Many of my friends and myself will be going off to university soon and possibly one of the most dwelled on thing to bring is a laptop. It seems like many programs are starting to require some sort of computer and laptops just seem to be the natural thing to have. It’s small and you can carry it with you anywhere you go. Perfect for the university right? Well, finding that perfect laptop is far from simple. I’m a fairly computer-knowledgable person and I’ve been finding it difficult to find something that is both powerful enough and portable enough for my needs. Also, my budget’s not unlimited (being the poor university student I shall soon become) so that only makes the choice even harder.
From the outset, I decided that I need a widescreen display no matter what laptop I get. Aside from using it to do projects and so forth, I intend to make this into a sort of multimedia station in my dorm. The rooms aren’t large so it’s not like I can fit a big screen TV and surround speakers in there. The more space I can conserve, the better. A widescreen notebook would go a long way towards this goal. Watching movies would be splendid and I get the added bonus of being able to put two windows side by side on there.
I also decided that I need a decently long battery life on a laptop. What’s the point of getting a notebook only to have it bound by the length of the power cord? I needed at least 3 hours of battery life doing some word processing, listening to music and/or surfing the web. The only thing that would guarantee me this is a Intel Pentium M processor along with a decently high capacity battery.
Aside from that, I wanted a decent video card; none of that integrated stuff. While it may be okay for the regular DVD and whatnot, I do play games regularly and hope to be able to in the future. That meant something in the new generation of PCI-express cards: A X700, Go 6600 or 6800. They would give me about the performance of my desktop (albeit with a relatively old video card). I also needed a gigabyte of RAM for multitasking and a decently quick hard drive for gaming.
I did my usual internet research and came upon two sites:
They provided me a lot of laptop info and user views on different models.
So I thought I found something that almost satisfied all of my requirements. The Toshiba M40. It had a Pentium M 1.6GHz, 512MB RAM, a 60GB HDD, Go 6600, and a DVD+-RW DL. So rushed out to our local Futureshop and picked one up. It looked really quite nice and was fairly light. In addition, the screen was fantastic.
I used it for several days but the failings of this laptop soon became apparent to me. First and probably the deal breaker for me was the lack of battery power. If I was luck I could squeeze in a bit more than 2 hours of usage with medium screen brightness and just your regular light load of web browsing and such. Also when I loaded up my favorite game (UT 2004) I saw the horrendous performance a 4200RPM hard drive during the load times. It was unbelievable how long they were. I could go take a piss, get a drink of water and eat a cookie before I loaded a single map. So despite the fairly good specs, the laptop went back. And out on the search I was once more. This time, I would get exactly what I needed.
I looked through a bunch of laptops again and I really couldn’t find one that satisfied my requirements while fitting into the about $2000 budget I had set. So it was at this point that I seriously started considering building a new desktop PC for my dorm. Perhaps that mobility part wasn’t all that important and I would get way more performance bang for my buck through a desktop. I found all the components I was going to buy and had basically decided on that. Then I realized I didn’t have much of a need for a fast computer sitting in my dorm. Chances are, I won’t be spending all that much time in my dorm and a powerful desktop would be way too distracting from the real goal of university: to study and learn.
So back on the course of laptops, I had narrowed my choices down to the following:
Acer TravelMate 8103
ASUS Z71V barebones
Dell Inspiron 9300
Dell Inspiron 6000D
Now each of these laptops have their own merits. The Acer is a prebuilt computer with a nery fast CPU, large hard drive and a X700. The ASUS is completely customizable with me being able to pick and choose very specific parts. It also comes stock with a Go 6600 which is a bit slower than the X700 in the Acer. The i9300 is a monster 17″ widescreen with a Go 6800 256MB. I could also choose most of the parts. The i6000D comes only with a X300 128MB which is relatively weak compared to the others but has very good battery life. Then I went around and slashed a couple off the list, specifically the Acer because it has only 512MB RAM and is expensive. The i6000D was also gone since the video card is pretty pathetic.
So it came down to the ASUS and i9300. The ASUS definitely isn’t as high performing as the i9300 but the battery life on the i9300 isn’t great and the 17″ screen makes it quite heavy. (about 1.5lbs heavier than the ASUS) Also, the ASUS just plain looks nicer. To top it off, the ASUS is moddable in the sense that I can get a 1.6GHz Pentium M and run it at 2.13GHz through a pin mod. Quite an attractive feat which means I can pay little for quite a boost in CPU speed over the i9300. It also gets about 4 hours of battery life and fits pretty well into my budget. So here’s a look at what I plan to get:
Pentium M 1.6GHz 400MHz FSB (modded to run at 2.13GHz 533MHZ FSB)
1GB DDR2 PC4200 SODIMM
60GB Seagate Momentus 5400.2
nVidia Geforce Go 6600 128MB
Intel 2915a/b/g wireless
This should all tip in at around 6.5lbs and provide me a nice 15.4″ WSXGA+ with a 1680×1050 resolution. Wish me luck!
P.S. I plan on writing a little laptop guide for you other buyers out there soon, specifically for my friends, who have been pestering me to advise them on their laptop purchases. =P