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Purchasing a Gaming Laptop: Would Appreciate any and all Advice

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May 23, 2010 3:53:58 AM

Hello all:

Before I begin, I would like to warn you that there is quite a bit of text in this post. If you don't feel like scrolling through my huge wall of text, you can simply answer the questions I pose (which I have bolded to aid in search). Much of the text is merely clarifications and details into my situation. The details don't need to be read, but they will make things more lucid if you decide to read them. The general questionnaire that is used to help forum members give advice is listed at the bottom of my post. Thank you.

This is my first time posting, as well as my first time buying a laptop. I should probably admit, right off, that I'm not technically savvy nor am I particularly computer literate. Everything I know that I'm putting into discussion has been gleaned from google searches and browsing various forums (including this one). So I apologize in advance if I further any myths or stereotypes in my ignorance. That said, I have been researching laptops for some months now and I believe I have come to a tentative conclusion. I believe that for my purposes, the Asus G73JH-A2 is my ideal notebook.

I have a few specific questions, which I will list here before I continue with the details. I have listed, at the bottom of my post, the general questionnaire that covers my purposes, budget, uses, etc. Again, the purposes of this machine will be gaming and school-related (at most, Microsoft Office programs and films/movies). Mobility and battery life are not concerns for me, in that the notebook will most likely be a desktop replacement. I'm focused on a notebook because I will need to take it with me as I travel, but I won't need it to be unplugged. The first two questions are of the greatest importance, the rest are merely for clarification and discussion. So if nothing else, the first two questions are the most important to me (at least, it seems as if they should be emphasized the most).

1. The importance of a SSD drive?

In the Asus model I'm looking at, as well as other brands, online vendors offer the consumer the chance to upgrade to an SSD. In addition, if there are two hard drives comprising the total hard drive space, they offer the option of making the primary drive the SSD and the secondary drive (which I've sometimes seen referred to as a 'platter drive') a 7200 rpm SATA drive. In these instances, I have not seen any option of a RAID 0/1/5 or any configuration like that. Now, I've seen many, many, many debates over this. And keep in mind my technical illiteracy, but I am leaning towards having my main drive be a SSD and the secondary drive be a 500 gb HDD with above specifications. However, I'm not sure if this would be smart for someone like myself as I have little to no knowledge or experience with inputs, changing settings, or general tinkering with the OS and hardware/software. I understand that it involves some manipulation on part of the user to determine what data gets stored in which drive (should I have both a SSD and a HDD). So, if the technical knowledge required to maintain both a SSD and a HDD is simply beyond my level, then perhaps it would just be easier to go with the default of 2x 500GB HDD. I'm not sure, which is why I'm seeking help.

2. SSD vs. more memory?

Hypothetically, if only one upgrade was viable, which would be more beneficial to have in the laptop? The standard specs of the Asus G73JH-A2 model that I'm looking at include 2x500GB HDD drives and 8 MB RAM at 1066 Mhz. Upgrading to 8MB RAM at 1333 Mhz is about the same as making my primary hard drive an 80GB SSD. Assuming that I'm only able to upgrade one of them, which would be more beneficial to have in the laptop? The purposes would be gaming and school. As far as games go, I may get into some newer games, but the majority of my game library would be older games, such as SC, WC3 TFT, and Counter-Strike: Source. As far as school goes, I would be using Microsoft Word, watching films, and browsing the internet. I would not really be using any photo or video editting, and should I use those programs, it would not be at a professional level. I'm not picky or particular about playing games at their highest settings. My current and only computer is a 9 year old Dell running on XP. I've had to play every single game I've had on the lowest possible settings and have increasingly over time, not been able to play multiplayer games online. The choice of which upgrade to pick is to try and ensure some longevity with the system.I don't have an exorbitant amount of files, so storage space is not even a consideration for me. My current computer has 20 GB of space, and I've been able to manage with that for almost a decade.

