Apr 302008
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an emerging requirement for scientists is that they possess a laptop computer in addition to any desktop. It just seems to be an essential feature for giving talks at conferences and (crossing fingers) for jobs. For whatever reason it seems like you just can’t ever trust that your presentation will ever work on somebody else’s computer. Plus, on the rare occasions that I travel it might just be convenient to have one. So, I’ve decided to purchase a laptop, and would like some advice based on personal experience or whatnot.

The requirements I have are pretty basic. I don’t plan to do any heavy computational lifting or gaming with this machine. I need it to be capable of word processing, running Powerpoint (or equivalent), displaying images, and accessing the web. It also needs to work smoothly with external projectors (this used to be a problem with Macs; is it still?), have good battery life, and be hardy enough to get knocked around in a plane or in my car and still function well. I would strongly prefer that it not put out enough heat to neuter me if I have the misfortune to actually use it in my lap. Obviously, since this will be a secondary computer, I want it to be relatively inexpensive, not much more than my rebate check if I can help it.

So, any recommendations? Are there any Macs that fit the bill, or are they all in the way too expensive zone? Are the Dells (Vostro, Inspiron) a suitable option, or are they also too pricey? Does HP make any laptops that won’t burn your pants right off? Can laptops running Linux deal with LCD projectors?

  8 Responses to “Laptop advice requested”

  1. I updated my Dell Inspiron in December (I have a 1521 now) and I like it. The base model is not particularly expensive–I don't recall the exact price, but it was definitely cheaper than a Mac. I beefed mine up a bit since it's essentially my multi-media center, but it doesn't sound like you'd have to for your needs.

    As for durability, I haven't put my new Dell through its paces, but I once fell on top of my old one (an 1100) when it was in my backpack (not a padded backpack either) and I fell off my bike. It suffered a slight crack in the case, but it never affected the computer and I used it for years afterwards.

    Don't know about Linux. I'm a troglodyte when it comes to operating systems, still using Windows. Good luck!

  2. Macs are probably still expensive compared to low-price-point PC laptops, *but* I would never switch back.

    Especially if your presentation involves any photos, graphics, or movies: the Mac will easily repay the investment. Certainly had I been giving my job talks with a slow PC, I would have been much less confident and effective (lag is a killer when trying to change 'slides').

    I just bought my third Mac laptop: this is a 17" MacBook Pro, and it came in at $2500. So, yeah, a chunk of change. But it is crash-proof, virus-proof, and gorgeous to use :). No problem now interacting w/ projectors: all Macs ship with the needed small connector for interfacing, and they auto-recognise such. I upgraded from my previous MacBook (i.e. non-Pro), and limited experience thus far suggests that it was worthwhile for the superior keyboard and faster speed.

  3. p.s. Heat is not an issue with the Macs; you sound as though you might well get away with a base-level MacBook, which comes in I believe at around $1300, also.

    I've carried the just-retired (still in use, but not as my primary machine) in a backpack with minimal protection for 3 years and it has never blinked. I did invest in a schmancy case for the new one, though, as the old one's case has a longish crack in by now :).

    Battery life is getting better; realistically I can use this one for 3-4 hours, with display dimmed.

  4. The Mac looks like a good option if I were buying a primary computer, but $1100 is just too much for a secondary computer. The Inspirons are affordable, but they come with Vista, and if I wanted to spend all day worrying about hardware compatibility I'd just get a Linux laptop. The Vostros look affordable and come with XP, so that may be the way to go. Matt, if you could mail me those specs that would be awesome. I'm also going to look into Lenovo; they definitely have a couple of affordable options.

  5. Happy Birthday, MWC!
    From your godmother, who loves both of her Macs and would never dream of buying anything else!

  6. Oh, I almost forgot, there are some wonderful $100 laptops that may be leftover from defunct "One Child, One Laptop" program in Birmingham (note, $100 laptops now cost $300).

  7. It sounds like what you want is one of those trendy subsubnotebooks like the asus eeeepc et al… (i.e. you'd make your presentation on your desktop but play it form the laptop)

    Still, i add my voice to the chorus that what you really want is a macbook. Air will smell sweeter, food will taste better, kittens will come out….

  8. Hi Nice Blog The personal-computer industry was experiencing a shortage of laptop batteries partly because of a recent fire at a major supplier, but the company was working with other suppliers to limit any price increases.

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