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Laptop for university engineering (and perhaps gaming)

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August 10, 2011 4:28:10 AM

hey all i'm deciding on a laptop for engineering at university. i will be doing heavy multitasking on it as well as CAD and photoshop. its important to note that i have a quality gaming computer at home, however, if i choose to build a laptop with gaming capabilities i would use the laptop as well. i've narrowed my choice down to 3 similar options below (all from cyberpowerpc.com, with differences bolded), one is geared toward gaming and the other to threaded performance. they are similar with one main difference.

1. GAMING (XPLORER 9200)
Intel i7-2630QM CPU
2 x 4GB DDR3 RAM
Nvidia GT 540M 2GB GPU
1366 x 768 res.
120GB OCZ Agility 3 SSD
CD/DVD RW drive
MSI Range Booster Wifi Card
Windows 7 Home Premium

TOTAL: 1016$ CyberPower has a 5% instate discount for anything over 999$ and a 50$ MIR for students on Windows 7 HE (if over 999$), essentially bring the total price to a little over 1100$ (tax and shipping in)

2. ENHANCED OS (XPLORER 9100):
Intel i7-2630QM CPU
2 x 4GB DDR3 RAM
Intel HD 3000 intergrated graphics
1366 x 768 res.
120GB OCZ Agility 3 SSD
CD/DVD RW drive
Windows 7 Ultimate


TOTAL: 1014$ CyberPower has a 5% instate discount for anything over 999$ and a 100$ MIR for students on Windows 7 HE (if over 999$), essentially bring the total price to a little over 1050$ (tax and shipping in).

3. INCREASED STORAGE (XPLORER 9100)
Intel i7-2630QM CPU
2 x 4GB DDR3 RAM
Intel HD 3000 intergrated graphics
1366 x 768 res.
160GB Intel 320 SSD
CD/DVD RW drive
MSI Range Booster Wifi Card
Windows 7 Home Premium

TOTAL: 1013$ CyberPower has a 5% instate discount for anything over 999$ and a 50$ MIR for students on Windows 7 HE (if over 999$), essentially bring the total price to a little over 1100$ (tax and shipping in).

i think the 3rd option is the weakest overall, but i thought i'd include it.

SO,
1. which laptop provides the best bang for buck? if i can't game on it, that's okay, but if the gaming one is better value overall i will take advantage of it.\
2. is windows 7 ultimate a worthy upgrade?
3. will i notice the speed difference between the intel and agility ssds or is it worth it for the extra space?

thanks in advance, and sorry for the long post!
a b 4 Gaming
August 10, 2011 4:44:01 AM

Even if you can't play games, the obvious choice out of the 3 that you picked will be option 1.
Win7 Ultimate isn't worth the upgrade, what you get is Language pack (to switch the entire OS to the language you want), bitlocker and support for VHD booting, other than that there is not much too it.
Get Win7 Pro so you can run WinXP mode if any programs don't work properly under Win7, but I doubt that will happen.
And you may want to look at business lines as they're better build.
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August 10, 2011 1:42:32 PM

lp231 said:
Even if you can't play games, the obvious choice out of the 3 that you picked will be option 1.
Win7 Ultimate isn't worth the upgrade, what you get is Language pack (to switch the entire OS to the language you want), bitlocker and support for VHD booting, other than that there is not much too it.
Get Win7 Pro so you can run WinXP mode if any programs don't work properly under Win7, but I doubt that will happen.
And you may want to look at business lines as they're better build.



i figured as much i just want a few more opinions. i've looked at business laptops but i haven't found much that can compete with the laptop i built as far as performance for a price. this brings out a new and simple question:

should i pull the trigger and buy option 1 from cyberpowerpc.com? the sale ends next monday!
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a b 4 Gaming
August 10, 2011 4:12:03 PM

Rather than looking at one particular brand and wanting to buy it because the sale will be over in a limited time. You can take this time to look at other brands and see if it has a better deal.
I personally prefer Toshiba.
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August 10, 2011 9:57:33 PM

Since you will be using CAD software, you will need discrete level graphics. I agree with Ip231 as you should look at other brands to see if you can score a better deal. I personally don't think you necessarily need the ssds as if this is the only computer you will be using in college, the storage space may not be enough...
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August 10, 2011 10:31:50 PM

tacobravo said:
Since you will be using CAD software, you will need discrete level graphics. I agree with Ip231 as you should look at other brands to see if you can score a better deal. I personally don't think you necessarily need the ssds as if this is the only computer you will be using in college, the storage space may not be enough...



i have a 1TB external hard drive.


also, i should state that i do really want the core i7-2630QM CPU in my PC. would something like this lenovo be a better option?

http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/webca/L...

just one question, does it come with the power adapter or do i have to buy that separately in section 3?
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August 10, 2011 10:47:59 PM

Using CAD and Photoshop would make me very quickly hate the 1366x768 resolution.