3. What are the chances of having a "bright dot" appear on an LCD screen?

Again, I'm not that knowledgeable about LCD screens either. I have heard many horror stories of a white bright dot appearing on LCD screens and not going away. To a perfectionist, I'm sure the dot would be excrutiating to look at. However, I've not had the chance to see one, nor deal with a computer that has one, so I'm not sure what to expect. To make those horror stories worse, with the Asus model and many others, I see that they offer a 30 day Zero Bright Dot guarantee. What I understand is that this basically means that if you recieve a laptop with a bright dot on the LCD screen, you absolutely MUST send it back WITHIN the 30 days of your purchase, or whenever the ticker starts. I've read many a forum where a person has lost money off of refunds and sending the notebook in for repairs. Worse even, they have lost their faith entirely with a given company. Now, yes, some of these people many simply be brand-bashers and try to "sell" a different brand by demeaning another one. BUT, I do not wish to go through this hassle. Is there any way to circumvent this possibility? What I mean is, are there any ways of ensuring that my laptop (if it is an LCD) will not have a bright dot, nor be Dead On Arrival, SUCH AS buying from certain sites or vendors that maybe test for it before shipping, or perhaps even not getting a LCD screen? I'm sure that there is no clear cut answer, but any ideas and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


4. SLI and Crossfire vs. single video card?

SLI and Crossfire are not available in the Asus model I'm looking at, but they are available in several other models. From what I've read, dual video cards are almost exponentially "better" than a single graphics video card. However, I'm more inclined to go with a single video card simply because I've read that the dual cards require a lot of driver updating and maintenance by the user. If someone can "show me the light" and explain why it would be smarter for a stupider (haha) computer person to go with dual cards, I would be endeared to them. As it stands, the Asus model that I quasi-salivate over has a default 1 GB ATI Radeon HD 5870 GDDR5 (I hope I listed the names in the proper order, haha) graphics video card, which I am informed is currently the top-of-the-line single card for most notebooks. Any ideas, suggestions, refutations, affirmations, and/or criticisms would be just lovely.


5. Concerns about the Core i7 Processor

This is SORT of a dual core vs. quad core question, but not so much. In the models that I'm considering, most of them come default/standard with an Intel Core i7 720QM Quad-Core 1.60-2.80GHz, (45nm, 6MB L3 cache) processor. I want to emphasize this fact again, I'm not computer savvy, so any mention of overclocking the processor or manually pushing its limits is beyond me. I have no idea how to "overclock," nor idea about what it is. And pushing the processor limits is really beyond me, unless I'm say, blindly and unnecessarily running multiple programs. I've browsed the many debates over this (some on this forum) and seen a general split between dual core vs. quad core. Much of the evidence I have seen supporting dual core is that most games, including newer ones do not take advantage of "hyper-threading," which supposedly makes a quad core useless since it's not being fully utilized by the game. The logic then, with those supporting dual cores is to get a dual core operating at a higher Ghz than a quad core operating at a lower Ghz. I make no claims and have no knowledge on the validity of these claims. I'm more inclined to simply go with the default/standard of the quad core i7 that the models I'm considering offer. But, if upgrading to a 820QM or a 920QM will serve me much better, then I will certainly consider it. Also, if someone can present some evidence or opinions on why a dual core would be more beneficial, I'm open to those suggestions as well. Honestly though, anything I get would be a significant upgrade to what I currently have. My decade-ish old computer has an intel processor whose name I can't even remember.

