How to Buy a Laptop for the Regular Person in 2013-2014

Nov
25
2013

This is a yearly re-post / re-edit. It started in 2009 and has been updated yearly. This started out as a post to “just my closest friends” but has become one of my popular blog entries of all time. Here’s my fully updated guide to end-of-year 2013 into 2014.

If you’re an IT geek like me, you’re often asked “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

If you’’re NOT an IT geek, you’’re likely asking an IT geek friend “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

This is a guide for both of you.

If you’’re in IT, this question might not directly affect you, since many IT organizations dole out laptops to the whole staff, including you. However, since you’re seen walking around with a laptop, or have that geeky-vibe about you, I’m guessing you’ve been asked more than once “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

You might be tempted to say “Buy a Macbook” – if only for the reason that you DON’T have a Macbook, and therefore would be unable to help the person in the future. (See this for the example of the problem: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/computers)

If you’’re NOT in IT, your problems are substantial too. If you ask three geeks, you might get THREE answers.

With that in mind, here’s “Jeremy’s Guide to Buying a new PC-based Laptop in 2014.” Again, there are a LOT of ways someone COULD do this task. This is what I send to people in my inner circle (friends, family, etc.) when I get the question.

Seriously. I just email them a link to this blog entry, and .. I’’m done.

These suggestions should be “good enough” for the common man / woman for 2014 and the foreseeable near term future. Any one person’s particular needs may vary, but you, the IT Pro, should be able to “print out and hand over” these suggestions and have them work for about 90+% of the people you come in contact with.

If you’’re NOT an IT geek, you’’re looking at the Internet and catalogs and think that desktop and laptops could be “infinitely configured.”

And you don’t have time for that. You want to get back to real work. So, here is a document you can send to anyone who has ever asked that question with some “straight dope answers.”

Yes: This document is long. But, you want to make a GOOD decision which will last you the next 2-4 years, right? So, just read it. Really READ it. Then go shopping.

Jeremy’s Guide to Buying a new PC-based Laptop in 2014

We’re going to answer some questions here like:

  • Laptop, Ultrabook or Netbook?
  • Laptop or iPad or Surface (Windows Tablet)?
  • What’s the deal with Android Tablets and Google Laptops?
  • Where can I get good deals?
  • What kind of hardware (and warranty) should I get?
  • Should I get Windows 8 or Windows 7?
  • Should I get 7 32-bit or 64-bit?

Part I: Laptop, Ultrabook or Netbook ?

To make sure we all understand the marketing vocabulary you’re likely to encounter as you go to buy a machine:

  • Laptops: You know what a laptop is.
  • Netbook: Smaller form factor.. which means.. smaller keyboard and screen.
  • Ultrabook: Just like a laptop, but thinner and lighter.

For most people, they want Laptops. They’re mid priced, mid weight and have a full sized keyboard.

If you pay a little more, you can get an Ultrabook, which is just like a laptop — except lighter.

Netbooks look like wee little laptops. They run Windows and all the programs people need. They’re portable, and dirt cheap.

If you ARE interested in Netbooks though, here are some issues:

  • The keyboards are sometimes tiny… really tiny.
  • The screens and screen-resolutions are also tiny (which could mean a lot of “scrolling around” for many tasks, including web page surfing and document editing.)
  • Some cheaper ones cannot pack a lot of RAM (which means Windows and apps will run slowly), and the processors they use are usually “Intel Atom” processors. This is a low-cost processor used mostly in Netbooks to save money and extend battery life. Don’t worry.. Atom processors are fully compatible with all the Windows-stuff you’re gonna throw at it. But.. slower. Sometimes a lot slower.

Netbooks are great if you want portability. Netbooks are great if you need web access, in a portable way. Netbooks are great if you want to run an occasional app.

But Netbooks aren’t as powerful as laptops. This means that many people COULD get away with a dirt-cheap Netbook if their needs are very modest and are OKAY with the limitations.

