notebook/netbook reccomendations

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notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sun Jul 17, 2011 7:03 am UTC

Basically, I have no idea what I want. I've looked around a little casually, but before my monstrous 17in laptop started dying I wasn't really in the market for a new portable computer.

After lugging around the beast for a while, I really like the idea of a netbook form-factor. However, I've got big hands and am accustomed to having a numpad on my keyboard. It doesn't help that netbook makers seem to like making it as difficult as possible to differentiate between their products based on anything other than screen size/resolution and relative attractiveness, so I don't really have any reference on what kind of power is actually available for what price in the netbook market.

Likely, I'd be more comfortable with a relatively small (13-14in) notebook, but really I've been out of the loop on laptops for too long and I'm not really sure how best to look for what I want.

My basic requirements are these:

the well qualified candidate will be the smallest computer of reasonable price (shooting for >$600, >$500 preferred) capable of playing TeamFortress 2 and/or Starcraft 2 with a screen resolution of at least 720p.

Candidates should also come with an HDMI port and the capability to pass 1080p video over it.

Candidates will not be discriminated against for having or not having an optical drive or a small hard-drive. Though they should provide adequate USB ports.

Full keyboard with numpad a bonus.

HP, Compaq and Gateway need not apply.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby GeorgeH » Mon Jul 18, 2011 10:11 pm UTC

Dell's M11x (look for older versions to fit your budget) sounds like your huckleberry. If you can wait, Llano might make for some interesting alternatives. A number pad on a sub 14in notebook isn't going to happen in a way that's compatible with "big hands".
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Fri Nov 25, 2011 3:27 am UTC

Got a little more disposable income than I did a couple months ago, so a new M11x isn't completely outside my price range.
However, I have been handling laptops and getting a feel for different sizes and I think that 11-12 in. is probably too small too me, I don't think I want anything smaller than 13.3in. Most of what I've been looking at has been in the 15in range though.

A new M11x with an i3, 4gb of RAM, and a 320gb harddrive is $100 more expensive than a new Inspiron 15r with an i7, 8gb of RAM and a 640gb Harddrive.
The only advantage the M11x has over the less expensive machine seems to be a GeForce 540m instead of the 525m in the Inspiron. as I mentioned, I'm out of the loop, so I dunno how much of a difference there is between the two, they're both 128bit bus with 1gb memory though so should be plenty for my moderate gaming needs.

For the same price as the cheapest new M11x, I could get this ASUS with an i5, 6gb of RAM, a 540m, Blu-ray drive and full 1080p screen, which seems pretty impressive in a 15.6in package to me.
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Yes.

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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby GeorgeH » Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:22 pm UTC

I haven't used that particular laptop, but my experience with Asus in general is that they give you an impressive spec sheet inside a cheap plastic box with a barely mediocre screen. AFAIK the 540m GPU is just an overclocked 525m, but either one can be fitted with either GDDR5 or DDR3 so two "identical" 525m/540m laptops might not be as identical as the spec-sheet indicates.

RAM and HDD are almost completely irrelevant to me when purchasing a laptop - RAM is dirt cheap when purchased separately, and I've got a small stack of lousy OEM HDDs pulled from brand new laptops.

If a new laptop is more of a want than a need, I might hold off and see what happens with Ivy Bridge ultrabooks next year. If things shake out nicely (and that's a huge if) we could finally end up with my personal computing nirvana - small lightweight laptops with all-day battery life that you can use external PCIe devices (like "real" GPUs) via a Thunderbolt docking station.

If you haven't already, I'd spend some time lurking around the notebookreview.com forums. It might help you narrow down exactly what you're looking for, especially as it seems like you're gradually talking yourself into another ~17" from your original "netbook" starting point (that 15.6" Asus is barely 0.5" narrower and actually deeper/taller/heavier than a lot of 17"-ers.) :wink:
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby Zamfir » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:10 am UTC

Yeah, most 15.6 laptop are hardly intended to be carried around. They're heavy, and often not well built (keep in mind that larger machines require sturdier frames to achieve the same strength and stiffness). The ones that are well-built are way more expensive than the Asus you show, and still not light.

