June 13, 2007

That Shaky Thing Is A Tool And Not A Toy

Filed under: Uncategorized — mhoye @ 3:53 pm

On the off chance that this is useful to some of you, below you’ll find my longwinded email to an anonymous friend of mine concerning what laptop they should buy, as they go off to do some anonymous thing at some anonymous place, lightly edited (I misplaced the Sony sentence, sorry!) and lightly hotlinked as well. Good luck, anonymous friend; I hope that this is useful information.

 – mhoye

Ok, so: Laptops.

Let me start out by assuming you want a 15″ or smaller model with a
decent screen, not one of those thirty-pound home-theater-replacement
suitcases. I’m also going to roll in the cost of upgrading to 2-gig of
RAM into all of these models, because it makes a huge difference in the
performance, responsiveness and lifespan of modern laptops, and because
the cost of the extra RAM is basically zero when you compare it to the
value of your time. You know how every now and then Windows goes off
into the weeds for a minute or two? More RAM is how you keep that from
happening. That, and wifi-b/g (at least) has to be built in (naturally).

I’m going to skip over Dell, HP and Toshiba laptops, because my
experiences with their hardware has been so unbelievably awful that
I just never touch that shit if I don’t have to. HP and Toshiba’s
laptops are overpriced, and Dell laptops always seem to break about
a month after the warranty period ends. Also, you might have heard of
“e-machines” or “MDG computers”, which you should avoid at all costs,
because they suck ass hard enough to cave your skull in. Sony’s laptops are overpriced lifestyle products, even though some of the higher-end models are very tiny; I’m going to skip them, too, because they’re expensive and Sony products are a pain in my ass.

Ok, so where to start? I know you don’t want to go this route, but if
I were in your position I would seriously consider buying a Macbook.
You can get Microsoft Office for it, the build quality is excellent
and all of the stupid crap that you need to put up with as a PC user
(viruses, spyware, zombie “helper” apps running all the goddamned time,
all that shit) just goes away, poof. Not to mention, they have the
best power management management that money can buy. Your entry-level
13.1″ MacBook with the 2-gig option costs $1459, so there you
are. It doesn’t look cheap, but it’s actually an extremely competitive
price when you take things like screen quality and feature set into

I’m using a Lenovo laptop, one of their 3000 series. They’re pretty good,
and I’m really happy with mine. They come in a couple of flavors, that
all kind of look the same; the “C200” line is your entry-level consumer
laptop, and with the RAM upgrade, they start at about $765. Cheap! But
the screen resolution is only 1024×768. The N series is the widescreen
model and comes in a few different flavors, the entry-level N100
(1280×800 screen, 2-gig RAM) costing $1312. The N200 model, the one I
have, has a much nicer screen (1680×1050 and strikingly pretty) and costs
an extra two hundred bucks, $1512. I’m really happy with it, too. The
next step up there is their Lenovo’s V100 line, their “ultra-portable”
line, which basically means “thinner but more expensive”. I’ll let you
check that out on your own.

If you’re interested in spending a bit more money, but for something
with really fantastic build quality you should look at the ThinkPad
line from Lenovo, too – they’re pricier, but they come in a lot of
different shapes and sizes and they’ve got a well-deserved reputation
for durability and longevity. If you’re interested, I’ll price some
of them out for you, too; I know a lot of people who just won’t use anything else.

I’ve never worked with Fujitsu’s hardware, but I’ve heard a lot of good
things about their LifeBook series. Their prices are usually a bit high,
but the Lifebook A6020 (at $1187, right now) looks like good value for
money, and seems like a decent little machine.

If you’re interested in something that’s a little different, and a lot
cheaper, Asus is coming out with something called an “Eee-PC” this
August, an ultraportable little computer that consists mainly of a
lower-end processor, flash memory and a screen; very lightweight,
very small, but (comparatively) dirt cheap, too – less than $300,
it’s supposed to be. Not for watching movies or streaming video,
to be sure, but fantastic for taking notes and moving around. I’m
almost certainly going to be picking one of them up for myself, and
I’ll let you know how it looks if you’re interested. The only problem
is that this is a Possible Future Thing, rather than something that
you can go buy in the store right now.

So, there you go, anonymous friend. Don’t skimp on the RAM, seriously, especially if you’re going to be running Vista, especially on a laptop, because they usually share regular memory with the video card, which can be a pretty big hit.

