi, etc. simultaneously and if it means sacrificing some HD space then so be it. Wireless capability (802.11g) pretty much goes without saying because its the main benefit of the laptop.
 
* Can I get something decent for $1,200 or less?

You sure can espically if you go with Dell. They also seem to have some deals. Just do a google search for 'Dell coupons' and you should be able to get one for $1200.

* What features are must-haves for purposes of chasing?
A good screen preferably one that doesn't wash out in the sun. You'll want
extra HD space for pictures and video editing I went with 80gb and can add more later. If your gonna use WxWorx you'll need alot of RAM i'd reccomend at least 512mb. If your gonna use Grlevel3 you'll want a good video card, I got the 128mb Nvidia one they offer. Make sure it isn't shared and generally not less than 128mb, espically if you plan on using shapefiles, backgrounds or Allisonhouse scripts.

* What features should I avoid? (I read, for instance, of someone having problems with the wide-screen setup.)

I had a problem with my wide-screen setup, well no I just found it kinda of annoying. Some of the graphics appeared smaller in the screen (they were just as wide but about an inch less from top to bottom.) I don't mind it much anymore and it looks good in Grlevel3 but if you would potientally be bothered by alot of the wxmaps not taking up much of the screen I would potientally avoid against the widescreen, it's probably better from a chase perspective to have it be as tall as it is wide.

* Which brands and models do you love, and why?

I love HP, because they are built tough and they last. I owned a Toshiba
but it fell apart. The lower end Dells feel like you could drop it and it would
smash to a thousand pieces. Also I don't like Dell's technical India tech support. There accents are thick and hard to understanding, they also seem to think that system restore is a fix all instead of addressing an issue that will come back again. But despite that Dell has the best deals and there are some nice models.

* Which brands would you avoid?
I haven't owned one in a while but I had re-occuring power problems with a Toshiba Sattelite laptop.

* How long do your laptops last you?
Two years if im lucky. Usually there is just to many new software programs and capability I need that my old computer can no longer support. In this instance I sometimes sell my old laptop to help get a new one. The Toshiba only lasted like 14 months. I have a Packard Bell that's sixteen years old 486sx.

Hope that helps,
Scott.
 
Thanks for a great thread---I hope there will be a bunch of adds to it as I've been shopping for my first as well. I've come close twice to throwing down for the Sony VAIO, but have been held back by other items ( like a van transmission).

This is the first I've heard about the wide-screen problems.

Looking forward to more input on this.

Dave Gallaher
Huntsville, AL
 
My vote has and always will be with Compaq. And for less than $1200, I customized on their site the following...

http://www.compaq.com

Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional with SP2
AMD Athlon™ 64 3200+ (2.0GHz/512KB L2 Cache)
Display 15.4" WXGA BrightView Widescreen (1280x800)
128MB ATI RADEON® XPRESS 200M w/Hypermemory™
Memory 1.0GB DDR SDRAM (2x512MB)
80 GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive
DVD+/-RW/R & CD-RW Combo w/Double Layer Support
Networking 54g™ Integ. Broadcom 802.11b/g WLAN & Bluetooth
Primary Battery 12 Cell Lithium Ion Battery

TOTAL: $1191.00

I've had my R3000z for over a year now with no issues at all. They're rugged, a bit heavy, but very durable and worth the money. I'm also a HUGE fan of the AMD Processors, and think a lappy with a 64 is a good deal if under $1200; and that's loaded with a gig of RAM; knock off $75 for 512 and get something else, but I recommend the gig.

Play with the options and get it to your liking, but for $1200, you can do very well if you shop!

Also worth noting, Compaq rotates deals (free mem upgrades, etc) periodically, so if you see something you like, you could save even more!
 
I've always been pleased with Dell laptops. In the past 6 years, I've owned three -- Inspiron 8100, 8600, and 6000 (current). They've performed as well I could hope, and you can find sweet deals on them if you are patient and keep your eyes open for online coupons (e.g. like www.supercoupon.com)... I got my current laptop at 40% off, and my previous at 35% off -- you just need to be patient and wait for the big deals. Dell ran a 50% coupon earlier this year that lasted for only 12 hours... A lot of folks miss those short-term mega-deals, but they can save you $1500 for a high-end laptop configuration.

As far as widescreens are concerned, I've been just fine with them! I love being able to put two windows side-by-side, and it's come in handy many times. Just make sure you know what resolution you're getting... The higher the resolution, the smaller things will look for a given screen size. I'm at SXGA widescreen now, and it's just fine. My I8600 was WUXGA (1920x1200), but I found to make things a bit more difficult to read. It comes in handy for doing digital photo work, however!

