• “Which laptop should I buy?”

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    #2493493

    HARDWARE By Will Fastie I thought I knew the answer to that question, but it’s changed. During idle chitchat at my podiatrist’s office recently, my in
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    • #2493659

      Hi Will,

      I found your article (Which Laptop should I buy) very enlightening.

      However, I was surprised you did not mention, not one word, on the topic

      of Chromebooks. Was that a deliberate ommission?

      Thanks,

      -p-

       

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      • #2493739

        I agree with Paul, Chromebooks should be on everyone’s radar when purchasing a new computer. For non techies, a Chromebook is often a no-brainer. Really, the thinking here needs to evolve.

        One downside is that there are about 5 or 6 ways to get Word and Excel on a Chromebook and that can be confusing.

         

        Get up to speed on router security at RouterSecurity.org and Defensive Computing at DefensiveComputingChecklist.com

    • #2493714

      A timely article, since I’m looking for a new laptop now (mine is 6 years old, the case is cracked, the optical drive isn’t recognize, the keyboard may or may not decide to work on a given day, and so on).  What I’m finding, though, is that manufacturers don’t seem to have a clue as to how laptops are used!

      I work in a profession with high data security standards, so work computers are desktops with hard-wired connections.  Thus, my laptop is for personal use — but that still includes occasionally logging in to the office through a private VPN (not 100% secure, of course, but good enough for our regulators).  But because it’s a personal computer, I also use it for gaming and home administrative work.  My specific requirements are few:

      • 32+ GB RAM
      • Windows 10/11 Pro
      • Numeric keypad

      How anybody thinks Windows Home is an acceptable operating system is beyond me, but to each his own.  What really shocked me, though, is the number of laptops that don’t have a numeric keypad!  For those of us who still know how to type, having to change to the mouse to add a special character when we know the Alt code is a real slowdown.  And for those of us working with lots of numbers, a numeric keypad is critical.  Yet very few laptops seems to have them these days, and not a single one that I’ve found so far with more than 16GB RAM.  Even a well-known manufacturer’s line of engineering laptops doesn’t have numeric keypads!

      I’ll keep looking, of course, but my answer to the question of “which laptop should I buy?” currently is “nothing that’s available.”

      • #2493741

        I am a Thinkpad person. My shopping experience has been that pretty much all Thinkpads with a 15 inch or larger screen has a numeric keypad.

        Get up to speed on router security at RouterSecurity.org and Defensive Computing at DefensiveComputingChecklist.com

      • #2493758

        Or get an external USB 10 key or wireless keyboard/put the laptop in a docking station.

        Susan Bradley Patch Lady

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      • #2494246

        My Dell G3 (15 inch, model 3579, about three or four years old by now) would meet your requirements, but only after upgrading. It has a numeric keypad, two SoDIMM slots (so it has upgradeable RAM), and comes with Windows 10. You can add 32 GB and Windows Pro easily enough, and the bit you can’t upgrade (the keyboard) already has you covered.

        I have only ever owned two 15″ or larger laptops, both gaming models, and my current one listed in my sig does not have a keypad. In the course of buying those two units, I’ve investigated a lot of competing notebooks, and found that for the class (15.6″ gaming laptops), numeric keypads and upgradeable RAM are the norm, and of course anything can have its OS changed. Most laptops in the 15.6″ gaming category can be upgraded to meet your requirements.

        The usual reason a keypad is not included is size. Thin, light, and compact is the order of the day, and you can’t really get compact and a keypad in the same unit. But with a 15.6″ unit, the screen is already wide enough to make fitting a keypad in the allotted width possible. Some units with very small bezels (like my Xenia 15) don’t have enough width to accommodate a keypad, so if you want a model with a super-thin bezel, you may be looking at a 17 inch model (which should pretty much always be able to fit a keypad in, given the size of the screen it has to accommodate).

