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Da Bomb Diggity: Best Buys for Back to School

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August 21, 2006 10:54:59 AM

We show you a variety of mobile computing accessories including Bluetooth printer adapters and tiny folding keyboards, backpacks and carrying cases, security locks, expansion docks, privacy filters, notebook coolers and a piece of software to manage your classes and your life.
August 21, 2006 3:37:56 PM

Just asking.
Can someone better define a school computer?
I know a lot about lightweight travel PCs and accessories. But the school environment is different. The locks are a good example.
The folding keyboard works well for note taking, but it's hard to find many Symbian/bluetooth phones in the U.S. that will work.

It's been a few years since I was in college. But do most (big International) schools now a days have good WiFi coverage or is GPRS necessary? I had access to many computer labs (10 years ago), but I wasn't able to simply attach a notebook to a hub and surf the web. Has things changed?
August 21, 2006 4:07:20 PM

The 700$ notebook review is a very useful idea and covers much of the most common brands. Unfortunately there are a few typos and questionable suggestions:
- you forgot the Dell notebook's price
- Windows XP PRO comes at a significant price difference compared to Home version and offer no more connection capabilities, except for joining domains. A feature mostly used on corporate networks and I suppose only on big campus networks...
- Yes students can get genuine Microsoft Office for a much reduced price, but why buy software when you're already tight with your hw budget and you have an excellent FREE alternative like OpenOffice?
I think open source software should get more popular among students, it will help them with their low budgets, and journalists can do their part...

Just my 2 cents,
Agentsmith from Milan, Italy
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August 21, 2006 5:52:14 PM

Haha, I saw that $599.99 Toshiba in the Best Buy ad too and was thinking the whole time I was reading this article that that deal couldn't be beat. I wasn't aware that you were forced to buy a printer with it! What a scam.
August 21, 2006 6:09:47 PM

I actually got lucky enough to get in on this. The Price was $599 + tax out the door with a free printer (valued at $89). The Sales people of course try to sell you everything else in the world.
August 21, 2006 6:11:36 PM

Whoa, you got an awesome deal!

I'm seriously thinking about going to see if there are any left after work here....
August 21, 2006 6:19:49 PM

The store by me was out in about a half an hour on Sunday, and I was going to my parents-in-law on Monday, and got out there early, so I stopped into the store by them, and got the last one on their shelf. Remember to look into the cages in the store for it, as sometimes they may lie about being out. Guess they are too lazy to get one down. :) 
August 21, 2006 6:25:57 PM

At my school we have complete campus coverage for 802.11b, parking lots, streets simply near the college, even the bus routes have complete coverage, though we were also recognized for this by Intel (http://www.intel.com/personal/wireless/unwiredcampuses....) at #6. Some of the printers throughout campus have wireless access to them.

We also require every student to buy a laptop, whether they are a commuter or resident (the campus is 62% commuter). I think just the fact that everyone has a laptop makes it kind of stupid to steal one.

The only known laptop theft I know of involved an older student (mid-40s) who lived in a nearby city, which has a much higher rate of crime. Apparently somebody broke into his house and took the laptop off his kitchen table, and nothing more, didn't even make a mess.

BTW, why would you use a lock to tie it to a desk leg? I mean, I could lift the table, take the laptop with it's lock on it, and then try to break the lock later.
August 21, 2006 7:35:48 PM

I have never tried this, but wouldn'd it be easy to just use a pair of bolt cutters to cut off the security lock? I mean, the article says that they are strong, but I have yet to see anything of that size that a decent set of bolt cutters couldn't get through.
August 21, 2006 11:59:38 PM

I've never seen anyone who had bolt cutters not looking suspicious, tho...
August 22, 2006 12:33:08 AM

True, but still a lot less suspicious and quick than a hacksaw. You could even conceivably hide bolt cutters inside a trench coat.
August 24, 2006 7:28:26 AM

i wonder why second-hand laptops weren't considered.. it's a great way to get some real fine laptops, i.e. Thinkpads, which are sturdy, discreet and provide very nice battery life. They even have that little light, which is useful for taking notes when the lights are off. They can be bought for less then 700$, and still have a great value, not even talking about linux and open-source, which do run pretty well on thinkpads, and are a favourite amongs studes, 'cos it's free.. That's my personal opinion though.
August 24, 2006 8:09:53 AM

