Author Topic: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?  (Read 11370 times)

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Hey all,

I'm looking at getting a new laptop soon.  I have a few questions which are:

1. Should I really buy a new computer? and
2. Should I invest in a nicer computer that will provide a better computing experience and last longer, or should I get something fairly affordable (as I did with my current computer) but that may only last for a few years max?

Okay, now details. 

1. I have a nearly 3 year old Acer that has some serious problems.  It has no battery life whatsoever (which I could fix by buying a new battery but not sure if it's worth it because of all the other issues), it does not stream media, it is very slow, the anti-virus stopped working despite uninstall and reinstall, it freezes and requires a hard-shut down nearly once per day if not more.  The thing is, this computer still functions, albeit with many limitations. Seeing as I will be doing my master's project soon, having an unreliable computer could be a big concern.

2. I just recently got a generous bonus from my boss of $600 for going above and beyond in my work last semester (I'm a graduate assistant). With this in my pocket, I thought it might be prime time to invest in a new computer. A laptop is essential for work and school, since portability is king. I only need a machine that will do daily tasks, but ideally will do them quickly and will last for a long time.  A good friend of mine just bought a new computer with a SSD (solid state drive) and says that these computers are likely to last much longer since the hard drive has no moving parts and this also makes them much faster. I've been looking at Samsung Series 9 computers on Amazon like this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-NP900X3D-A01US-13-3-Inch-Premium-Ultrabook/dp/B0098O6HGK/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1360538044&sr=8-6&keywords=samsung+series+9.

Final consideration:  I am very low on funds at present. I figure most of you will say to continue with my current computer until it craps out because I have very little money.  I've funded my entire graduate school degree with savings from before I started school and because I worked hard to secure a job that provides a tuition waiver for most of my tuition (but not all, I've spent over $8,000 on covering the extra tuition over the past year and a half out of $11,000 in savings when grad school began in Spring 2011). I have the possibility to take out an interest-free loan from my parents which I am planning to do soon anyway because even with the $600 bonus I barely have enough to cover my $1000 tuition this semester.

Anyway I have fallen a little bit from my Mustachian ways and hope to get some good perspective.  Thanks!

Left

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1159
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2013, 04:47:17 PM »
have you tried reinstalling the OS on the acer? And if you know, what is the ram on it? Ram's fairly cheap and if you're hitting the limit on what you got now, adding more would be an easy way to speed it up.

Reinstalling the OS would take a few hours to a day, if you haven't backed up anything. The ram is a quick check to see what you got on it. The lack of streaming media is not a issue with the laptop itself, more of a software problem that reinstalling OS should take care of as well.

I mean, you can try reinstalling OS (it's free if you do it yourself), check amount of ram (free until you buy it). If this speeds up acer, then all you need is a battery which is ~$50. You can buy a ssd for ~$100, and ram for about ~$50. If it's slow because of the processor, than you're out of luck for the most part, it's hard to change it on laptop. But being just 3 years old, I doubt that's the case

Daley

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3963
  • Location: Cow country. Moo.
  • Got that mustache feeling.
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2013, 04:48:26 PM »
1) Probably not.
2) Probably not.

Longer answer: Honestly, it sounds like most of your system problems are OS related. I'm going to go out on a ledge and guess you're running Windows. Here's the thing about Windows... if you don't care for and maintain it, something that's affectionately referred to as "bitrot" starts to set in with the operating system. Heck, even caring for Windows only staves it off so long. After three years of various patches, upgrades, possible malware infections, bloatware from Acer, and general higgledy-piggledy, it probably wouldn't hurt to just do a fresh OS reinstall and start anew.

Honestly, that's where you should start. Do a quick integrity check of the hard drive and RAM to ensure both are still ticking along well (use Ultimate Boot CD for this - at least 5 passes of Memtest86 for RAM integrity, Drive Fitness Test or whatever included manufacturer utility is the most appropriate hard drive diagnostics for the brand of hard drive listed in the OS hardware configuration/BIOS), and if those come up skittles and beer, just back up your important data on an external drive and utilize the restore partition on the system or reinstall media that you should have created when you first got the machine. Acer should have instructions to walk you through the process here. If you get stuck, I know I'm not the only old IT hand around these parts. Once you roll-back to factory default, update the OS to current, reinstall your necessary software, defrag the hard drive and buy a replacement battery with confidence.

I've seen a lot of perfectly good machines turfed because Windows went wonky from viruses/malware/bitrot/neglect, and I have a feeling this might potentially be one of them. Get your hands dirty with a little self-done tech support, you've got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

grantmeaname

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4814
  • Age: 27
  • Location: NYC
  • Cast me away from yesterday's things
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2013, 06:16:06 PM »
I'm with Daley. If you do decide to purchase a new computer, I think you'd do well to consider something refurbished from a manufacturer's outlet like Lenovo's (here), and see how much machine you can get for how little money. The answer: a lot, and very little.