If you want a carryable machine that's still relatively big, the Thinkpad T420s is a good option (or a T410s if you can find one). Both T and s are relevant letters: different letter than T means lower quality series, no s means the thicker and heavier version.

This one won't be very cheap, but from your posts above I think you are underestimating how much non-spec quality matters in laptops. If you focus on specs, you'll end up with a plasticky machine, probably with lousy screen. Like that Asus, or Inspirons. Plasticky machines are fine if you keep them mostly at home, but once you start carrying them around they start to lose sturdiness quick.

So it's really important to decide for yourself how much you will be moving the machine around.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby Jplus » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:23 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:This one won't be very cheap, but from your posts above I think you are underestimating how much non-spec quality matters in laptops. If you focus on specs, you'll end up with a plasticky machine, probably with lousy screen. Like that Asus, or Inspirons. Plasticky machines are fine if you keep them mostly at home, but once you start carrying them around they start to lose sturdiness quick.

This.

(This is one of the reasons why buying a machine from Apple isn't as irrational as some people seem to believe. I am, however, not suggesting that you should buy a MBP. I think the M11x and the Thinkpad T420s are very good suggestions.)
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby rath358 » Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:26 am UTC

FWIW, I am typing this from a T420. It feels very sturdy and well built. Although it cost more than twice as much as I paid for an Acer Aspire with only slightly poorer specs a year and a half ago, it feels worth that difference in price. My college uses the T420 for its laptop program, and hands out 49 month warranties with it, so I think that says something about its quality.
This is not the s (slim?) version, so I cannot speak for that, though I would guess it would be similar. It also does not have a numpad, which makes some games (dwarf fortress) a little difficult, but TF2 is fine. It also does not have an HDMI port, although it does have a DisplayPort port. If you want, I can ask around about how well the DisplayPort thing works.
In short, I love my T420.

Edit: it is actually a dual-mode port that apparently can be converted into DVI or HDMI through some witchery.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:33 am UTC

GeorgeH wrote:especially as it seems like you're gradually talking yourself into another ~17" from your original "netbook" starting point (that 15.6" Asus is barely 0.5" narrower and actually deeper/taller/heavier than a lot of 17"-ers.) :wink:


On the contrary, I'm trying as hard as I can not to cross the 15in line, a 13.3 or 14in laptop would be ideal, but so far my research has come up with fuck all smaller than 15.6in and cheaper than $1000 if I want any kind of discrete graphics at all.

The Asus seems like the best compromise so far, It's bigger than I'd like but I do get a 1080p screen and blue-ray drive out of it without going completely over-board on size. I have heard rumors that the Dell Outlet will start carrying XPS 14zs sometime in December, which would be great.
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Yes.

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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 29, 2011 12:31 pm UTC

Edgar, how much carrying around are you planning to do? Daily, once in while, or just inside your house? Do you want to work away from power outlets? Are you willing to use a somewhat uncomfortable bagpack to carry the machine? Will you just move from your house to a car, or do you intend to take it on a bike or in mass transit? Such questions determine whether something like that Asus make sense for you.

You might look at Acer Timelines, especially the TG series with a discrete card. Construction quality is not outstanding, but they meet your profile for the rest.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:57 pm UTC

Have you considered something like the Thinkpad Edge E425? It's one of the few <15" Llano notebooks I've been able to find. It's not horribly powerful, but given even the E-350 can pull 30fps at 720p in SC2 (and I'm pretty sure TF2 is less demanding), it should meet your needs there. It's also going to be better built than that Asus, ships with a 7200rpm hard drive by default, has substantial battery life and comes in nicely under budget with the A4-3300M upgrade.

The T420 or T420s with the NVS 4200 graphics would be more powerful, likely even better built, and still portable, although it's about twice the price.

If you're looking for something reasonably portable, you're going to have to compromise on power a bit - there's not really a good way to get more than a Geforce 540M into a slim chassis, and that's likely to be expensive.

