Author Topic: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?  (Read 251 times)

Charlotte

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I’m in need of a new laptop to use mostly for work. I have very little understanding of what makes a good laptop however. I had been using an Apple MacBook and I’m happy with it, but I think I need to get a Windows laptop this time (recommended by my school and used by most of my students).

I would mostly use it for classes (Canvas and Blackboard), recording short video lectures, writing a lot, and running a statistical analysis program for research projects. Has anyone found a decent (preferably affordable!) laptop that will help me do all this without causing frustration because it’s too slow or unable to handle life/tasks?

I’ve been looking but I’m overwhelmed by the choices and the terminology I do not understand. I’d appreciate any suggestions!

mamselle

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2021, 07:19:22 AM »
You could start with your IT department. They can tell you the specs you need to be able to use the materials and software required for your campus.

They might also have loaners you could try out (or old ones you could even buy. I'm typing on a Lenovo I bought when a school I was adjuncting at upgraded their loaner stock and sold all their old laptops for 100.00 each. That was, hmm, 3-4-5 years ago, and (knock on wood) it's still doing well.

That campus also had a toggle MAC/PC setup on their campus-based computers, you could choose either one to work from while in the library, etc.

That meant that any of the nonsense that happens with the two OS when you try to do Ppts between them was minimized, made visiting guests' presentations much easier, for one thing, and those used to working in one environment at home could stay in it if you found something online, like a photo, that you wanted to import to a file on your own thumbdrives, too.

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ergative

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2021, 08:02:48 AM »
I use Lenovo as well. I have had three laptops since 2008. The first, running (god help me) Windows Vista, lasted from 2008 - 2015, the entire duration of my PhD program. The second, bought in 2015, is still going strong, although the Windows installation died a year or two ago so now it's running Ubuntu. But it's still doing great. Rock solid build.

My current laptop I bought in 2019 (Yoga C930), and it's pretty good, but not super great. I use it for online teaching, and I've had no problems with the built-in webcam and microphone. The touch screen is really, really useful for annotating lecture slides in real time on Zoom. I run R and Stan and Python on it, and it's handled those without a problem. I also watch (a lot) of streaming video on it, and the video and sound are clear and usable.  The solid state drive means that it's always very fast and responsive, and it boots up and shuts down quickly, even after almost two years of reasonably heavy usage. 

There are some software problems: The internet driver broke at about 6 months and caused blue screen of death crashes until I uninstalled and reinstalled it (no crashes since then), and the sound driver keeps dying and needing to be disabled and re-enabled. That only takes 10 seconds, but is annoying to have to do every few days. There are a couple of minor hardware problems too: There is only one USB B port, and it is quite wobbly and doesn't like talking to old USB drives. It also comes with an integrated pen (awesome!) which stopped working entirely after a year (boo). For these reasons I'm not sure I'd recommend it over other laptops, but given all the ways it could disappoint me, it's chosen really trivial ways, and in all the ways that I care about the most (durability, speed, battery, screen clarity) it's been rock solid.

Also, it's really thin and light and great for travel. Which I don't do anymore. But, y'know, I could have.

Parasaurolophus

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2021, 09:52:39 AM »
Unless you're going to game or do some serious video editing, or run really serious stats software (not just R!), most new laptops are going to be just fine (though perhaps not the cut-rate $200 mini chromebooks you sometimes see kicking around; they're probably gonna struggle with parallel processing requirements). Given what you describe, it sounds to me like your main concerns should be storage space and RAM (and you don't need a whackload of that; most laptops these days (from what I observed in my last search) come with 8 gigs, and that ought to be plenty, though obviously there's no harm in more).

I've had three Lenovos in a row now. My first (c. 2010) was the best laptop I've ever had. My second (c. 2015) was a bit of a lemon. This one (c. 2019, though it's a 2017 model) is so-so. All were capable of running my daily tasks plus some relatively demanding games, and they were relatively afforable. They come with a lot of bloatware, thoough, and MS Office has been real shit (and slow) since moving to the cloud.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2021, 08:37:00 AM by Parasaurolophus »
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spork

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2021, 08:33:42 AM »
Disclaimer: I am not a tech expert.

I recommend putting ergonomic factors high on your list of preferences. If at all possible, find a physical model and type on it to see what it feels like.

I have a work-issued HP Elitebook and a personal ASUS C302 Chromebook. The ASUS display is far sharper and easier on my eyes despite being smaller. The ASUS is also far lighter than the HP and does not have a big charger brick, so this is my travel machine. At home I have a large second monitor and a wireless keyboard and mouse, so I don't mind the HP's lower screen quality as much.