Unfortunately, higher resolution screens add a chunk to the laptop price.

For your intended usage, I would suggest that it is a worthwhile upgrade, unless you're planning on attaching a higher-resolution screen for those tasks.
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August 10, 2011 11:08:18 PM

shadamus said:
Using CAD and Photoshop would make me very quickly hate the 1366x768 resolution.

Unfortunately, higher resolution screens add a chunk to the laptop price.

For your intended usage, I would suggest that it is a worthwhile upgrade, unless you're planning on attaching a higher-resolution screen for those tasks.


thanks for the advice. it is difficult to find 15" laptops with that resolution and a solid graphics card. i don't want to spend more than 950$ on a computer right now so if i did go with a high res screen, i'd have to make a sacrifice. did you have any recommendations in mind?
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August 11, 2011 4:45:03 AM

tacobravo said:
I do agree that using CAD at low resolutions do suck.
Here are some suggestions that don't break the bank:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-RF711-S02-17-3-Inch-Lapto...

Cyberpowerpc's Xplorer X6-7300 Gaming Notebook looks tempting, as does the X6-9600

http://www.cyberpowerpc.com/system/Xplorer_X6-7300_Gami...


the xplorer x6-7300 does look tempting. the other two are out of the question because i do not want a 17.3" laptop that is too big (i'd then have to get a new bag as well).

the only thing that worries me is that increasing the screen resolution significantly hits graphics performance. cyberpowerpc.com has a fps calculator and i'd lose 10+ fps on SC2 dropping it below playable framerates.

i suppose that if i need to use CAD software that i can use my home PC/monitor or school PCs if i'm in a bind.
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August 11, 2011 5:01:46 AM

Quote:
thanks for the advice. it is difficult to find 15" laptops with that resolution and a solid graphics card. i don't want to spend more than 950$ on a computer right now so if i did go with a high res screen, i'd have to make a sacrifice. did you have any recommendations in mind?


To stick within your budget, and 15" i7-2630QM with better than 1366x768 resolution:
my first choice would probably be the Sager NP5160 (available at XoticPC.com and other vendors), about $830 with the i7-2630QM and a 1600x900 screen.
  • This comes without an OS, so grab Windows 7 x64 at your college bookstore for cheap, or have them include it with the laptop for $80.
  • stick with 4GB RAM, it'll do for now to keep the initial spend down, and you can upgrade with two 4GB sticks from NewEgg later for about $50 with free shipping.
  • Upgrade to 1920x1080 screen for $50, if you like the looks of them -- go find a machine with this configuration and see if you like that tight of a resolution on a 15.6" screen. I have a 1920x1080 15.6", and I like it -- but several friends/co-workers think it makes things too tiny. Even if you don't do this upgrade, the stock 1600x900 screen is a very noticeable improvement over the typical 1366x768 on most 15" laptops.
  • If you can afford it, it's only another $20 to upgrade to a 500GB 7200 RPM drive.

    Second choice would be the same The CyberPowerPC X6-7300 that tacobravo suggested. Base is $900
  • Upgrade to the 500GB 7200 RPM hard drives for $34.
  • Keep it at 4GB, to stay on budget, upgrade to 8GB later at NewEgg for about $25.
  • If you have access to a campus bookstore: Select "No Operating system", and pick up Windows 7 on the cheap at your campus bookstore (CyberPowerPC credits you back $83 for the OS, and you can get it at a college bookstore for much less than that).

    And a third choice would be to find a nicely configured HP dv6 with the high-resolution screen, within your budget -- but you have to watch the sales (sometimes they even pop-up on the "Deals for today" items here on Toms home-page).
    [EDIT] Actually, it's on special right now, for way cheap. http://www.logicbuy.com/deals/coupon-hp-pavilion-dv6t-16-inch-quad-edition-laptop/15717.aspx... $950 after upgrading screen, switching to 640GB 7200RPM HDD, and upgrading the video to AMD 6770, and they throw in a Blu-ray drive... unfortunately, they'll probably charge you sales-tax and push it over budget.
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    August 11, 2011 4:51:01 PM

    shadamus said:
    Quote:
    thanks for the advice. it is difficult to find 15" laptops with that resolution and a solid graphics card. i don't want to spend more than 950$ on a computer right now so if i did go with a high res screen, i'd have to make a sacrifice. did you have any recommendations in mind?


