I have spent a chunk of the past few days looking at what I call “laptop porn” — enthusiast reviews and critiques of new laptops. Because I can't put off buying a new one much longer.
My trusty nearly five year old Dell 300m is in its death throes — not only is the body a bit damaged, and the battery good for only about 20 minutes, but the machine's 1.4 Ghz Pentium M chip will no longer go over 599 Mhz. I've turned off speedstep in the BIOS, put the power settings to their most greedy, I've downloaded various utilities to make sure the fan cools it (it's getting hot under there), and the chip is asked to give its all. To no avail. It's a slug. It's slooow. And I worry it may decide one day to slow itself further. So it's got to go.
I use my laptop a great deal, both on the road and in meetings at work, so for a combined birthday and 20th anniversary gift, I'm going to get a good one. But what is that exactly?
I thought hard about getting an ultralight Atom-powered machine. My wife's MSI Wind is a wonder of portability. It doesn't feel as slow as the specs suggest it should given the Atom chip and the 2GB RAM limit imposed by Microsoft. I hate the MSI keyboard because the “.” key is in the wrong place, but some competitors don't have that problem. But the deal-breaker, I've decided, is the screen just isn't deep enough — you just don't get enough lines of text on the screen to work well with a footnoted legal document.
So I'm going up a size for a bigger screen and a speedier computing experience. I still want as light a machine as I can afford, because airports are not getting any more convenient (have you seen what they did to MIA??? but I digress). That said, I don't want one that is flimsy and won't stand up to the abuse I seem to subject laptops to. I need a fullsize or very-close-to-fullsize keyboard so I can touch type. I figure, might as well get a core2 duo, so it will take everything I throw at it, but I don't have to have the very fastest clock speed. I won't play games on the machine, so I don't need a superfancy graphics chip. I will need an optical drive, but not every day, so it can be external, although a very light bulit-in would be nice. I want lots of ports, but don't need HDMI output.
It turns out that most of the brick and mortar shops that stocked the kind of laptop I am looking for either don't exist any more, or don't stock them any more. So I'm going to be even more dependent on reviews than for previous purchases. Being risk-averse, that tends to push me to established brands like Dell or, to my surprise, Lenovo — an idea planted by a commentator on my earlier post on this self-indulgent subject, It May Be Time for a New Laptop.
There doesn't seem to be a Dell available right now that meets my specs and gets good reviews, although I find their site hard to use and may have missed one. The closest might be the Adamo, but it seems to be glitz over performance and weighs 4lbs without an optical drive. (And before you ask, I'm a PC, not a Mac. I run wordperfect.)
The Toshiba Portege R500 & R600 have very impressive specs and low weight, but the reviews have scary words like “flex” and “loud fan”. The review of the Fujistu Lifebook P8020 didn't make it sound attractive at all. T
I need to learn about Sony's offerings, although at first glance the high-end Sonys Vaio seem expensive.
Lenovo has a trio of high-priced attractive machines offering a different mix of features and compromises. The list prices are mostly too steep, but there seem to be good prices sometimes on refurb jobs and I've had good experiences with those: both my laptop and my desktop are refurbs from Dell.
The X200s is the lightest, in part due to the external optical drive. It's 2.47 lbs (!!!) with the 4-cell battery and a very attractive 3.0lbs even with the six cell I'd likely get. The problem is that there is no trackpad, and I've gotten pretty used to them. My experiences with that little red stick on the Lenovos hasn't been great — they seem hard use to make small adjustments as one often needs to do in documents.
The X301 might be perfect, at 3.3 lbs with a 6 cell and internal DVD, but it is expensive even refurbed, even with the smaller SSD drive — which I think will be enough for my needs. It seems to come mostly with various flavors of Vista, which is a bit of a problem as I'm still in XP land, and plan to stay there until I graduate to Ubuntu or am forced into Win7 or maybe Win8. I could get a regular drive, but I think I would very much benefit from the increased disk speed from solid state (and the modest weight savings) whatever model I get. My only worry there is that a future windows operating system, if I have to use one, might be so bloated as to fill the smaller SSDs….
The T400s refurbed isn't quite as expensive, although it's still up there, but the weight is getting up to 4lbs. I like its looks, although online X partisans sneer at its T-ness. But it weighs 4lbs, which is more than my current machine. Shouldn't progress mean things get lighter? (Although to be fair the T400s has a full 14” screen, and I'm used to the 12.x” variety.)
I'm thinking this isn't going to be easy. Or cheap.