Collin, almost any laptop that you buy will meet your minimum needs. However, I can make some recommendations.
The laptop market is undergoing dramatic changes right at this very moment. My answer to you today is different in some regards than the answer I would have given to the same question just 3 weeks ago. What appears to be happening RIGHT NOW, is that laptop vendors and retailers are both clearing the decks for the introduction of laptops using the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which was previously known by its code names Conroe and Merom. The desktop version of this radically new CPU (Conroe) is out right now, although not all models are actually shipping and supplies are short. The laptop version, which was code named Merom, will begin appearing in late August. This processor is the greatest advance in CPUs in 6 years, and it is both more powerful (a LOT more powerful) and lower power than anything previously offered by Intel or AMD.
As a laptop buyer, there are two ways you can take advantage of this:
-Wait for a laptop using Core 2 Duo (Merom)
-Buy now and get a true bargain on a current model
The intensity of the pre-Merom price cuts and discount is almost breathtaking. Sixty days ago, a Centrino system was AT LEAST $799. Today, $549 to $599 is not hard to find if you look, and this is in systems with other advanced features as well as the Centrino chip system. There are lots of coupons, lots of discounts, lots of rebates. Best Buy has a coupon for $100 off ANY laptop, good to August 19th, at:
[I have no connection with Best Buy, but its a good example of the promotions that are going on right now.]
There have been fantastic deals at Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot and Circuit City; you can get terrific laptops with advanced features for $549 to $699, and possibly even for $449 or $499. These are not stripped down models, you can meet ALL of my suggestions below in these price ranges.
***IF***, that is, you dont feel that you have to wait for Core 2 Duo and that you will be satisfied with current technology.
Another consideration is Vista, the new operating system coming from Microsoft coming out next year. Just about any laptop that you buy today will run Vista (you may have to add memory), but the real issue is Vistas Aero interface. All laptops will not run Aero, so if you buy now, be sure to ask about this if it is important to you. If you can wait (ah, back to the waiting game), you will probably be able to get a laptop this fall that comes with XP installed and a coupon for a free upgrade to Vista next year. This could possibly be the best of both worlds ... again, if you can wait.
[Unfortunately for all students going off to college in August and September, both Vista and Core 2 Duo are really both happening too late for most of these students to be able to wait.]
Anyway, here are some general suggestions:
1. Buy a Tier 1 laptop only .... made by the major manufacturers. Personally, Im partial to Toshiba, Dell and Lenovo (the IBM Thinkpad line). There are several other Tier 1 vendors (Acer, Sony, Gateway, HP/Compaq and perhaps I missed one or two). But I would not buy a 2nd Tier or 3rd Tier laptop. Parts, service and support issues are just too important on a laptop.
2. At this point, dont buy a laptop using a Celeron processor. There are just too many good deals right now on models with full performance CPUs. Go for Pentium M or a Core Solo or Core Duo CPU (note, Core Duo is an older CPU and is not the same as Core 2 Duo, the new CPU coming next month). Any of these CPUs will meet typical needs, but obviously more money (and not much more) will get you a faster CPU. But note that in a laptop, a faster CPU often means shorter battery life and more thermal issues.
3. Get a model with a DVD BURNER, not just a combo drive (burns CDs but only plays, does not burn, DVDs)
4. Get at least 512MB of memory, and preferably a gigabyte (note, however, you can expand this yourself later if needed, and its cheap to do ($30 to $50))
5. Get at least a 60 gigabyte 5400rpm drive, but in general the larger the drive the better. I dont know how you will use the laptop, so I cant say how much space you need. Drives are available up to 160 gigabytes, but the cost really starts to climb fast past 80 or 100 gigabytes. Similarly, 7200 rpm drives are faster than 5400 rpm drives, but the cost skyrockets.
6. Get a laptop with internal wireless networking that supports at least 802.11b and 802.11g (almost all will today)
7. Card slots: Some laptops have no or only one single expansion card slot. Some manufacturers have totally replaced PC Card slots (incorrectly called PCMCIA Card slots) with Express Card Slots. Personally, I think that this is premature, and the arrangement that I prefer is that found in some Toshiba models (the A105 in particular) that has two card slots, one of each type.
8. Pay attention to the video display system, especially if you want to run Vista with Aero next year. Chipset shared video systems CAN be ok, but not all are. Look for at least 128 Megabyte memory capability and support for Pixel Shader 2. Intel GMA 950 is ok, but GMA 900 wont run Aero due to lack of a driver (which may or may not get fixed). Discreet video systems by ATI or NVidia may or may not run Aero. If you get a video system that uses shared memory, then the need for a Gigabyte of memory (instead of only 512 Megabytes) becomes far greater.
9. The screen is too personal a choice for anyone to give valid advice; there are normal (4:3 aspect ratio) and widescreen displays, matte and shiny displays, and different resolutions. Its a personal preference. There is no one single best.
10. You also need to consider size; is it going to be traveling much? There are compact laptops (with screens down to 12) and there are laptops with 17 screens that are almost too big to fit in most laptop cases. Its all personal preference.
11. If you buy a Dell laptop, spend the extra $10 to get a restore CD. For other models, find out what type of restore provision is included. Personally I avoid models whose only restore capability is from a hidden partition on the hard drive. Toshiba still includes restore CDs (actually DVDs) on all models, as far as I can see. Dell, as noted, uses both hard drive partitions and an optional (extra cost, $10) CD (but ordering it is obscure and most buyers miss the chance to get the CD). Many if not most other brands/models use a hidden restore partition, which is useless if the hard drive itself has failed.
And a final comment: Although Im no fan of extended warranties in general, for laptops in a student environment, they can make a lot of sense. But there are some rules. Here are my additional recommendations for extended warranty rules:
1. ONLY buy the extended warranty directly from the manufacturer, not from the store where you bought it. That excludes some brands, but the manufacturer extended warranties have proven to be better than the store warranties, in my experience.
2. ONLY buy an extended warranty that includes accidental damage coverage, so that you are covered if the screen is cracked, the laptop is broken or you spill a liquid into the laptop. Again, that excludes some brands (and it may exclude buyers in some states that define an extended warranty plan as insurance and require it to be sold by licensed insurance companies and agents).
If you buy a laptop from Dell or Toshiba, 3 years of extended warranty coverage with accidental damage coverage will run you about $220 to $290. I have not checked rates or availability from other vendors. Note that even from Dell and Toshiba, not all of the extended warranties have accidental damage coverage, so know what you are getting. Most laptop repairs past the first couple of months are due to accidental damage, not to normal component failures.
Best of luck, this is a great time to be buying a laptop.
--Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, Ohio