My feeling is that if you want a Netbook, try to get one as CLOSE to a laptop-spec as possible.

But for just a few hundred more you can have a FULL laptop, which, yes, is a little bigger and perhaps better, all around, for everyday tasks.

I own a Netbook, and when I use it, I have a hard time with long sessions of web browsing and email, big Word docs, Visio and creating documents with Microsoft Publisher. I’m scrolling all around the low-resolution screen and I’m mistyping a lot. Great.

Again, I’m not Anti-Netbook. Again, I own one. But I use it exclusively for travel purposes when I’m afraid my real laptop might be stolen, or I am only carrying a backpack and not my real laptop bag.

In short, I wouldn’t recommend a Netbook as your ONLY laptop, especially for a college or school student. But it does make an excellent SECOND laptop, but only if you’re religious about keeping “data” things sync’d with your “real” machine or you use something like Dropbox.com, Google Documents or Microsoft Office Online where all your docs are “in the cloud.”

Part II: iPad vs Surface RT devices (and also what’s the deal with Android and Chrome?)

Before we talk about ACTUAL laptops, let’s take a quick turn and chat about your “second” device. You might have heard that Microsoft has iPad competition with a line of devices called Surface.

Okay, here’s the weird part so stay with me: There are TWO versions of Windows 8 on Surface devices.

  • One is “full blown” Windows 8 .. really known as Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. Surface Pro devices run Windows 8 Pro.
  • One is .. well.. not the full Windows 8 and is known as Windows 8 RT. Surface RT and Surface 2 devices run Windows RT.

I own BOTH an iPad and a Surface 2 (which runs Windows 8 RT.) I really like them both.

Almost ALL applications I actually USE on the iPad (really actually USE) are in the Windows 8 store. The two that aren’t are my beloved TiVO application and favorite Pinball game. Okay. Boo, but.. Okay.

I’m currently debating handing over my iPad to a family member and using the Surface RT device full time to replace my iPad. I love the app experience and it’s fun to use. Its solid and it works well.

And, the bonus over an iPad is… its just better at creating and editing documents. Yes, you CAN create documents”, “deliver slideshows”, or “make a spreadsheet on an iPad. But its not ideal.

When it comes to creating content, I need a keyboard. Yes, yes, you can get Bluetooth keyboards that sync with the iPad (and I have one), but still – the content creation software and experience isn’’t the same as a Netbook, laptop or desktop.

The Office built into Surface and its snap on keyboard does a better job with that.

So if the Surface RT operating system is so great, why doesn’t everyone buy them? (Or said another way, why aren’t a LOT of people buying them?)

For me the real “problem” with the Surface 2 (which only runs Windows RT and not full blown Windows).. is that it’s SOOOOOO CLOSE to being a full Windows experience without me actually getting ALL the benefits. There are just some existing applications which you cannot run (like Dropbox’s sync between machines) on a Windows RT device, and that makes it less interesting to me than buying a full laptop or netbook running the REAL Windows.

This review for me says it all. There’s literally nothing I disagree with in this entire review: http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-devices/microsoft-surface-2-hands-on-review/d/d-id/1006259?f_src=informationweek_sitedefault

So, here’s the verdict if you want a “Not Full Windows Machine”:

  • If I had “real work” to do, and had to only pick one “travel” machine for the next 5 years – sorry iPad, I’’d have to go laptop or Netbook (next section.)
  • •If I’’m sitting on a beach and want to read, game, surf or NetFlix.. its a tossup between iPad and Surface for me personally. I really like both.
  • If I had the need to make casual documents with Office but I also wanted to run the newer style of applications, I’d use a Surface 2 running Windows RT. But the price is soooo close to a REAL laptop, I might just pony up the extra dough and pick a real laptop anyway.

Note: I swear I have no insider information on this, but my guess is that it’s a 50/50 chance Microsoft will kill Windows RT as an operating system. This article seems to agree. So, that might dissuade you from getting a Windows RT based device.

