New Laptop

02 12 2012

I frequently get asked “What laptop should I buy?” Everyone’s needs and budgets are different, so there’s no one correct answer for everyone, but I wanted to walk through my thought process in deciding my most recent laptop purchase.

The hard disk in my wife Caroline’s laptop died yesterday. It was an 8-year-old hand-me-down laptop (Dell Latitude D800), so instead of replacing the hard drive, we decided to buy her a new one.

Our requirements:

  • It has to have a 4 year life as a primary laptop. (In other words, it should be able to handle everything we throw at it for at least 4 years.) After that, we’ll continue to use it, but it may not be able to handle high-end games and applications.
  • 15″ screen, because a 17″ screen is too heavy and too hard for her to carry on an airplane, and a 14″ screen is too small.
  • It has to be able to handle the games that Caroline plays.
  • Total price must be under $2500.

What we chose:

  • Dell Latitude E6520, since it will work with our existing Dell E-series docking station, and because we’ve had good luck with Dell’s Latitude line.
  • Quad-core i7 processor. Nothing else is going to have the 4 year life we want.
  • 8GB RAM. Unless you have an extremely tight budget, there’s no point in getting any less.
  • nVidia NVS 4200M discrete graphics card. Required for Caroline’s gaming.
  • 128GB SSD. The performance difference between an SSD and a regular HDD for the boot drive is tremendous. If you want a fast computer, an SSD is a must.
  • Bluetooth module. This lets her hook up an external keyboard, mouse, headphones, etc, without cables or a proprietary dongle.
  • The E6520 has an integrated webcam and mike.
  • High-end integrated WiFi card. Since the laptop will be used in WiFi mode most of the time, having the strongest possible WiFi connection is a must.
  • 9-cell battery (the standard is 6 cell). The quad-core processor really needs this for halfway-decent battery life.
  • Standard DVD burner. This is becoming increasingly unnecessary; I wouldn’t be surprised if this was my last laptop purchase with an optical drive.
  • Windows 7 Ultimate with recovery media. Recovery media is important if your disk dies and you need to reinstall, or if you decide to replace the internal drive yourself.
  • MS Office Starter 2010. Caroline doesn’t need anything other than basic Word and Excel.
  • 3 year on-site service. We didn’t get any of the add-on “advanced” services, since I can do all my own software support and troubleshooting. We did get the accidental damage add-on, since we have two kids and will be traveling a lot. Also, the accidental damage add-on makes it harder for them to refuse warranty service on some random pretense.

Other people have different requirements and different budgets, so please don’t treat this as a recommendation of what anyone else should buy. However, it is a good example of how I go through the process of deciding what to buy, and hopefully will help other people decide what’s right for them.



One response to “New Laptop”

02 21 2012
Eden (01:26:49) :

I can’t believe how much of a difference an SSD makes. Not only is everything so much faster (even on my not-very-impressively-spec’d MacBook Air), the utter silence of the computer is so nice. Don’t think I could ever go back.

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