Quote:
i wonder why second-hand laptops weren't considered.. it's a great way to get some real fine laptops, i.e. Thinkpads, which are sturdy, discreet and provide very nice battery life. They even have that little light, which is useful for taking notes when the lights are off. They can be bought for less then 700$, and still have a great value, not even talking about linux and open-source, which do run pretty well on thinkpads, and are a favourite amongs studes, 'cos it's free.. That's my personal opinion though.


While I have heard many people applaud the build quality of Thinkpads, I would personally never recommend one. I had one a few years ago that I purchased new for over $2000 (through my school, along with many other students in my program). These were purchased on a lease with a $500 buyout option after 2 years.

About 30% of the users returned their laptop in the first year and recieved a partial refund which most of them used to purchase different laptops. At the end of the second year barely anybody actually paid the $500 to keep their machine and many who did simply turned around and sold it on ebay.

So many things went wrong with those machines. The biggest problem was faulty screens. About half of them had to have at least one screen replaced (under our lease warrentee for the first 2 years). Some users went throught 3 or more screens. The video chip (onboard) had a tendency to glitch periodically and eventually die. There was even faulty RAM in some of the machines. The overall performance of the machine was mediocre at best compared to a similarily priced machine at the time. The screen, when it was working, was awful. I think only 2 or 3 of the machines (out of more than 30) didn't have any problems.

Most of the people I know from school bought Toshibas, HPs, even ECS once they had rid themselves of the Thinkpad. All of them were vastly superior in performance and quality (although the ECS also had some problems).

I have heard that that model of Thinkpad happened to have more problems that most, but I still would never buy one again. Luckily, IBM did give us pretty good support, and my school had laptops they would loan us (just swap the HD) when ours were broken.

EDIT: BTW, if you want to avoid the model, I can't remember the number, but it had a P4 1.6GHz, 256MB RAM, onboad video (16MB shared RAM), no wireless ethernet.
August 24, 2006 12:16:06 PM

The reason I mention the ThinkPad is I actually have one that I use as my 'everyday' computer for browsing, bill pay, etc. It is a 300Mhz with 300Mb RAM and a 10Gb HD - it is a little slow but works great and the screen is as nice as any new ones I look at. I got it used in a swap on craigslist for an ASUS mobo I was not using + $80 so that kind of supports what the previous poster said about the used market. Problem with most of the used market is that people & used dealers want way too much for notebooks in general compared to what you'd pay for a used desktop. ThinkPads like any other brand will have problems (like the current battery fiasco Dell is dealing with) that does not mean to avoid a brand forever (unless you are talking about Firestone tires!) I only mentioned Think (Lenovo) because they are trying to play in the low Acer / Dell space and I found the model I pasted the link to previously and at the time it had a $100 rebate making it pretty reasonable.
August 25, 2006 9:42:17 AM

Sounds like an R-series.. that's nice, i just bought a R32 14" p4 2ghz, 16 mb shared ram :? Didn't it have little 'e' at the end ?

But it seems to work really nice. I use it for simple work, taking notes, it has wireless support, a nice keyboard, a trackpoint (love that one), and i might buy a second ultrabay battery (nice feature also) as well as a new hardisk, i don't wan't this one to crash.

They start at 849,16 €, for the most basic R-series (that's funny, because any other series starts at 2.000) so Glockman is right about that (also about the people-over-evaluating part). I tried a lenovo 3000 at a local store, man, that felt cheap.. which leaves me very suspicious about thinkpad's future..

