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Buying a laptop


I've been looking to purchase a new laptop for a while now. In 2010, when I started Uni in my impoverished state (I was paying back my parents for driving lessons/tests as well as paying them board money, without having received my complete student finance instalment), I only had a small amount of money set aside for a laptop for my studies. That small amount was £250. Try getting a laptop with that...

Oh but wait, you could! Netbooks, the choice of device for students living in squalor, were only around £200-£300. Excellent, I set out to find a half decent one, thinking that they will suffice for a few notes and some web surfing.

I ended up purchasing this fine specimen; little did I know it was to cause so much grief in the future:

Acer Aspire One 533

Okay it was fine for the first few times I used it, but it was still painfully slow. I already owned a pretty dire desktop (AMD Athlon64 3700+ single core), which was a dream to use in comparison to this netbook. But I persevered.

Fast forward to 2011 and I wanted to take a sledgehammer to it. Windows 7 on a system that slow was just impossible to use. Even installing Ubuntu didn’t improve things. By this point I had purchased an excellently powerful desktop PC to replace its ailing predecessor. So in addition to my netbook being slow, there was a massive gap between using an exceptionally fast desktop PC and an exceptionally slow netbook. Sigh.

Now running Lubuntu (a more lightweight Ubuntu variant), I get some measure of performance out of it, but it simply won’t do, I need a better laptop - one with some processing power, screen space, and ability to not grind to a halt opening Google Chrome.

Okay I may have ranted a bit there. Now the question is, what do I buy?

Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge?

The laptops currently in production and being sold contain Sandy Bridge CPUs. Not bad by any means, they are decent in processing power and power consumption. However Ivy Bridge, the successor to Sandy Bridge, is just around the corner, and will of course improve upon their predecessors in every way. Power consumption will be further reduced, giving more battery life. Performance will be boosted, and even the graphics capabilities are said to have been improved. Will I need these improvements? I can surely survive with a Sandy Bridge CPU right? Something tells me I’ll regret it, so I suppose I can wait till April or so for their release, and endure the pain of finishing my second year with my netbook.

Screen size and resolution

15” screens with resolutions of 1366x768 are in abundance. The problem is I don’t find them particularly sharp at all. Finding an alternative is relatively difficult, and I’ve only found them on larger screens (17” or 18”) or very expensive/custom laptops. Custom laptops often lack shall we say, nice design, and I’d prefer something fairly thin and light.

Blu-ray or SSD?

I currently have an SSD (Solid-state drive) in my desktop. It is awesome and much faster than my hard drive(s), but do I really need one for a device I’ll only be using occasionally, mainly for work? The faster start up times would be nice, but I don’t think I need it to be ultra-responsive, especially for the price. On the other hand I watch films a lot, and I’m the type of person who looks at DVDs with disgust. A Blu-ray player would surely be a better choice, right?

What about Ultrabooks?

Ultrabooks are a fairly new variety of portable computer. They are exceptionally thin, have fair processors (Core i5s and i7s are not uncommon, although clocked lower). Battery life is usually excellent, they often contain SSDs by default, even the screen resolution is usually quite high. Think Macbook Air, but not a Macbook Air of course. The downsides are of course, no disc drive, and the sheer amount they cost, over £1000.

An example Ultrabook: The ASUS Zenbook UX31E

Or tablets?

The ASUS Transformer Prime has caught my attention recently. It features a quad core NVIDIA Tegra 3 ARM processor, with an excellent screen (IPS 10.1”) and keyboard dock. As interesting as it looks, it is first and foremost a tablet. It is not as powerful as other laptops, lacks storage and RAM, and while I like Android very much, I can’t do everything I can on it as I can on say, Windows or Linux. I can’t help but feel a tablet would be a bad choice. I’d like to have one yeah, but not over a laptop.

The ASUS Transformer Prime

So what will I buy?

I don’t know. I have pondered these things over and over again. I recently gained a £1,000 scholarship from my University which I intend to spend on this laptop, but I don’t fancy spending the full amount. I think I’ll wait for Ivy Bridge to be released, see what prices are like, and what manufacturers release, and buy something mid-high range. I don’t think I’ll get an SSD, or an Ultrabook/Tablet. I might end up changing my mind when I get there of course. But I don’t think there’s any point buying something that matches my desktop and makes it obsolete. And I definitely don’t want to make the mistake of buying something underpowered again.