    To stick within your budget, and 15" i7-2630QM with better than 1366x768 resolution:
    my first choice would probably be the Sager NP5160 (available at XoticPC.com and other vendors), about $830 with the i7-2630QM and a 1600x900 screen.
  • This comes without an OS, so grab Windows 7 x64 at your college bookstore for cheap, or have them include it with the laptop for $80.
  • stick with 4GB RAM, it'll do for now to keep the initial spend down, and you can upgrade with two 4GB sticks from NewEgg later for about $50 with free shipping.
  • Upgrade to 1920x1080 screen for $50, if you like the looks of them -- go find a machine with this configuration and see if you like that tight of a resolution on a 15.6" screen. I have a 1920x1080 15.6", and I like it -- but several friends/co-workers think it makes things too tiny. Even if you don't do this upgrade, the stock 1600x900 screen is a very noticeable improvement over the typical 1366x768 on most 15" laptops.
  • If you can afford it, it's only another $20 to upgrade to a 500GB 7200 RPM drive.

    Second choice would be the same The CyberPowerPC X6-7300 that tacobravo suggested. Base is $900
  • Upgrade to the 500GB 7200 RPM hard drives for $34.
  • Keep it at 4GB, to stay on budget, upgrade to 8GB later at NewEgg for about $25.
  • If you have access to a campus bookstore: Select "No Operating system", and pick up Windows 7 on the cheap at your campus bookstore (CyberPowerPC credits you back $83 for the OS, and you can get it at a college bookstore for much less than that).

    And a third choice would be to find a nicely configured HP dv6 with the high-resolution screen, within your budget -- but you have to watch the sales (sometimes they even pop-up on the "Deals for today" items here on Toms home-page).
    [EDIT] Actually, it's on special right now, for way cheap. http://www.logicbuy.com/deals/coupon-hp-pavilion-dv6t-16-inch-quad-edition-laptop/15717.aspx... $950 after upgrading screen, switching to 640GB 7200RPM HDD, and upgrading the video to AMD 6770, and they throw in a Blu-ray drive... unfortunately, they'll probably charge you sales-tax and push it over budget.



  • thanks for the advice, however:

    i've talked to a few students who just finished in my program. they state that we only use CAD software in one course and it is used on a weekly basis. like i said, there are many school computers with the software and i can always hook my laptop up to my 24" 1080p monitor.

    as for your recommendations go, they are appealing, however, i live in canada, so there are a couple issues. first, at my university, we can't get copies of windows 7 for cheap. the cheapest one is PRO for about 100$ (cheapER, but not cheap, plus i don't need pro). second, that dv6 is not available on the canadian site with that deal/coupon.

    i really like the look and specs on the lenovo ideapad Y series. they are spontaneously going on sale and there is free shipping. any comments?
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    August 11, 2011 6:50:01 PM

    If you don't need to work in CAD that often, then I'd say go with one of your original choices.

    If gaming is a big deal to you, the 1366x768 screen will help with frame-rates. For that budget, you might look into some of the models that come with the mobile 460, instead of the 540 optimus for a considerable boost in video performance. I have the GT540M in my laptop, but I've never tried to play a game on it (I only use it for software dev).

    The Lenovo's are nice machines also, from what I've read -- I've never actually owned one.
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    August 11, 2011 11:18:36 PM

    the 460m machines are all well out of my price range. i think my choice is now between option #1 in the original post, the lenovo ideapad pad below:

    http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/webca/L...

    the model on the far right would be the one i want (for 900$). the only thing that peeves me about that model is the 5400rpm HDD. it has blu-ray but that's not a big deal to me.

    and this asus (for significantly less at 770$):

    http://www.tigerdirect.ca/applications/searchtools/item...

    again i've peeved by the 5400rpm on the asus as well as the lenovo.
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    August 12, 2011 12:45:51 PM

    reignsupreme11 said:
    ...
    and this asus (for significantly less at 770$):

    http://www.tigerdirect.ca/applications/searchtools/item...

    again i've peeved by the 5400rpm on the asus as well as the lenovo.


    That ASUS looks nice for that price, then add a nice 7200RPM drive (like the WD Scorpio Black 750, or perhaps the 500GB MomentusXT hybrid), and an 8GB kit (my favorite (bought 3 of these kits so far) GSkill 1333) and you're still in good shape, in terms of your budget.
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    a b D Laptop
    a b 4 Gaming
    August 12, 2011 1:14:01 PM

    hi there, just wanted to point out, CAD usage for school is really not that demanding, and you can always use school desktops if need be.

    so with that in mind you are getting a laptop for gaming. so you should focus more on GPU and which laptop is cheaper or which looks/finish you like more.

