Attention, Geekoverse!

I'm hard on hardware, apparently. My current computer, an hp tablet, is falling apart. I need to start thinking about replacement. Cost is the number one issue, so I was thinking about an Acer or a Dell Mini or similar product.

I use my computer all day, every day, for work and for writing. My hospital and my office use IT systems that requires Windows.

So, geeky folks, I need some suggestions. What have you folks found to be useful and economical?

More like this

Go to the local store with the best selection of netbooks (here it's Staples). The major diff in netbooks is the location of the mouse buttons. Some have them below the trackpad, others on the sides, still others integrate them as corners of the trackpad (which really makes me nuts).
The compressed keyboards are all similar, so this is the major difference in this ~3lb group.
The real question is how much RAM you need for your hospital and office software. Most netbooks are limited to 1GB and Windows XP Home (although that seems to be changing a bit). If you need more than that, or you want to run Photoshop, you will need to move up to a laptop, not a netbook, with a bit more weight.
Have fun!

I use Windows at work, and Macintoshes at home. The 2006 and later macintoshes can run Windows as well as the Mac OS X operating systems in a dual-boot configuration. The newest macbook laptops use a cast aluminum unibody construction (except for the entry-level model, which is polycarbonate), which is both light and tough, and provides excellent heat dissipation. The Apples are also renowned for their reliability and support. They also have a longer useful lifespan than their Windows counterparts. My wife only recently replaced hers, which was 9 years old at the time.

Rugged, inexpensive, laptop? Tough combo.

I like netbooks, but they're not ergonomically sane for extended use.

About the only thing I can really contribute is the observation that pushed me to my own purchase (going strong at five years):

Doing JEDEC committee work, I spent weeks at a time in a room with lead engineers from all over the electronics industry. Look out on that room full of laptops in continuous use by engineers who travel a lot and live by them, and what did I see?

A few Dells. One or two Apples. One Toshiba. A couple of HPs.

And all of the rest were ThinkPads. Far from the cheapest, but there are more expensive things than purchase price.

As for your office software, there are a few tips to make it less of a risk. My preferred one is to install a lightweight Linux distro along with VirtualBox -- and then install Microsoft on the virtual machine, in two virtual disks (always keep your data separate!) That way, you can snapshot the system in a clean state and if you need to restore it you just revert to the clean snapshot. You can also back up the VM or copy it to a new environment as needed, for the next time your main machine needs to be reincarnated.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 27 Jan 2010 #permalink

I work for IBM and use a Thinkpad all day long (well, also several very large and beefy mainframes, but you wouldn't want to lug one of those around :-).

If you decide on a Thinkpad, you're welcome to use my employee id on the employee purchase site (perfectly legal), which may get you a reasonable discount.


One can also run OS Leopard/Snow Leopard and Windows at the same time using virtual machine programs like Parallels or VMware Fusion. Of course, this type of operation requires more powerful processors and more memory.

Ray M is making you a smoking offer -- I got my ThinkPad that way thanks to a fellow committee member.

And if it makes a difference, ping me for help on setting up the VM. One cool thing is, they're portable.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 27 Jan 2010 #permalink

Acer's customer support is shit - I got one and spent a week trying to get answers to my 5 or 6 problems (all small and silly). Because I was living in Finland, they insisted I had to ask for help in Finnish. Even when I emailed the "Scandinavian in English" address, I got a reply in English.

I gave up and got an Asus Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee, which is great (and Henry "short fuse" Geeeeeeeeeee has one too).

Interesting. I've seen Gee's...from what i can tell, the Europeans have been into those things for a bit longer than we have. DCS's suggestions are...outside my area of expertise, to say the least, but are intriguing. It sounds like lots of people are saying that the thinkpads are robust.

I have an Acer netbook and a Dell 'regular' sized laptop. I almost never use the netbook - using the small keyboard hurts my hands and wrists almost as much as shoveling snow. Nice for when I travel, to read blogs and email, but not a useful tool for writing. And I have small hands. My laptop is heavy, but I use it daily, and think it worth the extra $ in terms of comfort of use and utility in writing.

By ctenotrish (not verified) on 27 Jan 2010 #permalink

Perhaps you could ask the IT people in your hospital.

Perhaps you could ask the IT people in your hospital.

Best laugh I've had all day. Thanks!

Best laugh I've had all day.

Sad, isn't it?

In my department, most of us are sufficiently hackerish to be running homebrew server setups at home (mostly Linux of one sort or another) but the Company laptops are locked down. Not a bad policy in itself, but they verge on unusable. Especially for those of us who telecommute (including one gent in Minnesota.)