        Gaming laptops are often overlooked by people who are not specifically looking for gaming units (though you did mention gaming as one of the things you would also be doing with the unit), but there is nothing that prevents them from being used for “serious” stuff. They’re PCs, after all; they run what you tell them to run. The things that make a laptop into a gaming laptop are a discrete GPU suitable for gaming and a beefy cooling system (as laptop cooling systems go). All the ones I have looked at also have expandable RAM and at least two internal drive positions (whether M.2 or 2.5 inch; my G3 has one of each, while my Xenia 15 has two M.2s). This does not mean it is safe to assume they all do, just that this type of unit is a good place to look if you want those things.

        The downside to a gaming unit as an “on the go” unit is the bulk and weight. A laptop large enough to have a numeric keypad is going to have some size to it, unavoidably, and bigger things tend to weigh more. Gaming laptops are usually heavier than a mainstream laptop of the same external size, though, as that beefy cooling system adds some weight. In terms of battery life, there is no reason a gaming unit should necessarily have a short run time as long as the discrete GPU is powered down, which in most cases it can be. It might be that a given unit was not specifically designed for long battery life, so it may have a CPU that is not as thrifty as those in smaller laptops, and it may or may not have a big battery. My Dell G3 has a fairly mediocre 53 watt-hour, if I recall, but the Xenia 15 has a hefty one of around 95 watt-hours.

        It does not sound like light weight or long battery run times are priorities for you, as you did not list them among your requirements, so hopefully this will help you locate some good candidates. Some manufacturers allow you to have one custom made to your requirements, and these will generally allow you to pick the amount of RAM and the OS that is to be preinstalled. That was what I did with my Dell XPS 13 (the G3, by contrast, came from a Black Friday sale from Walmart’s web site several years ago).

         

         

        Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
        XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/16GB & GTX1660ti, OpenSUSE Tumbleweed

    • #2493836

      I’ll need my first Windows laptop soon, but because I’m a lawyer what I really want is a big screen that’s good for working on documents.  Don’t care much about watching video.

      I understand that 3:2 is better for my purposes than 16:4 ±, but it seems few laptops have 3:2.

      Which laptop has the biggest, most document-friendly screen?  Does any laptop have a screen that detaches and that I can set up in Portrait orientation?

      Thanks.

      • #2494190

        Every laptop can be plugged into an external monitor. This way you get the big screen and the laptop itself can still be relatively portable.The screens on laptops max out at 17 inches and there are very few that big.

        You should to look for a monitor that offers the same type of video connector that the laptop offers. There are video adapters if you can’t find a match.

        Get up to speed on router security at RouterSecurity.org and Defensive Computing at DefensiveComputingChecklist.com

    • #2493915

      a screen that detaches and that I can set up in Portrait orientation

      That’s a tablet with external keyboard, but you need something to lean it against and they are not that big. 🙂

      cheers, Paul

    • #2494463

      I’m a consultant and have at the moment both a MacBook Air and HP Elitebook laptop w/touchscreen running W11 Pro. I also have an iPad Pro. I’m going to put my Elitebook aside for testing for Intune and other business needs (I bought it on Ebay used for $600, it is a bit heavy compared to the Air). It’s been a workhorse and has a great keyboard.

      Just ordered a Windows Surface Pro 9. I checked it out at Costco and was impressed by the weight they seemed to reduce it to. Felt very comfortable in my hands. I’m assuming it will become my main machine.

      While I like the Mac, it’s keyboard is great, the upgrade options and lack of touch screen in this day and age are not working for me. I’ve been spoiled by both the iPad & HP for touch. Also, I use a pen to take notes on the iPad. I’m a long time user of OneNote. (since about 2009 at least). The iPad pen does not have a solid connection. It dangles on the side of the machine and often falls off. I usually just stash it in my bag, which is a hassle.

      The Surface has the ability to replace it’s SSD with up to 2 TBs with no problems (other than transferring your OS & data). That’s a real plus in this age of non upgradeable machines. I wish it had a USB 3 port but I’ll get by with two TB ports, dongle or two & a charging port.

      I plug all my machines into a TB hub which allows multiple monitors & hard drives to be connected. I run a radio show off these machines as well. I’ll let you know how the Surface works out after a month or so of use. I assume it is not an iPad replacement, but will allow a lot of the same surfing ability.