Jamesqf

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4047
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2013, 07:38:51 PM »
There's also the option of installing Linux.  You don't say what you're a grad student in, but in my experience the things you'll need are as readily available on a Linux platform as Windoze.

As for the age of your machine, I develop serious number-crunching software for a living, and my main work machine is a Lenovo T61 that has to be 4-5 years old now.

onemorebike

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 319
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2013, 07:40:26 PM »
I'm also onboard with IPDaley. Your current laptop sounds like it isn't lost, but could just use some TLC. I'd try this before dropping a ton on a new one.

TomTX

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3601
  • Location: Texas
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2013, 09:11:10 PM »
Yep.

OS refresh, and see if you can increase the RAM cheaply. At that age, it probably takes 2x 2GB sticks max. It probably came with 1x 2GB, or 2x 1GB.

Lots of "stock" laptops (particularly at the low end) are RAM-starved and see noticeable boosts in responsiveness with more RAM. Usually it's a matter of: Remove 2 screws so that you can remove a plastic cover plate, snap in the new RAM (get the right type), replace the cover plate, replace 2 screws.

I'd say "easy as pie" - but it's really much faster and easier than baking a pie.

Deano

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 213
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2013, 09:35:31 PM »
+1 to the RAM suggestion.

You can also swap your current hard drive for an SSD. That will speed things up as much as the RAM, at least in terms of booting and opening applications. You'll also have a fresh install of your OS and away you go. A reasonable SSD is about 120 bucks, RAM maybe 40 bucks. You'd still have 400 left!

Daley

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3963
  • Location: Cow country. Moo.
  • Got that mustache feeling.
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2013, 11:46:29 PM »
Way to go spending other people's money, guys. Just a gentle reminder, but you do remember where you are, right?

If the laptop was sufficient for her needs three years ago, it'll most likely still be sufficient today once the OS is re-installed. There's a lot of things that can be done to Windows to speed it up that doesn't involve throwing more money at it. Is RAM one of the best bang-for-buck upgrades for a lot of cheaper systems? Yes, but you don't even know what the specs are on the machine to begin with, and 2GB is still more than a lovely little sweet-spot for most end users, even with Windows 7.

I've been dancing around it for a while now, but I'm flat out saying it this time... what the crap is up with this recent surge of hypocritical wanton consumerism so many of you people have with technology? Yeah, a poor man can't afford to buy garbage, and code bloat is a very real issue from lazy programmers, but we're also in an era of overabundance in technology when a $250 Chromebook buys enough of a machine to thoroughly spank the first fuggin' $8.8 million Cray supercomputer and could do the entire Apollo moon shots with the spare CPU cycles not used watching cat videos on Youtube... and it's portable! How much machine is enough for you people, and when did waiting a few extra seconds for the OS to load or to open up a word processor stop being anything but first world problems?
« Last Edit: February 10, 2013, 11:48:55 PM by I.P. Daley »

Left

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1159
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2013, 01:17:41 AM »
I suggested the ssd because she brought it up herself >.> The ram thing also because it is the easiest/cheapest way to speed up a computer. Besides, yes it is consumerism... and we offered her ways around that, OS reinstall..., and an alternative to outright buying a new laptop.

And yes, the laptop may be enough for her now, but spec-ing up the harddrive/ram is also a future investment so she doesn't need a newer laptop for longer. She said she was in grad school, what about afterwards? What kind of job/projects will she have beyond school work? If spending some money now to tide her over through the next 5 years, why not do that? HDD/SSD is also nice to have because of space constraints, she maybe running low on it as is, or if she takes photos and backs them up it will run out fairly quick on an older hdd. I doubt they put a 500gb/1tb hdd on a 3 year old laptop unless she bought it at a premium.

While I'm all for saving where you can, just plain going cheap without keeping some "living standard" is crap. I save so I can spend when I need it, why are we all saving? So our future self can enjoy it... So why not spend a bit now and let our future (shorter future) enjoy that? You aren't suggesting we all live in a cardboard box because it's the best bang for the buck savings are you?

mlipps

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1086
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2013, 07:55:52 AM »
Another vote for reinstalling Windows. I got 6 good years of my cheap Dell laptop by reinstalling every 1.5 years or so, and that was running Windows Vista. If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself (although it's really, really, really easy), your university probably has a free tech support office for students. They can probably also assist you with installing the RAM. Save your money and at least try these fixes, which will probably cost $100 total if you swap out the battery too, before replacing your laptop.

Done by Forty

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 211
  • Location: Tempe, AZ
    • Done by Forty
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2013, 08:23:02 AM »

While I'm all for saving where you can, just plain going cheap without keeping some "living standard" is crap. I save so I can spend when I need it, why are we all saving? So our future self can enjoy it... So why not spend a bit now and let our future (shorter future) enjoy that? You aren't suggesting we all live in a cardboard box because it's the best bang for the buck savings are you?