Other than that, good luck.


  1. Plus you can run regular Windows on a MacBook, if you don’t mind a stupid one-button trackpad and some funky keys.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — June 13, 2007 @ 8:23 pm

  2. Re: Windows on Macbook, one button track pad, and funky keys.

    If you’re going the Boot Camp route, Apple provides drivers for all the wacky hardware and funky buttons. And they work fine, in my experience. In particular, two-finger scrolling, etc. works last time I checked. So if you lack a mouse, you can at least get by on the trackpad even in Windows.

    Running it Parallels: Having had the new Parallels 3 for a day, it’s pretty sweet. They include an app for browsing your VM’s “hard drive” without booting Windows. However, the new thing doesn’t support Boot Camp partitions (yet?). There’s rudimentary support for 3D acceleration now.

    In other words, the one-button trackpad is no longer much of an issue, and hasn’t been since they introduced the two-finger stuff. Even in Windows.

    Comment by Alex — June 14, 2007 @ 3:03 am

  3. Ugh. Forgot I had to add my own tags, etc. Sorry about that!

    Comment by Alex — June 14, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  4. Yeah, I didn’t include a lot of the bootcamp/parallels/vmware talk because the person on the receiving end of this is basically looking for an internet appliance that runs office and an IM client, not a full-fledged Computing Environment. But useful information for the tourist, to be sure.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — June 14, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  5. Nice post Mr.Hoye!

    If your computer lifestyle is that of a Lotus zooming around the French Riviera, Mr.Bond, a Mac may be your secret service product. However, if you live the search and rescue hovercraft computer experience the more Mcguyver-Volvo looking, more ubiquitous, IBM type machine has generally facilitated prompter escapes from certain doom, I think.

    Stormy weather capable vs. the French Riviera friendly, in my eye. Remember, Mcguyver was the better role model as heroes go.

    In the end, I’d just buy the red laptop with the most coffee holders.


    Comment by Sean — June 14, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  6. I’ve had several Dell laptops, and I’ve never had a serious hardware problem with any of them. I like them because, unlike the ThinkPads, they have the left Control key in the traditional location, rather than the ‘Fn’ key.

    Of course, I don’t drop, kick, chew, or otherwise physically abuse my computers, unlike most people…

    Comment by Mike Richters — June 15, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  7. The last three Dell laptops I’ve touched I had to completely disassemble and reassemble myself, because the build quality was Just That Bad; I found two extra screws rattling around in one of them, loose fans in the two others, and just a general disregard for the quality of the work or the value of my time. Two of them had motherboard failures literally three weeks after the warranty expired. While I’m confident that this isn’t the entire world’s experience with Dell, it sure has been mine, and I’ve got no desire at all to see if that streak is still alive or not.

    Also, I’ve never kicked a laptop.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — June 15, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  8. I’ve been dealing with Dells (and have carried 6 different Latitude models, I upgrade fairly often, since it’s not my money) since ’99, and with rare exception, they’ve been solid hardware. The one exception being the first generation OptiPlex GX-270s. If someone offers to give you one, say no.

    I’m currently carrying a Latitude D820, and it’s a solid well built machine. Of course, were a corporate customer and only buy Latitudes, so I can’t speak for the Inspiron line.

    Comment by Jamie Bowden — June 18, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  9. Ah, in that case, I should clarify that I’ve exclusively been working with the Inspirons.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — June 18, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  10. Also, I will add from current, painful experience that Lenovo is not set up to sell things to actual people (as opposed to businesses) and they have some of the worst customer support I’ve ever seen in my life. 45 minutes on hold for SALES QUESTIONS, and then all they can do is route things off to some other department that may or may not ever contact you (with odds on “not”). Oh, and they don’t answer email about your order sent to the address specifically given in the order confirmation mail.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — June 27, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  11. My experience with lenovo was the precise opposite of that, but maybe Canadian support is different (it’s somewhere here _actually in Toronto_, hard to believe but true). They actually screwed up my order – I got the 2gig ram upgrade, and they sent me a laptop with two 512s in it and a 1-gig in a bag with the order – but when I pointed it out to them, they couriered me the correct part and had the courier take away the two 512s, and were prompt and polite about it the whole way.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — June 27, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

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