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    • #2494612

      For non techies, a Chromebook is often a no-brainer.

      My opinion of Chromebooks was formed years ago, admittedly not from a consumer perspective. Numerous consulting friends raved about the things, touting portability and simplicity among them.

      Not one of those friends continued to use them. I took notice. (What did they use instead? For the most part, smartphones.)

      I’m not saying there isn’t a place for them. They do fit a market niche in the economy range.

      Really, the thinking here needs to evolve.

      How? The business and usage model for them hasn’t changed very much, if at all. What’s to evolve?

      There used to be a lot of Chromebooks at the local Walmart. Now there are a lot of Android tablets instead.

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      • #2494693

        Not one of those friends continued to use them. I took notice. (What did they use instead? For the most part, smartphones.)

        That boggles my mind even now.

        I’ve got a smartphone. I’ve attempted to use it for various things. I’ve tried browsing with it. I’ve tried watching movies with it. I’ve tried sending email with it. The whole experience just stinks, and it’s not because I am not using an iPhone, as the issues that make me dislike phones apply to iPhones too.

        The screen on a phone is just too small (even while the thing is really larger than I want for daily carry; I only stopped carrying my tiny little slider phone a year and change ago, so that remains my yardstick for cell phone sizing), the touchscreen is a poor substitute for a pointing device with separate pointing and clicking actions (which is far more precise, allowing much smaller UI elements and better use of screen space, not to mention hover effects), and there’s no keyboard. I’m pretty prolific with the words I enter into a given computing device, and a phone just doesn’t work for me. I also have yet to see a phone that comes close on storage… the laptop I am using to type this has a 2TB SSD in it, and if I needed, I could swap that for a 4 or even 8 TB model. I have more PCs than I need (by a large margin), but all of them have at least 2 TB of storage. I keep them synced with the open source Syncthing, so all my stuff is available on any of my laptops (all encrypted and protected with strong passwords).

        A phone’s only real plus (compared to a laptop) is the extreme portability, but outside of that, I just don’t see the reason for the popularity. “Phone” people use their phones even when they are at home, even when they have laptops available, when the one big advantage of the phone is negated. Laptops and desktops are just vastly better at everything except extreme portability, and the less extreme portability of a laptop isn’t always a great encumbrance. If I can’t avoid it, the phone is there, but anything I can put off until I have access to a laptop, I will.

        That’s as a computing device, of course. For phone calls, obviously the phone is essential. (I don’t text in any form; I send email, from my laptop.)

         

        Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
        XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/16GB & GTX1660ti, OpenSUSE Tumbleweed

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        • #2494768

          I can manage O365 from my phone and do most of the common things that are needed. Most of my issues are email sent, text or Teams. I can dictate answers (or in Teams even initiate a call using it), and so it works just fine. (dictation requires time spent on corrections). I have 1Password on it, One Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, my banking app etc. So combining it with the O365 admin app and OneNote, I can handle a lot on the phone. A Chromebook seems so limited.

          But the use of the phone seems to be a difference in styles. My wife lives on her small iPhone. She also has an iPad but rarely uses it. The fact that you only send emails on your laptop means I can probably tell how old you are (or aren’t!).

          I can’t understand for the life of me why one would chose a cell phone over an ipad to read stuff, but there you have it.

           

    • #2494700

      That boggles my mind even now.

      My best wishes for your speedy recovery!

      As I noted in the article, I no longer carry a laptop because I’m not working when I’m mobile. However, I am sometimes called upon to deal with a client issue on their site and must access the backend to do so. No, it’s certainly not as convenient as using something with a larger screen and a more precise pointing device. But I can deal with the client’s problem on the go despite the limitations of a small device. That’s what my consulting friends found, too.

      I admit to being surprised by this. It was very hard to give up my last laptop. But I did, and my world did not come crashing down.

      As for watching movies or videos on the phone, I’m with you. But my wife does, and so do her friends. And my kids. Just about everyone, in fact. I swear – I think people drive and watch video. The two of us are just dinosaurs, I guess.

