“What kind of a computer should I buy?” with suggestions from Tony Hoffman of PC Magazine

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(See an update to this article in “It’s nearly back to school time: here’s info on buying a new PC“, Aug 14, 2009) 

As per my previous Tweet, I recently updated my answer to a popular question around this time of year: “What kind of a computer should I buy?”  I noted that there is something for everyone, at all price points.  It seems that new PCs are high on many people’s holiday shopping lists, and the price:performance is better than ever before.

This week, Tony Hoffman from PC Magazine has posted a timely article on How to Buy a Bargain Laptop.

“Everyone likes a good bargain—the trick is distinguishing what’s truly a worthwhile deal from something you may regret after you’ve used it a while. We define bargain laptops as ones costing $1,000 or less, though you can find great deals at any price. These days, with retailers going the extra mile in an attempt to boost flagging sales, laptops that might otherwise be out of reach for the frugal shopper have been descending into the affordable zone. Here we’ll look at what you should be able to get for $1,000 or less.”

$1,000 or much less, I’ll say.  Actually, I said in my previous post…

For under $500 at one of the big box office stores (on sale or after rebates), you can find a name-brand notebook with a 15.4-inch screen with (as I concur with many of my associates) a decent 1280×800 resolution, Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200, 120GB HDD, 2GB of memory, six cell battery, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100, 802.11b/g wireless and a CD/DVD Burner running Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic (splurge and get Windows Vista Home Premium for a few dollars). 

For many general computer applications (surfing the ‘net, writing term papers, listening to music and watching DVDs, streaming video from Netflix) this would fit the bill. And more.

This tops the 1.73GHz Dual-Core processor (T2080), half GB of memory, an 80GB drive and a double layer DVD Burner with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic I noted last year for the same amount. 

For under $1,000, you can get a very nice 15″ laptop with Core 2 Duo, 4GB, 320GB & DVD Burner (after current discounts).  Or even better if you’re looking for a desktop replacement with a bigger screen, I found a 17″ (1440 x 900 resolution) notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5800, 3GB memory, 320GB SATA Hard Drive, Intel 4500MHD Graphics, 802.11g wireless, 8X Slot Load CD / Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive, 2.0M webcam, 9 cell battery, all running on Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1. 

Very nice when you consider a year ago the same amount got you a 17″ widescreen with a Core Duo Processor (T2350), 2 GB of memory, 120GB hard drive and DVD SuperMulti drive. Ouch.

For $679, I was able to get a new Sony with a 15″ widescreen, Intel Core 2 Duo T5800, 250GB HDD, 4GB of memory, Wireless-N (draft 802.11n). 

Hoffman’s recommended specs are similar to what I’ve noted here previously:

“The processor should be 2 GHz or faster; Core 2 Duo is best, although an AMD Turion should also be fine. It should come with at least 2GB of RAM (you’ll need that to run Vista effectively), preferably 3GB or 4GB. Integrated graphics are okay, while discrete graphics are better, particularly if you plan to do any 3D gaming or rendering. One caveat: A discrete graphics card uses up more juice, which will reduce battery life. And speaking of batteries, an ideal laptop battery will be at least 50 Wh (watt-hours), six cells or more. Your laptop should come with at least a one-year warranty; two years standard and international warranties are even better.”

Although IT Pros and devs may not find what they’re looking for here for general office use, here are some of Hoffman’s recommendations, which should meet the need of your average home user (and more):

Laptops Featured in This Roundup:

FrontDell Studio 15
Editors' Choice Logo
$599 direct
Retaining many of the XPS’s qualities while selling for Inspiron prices is what makes this Studio laptop a winner.

HP HDX16t : FrontHP HDX16t
Editors' Choice Logo
$999.99 direct
The HP HDX16t is the sexiest 16-inch media center on the market, assuming you can live with the limited battery options.

Toshiba Satellite M305-S4835 : AngleToshiba Satellite M305-S4835

$950 street
Whether you carry it on the road or leave it at home, this mainstream laptop has what it takes to excel in any environment.

Apple MacBook 13-inch (Penryn)Apple MacBook 13-inch (Penryn)

$999 direct
The Apple MacBook 13-inch has been upgraded, but Apple continues to sell the older model at its site for a considerable discount.

Fujitsu Lifebook A1110 : FrontFujitsu LifeBook A1110

$799 direct
The A1110 would fare better against the competition had Fujitsu spent more time designing a sleeker-looking chassis.

In addition, I’d suggest you consider models from Acer, Lenovo, Sony and others.

More info: Upgrade or buy a new one? Suggestions from the Seattle Times

Tags: shopping, RSS, Microsoft, New PC.

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