Apple isn't mentioned either, while you can get a good 'ol powerbook or ibook for a good price.
August 26, 2006 5:35:28 AM

I just thought I'd point out that there is a Fujitsu notebook in the under-$700 range. I don't know what the availability is in the states, since it's a european model, but at least in the UK, i've found the AMILO v2030 model for $660. This comes with up to 1.7Ghz Celeron, 256 MB DDR2, 40 GB SATA2, 15" LCD, wi-fi, and it's excellent value for money. The downsides: built-in speakers are not very powerful, and battery life is just one hour.
August 26, 2006 10:11:40 AM

now you're pointing out somethin' : battery life, it seems to me it's hardly considered in the article.. but what's more important to a student who has to take notes during class, while there isn't any plug nearby.. i'd say those system builders save part on the money on battery life (cheaper battery's, greater power consumption). It would be nice to have a banchmark about that.
August 31, 2006 1:43:50 AM

Sorry, but $700 just doesn't cut it. Especially for "School Work" type computing. Better budget for $1000 or you won't get anything worth owning more than 12 months, if that long.

Take the Dell 6400 (E1505).

Add 1 gig memory (minimum in today's environment)
Add the True Life screen (your eyes will thank you)
Add X1300 video (your eyes will really thank you)
Add 60gig 7200 (the speed is noticable guys!)
Add BlueTooth (Yes, you need it!)
Add the bigger battery...

And, you are still under $1000 with a kick-ass system worth every penny to own and use. I'd go for the X1400 and higher res screen too, for just over $1000, even that much more life and usability would be gained. Pamper yourself if you wish with faster processors, but already you have a system that will keep you throughout a full degree program.

What ever you do!!! Don't get a Core Solo Proc (A celeron in cloak)! There's way too many of these still for sale out there. All software from now foward will expect dual core. Be ready for it!

Don't sell yourself short. There is no longer such a concept as "simple computing". All computing, especially school work, requires power to spare. Even simple web surfing even requires adequate processing muscle to keep your system safe from intrusion. Every dollar you don't spend equates to shorter life span and more money sooner rather than later to fix the problem.[/b]
August 31, 2006 5:17:09 PM

Quote:
Sorry, but $700 just doesn't cut it. Especially for "School Work" type computing. Better budget for $1000 or you won't get anything worth owning more than 12 months, if that long.

Take the Dell 6400 (E1505).

Add 1 gig memory (minimum in today's environment)
Add the True Life screen (your eyes will thank you)
Add X1300 video (your eyes will really thank you)
Add 60gig 7200 (the speed is noticable guys!)
Add BlueTooth (Yes, you need it!)
Add the bigger battery...

And, you are still under $1000 with a kick-ass system worth every penny to own and use. I'd go for the X1400 and higher res screen too, for just over $1000, even that much more life and usability would be gained. Pamper yourself if you wish with faster processors, but already you have a system that will keep you throughout a full degree program.

What ever you do!!! Don't get a Core Solo Proc (A celeron in cloak)! There's way too many of these still for sale out there. All software from now foward will expect dual core. Be ready for it!

Don't sell yourself short. There is no longer such a concept as "simple computing". All computing, especially school work, requires power to spare. Even simple web surfing even requires adequate processing muscle to keep your system safe from intrusion. Every dollar you don't spend equates to shorter life span and more money sooner rather than later to fix the problem.
[/b]

I have to disagree with a couple of your points. I think that for school, you don't need a 7200rpm drive. I had a laptop that has a 5400rpm drive and yeah it was slow loading stuff, but for a student it wasn't a big deal. How long can it really take to load msword? I even used my laptop to develop software (VS 2K3 was a beast for my machine when it came out) and the load times were a little annoying, but not that bad.

Also, I wouldn't pay much extra for bluetooth unless you really need it. It isn't really necessary for a budget laptop.

I also think that having more than crappy onboard video really depends on what you are doing. Remember, this laptop is not supposed to play games, so if you are just taking notes and surfing the web, you don't need a dedicated graphics card.

I do however agree that 1gig of memory is pretty much a necessity these days. You could get away with less, but if you want it to last more than a year, get 1gig (2gb is going to start becoming the standard for desktops in the next year).

Of course a bigger battery would be nice. If its not too much more, I would get it (although for my laptop there was no bigger battery and an extra one was $250+, that is way too much).
August 31, 2006 8:34:03 PM

All your points can be answered by simply this:

Do you want to spend 1 hour on an assignment or 30 mins.