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    • #2494787

      I can’t understand for the life of me why one would chose a cell phone over an ipad to read stuff, but there you have it.

      I agree. However, a few months ago I wanted to read a series of novels that I could no longer get through my local library system.  I used the Kindle app on my phone and read eight books that way. It wasn’t terrible.

      It did make me want to spring for a hard kindle, though.

    • #2495100

      It did make me want to spring for a hard kindle, though.

      That’s the ticket for reading books on the go! I got one last year. 🙂

      The Kindle Paperwhite is a great piece of tech. It only does one thing extremely well. It won’t replace any other devices that you own, but with its lightweight paperback-sized form factor it will be your go-to for black & white books such as novels. I love to slip it into my hip pocket to carry along when I know I’ll be waiting somewhere. Color is rendered in grayscale. With 8GB of storage, you can store thousands of titles locally. It’s not really a tablet and too slow for web browsing so you would probably use a different device for that. It gets amazing battery life. I need to charge mine about once a week.

      For larger format publications in full color such as textbooks or magazines, you may want to consider a Kindle Fire HD. With a 10-inch hi-res color screen it is perfect for those other publications, as well as web surfing or playing your favorite streaming video services. But it’s a bit heavier and definitely won’t fit in your pocket. With a kickstand cover it sits nicely on a desk or table in front of you. It’s a bit heavy to hand-hold for very long. And I find that if you already have a laptop, then you probably don’t need a tablet this size unless you plan to use the laptop less often.

      When I’m going to be out and about all day, I will typically just carry my smartphone and my Kindle Paperwhite in my pockets. The Kindle Fire and/or laptop just goes along in a bag on overnight or longer trips.

      But at home it’s mainly my home built power-user desktop workstation.

      And always the Kindle Paperwhite for some bedtime reading anywhere of course!

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    • #2495108

      My opinion of Chromebooks was formed years ago, admittedly not from a consumer perspective. Numerous consulting friends raved about the things, touting portability and simplicity among them. Not one of those friends continued to use them. I took notice. (What did they use instead? For the most part, smartphones.)

      That sounds consistent with my personal observations of the average user today.

      I’m old enough to have experienced the evolution of technology since before the internet (started with mainframe computers in the 70’s).

      I noticed that a lot of average consumers and home users (my non-techie friends and family) that had never considered home computers before, started snapping them up in the mid-late 90’s as the World Wide Web and email (AOL & CompuServe) rose quickly in popularity.

      More recently (well since the dawn of the age of the smartphone) these same non-techie friends and family have mostly let their computers die of old age and never considered replacing them.

      Why? Perhaps they only initially got their computers to “connect” and stay in touch with others, and nowadays that can be easily done with the versatile multi-tasking ability of a smartphone. With all of the available apps for everything, including email and social media, that’s all that anyone outside of our circle of techie contacts really needs. 🙂

    • #2495110

      started with mainframe computers in the 70’s

      For me, minis in the ’70s.

      … that’s all that anyone outside of our circle of techie contacts really needs.

      Your point being that access to the Web is the lowest common denominator. I certainly agree.

      And that’s a very good point, because the Web is increasingly dependent on running JavaScript to make websites interactive and performant. But JavaScript is not known for performance, which means better hardware runs websites faster. Chromebooks are not known for being performant. Phones do keep getting faster and are typically replaced on a frightening two-year cycle.

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    • #2495132

      Phones do keep getting faster and are typically replaced on a frightening two-year cycle.

      I just ordered a new Motorola smartphone (a 2021 model that meets my needs). It comes with an 8-core 2.0 GHz CPU compared with the 4-core 1.4 GHz CPU inside of my previous 3-year old smartphone.

      Certainly not the latest and greatest: https://www.notebookcheck.net/Mediatek-Helio-G25-Processor-Benchmarks-and-Specs.503241.0.html

      Hope that helps with the Javascript speed, but I rarely use the web browser on my mobile device, other than the occasional search. The dedicated apps have always seemed to be a bit more performant than mobile web sites.

      What I dislike about the new phone is that it’s bigger and heavier than its predecessor. Progress… 🙁

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