6. Specific companies with good warranties/ repairs/ customer service/ technical support?

This final question is the one question that's making me reconsider buying from a major name brand such as Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Alienware or whatever other major corporations are siphoning consumer dollars. My question is basically, is there or are there certain, specific brands that offer excellent warranties and customer support? From friends and from reading forums on the internet, I can say that I've seen nearly every company praised as much as they are slandered. Either a person has a bias for or against a particular brand. Neutrality is difficult to find. My concern, and this could be a naiive one, is that purchasing from a lesser known company, such as Asus or Sager or MSI would entail a warranty that's a little less secure than those of major companies. This concern, probably a result of the propaganda manufactured by various companies, is a strong one. Someone as computer illiterate as myself cannot afford to get a Dead On Arrival computer, or one that was "planned" to be "obsolete" and deal with the hassles. Asus notebooks come with a 2 year warranty and 1 year of Accidental Damage coverage in the price. Something similar with a Dell or Sony would involve adding another $300-400 on the already steep pricetag. I understand that time is money and that the consumer has to cater to company's options. However, I would feel a lot better about the standard warranty (in Asus and other models) or even forking over an additional couple hundred dollars if I know that a company/brand is reputable and that there is iron in their warranties. The laptop will spend about 95% of its life as a desktop replacement and the other 5%(maybe less) being moved from one location to another. I will annihilate what threatens to destroy me or my laptop, and as such, I would never really have the laptop in my lap, use it in public places, use it outdoors, or ever have it outside of its carrying bag when transporting it. No, my laptop will have a peaceful life. It will only be powered on when it is atop some sort of desk and it will always be plugged in.

7. www.XoticPC.com vs. www.DigitalStormOnline.com

I ask this because these are the two websites that I am most likely to purchase from, at the moment. Obviously, if someone can post a link or recommend a site that blows these two out of the water, I'm all for it. But as of yet, Digital Storm is a contender because of the rumored, excellent customer service and support. Now, their employees may have infiltrated google and various forums to insert some propaganda, but their business model seems sound. They unforgivingly price their machines higher than competitors with the justification of top-notch support and warranties. XoticPC just seems to offer the best prices. I'm not clear on their customer service/warranties, but I have read more good than bad on them.


If you're still reading this, I deeply thank you for bearing with me and reading thus far. Listed below is the general questionnaire that posters are asked to complete when asking for help.

1_What is your budget?

$1000-$2000. More specifically, my range is $1500-$2000 and I would prefer if it did not exceed $2000, but a hundred or two over is acceptable.

2_What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?

13'-18' is preferable.

3_What screen resolution do you want?

1920x1080 is ideal, but anything lower is perfectly fine.

4_Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?

I would like a desktop replacement laptop. I only need it to be as mobile/portable as any other laptop, in that I can carry it around with me conveniently (weight is not an issue or a problem).

5_How much battery life do you need?

Since it will be a desktop replacement, 1 or 2 hours is all I would need or expect from the laptop.

6_Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?

Yes, I would like to play games with my laptop. Ideally, I would like to be able to play every game I list on its highest settings. Given that most of the games I have are older, this should be easily feasible.

Games I have and want to play on High settings:
-StarCraft
-Warcraft 3 The Frozen Throne; DOTA (Defense of the Ancients)
-Half Life; Counter-Strike: Source, Day of Defeat: Source
-American McGee's Alice
-Various free MMORPGs that I've downloaded/will download

Games I would like to have and play on High or Medium settings:
-Battlefield: Bad Company 2
-F.E.A.R
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 and/or 2
-Crysis series
-Dragon Age: Origins
-Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2
-Team Fortress 2
-Left for Dead, Left for Dead 2

I won't get all of the games I have in the second list. I will be lucky if I can get one or two of them, but I want a laptop that can handle them. I'm not really picky about the settings though. I want the laptop to be able to handle these current games at their highest settings for the sake of some longevity, so I know that the machine will be apt and capable in the future. (ALSO, if anyone has any game suggestions for a person into FPS, MMORPG, Strategy/RTS, Fighting, and to a lesser extent, Action/Platform games, please tell me! I have been out of the loop for quite a while and would be open to any opinions and recommendations that people might have).

7_What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo / Video editing,watching movies, Etc.)

Mainly, word processing. I will be watching movies and browsing the internet as well. Perhaps VERY VERY minor and basic photo/video editting, but not likely, as all the programs and computers I need for them are at my work/office.

8_How much storage (H.D.D Capacity) do you need?

Less than 100GB. All the personal files I have (such as music, documents, games, etc) amount to less than 50 GB.

