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Compare these sub-$500 laptops (schoolwork, some gaming)

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August 17, 2010 4:02:10 PM

OK, college is back in session next week for my fiancee, and after last semester, she says she's in dire need of a laptop. Primary use is going to be pretty simple -- taking notes, Internet, writing reports, etc. -- but she's also a fairly passionate gamer, so I have no doubt it'll be used for that as well. Nothing super-intense like shooters, mostly Sims 3 and adventure games (I think Dragon Age is the most intense thing she plays).

With that in mind, I'm thinking a dual-core with 3-4GB of RAM is about right -- we've agreed we want to stay under $500 or so, because all you hear about at college is someone's laptop getting stolen every time you blink. Two that seem to fit the mold so far:

Compaq Presario Athlon dual-core 2.1GHz - $469.00
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Pros:
7200 rpm hard drive
HD4200 - not great but better than Intel GMA on other machine

Cons:
3GB DDR2
Battery life is apparently mediocre


Lenovo G550 Pentium dual-core T4500 2.3GHz - $399.00
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Pros:
4GB DDR3
Apparently slightly faster CPU (though not 100% sure in reality -- see below)

Cons:
El Cheapo integrated graphics (Intel 4500M GMA)
5400 rpm hard drive


I say I am not sure about the processor speed, because I know 2.3GHz on one CPU does not necessarily equal the same performance as 2.3GHz on another. I know Intel is generally a little ahead of AMD in this respect, but it's been years since I bought a laptop, and I have little experience with the Pentium dual-cores on laptops -- they could be either of the inferior bargain-basement variety, or respectable compared to the Athlon II.

So ... any input on these is appreciated, or any better suggestions that I may have missed.
August 17, 2010 8:33:27 PM

Where are you seeing it for $510? When I click on the link, it shows $589 for the i3.

Yeah, I know the ones I picked are not the best laptops in the world, but mainly I'm looking for something on the cheap side without being complete rubbish. A machine that will not necessarily be great, but still able to get by for most games at moderate intensity today and still relevant in a couple of years. Core i3/i5/i7 seems to start a little out of the price range I'm looking for, with C2D being right on the upper edge.
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a b D Laptop
August 18, 2010 2:49:21 PM

capt_taco said:
Where are you seeing it for $510? When I click on the link, it shows $589 for the i3.

Yeah, I know the ones I picked are not the best laptops in the world, but mainly I'm looking for something on the cheap side without being complete rubbish. A machine that will not necessarily be great, but still able to get by for most games at moderate intensity today and still relevant in a couple of years. Core i3/i5/i7 seems to start a little out of the price range I'm looking for, with C2D being right on the upper edge.


Pick the $489 version, and on the customize page, upgrade the CPU to i3 for $20.
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August 18, 2010 4:39:29 PM

I see it now. That's much better. Problem is, when you start with the Celeron model, you only get 1GB of RAM, so getting to 2GB (the minimum I'd consider acceptable) is $50 if you order from them, $30 if you add it yourself. Then a 250GB hard drive (also the minimum I'd want) is another $50, so you're back up over $600. And they also stick you with a 32-bit version of Windows unless you pay another $100 on top of that, so you're up to $700. Then with tax, almost $800. Yikes. Grrrrrr, Dell.

That Lenovo for $399 is looking like a better and better deal; my main concern is the 5400 rpm hard drive. I do NOT want a machine that spins aimlessly for 10 minutes at startup and shutdown ... I guess that's the question I'm looking for an answer to. Maybe I'm overreacting and that's not going to be a big deal for system slowness - but that's probably for someone who has more experience than me with laptop hard drives to answer. I am not a big fan of laptops, so I am less familiar with the little quirks of their components than with desktops.
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a b D Laptop
August 18, 2010 4:48:41 PM

capt_taco said:
I see it now. That's much better. Problem is, when you start with the Celeron model, you only get 1GB of RAM, so getting to 2GB (the minimum I'd consider acceptable) is $50 if you order from them, $30 if you add it yourself. Then a 250GB hard drive (also the minimum I'd want) is another $50, so you're back up over $600. And they also stick you with a 32-bit version of Windows unless you pay another $100 on top of that, so you're up to $700. Then with tax, almost $800. Yikes. Grrrrrr, Dell.

That Lenovo for $399 is looking like a better and better deal; my main concern is the 5400 rpm hard drive. I do NOT want a machine that spins aimlessly for 10 minutes at startup and shutdown ... I guess that's the question I'm looking for an answer to. Maybe I'm overreacting and that's not going to be a big deal for system slowness - but that's probably for someone who has more experience than me with laptop hard drives to answer. I am not a big fan of laptops, so I am less familiar with the little quirks of their components than with desktops.


Ah alright then. Well, 5400 RPM hard drives won't be that slow... you probably wont really notice a big difference unless you're coming down from like using SSDs on your previous computer.
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August 18, 2010 8:15:59 PM

sidewinderx2 said:
Ah alright then. Well, 5400 RPM hard drives won't be that slow... you probably wont really notice a big difference unless you're coming down from like using SSDs on your previous computer.


Well, I've got a 10,000 rpm drive on my most recent desktop, and it does seem like a definite step up in loading speed from my old machine's 5400 rpm (though a lot of this is probably due to things like having a q9550 instead of a Pentium 4, and 4GB of RAM instead of 1.5GB). I suppose 5400 rpm wasn't too bad until the OS itself got bogged down with rot. And come to think of it, given the price range and CPU power range I'm looking at, 5400 vs. 7200 rpm is probably not going to be the key determining factor in the machine's overall performance.

Now only if that Lenovo wasn't sold out ...
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