But that's a strawman.  While a computer may be a necessity for a student, Daley is pointing out that a better, faster computer is a luxury -- a luxury with no glass ceiling.  The entire blog is about recognizing and combating that consumerism by, at least in part, recognizing what we need and separating that from what we want...so we can enjoy the things we really want.

dcheesi

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 864
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2013, 09:44:34 AM »
Aside from the battery, all the problems described are in software. A clean reinstall wouldn't be any more of a hassle than setting up a completely new computer, so assuming that the original OS image is available there's really no reason not to try it (after doing appropriate backups, of course).

If for some reason the original OS is not available (lost disc, or corrupted factory restore partition on the HDD), then it's a matter of weighing the cost of a new OS license* + battery against a whole new laptop.

(* I'm not going to suggest Linux without knowing more about the user's requirements and comfort level; some schools require accessing proprietary software that may not run well on alternate OS/browsers.)

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2013, 02:24:43 PM »
Thanks all for your feedback. I haven't reinstalled the OS on this computer, but on my last computer (that lasted for almost 5 years) my dad helped me reinstall the OS which significantly helped. I'll definitely do that again.

While this computer functions, and I agree that I don't need the speediest machine to accomplish my tasks, I did buy this machine very cheap 3 years ago (less than $400 with tax) so it was bottom of the line. It's an Acer Aspire 5532, with AMD Athlon(tm) Processor TF-36, 2.0GHz, 3gm RAM, with a 136gb hard drive. I have an external hard drive that I store older pictures and videos on to keep space clear, I have 27.2gb open right now.

How would I check to see if I have the original OS image? I don't know if that's something I would have since I don't remember if my dad helped me set up this computer or not.

Also, do any of you have resources for maintaining my computer after the OS reinstall (and future computers)? I know there are things I probably should do regularly but I don't know what they are necessarily or the frequency with which I should do them (defrag and whatnot). Thanks!

RaveOregon

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 40
  • Age: 31
  • Location: NY
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2013, 02:53:48 PM »
Not sure how much of this will help you but it gives some advice on things you can do and when to do them.

http://www.microsoft.com/atwork/maintenance/speed.aspx#fbid=esqhGddMKTQ

TLV

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 492
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Bellevue, WA
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #15 on: February 11, 2013, 04:22:03 PM »
I did buy this machine very cheap 3 years ago (less than $400 with tax) so it was bottom of the line. It's an Acer Aspire 5532, with AMD Athlon(tm) Processor TF-36, 2.0GHz, 3gm RAM, with a 136gb hard drive.

My wife's college laptop is about 2 years older than yours with worse specs, and after periodic reinstall of the OS it's still perfectly usable (aside from the dead battery, but we only use it at home these days so we just plug it in).

Based on when you bought it, I assume it came with Windows 7? If it came with Windows Vista, you should consider upgrading the OS or switching to Linux. Vista was awful, especially for low-end machines. Windows 8 is marginally faster than 7 in my experience, but not enough to justify paying for an upgrade.

grantmeaname

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4814
  • Age: 27
  • Location: NYC
  • Cast me away from yesterday's things
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #16 on: February 11, 2013, 04:31:15 PM »
Also, do any of you have resources for maintaining my computer after the OS reinstall (and future computers)? I know there are things I probably should do regularly but I don't know what they are necessarily or the frequency with which I should do them (defrag and whatnot). Thanks!
There are programs like CCleaner that ostensibly help, and they do free up space, but I don't think they slow bitrot down much if at all. Your best bet is to re-reinstall it the next time it's slow enough to be worth the time.

As for the reinstallation itself: if you can get your original key (possibly on a sticker on the bottom of the computer), you may be able to use any install disc of the same version as your original OS (e.g., any XP 32-bit disc will work with any XP 32-bit code). You may also have a recovery partition already on your hard drive, in which case you would just have to boot up into it instead of your regular OS partition.

Daley

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3963
  • Location: Cow country. Moo.
  • Got that mustache feeling.
Re: Buying a new laptop... get a cheapo or a longer-lasting expensive one?
« Reply #17 on: February 11, 2013, 05:33:28 PM »
How would I check to see if I have the original OS image? I don't know if that's something I would have since I don't remember if my dad helped me set up this computer or not.

Also, do any of you have resources for maintaining my computer after the OS reinstall (and future computers)? I know there are things I probably should do regularly but I don't know what they are necessarily or the frequency with which I should do them (defrag and whatnot). Thanks!

Check the link I provided for Acer technical support, there should be documentation on how to reinstall your OS.

As for general Windows OS maintenance, as Grant linked, CCleaner's a good start, as is defragmenting the hard drive a couple times in a row about every six to nine months as a lot of bitrot problems are caused by how terrible NTFS is as a journaled file system, stay on top of Patch Tuesday security updates, uninstall software you don't actually use or need (or more specifically, don't install worthless software to begin with), keep software security patched, don't use multiple antivirus products and stick with either MSSE (free) or Eset NOD32 (paid) (don't load both!), and learn how to safely use msconfig. That should keep things operational longer with slower deterioration.