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Student Laptop for Engineering

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Last response: in Laptops & Notebooks
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March 15, 2012 7:39:35 PM

I've got a budget of around $1700 with which to buy a laptop for college.

I'd prefer a small (sub 15 inch) laptop, so I don't have to lug around a heavy machine all day.

My university actually REQUIRES my laptop to have a resolution of 1600x900 pixels or higher.

This laptop will be used in class, so a minimum battery life of 4 hours when doing basic tasks is a must.

I might play some games with the laptop, but I'm ok with turning down the quality. That said, my course REQUIRES my laptop to have a discrete graphics card with 256 Mb + RAM.

I'll be running 3D modeling software on this laptop, so I can see why a discrete graphics card is required. Other than that, I'll just be writing assignments and doing web browsing, and I might exploit that video card for light gaming.

Another REQUIREMENT: At least 320 GB of Hard Drive space - Sadly, this puts nearly all SSDs out of my reach.

I'd prefer to order my laptop directly from the manufacturer, but I'm ok with buying from a third party if the price is right.

Ideally, I'll keep the laptop for the duration of the course, so being able to upgrade the laptop with more Memory and a SSD (Once big ones become cheaper) would be a plus.

I'm ok with the laptop not having a built in optical drive at all - I'm sure I can just use an external drive if the need comes up.

Right now I'm looking at the Lenovo T420s and the Dell XPS 15z, but I'm open to suggestions. I've heard bad things about HP and Toshiba, but that's hardly conclusive.

I'm in Canada.

Full List of University Requirements:
Windows 7 Professional (64 bit)
Intel i3 processor (Or equivalent/superior)
Minimum resolution 1600 x 900
Minimum 320 GB Hard Drive
Direct X Compatible Video Card with 256+ Mb RAM
Microsoft Office Professional (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook)
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March 15, 2012 8:10:02 PM

Can you afford a T series thinkpad ?
T420s all the way. Of course, if your workload will be REALLY intensive, you could take a look at the W series, but I think they don't really make them as small as 15".

Although my opinion is mostly subjective, I've been using thinkpads for 10 years. I've tried other laptops, have had to take a part a bunch of non-ibm laptops and all I've got to say is that if you want a durable laptop that won't get pissed at you for trying to move it around or using it without external power, you don't really have much of a choice. You either have to get a macbook pro, a high-end dell or a thinkpad. Too bad there are just three "real" thinkpad series left, the W, X and T. But at least they're still good, Lenovo hasn't skimped on quality. With laptops, the bare specs only tell you half of the story. If you're going to use it in class, you must have a keyboard that feels right just to you.
Specswise I am only acquainted with Thinkpad's at the moment. But if you chose a thinkpad, I can tell you this. If you want more space and still have an SSD, you can get rid of the DVD writer and put an ssd in the empty drive bay. If you want more memory or a wwan card, it's cheaper to order the bog standart laptop from Lenovo and then just add the memory yourself as you won't void your warranty by doing so, the same goes for other addon cards.
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March 15, 2012 8:35:31 PM

Thanks for the advice.

I'll probably get the ultrabay battery for some extra life, and buy an external optical drive. Would it be worth buying a separate screen and keyboard for a "desktop" feel at home, or should I just do my work on the 14" screen? (I'm used to a bigger screen, coming off a desktop as my main computer.)
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March 15, 2012 8:46:48 PM

Thinkpad all the way for engineering
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March 15, 2012 9:30:29 PM

You'd want the external monitor for dual monitor usage, I would think.
Depending on how your home setup is - you might be able to get away without a keyboard.
But you can looking docking station options if you want to take external attachments to the next level.
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March 16, 2012 5:15:26 AM

Docking station is nice, especially if you are living in a dorm room, as space may be a luxury, but they are expensive.
I find it is actually easier to type on my x200 than on my midrange logitech keyboard. I've used a dual monitor setup and it doesn't feel any different from a desktop dual screen setup if I use the laptop's mouse and keyboard, provided the screens are close enough to each other.
Also, what is your stance on IBM/Lenovo's trackpoint ? Because if you can't stand using it, you will most likely have to buy a mouse and keyboard if you opt for the dual screen setup.
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July 14, 2012 4:27:48 AM

$1700 is a nice budget. In fact, engineers and engineering students should get an expensive one which has all the features, more RAM, processor speed, highest hard disk drive etc. (Think about all the CAD projects)

Your laptop should also, like, be enough powerful to run the AutoCAD or other software smoothly. If you have used it before, then you know that it is already so slow. So, make your purchase worthwhile.

Here is a review: Laptops for Engineering Students
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