    I see that out of the ones you picked Gt540 vs GT555, that's not much of a difference in performance. If you have concerns with FPS, keep in mind you don't have to run it at native resolution, you can always downgrade it to say 1280x720 and the game will run just fine.

    also, good point shadamus pointed out, you only need about 4gb of ram for gaming, so going overboard there isn't needed, if you think you need more ram it's cheaper to do the upgrade yourself later than to overpay the premium for vendor to put in that extra stick.

    I like your 1st pick from cyber power because it's got an SSD in it, and it has a nice GPU, I think it's a really sweet deal for around $1k.
    I think the large storage HDDs are still ok, since they are cheap, but slower, so if you don't need the storage, I'd definitely pick the SSD.
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    August 12, 2011 4:11:24 PM

    shadamus said:
    That ASUS looks nice for that price, then add a nice 7200RPM drive (like the WD Scorpio Black 750, or perhaps the 500GB MomentusXT hybrid), and an 8GB kit (my favorite (bought 3 of these kits so far) GSkill 1333) and you're still in good shape, in terms of your budget.


    windows 7 comes pre-installed. would i have to remove the operating system and put it on a new hard drive? even then, would i have a product key that was valid and everything?

    also, to AntiZig, i want this laptop more for multitasking more than anything (browsing, music, CAD, MS word and video conversion all at once is not out of the question), that's why i really want the quad core i7-2630qm, and 8GB of RAM. gaming is not as important to me.
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    August 12, 2011 5:25:44 PM

    reignsupreme11 said:
    windows 7 comes pre-installed. would i have to remove the operating system and put it on a new hard drive? even then, would i have a product key that was valid and everything?


    a few ways:
    1. Create "Recovery Discs" off of the existing build, replace the HD, then restore the recovery image.

    2. Clone the original HD to the new HD... Install the new HD in the laptop, put the old HD in an external USB enclosure. Boot off of a disk cloning CD (Arconis, etc...), and clone the old to the new. Or, use a desktop computer by attaching both old and new HDs in the desktop and running the clone software there. Or, some (I don't know which, off the top of my head) cloning software lets you mount the source (old) drive on the network, and clone down to the locally installed (new) drive... it all depends on the software you use.

    3. See if they'll let you pay $10 or something to get the actual MS installation media for the OS (I don't know if think TigerDirect offers this service, if the laptop doesn't come with it in the box).

    4. Borrow the MS installation media (I don't know if it works with the retail disc, or if you need an OEM disc???), install from it, using the product key off of the bottom of the laptop (my ASUS laptop had the real product key on the bottom).

    Good luck.
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    August 13, 2011 4:57:43 AM

    i think i am going to go with my original option #1 but without the SSD. i'll downgrade it to a 320GB 7200rpm for about 200$ less. i love SSDs (i have one in my desktop) but i just don't think i want to spend that much right now. my original budget was <1000$ total. The price on that same PC without the SSD is 813$. it will be a tad less with the exchange rate in my favour :) 
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    August 13, 2011 5:20:05 AM

    i think that you should hold off and go for this laptop or something similar. http://www.xoticpc.com/asus-g53swxr1-p-3082.html?wconfi...
    it always pays to wait and get what you really want instead of getting some of what you want now.

    also you will not need a laptop capable of doing anything more than taking up space when it comes to engineering software in college. most cad programs like AutoCad are single core programs so most laptops with a high clock rate can run them. keep in mind i said run them but not run them well. i say this because they cant have you doing these huge projects that take hours to do when the average student has a laptop incapable of doing that. you will be find regardless of which laptop you get.

    another thing that you will learn shortly is to buy something(your laptop for example) after you know what you are going to need.
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    August 13, 2011 5:37:28 PM

    reignsupreme11 said:
    i think i am going to go with my original option #1 but without the SSD. i'll downgrade it to a 320GB 7200rpm for about 200$ less. i love SSDs (i have one in my desktop) but i just don't think i want to spend that much right now. my original budget was <1000$ total. The price on that same PC without the SSD is 813$. it will be a tad less with the exchange rate in my favour :) 


    Good choice, leaves some budget to play with later.
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    August 13, 2011 7:30:20 PM

    thanks for all the help and advice and your're right, it leaves future upgrade room. an HDD is the easiest to upgrade next to RAM so i may buy an SSD in a year or 2 when prices will be even lower.
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