9_If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.

I am basing my current estimates on configurations offered at www.XoticPC.com

Since this is my first time purchasing a laptop, I don't have any favorite or preferred sites. I'm open to all suggestions because I'm very concerned about the integrity and service of the site I will purchase from. I've heard good things about XoticPC and I might ultimately purchase from them, but I'm not set on buying from them specifically. I've also heard good things about www.digitalstormonline.com but I haven't really searched the site extensively. If anyone could shed light on these sites and others, I would appreciate it very much. Also, I have no problem with purchasing from major retailers online such as Circuit City or Best Buy.

10_How long do you want to keep your laptop?

2-3+ years would be ideal. The laptop will be an important investment and I plan to take care of it accordingly.

11_What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?
I have, really, almost no experience with this sort of thing. I would like my laptop to be able to read CDs and DVDs, as well as burn them too. The ability to burn CDs and DVDs is not crucial, but it is preferred. As for Bluray...I don't own any movies in Bluray format, nor do I see myself purchasing any in the future. So, as far as Bluray goes, I don't need it.

But, I am spectacularly uninformed and unaware of technological advancements as far as Bluray goes. Years ago, my friends were telling me about this "war" between Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, a "war" that evolved into Bluray vs. DVD format. Firstly, I don't even know if what my friends were telling me is true. And secondly, assuming it is, I don't know how the debate panned out. Has Bluray "won?" Has Bluray won majority over DVDs? Will I one day wake up to a future where Bluray optical drives reign supreme? I don't know. If Bluray is the way to go, then I suppose I would like to add a Bluray drive just for the option to play Bluray. However, as of now, I don't see a need for a Bluray optical drive in my laptop.

12_Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.

Again, since I'm new to this process, I don't have any particular preferences. As far as my research into this has taken me, I would prefer to buy from Sony, Dell, Alienware, Asus, Sager, MSI, and possibly, Toshiba. The brands that I don't like are Mac and Gateway.
I don't prefer Macs simply because I've had limited exposure to them and I'm more comfortable with the Windows OS than the Mac OS. I don't prefer Gateway because I don't have any experience with them and I've heard many negative things about them. But, I'm pretty easygoing and would be open to any and all suggestions.

13_What country do you live in?

United States of America (why do I feel so ashamed to mention this? haha), Southern California


This is the end of my post. Thanks very much for reading and I appreciate any and all advice. Thank you.
May 23, 2010 5:33:35 AM

Hi,
I'll try to answer some of ur questions
1. Using an SSD for you OS and games will greatly decrease the boot time of the OS and the loading time for softwares and games, it can sometimes give you an advantage in gaming. It is much better than having 2x500 GB HDD in Raid 0, but since raid 0 is not even an option, then let's forget about it.
And dont worry about having a SSD and a HDD at the same time. Judging from what you already know, I think it will be an easy task for you to learn how to partition the hard drives. At least in Windows OS, setting up partitions is fairly simple and straight forward.
May 23, 2010 5:47:01 AM

2. I wont comment on the worthiness of upgrading the RAM from 1066 to 1333 MHz. Having a higher frequency is better indeed, but I'm not sure if its worth it to give up the SSD. What I do want to say is that I think 8GB of memory is TOO MUCH for you and for most medium-high end PC users. If it's allowed, downgrade to 4GB. That's really good enough for your gaming needs.
May 23, 2010 5:49:14 AM

3. Bright dot and dead on arrival. There's really nothing you can do. Getting your laptop from a trusted source can probably reduce the chance of these happening, but it doesnt mean they will NOT happen.

4. HD 5870 is great, but of course its possible to have another option with dual vid cards that's better than the 5870.
For dual video card configurations, there are pros and cons
Pro: possibly better performance, which means higher graphic settings, better FPS, and a higher 3D Vantage mark
Cons: More heat generation, power consumption, higher noise level; the latest video card drivers still does not fully optimize dual-card performance; some games do not support dual-cards very well or even at all.
!