My solution was to get permission on Day One to use a personal Linux laptop under my own administration. Bulletproof, reliable, and if anything does go wrong (hasn't happened yet) I can fix it. This baby has been in daily use since 2005 and I'm in no hurry to replace it.

That offer stands, by the way. If you want to try it, you know how to get in touch.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 27 Jan 2010 #permalink

Macintosh. Windows partition.

I used several IBM Thinkpadx at work: always the T series, which is still the best business laptop I've used. It's expensive, though. I don't know what the other Lenovo macines are like, nor if there have been any changes since the IBM days.
For my own use, I've had a couple of Dells. Not as good as my work machines but a lot cheaper. They've stood up to quite a lot of abuse, including falling off coffee tables and having bowls lf breakfast cereal emptied over them.
I'd echo the comment that a netbook is not ideal if you're going to spend a lot of time on it. Might be OK if you can use an external keyboard and monitor most of the time.

I love your MacBook Pro too...wanna give it away?

I'm thinking both for practical purposes and financial purposes, I'm stuck with a PC. My wife needs a mac for the home...that's a whole other story.

ACER Aspire One is a neat little netbook but the screen is way too glare-y for regular use. avoid if it is your main laptop.

i bought my little dell 13" laptop for thesis writing purposes. during the process, i killed three touchpads, all warranty covered. the rest of it has held up quite nicely, and it fit within my then graduate student income.

I used to think that quality and longevity were important features to look for. But these days I'm not so sure that's the best route. Hardware manufacturers have almost nonexistent margins. Paying top dollar for the best quality/biggest screen/fastest CPU now just means you'll be less likely to upgrade later when some other cool whizbang feature becomes common. So perhaps you might consider instead optimizing for replacement frequency rather than investment duration. Take advantage of cloud services for email and data storage, and treat yourself to a new cheaper laptop every year or so. Buddy of mine follows this strategy and is pretty happy.

If you want something small and rugged, get a ThinkPad X-series, preferably not the "tablet" one. I live on a bike and ride in all weather, and beat the living crap out of my X-40 for five years. Finally stopped using it because it was just too obsolete. A bargain, not having to worry about some fragile piece of equipment.

Hardware doesn't matter that much. There are about three factories in the world that make laptops, and they are all in China. When Lenovo took over the Thinkpad brand from IBM, it was just a recognition of the fact.

If the requirement for Windows comes from applications like Word or Excel, there are OS-independent alternatives that support the same file formats, e.g. OpenOffice. After some years of use, I've learned to prefer OO Writer over MS Word. It's more object oriented, which my computer engineer's mind groks brigthly, brightly, and beautifully.

But the most important factor is security. I'd rather see my doctor using Linux than Windows. Doctors are not expected to have the expertiese that secure use of Windows requires. I'm surprised that your hospital allows private computers at all, given the regulations in HIPAA.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

Something to consider is getting a refurbished MacBook straight from Apple. It will run Windows just as handily as any Dell or HP, and in terms of toughness and quality of build is almost on par with the Thinkpad (still the gold standard for a workhorse laptop). You can easily pick up a last model year refurb MacBook for about $800 at their website.

I have Windows at work and Mac lap tops at home. My mom is still using the Blackbird that I got about 10 years ago. I love my Macs. I am not impressed with Winboxes. Dropped my 15" Macbook from about a 3-4 foot height recently. Dented the case, but the Macbook still works fine. I need to update my OS, but I can run the Windows crap... uhhh... stuff that I have to for work (like charting... oh whee) without a problem. I use Parallels, though if I upgrade the OS, I likely will just use Boot Camp.

My two cents for what it is worth.

If you're looking for something that will survive anything short of using it to beat off a mugger, I have to agree with everyone who's mentioned the Thinkpads.

I've had several comments here and elsewhere that dells were nice but that the trackpads tend to wear out.

Lots of people seem to like ThinkPads.

Many like netbooks but find them impractical for daily use.

A number of people reported a 13" screen seemed ideal for many uses.

I use MacBooks for both work and home - both 13". Wouldn't swap either of them for anything. The work one is partitioned so that I can run both OSX and Windows - in reality, I only use Windows for one stats program and that's it.


The small vertical screen resolution is probably the biggest potential problem with netbook. That said, the combination of low price, low weight, and long battery life is pretty awesome.