Think about it...

Specifically, on video: If are you a archetictual student? You need more than on board video. That could be said for most student types, considering their field, chemistry, engineering, computer science, math graphing, design studies of any kind. There is a lot to be desired in video ability by modern education software and design software. Or, maybe after studies you want to see a movie? On board video handles that, but barely, very barely. Do it better. Get the right equipment for the job. Last, what if you want to upgrade to Windows Vista. On-board video won't handle that either. Upgrade or be left behind really quickly.

Also, batteries from Dell in my example are $99 for the bigger version. Many here have stated you don't always have a plug available as a student. Get the bigger one.

Hard drives: There's more to loading a file than just scraping the data off the hard drive. Higher drive speed helps the virus check, the program .dll loads as you open the file and a ton other functions. Hard drives are said to be the last main bottle neck in modern computers. Don't buy into oblivion and legacy equipment. If you can only afford one of these upgrades, get the faster hard drive. That's the biggest improvement you can make to a low cost system. Even sub-$500 desktop computers have 7200rpm hard drives today. Why be worse on a laptop?

Blue-Tooth? I guess you don't need the hard drive either, why not remove that too? Consider a lot of college students today will most likely use Yahoo's or MSN's new voice IM to talk to their parents and friends back home. (or Vonage, or whatever...) With blue-tooth you have an easy way to add a blue-tooth headset to make your conversation private. There are other uses for blue tooth also. Like cell phone network connectivity. You need blue-tooth. Period.

All I say is spend $300 more and you'll gain twice the computer. Money well spent. Not money wasted, like the $700 versions in the article. Spend only $700 now and you'll be buying another laptop before you college career is over and you have a degree. Spend the small extra now and you'll last the full degree program with your laptop.
August 31, 2006 9:09:10 PM

Quote:
All your points can be answered by simply this:

Do you want to spend 1 hour on an assignment or 30 mins.

Think about it...

Specifically, on video: If are you a archetictual student? You need more than on board video. That could be said for most student types, considering their field, chemistry, engineering, computer science, math graphing, design studies of any kind. There is a lot to be desired in video ability by modern education software and design software. Or, maybe after studies you want to see a movie? On board video handles that, but barely, very barely. Do it better. Get the right equipment for the job.

Also, batteries from Dell in my example are $99 for the bigger version. Many here have stated you don't always have a plug available as a student. Get the bigger one.

Hard drives: There's more to loading a file than just scraping the data off the hard drive. 50% more speed helps the virus check, the program .dll loads as you open the file and a ton other functions. Hard drives are said to be the last main bottle neck in modern computers. Don't buy into oblivion and legacy equipment.

Blue-Tooth? I guess you don't need the hard drive either, why not remove that too? Consider a lot of college students today will most likely use Yahoo's or MSN's new voice IM to talk to their parents and friends back home. (or Vonage, or whatever...) With blue-tooth you have an easy way to add a blue-tooth headset to make your conversation private. There are other uses for blue tooth also. Like cell phone network connectivity. You need blue-tooth. Period.

All I say is spend $300 more and you'll gain twice the computer. Money well spent. Not money wasted, like the $700 versions in the article. Spend only $700 now and you'll be buying another laptop before you college career is over and you have a degree. Spend $300 extra now and you'll last the full degree.


I think you are overstating things a little bit. When I had my Thinkpad, it had 16MB shared graphics memory with an onboard chip. I was able to play many games like Warcraft 3, WoW, Lineage 2, etc with no problems (and this was 2 years ago). YOU DO NOT NEED A VIDEO CARD TO PLAY MOVIES, THAT IS CRAP! My onboard video was fine for playing movies. I watched many movies on my laptop often hooking it up to a TV at a friends house. As for educational video requirements, if you are doing any kind of 2D rendering including graphics, etc, you do not need a video card for that. I used many different programs while in school (taking comp sci) and not once did any of them tax my onboard video.