How about Android Tablets? Are those good choices?

Possibly. So, I’’m (personally) not a huge fan of the current Android world. But I actually believe it’s a very personal choice / taste.

But, I actually recognize I’’m in the minority.

That is, apparently more portable devices run Android than anything else out there. But I don’’t own one, so I can’’t personally recommend it.

If you’ve got a friend with one, ask to play around on it. But even if I –loved it, I’m not sure I’d want it as my only content-creation machine.

What’s the deal with the “Google Laptop”?

Whew. This is a tough one. So, non-IT folks… stick with me here.

Yes, Google has a “full size laptop” running a thing called the “Chrome OS.”

Here’s the deal: It has no hard drive, and everything you do is “in the cloud.” Meaning, really, that when you “save stuff” you’’re saving to a website which stores your stuff for later access.

  • Does it run Windows applications? No.
  • Does it run Mac applications? No.
  • Does it run iPad apps? No.
  • Does it run Android apps? No.
  • Might you want one anyway? Possibly.

These devices are GREAT in school (K-12) environments. They run Google apps and all the Google-y stuff you already use.

So teachers just give ‘em to students and if they break? O well. There’s nothing stored on them anyway. Since the Internet is always on (usually) in the school, it makes a lot of sense there.

But I don’t know anyone in the non-K12 world where a Google Chromebook is their “daily driver” for all things.

Okay: Back to laptops and Netbooks.

Part III: Which laptop brand should I get?

Read this part first, before we get to the “Should I try really hard to get Windows 7 on my laptop” section. We’ll answer that in a minute.

Okay: Here’s the thing about all laptops. All of them: basically, they’re all the same.

Shocker, I know. But so are cars. They are all basically, almost exactly, 99% the same. Some of the “differences” might be:

  • Extra ports or USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0.
  • One or two “video chips” (don’t get me started).
  • Keyboard twists / converts to make it a tablet.
  • Keyboard snaps off to make it a tablet.
  • Keyboard doesn’t exist at all (so it *IS* a tablet) and you ADD a keyboard.
  • Some are a little faster or a little slower.
  • Some are heavier. Others are lighter.
  • Some have BIG power supplies (which add to the overall weight of travel). Others have small wee ones.
  • Some are “bigger” and have a full sized keyboard. Others are smaller (Netbooks.)

But… again –99% of all laptops running Windows are EXACTLY the same “guts” and what they’’re capable of. 

Since they all do the same basic thing, for the MAJORITY of “Joe and Jane users” you almost CANNOT GO WRONG in buying a new laptop nowadays.

This is going to sound totally weird, but my primary suggestion to prospective buyers of laptops and desktops is: UNDERSTAND THE WARRANTY.

We’ll cover this in the next part of this talk.

Of course, you’re also looking for a good deal. So, here are my top five deals for anyone looking for a computer:

1. New Dell Vostro laptops. They’re cheap, decent, fast, and have Dell’s warranty (again, more on this in a second.) Click here to see them. I wouldn’t recommend _all_ of them. Some of them have the “wrong” processor type. (again, more on this in a second.)

2. Dell Factory Outlet computershttp://www.dell.com/outlet/. This is Dell’s “island of lost toys.” This usually mans “Jane Doe couldn’t afford her new laptop for her son Johnny Doe after all, so she sent it back after 9 days of light use.” It doesn’t really mean “It was dropped, so it’s now crap.”  Even if it did, Dell still puts an original warranty on everything they sell there, which is the most important part of owning a laptop. I’ve literally bought 4 Dell laptops using the Outlet store.

3. Tigerdirect.com and NewEgg. They do sell new computers, but also “fell off the truck, if ya know what I mean”, off-lease (meaning, used) or are market closeouts in some way. But, holymoly.. lots and lots of awesome deals here. I promise you won’t find better deals than Tigerdirect. You will get the MOST bang for your buck, especially if you’re looking for something “higher end” at “lower cost.” But here’s the trick: Tigerdirect doesn’t warranty these. They’re always factory direct warranties… whatever that means. And since they sell all brands, I don’t know what to tell you – even if you find a great deal. You’ll have to manually inspect the warranty yourself, call the company and see what their story is. Don’t expect Tigerdirect to help you when you have a problem. They sell it to you. They mail it to you. That’s the extent of your relationship.