When my wife needed a new laptop in November, I got her an Asus Eee PC. It cost $320 from Amazon (it's the 8.5 hour battery version--they also offer 9.5 and 10.5 hour versions) and it's been a great machine so far. The performance is surprisingly good, the screen is better than the one on the $700 Dell that it replaced, and the touchpad is one of the better ones I've used.

If your hands/fingers aren't too big to use a netbook's keyboard, I'd say that the Eee PC seems like a pretty good deal.

Finally, if you do get a netbook, definitely look for one that comes with Windows XP instead of Vista or 7. Vista will eat most of the 1GB of RAM that comes standard in netbooks.

By Josh in California (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

Wait. Why is cost the #1 issue?

You're a doctor, aren't you rich?

By confused carl (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink

My wife and I both own tablets that we use extensively for teaching. She has an Acer which has had some motherboard/port issues that has been a pain in the neck to get addressed, and is currently being worked around. I have a Fujitsu which was more expensive but has had no problems at all. My slightly smaller screen size than my wife's computer is fine and keeps the weight down. I got an extra 1MB ram stick that plugs in under a cover in the bottom of the laptop.

Just our experience - good luck shopping.

I'm a Mac gal. I'm in lust with the MacBook Air (it's solid state! OMG! essentially a giant zipdrive with a screen! how could you not!?!) but will be getting a MacBook Pro in the very near future.

They're a little more startup-wise but they don't go obsolete quite as fast. My iBook is positively geriatric but gamely keeps up with everything non-Mac.

Another vote for the IBM (or now Lenovo) Thinkpad. It feels solid and isn't as plasticky as other brands feel (e.g. if I squeeze the base it doesn't depress greatly). I think the lower end Lenovos probably suffer from this issue though.

I like having the rubber mouse ball since I am not a fan of the touchpad. I also liked that I had the choice of going with linux installed which did take off some of the price (can install windows if you wanted).

The only questions they haven't answered/asked, are what programs do you use, do your IT's upgrade the programs every time a new widget comes out, what security programs do you use, how much electronic footprint do you need, and I'm suprised the fanboy didn't say the most expensive pro out there.
netbooks are cute, mostly ment for e-mail and notetaking. Nothing fancy, usually breaking edge. Usually broken.
Laptops, good, upgradable, short battery life. Usually needs a charger to be carried with them. These are usually faster, better screens, but bad hinges, and can multitask. Do the report, and send at the same time.
so you need something between the fanboys and the guru's.
They still make 13-15 inch toshiba, and sony. Not the gamers, but the users notebooks. Some have built in mikes for taking notes, and decent video rendering so the programs look good. And not out of line for price.

Hiya PAL,

I use a Sony Laptop on an every day basis, I like the keyboard better than the Dell or HP's I've used, It's the same design as the Macbook's, although Sony had it first, they make a very nice 13.3" model, but I use a 16.4" FW series. The FW series starts at about $699 which isn't bad for a larger laptop. I've dropped it a few times, and am pretty rough with everything I have, but haven't managed to break it yet.

I used computers running Mac OS, Windows, and Linux (Ubuntu) daily. Not bragging, just what my work requires. They're all equally wonderful and terrible. But you're looking for a Windows machine, right?

Netbooks have screens and keyboards that I find too small for real work. 15-inch notebooks are kinda big to haul around, I find. A 12-inch or 13-inch notebook isn't too big to carry constantly. And if you settle down in an office for a while, many modern models can drive big monitors without worry. (Right now I'm working on a 24-inch screen that's powered by a 12-inch laptop.) So that's the size I would look at.

Here are a few small(ish) Windows notebooks I've checked out recently:

For cheap, portable, and usable laptops I'm intrigued by the Dell Vostro v13. Only used a loaner, but liked it. Not sure how much abuse it will take, but depending on how you spec it out, it'll only cost $600-$800.

For a little more elegance and probably a little more strength, check out the HP Envy (available in 13-inch and 15-inch models). Not so cheap at around $1600 decked out. The trackpad is so-so to bad, depending on your tastes...The design is A WHOLE LOT like that of Apple's Mac Book Pro.

If you really want something rugged, check out the Panasonic Toughbook line. Not cutting-edge technology, not super cheap. But they have three grades of ruggedness, with the most rugged able to take quite a beating. I've been on jobs in pretty rough/wet/remote locations with Toughbooks and they held up better than we did. A link to a Panasonic page with customer stories:

I've also briefly looked at some recent Lenovo notebooks, but I don't have enough experience to make any suggestions beyond "they seem nice."

Well hope this helps a little...