As for must-haves -- I agree that you should try to get a dual-band (802.11a and 802.11b/g) Wifi card. It wouldn't hurt to get internal bluetooth if you use that. I also suggest ensuring that you get a firewire/i.link/1394 port, and a TV-out port is nice as well.
 
I spent a month researching this and picked an HP dv4000 which I customized from their website. The HP offered the best combination of feature set, price, and reliability among the models I examined, and I looked at pretty much all of them.

I guess the first priority for chasing is durability. You don't want a machine to come apart when you start rolling over potholed dirt roads or making transects of the dryline with 40F dewpoint swings. You make hard stops and starts, operate in extreme heat and humidity with the machine on for 16 hours a day every day, and all sort of things blow into your cab: dirt, rain, dust, sand, glass, and all other kinds of fun particulate.

The hardiest laptop is the Panasonic Toughbook, but they're not cheap and their feature set is limited. IBM Thinkpads have a reputation for durability too. I was always a fan of Toshiba in the past and owned two of them I liked very much, but their reputation is in decline and they made some engineering choices in their recent Tecra product line that spooked me.

The next thing I wanted was processing power and memory capacity. The processors are all fast enough to do what you want these days; the difference is RAM. I customized my HP with 2 gigs of DDR2 SDRAM, my number one priority for the machine's feature set. I normally run Threatnet (a real memory hog), StreetAtlas, GRLevel3, and a Firefox browser (though I won't upgrade FF per Jeff Snyder's experience) at the same time, while also using either Wifi, a Cingular Connection Card, or Bluetooth for internet connectivity. You don't know what's going to come along in three years that you'll want to use or run, so memory is never the place to skimp. At the very least, make sure the machine can be upgraded to 2.0 gigs or more.

With all those peripherals, I need USB ports, as many as I can get. A Smart Card reader was a nice add-on, too, for quick transferal from digital cameras. All machines will have built-in Wifi, and a chasing computer should have at least one PCMCIA slot, a four-pin Firewire port, a network port, an RJ-11 port with the built-in modem (will I ever use this?), and a good battery. Most of those last items I mentioned are standard.

I went with the wide screen but decided against the glossy version, which was more expensive. I have found the regular screen is just fine so far.

Because of what I do outside chasing, I use a laptop pretty much every day of the year, and with this new one, I intend to retire my desktop without replacement. I think having two computers is unnecessary these days and more of a marketing gimmick than a practical choice.

I guess a list of chase-machine priorities might be:

1. durability
2. memory
3. USB ports
4. Firewire port
5. Network/modem/wifi built-in
6. PCMCIA slot(s) (for cellular cards or whatever)
 
Thank you all very much--this is incredibly helpful.

Dave Gallagher mentioned the Sony VAIO, and that was one of the models I was scoping out at Comp USA last night. But no one has mentioned Sony here, and I don't get the impression from other equipment threads that Sony laptops are widely used by chasers. Any reason why? It certainly seemed affordable and offered decent features.
 
Thank you all very much--this is incredibly helpful.

Dave Gallagher mentioned the Sony VAIO, and that was one of the models I was scoping out at Comp USA last night. But no one has mentioned Sony here, and I don't get the impression from other equipment threads that Sony laptops are widely used by chasers. Any reason why? It certainly seemed affordable and offered decent features.

It's all in advertising my friend... Dell is mentioned the most here, and what company has the most advertising? Dell... HP is next in line... etc..

I guess going to Google and searching reviews for each system would be the way to go - that way you hear from people who actually owned the model you are looking at.

Personally, I have had both a Dell and an HP/Compaq. As someone else said, the Dell felt like it was going to fall apart (and it did)... The case was such cheap plastic. Then I got an HP/Compaq Presario... It was solid, but had a flaw with the power jack soldered to the motherboard and now it doesn't work... They have fixed it in newer models (like Tony's).
 
With regards to your post Jeff - I looked at the website you suggested (supercoupon.com) and did a little browsing.

Are those coupons good for brand NEW 100% offical Canon, or Nikon, or Dell, or HP products - not refurbished. Because if they are I feel a bit stupid paying what I did for past products, but will be using that site for future purchases.

What's the deal with that site, companies just pay to put coupons on there for PR purposes?
 
Nick,

Those coupons depend on what site you use... The only refurbished stuff that Dell sells (as far as I know) is in the Dell Outlet store. Otherwise, everything is new. I think the same goes for Amazon, etc. I don't think I've ever made a big internet purchase w/o using some sort of coupon.
 