If you are a full-time employee, ask your IT department what it will support in terms of hardware and software, like Mamselle said. The university might also have a deal with its vendor that allows faculty to buy a laptop at a reduced price. Sometimes software can be installed for free, whether it's an officially issued laptop or not.

Parasaurolophus is absolutely correct about cloud-based Microsoft Office 365.
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marshwiggle

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2021, 08:43:01 AM »

I have a work-issued HP Elitebook and a personal ASUS C302 Chromebook. The ASUS display is far sharper and easier on my eyes despite being smaller. The ASUS is also far lighter than the HP and does not have a big charger brick, so this is my travel machine. At home I have a large second monitor and a wireless keyboard and mouse, so I don't mind the HP's lower screen quality as much.


I have an Acer Chromebook, and since you need to run specific *software, it may not be a viable choice, but the battery life of my Chromebook is PHENOMENAL. (Like 17 hours???)

I use my several year old Lenovo, dual-booted Linux and Windows 7, for whenever I actually need to run software that I can't run on my Chromebook; maybe I fire it up once every week or two.

*You can run most Android apps on a Chromebook, and many Linux apps as well.

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sinenomine

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2021, 10:49:38 AM »
I was in the same boat as the OP last Spring and asked my go-to connection in our IT department for his advice, since I hadn’t owned a laptop since the days when they didn’t yet have internal hard drives. He suggested a Lenovo, and other than its microphone dying pretty quickly, it’s been great. I got a plug-in mic, rather than ship it off for repair, and I shut down a lot of the bloat ware to stop the annoying pop-ups. It was very affordable — around $300, if I remember correctly.
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clean

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2021, 04:49:29 PM »
For what it is worth, I will include the specs of the computer that my employer has provided. The expert IT people picked it out for us (or it was on sale?)

My employer has provided me with a Dell Inspiron 5500 (for what that is worth) laptop.
I have a 17" monitor.
16gb of memory (but i think that they upgraded it after purchase because I was having some software issue that kept saying "out of memory" so they added more memory as a solution.
It is running an Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-8365U CPU @ 1.60GHz   1.90 GHz  (whatever that means)

I am running Windows 10.  The university provides the Office Suite (I think that the current 'subscription' is Office 360' as I occasionally get messages that my subscription has expired - which i ignore and have no ill effects).

My personal compute crashed in January and I got, I think an HP something from Bestbuy that was not at all expensive. But Im not really thrilled with the touchpad on that one, and more often than I like, I will type and it will up and change the window.  I dont know if that is part of the touch screen or the touch pad, but it is annoying!

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ergative

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2021, 01:55:57 AM »
It occurs to me that one thing the OP should be aware of is the importance of getting a solid-state drive.

The single thing that has changed my experience in personal computer use has been the switch to solid-state drives. Technicallly, i understand they are more stable etc etc because no moving parts wear and tear blah blah blah, but from the user perspective, what changed is that they are FAST. Super-fast. Really fast on boot-up and shut-down, and that speed has remained consistent.

When buying a laptop, look for the term 'SSD' when describing hard drives. They are more expensive and have less storage space than traditional hard drives, so for similar prices you might see a traditional drive with 1.5 TB and a SSD with 256 GB of memory, but I think it's worth it. If you're clever with cloud storage, you don't need a terabyte of local storage, and the experience of SSDs should make them the new standard. (For all I know they already are! It's been a couple years since I looked at computers.)

Charlotte

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2021, 05:33:31 AM »
Thank you so much, everyone! Parasaurolophus, those specs are very helpful. And Ergative, I wasn’t aware of solid state drives so I definitely appreciate that note.

It sounds like most really like Lenovo. I hadn’t even thought of that so I’ll check them out. I really appreciate everyone’s input here! I’ve had a lot on my plate this this (MIL was in the ICU) and I need to purchase this computer but all the options and confusion was making me feel overwhelmed. It helps to have the advice of the Fora!

spork

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Re: Any tech experts willing to share their knowledge on laptops?
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2021, 02:46:40 AM »
In case it's of interest, another example of ergonomic factors:

My university is replacing faculty members' HP Elitebooks with the HP Zbook. Same 15" LED screen, with a max brightness of 210 nits. My phone's standard setting is 430 nits. What this means: the laptop is very difficult to use outside; in the sun, forget about it.

While the Zbook's footprint is a bit smaller than the Elitebook, the keyboard is slightly larger and backlit, which is good. But it weighs almost 6.5 pounds. My Asus Chromebook is only 2.6 pounds. Much easier to carry around.
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