As for hard drives, if it is a small increase in cost, then I say go for it. but if it is going to cost your another $100 or more (additional 15% in cost) just to get a faster hard drive, then I would say forget it. So programs take a little longer to load, big deal. How much time do we really spend waiting for programs to load? Run your virus scan at night. You certainly wouldn't want to run it while on battery.

I think your bluetooth argument is a little biased. I use a laptop now that has bluetooth and I have a bluetooth phone and many of my friends cars have bluetooth and I have never used it and none of my friends use it in their cars. Yes it is useful to some people in certain instances and if you specifically want to use something that requires bluetooth, then by all means get bluetooth. I am just saying that to say that EVERYBODY needs it, regardless of situation is a bunch of crap. This is a budget machine, if you don't need it, don't get it.

I agree that if you have the option to get a better battery for cheap, go for it, its worth it.

Video card, hard drive speed, bluetooth are not reasons that the low budget student will feel the need to upgrade their laptop anytime soon. I seriously doubt that a student will say 1 year from now "man I wish my hard drive was faster, I'd better dump another $700 into a new laptop". Again, if any upgrade option is a small price, it is worth considering, or if the student is going to have a specific need (video, BT, storage space, etc) then by all means it is worth the upgrade cost. As for the unforseen, you can always go buy a better hard drive in the future if you need it, or a bluetooth card for that matter.
August 31, 2006 9:14:45 PM

You are stuck in medocracy, right?
August 31, 2006 9:19:13 PM

Actually, I just use my laptop for work now, my home PC is much better. I am just thinking if I was a student, I would rather safe a couple hundred bucks and use it to buy beer :wink:
September 1, 2006 11:28:19 AM

Quote:
Actually, I just use my laptop for work now, my home PC is much better. I am just thinking if I was a student, I would rather safe a couple hundred bucks and use it to buy beer :wink:


That's a good point.. who's actually a student in here ?
I'm a law student, and perfectly able to say what kind of hardware you'd need for a particular job. Being a student, i know the key elements of a laptop "for students": portability, battery time, size, and ease of use. You don't need a "luggable" cray supercomputer.

If you really wouldn't bother about money, i'd recommand buying a macbook. But as students aren't famous for having loads of money (unless heavily sponsored by wealthy parents), even ~700€ is quite a sum.

Sure they could use bleuthooth, as wel as a RAID array (data safety!!), 19" screen (space!!), 20 batterys (10 hours unplugged!! on such a machine), two apple 30" cinema displays (more space!!) and a second laptop just in case the first one get's stolen, but pardon me for saying this, they could as well do without, and save money for other, more important things.
September 9, 2006 5:29:54 PM

I just purchased my first notebook last weekend (from newegg.)
Plenty of research was done and found it is damn near impossible to get a sub $700 laptop without too much sacrifice IMO.

If I absolutely had to keep it at 700, I think the Celeron M (400 series) were the best bang for the buck. You could usually find a Celeron M equiped system with 1GB / 60+GB HD / 15.4 WXGA & DVD-RW's around that price range (at least on newegg.)

I ended up going with the Lenovo 3000 N100 (Core Duo T2300E 1.66 / 512Mb / 15.4WXGA / 80GB HD / Intel GMA950) which is a Centrino Duo platform notebook. Battery life (with 6 cell) hovers around 4 hours. Out the door, I shelled out $974 but have a $100 mail in on the way. In the near future, I can easily shell out $50 for another 512MB of DDR2 667. I'm glad I made the purchase. Runs win apps almost as well as my FX-55 equiped desktop and haven't even gotten into any heavy use of the 2nd core.

Bottom line is, the extra $150-200 is well spent IMO if its at all possible for you to do so.
September 12, 2006 4:10:13 PM

I disagree, the mobile celerons are a piece of crap and celerons in general have been pieces of crap for a long time. Slow with no speed steep.

As for the $500 toshiba, they only have like 2 at that price. Its all a ploy to get you into the store.

Secondly, the article's author seriously doesn't see HP and Compaq computers in stores. Where do the live? In LA, I regularly see sub-$500 (with no rebate needed) every where. These little Compaqs which only need a little more ram for them not to suck. So they are not core duo, but processors are entirely too fast anyways.
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