Thank you all very much--this is incredibly helpful.

Dave Gallagher mentioned the Sony VAIO, and that was one of the models I was scoping out at Comp USA last night. But no one has mentioned Sony here, and I don't get the impression from other equipment threads that Sony laptops are widely used by chasers. Any reason why? It certainly seemed affordable and offered decent features.

Sony is overpriced for the features you get. They make good laptops, but compared feature for feature with other brands, you'll get more bang for your buck going with other brands like HP or Dell.
 
I have said it countless times, but once again: Dell SUCKS. Do not EVER, even under any type of hallucinogenic influence, buy a Dell. You have been warned!!!

Bob
 
I have said it countless times, but once again: Dell SUCKS. Do not EVER, even under any type of hallucinogenic influence, buy a Dell. You have been warned!!!

Bob

I think this goes to show that there is NO best brand! I, and MANY others, have been perfectly pleased with their Dells. EVERY computer brand will have horror stories, so you'll find it very difficult to find the best. Try reading website reviews (pcmag.com, pcworld.com, etc), as you can probably get more in-depth reviews for many different brands and models.
 
I have said it countless times, but once again: Dell SUCKS. Do not EVER, even under any type of hallucinogenic influence, buy a Dell. You have been warned!!!

:lol: I'm getting that impression, but I see that a lot of folks here use 'em and like 'em, and a friend of mine and fellow-chaser says that the higher-end Dells are the only way to go for his business, which involves a lot of CAD/CAM. But after looking around and reading a few reviews, I'm leaning toward HP (including Compaq) or Acer. No rush--storm season is still a few months distant.

Tony Laubach, you mentioned that you love the AMD processors. Why do you prefer that over the Pentium M (aka Centrino) processors? I know nothing about the AMD, but I understand that Centrinos are supposed to be easy on the battery and help the laptop operate at a cooler temperature (which I've gotta believe is a plus on a hot day in the Plains).
 
I and Monica have HPs. For the last few years I've used mine for everything and taken it on the road. It's rather heavy but holds together well. Monica's stopped charging the battery -- mostly likely a main board problem.

For about $350 on eBay I just bought a somewhat faster completely working twin of hers. It will be my "weather" computer to take on the road, and not have personal files and all sorts of other stuff on it. When it's hanging around the house which is most of the time, Monica can use it to keep her batteries charged as-it-were.

The used computer isn't the latest and greatest, but the processor and memory are ample. I need to add a USB 2.0 card so I can efficiently use an external hard drive (WD 60Gb USB powered shock-resistant now available at Sam's Club for $100) and it's good to go.

HP/Compaq is good IMO for the same reasons others have posted and because there're a lot of them out there. You can probably find compatible cheap replacements and parts for many years to come when you need them.
 
I have a new Dell 6000 just like Jeff. In fact, I think we ordered almost the exact same configuration at the exact same time. Dangerous minds think alike....but I digress.

I owned a HP for the last 3 years, and for the most part it was okay. The only thing I ever used it for during chasing was Street Atlas/GPS and then at any WiFi spots that I found. The HDD was only 20GB, and just got to be too small for my uses.

I spent about 5 months researching around and waiting for deals. With the Dell coupons, I wound up getting 35% a pretty high-end config, and I've been extremely pleased with it.

My best advice for anyone considering buying a new laptop...and this pretty much goes for electronic prodcut over $99....DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are tons of websites out there with great user reviews. I highly recommended http://www.cnet.com. The "Editor Reviews" are sometimes pretty biased, but the user reviews generally reveal a lot of key info. The user reviews are usually written by the people that have owned and used the item long-term, so they know of any long-term problems.
 
Originally posted by Bob Hartig

Tony Laubach, you mentioned that you love the AMD processors. Why do you prefer that over the Pentium M (aka Centrino) processors? I know nothing about the AMD, but I understand that Centrinos are supposed to be easy on the battery and help the laptop operate at a cooler temperature (which I've gotta believe is a plus on a hot day in the Plains).

Haven't heard on this yet and would like to. Does anyone have any input on the the AMD processor compared to the Centrino? (Do I even have my terminology right?) Thanks.
 
The Centrino is a platform, consisting of the Pentium M processor, a particular Intel chipset, and Intel Wifi. The Pentium M is an excellent laptop processor, given that it's very low power (TDP <26W I believe) yet still powerful. We'll see what the new crop of 65nm Pentium M-type processors bring...
 
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