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Expensive laptop, or a small desktop with a cheap laptop for college?

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Last response: in Laptops & Notebooks
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December 2, 2012 10:09:51 PM

I plan on majoring in engineering next year. Do I go for a jack-of-all-trades laptop, or two specialized computers?

I've done a lot of research, but I'm still unsure of what I need, and I don't know what months or time periods are the best for laptop shopping.



Option 1:

Max budget: Around $1000

Screen size: 14" or 15"

Country: US

Brand loyalty: None

Refurbished/redistributed: I prefer refurbished as long as it comes from a reputable retailer such as Newegg. Not if it's from Craigslist or the savings are too low to justify it.

Primary uses: College and light gaming, and I will be carrying it places to places and using it on a desk.

Game preference: I usually prefer strategy games. Team Fortress 2 and Black Mesa are the current games I'm playing, though I'm interested in the upcoming Total War Rome 2.

Also, I might restart on playing SimCity 4 Deluxe. SC4 is very light on GPU (doesn't support Anti-Aliasing, and even has the option to set the CPU to render the graphics) and uses only one processor core, but I've seen it stutter on an i5-3570k clocked to 4.4 GHz when running very large cities.

Games' graphic setting preference: Low-medium

Battery life: Not sure since I have no idea how often would I get to recharge the laptop while on campus.

Preview: I don't mind buying it online without seeing it first-hand.

OS preference: Although I like Windows 7, I'm uncertain about Windows 8. I'm hoping that it would be fixed enough for me to use by the time I purchase the laptop.

Screen resolution: 1366x768 to 1920x1080

Screen type: Matte (anti-glare), unless if there's a glossy screen that's also resistant against glares

Laptop style: Indifferent. Something that wouldn't attract attention and make it a theft magnet?

Purchase time: Mid-late summer before fall college semester starts, or if there's a major sale in late spring.

Expected lifetime: I prefer if it lasts for at least four years.

Hard drives: At least 320GB 5400RPM hard drive. I'll install a 2.5" SSD myself by using the DVD enclosure and putting the DVD drive in an external case.

DVD drive: I prefer an internal one (so there would be guaranteed extra room for a 2.5" SSD) unless if the laptop has two 2.5" drive bays.

Additional optional hardware (not deal-breaker if missing): Support for msata, because that means I don't have to remove the DVD drive from the laptop. I also prefer if the laptop can be undervolted.

Experience: I reinstalled Windows a few times, know some command prompt functions, partially disassembled laptops, did minor cooling mods on two of them, attempted to undervolt my current laptop without success, OC'ed my current laptop's GPU and later updated the laptop's BIOS, and often visit Tom's Hardware and Anandtech websites.



Option 2:

Cheap laptop (Max budget of around $300):

Screen size: 13" to 15"

Country: US

Brand loyalty: None

Refurbished/redistributed: I prefer refurbished as long as it comes from a reputable retailer such as Newegg. Not if it's from Craigslist or the savings are too low to justify it.

Primary uses: College, and I will be carrying it places to places and using it on a desk. No gaming.

Battery life: Not sure since I have no idea how often would I get to recharge the laptop while on campus.

Preview: I don't mind buying it online without seeing it first-hand.

OS preference: Although I like Windows 7, I'm uncertain about Windows 8. I'm hoping that it would be fixed enough for me to use by the time I purchase the laptop.


Screen resolution: 1366x768 to 1920x1080

Screen type: Matte (anti-glare), unless if there's a glossy screen that's also resistant against glares.

Laptop style: Indifferent. Something that wouldn't attract attention and make it a theft magnet?

Purchase time: Mid-late summer before fall college semester starts, or if there's a major sale in late spring.

Expected lifetime: I prefer if it lasts for at least four years.

Hard drives: At least 320GB 5400RPM hard drive.

DVD drive: Optional


Desktop: $700 Micro-ATX
a c 406 D Laptop
December 2, 2012 11:27:55 PM

If you like to play games, then option #2 is probably better because at least it will be upgradeable in the future. However, having both laptop and desktop can be somewhat of a pain moving wise.

You can actually buy a pretty good new laptop that is capable of playing games decently that is within your budget. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 which comes with a GTX 650m that is a pretty good mid range performance graphics chip. You can either go with a 1366x768 or 1920x1080 resolution screen. For low resolution the GTX 650m will be great, for high resolution it will be okay, but you can always lower the resolution to 1600x900 or 1366x768. It also comes with a quad core i7-3630QM CPU and keyboard backlight. Unfortunately it is only rated for 3 hours and weighs in starting at 6lbs.

http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/Len...

I would opt for the 1920x1080 resolution screen since it can make multitasking a lot easier especially if you are doing research or working on a project that require multiple windows / programs to be opened.

There is also the IdeaPad Y580 which is basically $50 more than the Y500. The primary differences are better battery life (5 hours), more powerful GTX 660m which is better suited for 1920x1080 should you decide to go with the resolution, and it has no keyboard backlight. Also, just a little heavier at 6.2lbs.

http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/Len...

There is also the smaller 14" Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 which start at $50 less than the Y500 series. Battery life is 4 hours, weighs in at under 5lbs. It too has the quad core i7-3630QM CPU and the GTX 650m graphic chip. However, there is no backlight and you are limited to a 1366x768 screen. Also, based on my experience with the previous version (Y470), I recommend you do not consider the Y480. I believe it uses the same basic chassis as the Y470 which had problems cooling the CPU for whatever reason. The GT 550m in the Y470 got as hot as 72C which is really not that bad, but the dual core i5-2410m normally hits 92c and when play GTA 4 it hit 99c and started to throttle down in speed.


Lastly, all gaming laptops tends to have glossy screens, it is going to be difficult to find one with a matte screen. There is a solution, but it can be a little tedious... You can attach an anti-glare screen protector on a glossy screen. I did this with the IdeaPad Y470 and it more or less worked out fine. But there are a couple of issues.

1. You need to be in a room with as little dust floating in the air as possible and you need to make sure the screen does not have any dust on it. Dust particles can create annoying air pockets which means you need to partially peal back the screen protector several time to clean off the dust.

2. The screen protect may not cover the entire screen. For the Y470 it was short by about 1/16th of an inch. Not really a big deal, but just something to be aware about.

http://www.amazon.com/Green-Onions-Supply-Anti-Glare-Pr...

One more thing, you cannot upgrade the graphic card. Period. If you find that the laptop no longer provides enough performance in the future, then you need to buy a new laptop.
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