On the other hand, if moving is an occasional thing (your requirement for HDMI/DP output suggests this might be the case), something like the Asus you've linked might not be a bad choice.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:08 pm UTC

Can someone tell me what's wrong with this Acer for ~$700?

the biggest complaints I've read so far center on the bloatware (I intend to fully reinstall windows on purchase anyway) and the keyboard, but the one I tried at Fry's today seemed fine (to be fair, I am not nearly a discerning typist). With those specs at that price, it was difficult to not just walk out the door with it.

As far as build quality goes or whatever, I am probably not going to be too rough on it. I mean, what I have now is a 17in monster with minimal battery that I don't want to take anywhere anyway, any mobility or wall-independence is going to be a huge improvement on that. Probably the hardest it's gonna get is going between classes at law school, but I have no idea what my schedule will be like yet, so its difficult to judge.
Roosevelt wrote:
I wrote:Does Space Teddy Roosevelt wrestle Space Bears and fight the Space Spanish-American War with his band of Space-volunteers the Space Rough Riders?

Yes.

-still unaware of the origin and meaning of his own user-title
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:29 pm UTC

If you want to lug it around to law school, do yourself a favour and buy something lightweight, screw the gameplay. 300 dollar buys you an 11.6 inch netbook that can serve most of your school needs at little weight and lots of battery, alternatively it gets you second-hand 12-incher from a professional series. You might find a decent second-hand netbook for even less.

Then save up for a compromise-free game machine back home, laptop or desktop depending on your preferences.

If you max out your money on a compromise, you're lugging around a machine that is not quite well-made, that you cannot really afford to replace, and that still won't play games really well.

If you really don't want to do that, that Timeline might be the best option, it's the machine I mentioned above. I have considered buying a previous version of that machine, for pretty much the reasons you give. As far as I know I might have been happy with it. There's a review of it on notebookreview.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:58 pm UTC

I do have a high power gaming desktop, but I also do a fair amount of traveling/going over to LAN at a friends place or just laying on the couch/bed instead of sitting at my desk to play around.

I also do some design/3d modeling stuff at the local Hackerspace, and while there are design machines there, they are mostly dedicated to specific machines and usually I prefer to sit in the common area and chat while I work on a project.

I've thought about getting a cheap netbook for work/class and a larger 15-16 in computer for design/LAN, but I've found 11-12in. computer uncomfortable to use when I've tried them and honestly, I can't convince myself having three computers (four if you count my smart-phone) is a good idea.

I may find myself changing my mind as the ultra-book and tablet segments mature, but for now, I think something along the line of the Acer or XPS 14z fits what I'm going to be doing just fine.
Roosevelt wrote:
I wrote:Does Space Teddy Roosevelt wrestle Space Bears and fight the Space Spanish-American War with his band of Space-volunteers the Space Rough Riders?

Yes.

-still unaware of the origin and meaning of his own user-title
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 29, 2011 11:17 pm UTC

Yeah, that makes sense. I'd still avoid the 15.6 ones. It's not just that they are big, they are just not designed with movement on the mind.14 inchers are one step smaller, but that makes a big change in attitude.
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Re: notebook/netbook reccomendations

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Jan 04, 2012 9:15 am UTC

I decided on the Acer due to its low price and more (and better positioned, on the sides instead of the back) USB ports than the dell which never ended up showing on Dell's outlet site.

Anyway, it just got here today and after setting it up and playing around a bit, my initial impressions are that it's slightly fantastic.
In addition to the size and weight still surprising me after handling one at Fry's (especially compared to my 17in beast) the battery is still holding well after 3+ hours of heavy downloading and playing around, the keyboard is fine and the build quality feels fairly solid for being mostly plastic from what I can tell.

Also, I hadn't realized laptops these days come with multi-touch trackpads. It makes using a trackpad so much easier, I'm having trouble remembering how I got along on my old laptop without one.

My only gripe so far is the lack of discreet media buttons, but that's not a big deal and I think I may be able to use trackpad gestures for some media functions anyway.
Roosevelt wrote:
I wrote:Does Space Teddy Roosevelt wrestle Space Bears and fight the Space Spanish-American War with his band of Space-volunteers the Space Rough Riders?

Yes.

-still unaware of the origin and meaning of his own user-title
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