4. Retail: Best Buy, hhGregg, Office Max, Office Depot, Staples: Even if they swore “up and down” that they had the most amazing warranty of all time, PLUS a killer deal – I still wouldn’’t buy the computer and warranty from any of them. Plain and simple: There are KIDS working in these stores, and this is YOUR business / personal laptop. Sorry, but I can’’t trust any of these outfits with my most precious business instrument. Not to mention that these kinds of stores turn over equipment types and makes and models so, so quickly. Will the “kid behind the desk” know what to do when you bring yours in from 1.5 years ago?

5. Other Internet sites: NewEgg.com, Buy.Com and others. Again –almost always ONLY manufacturer’s warranty. Again, not my cup of tea.

Part IV: Understanding the warranty (the most important part of your laptop.)

Let’s talk about Dell, specifically, for a second though. Why have I, historically, always owned a Dell laptop?

Simple. Their warranty is easy for my pea-brain to understand.

Here’s how it works:

  • •The default warranty is 1 year if something “dies.” Examples are: Power supply, screen goes blank, USB port dies, whatever. You call up. They try to fix it over the phone.
  • If it needs a part you can replace (ie: battery, mouse, removable DVD drive) they ship it to you; you replace it yourself. You put the broken part in a pre-paid box back to them, and drop it in the mail. You are done.
  • If it needs a part you can’t replace (laptop screen, motherboard) the part is shipped “overnight” to a “regional center.” Then when the part arrives, the center calls you and you schedule a time to get your machine fixed.
  • For a little extra money when you buy your laptop, you can get 3 years on-site (ie: they come to you) coverage.
  • For a little “extra extra”, you can get “I spilled coffee directly in it”, “I dropped it hard on a marble floor” or “I dropped it in a lake” insurance, which will cover things like that. Really. At least that’s what they say.

Now.. with that said: I, with my pea-brain, can understand this warranty structure, and can embrace what it means.

To be clear: This warranty structure doesn’t mean “my problem will be fixed in 24 hours.” (Especially on a Thursday or Friday.)

It means: “We (Dell) spring to action right away… If you called us with your problem after 2.00 PM or so, then we’re going to miss Mr. DHL delivery dude for today. So, we’ll have to ship it tomorrow –then it will (usually) get to the local repair depot the next business (shipping) day. And when it arrives, then you’ll get a call. Only after the part arrives at the local depot center, will we call you and schedule an appointment for up to 24 hours after that.”

That’s the deal.

So don’t expect your warranty coverage to mean “your problem will be fixed within 24 hours.” Expect them to get started on your problem right away and have it fixed 24 hours AFTER the part is in the hands of the depot.

So, because I ‘get’ the deal, I usually recommend Dell. It’s the “warranty-devil” I know, and I’m totally cool with that deal.

That said, I always recommend Dells to Joes and Janes when they ask me what laptop to get because:

  • 99% of the any laptop you get is exactly the same and…
  • I can EXPLAIN the warranty to them and ..
  • They can decide if that’s what they want.

I cannot OVER-EMPHASIZE how important UNDERSTANDING your laptop’s warranty and restrictions are. This is literally, the #1 factor you should choose in buying a laptop.

Again: I’ve described Dell’s warranty service above. If you want to check out other manufacturer’s warranties, great. I’m just giving you my personal experience with Dell and warranties.

Part V: “How much laptop do I, a regular person, need?”

If you’’re planning on: Surfing, Facebook, using Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Gmail, Hotmail, Office 365, NetFlix, Skype and other “usual stuff” you’’ve got “what I call “modest needs.””

If you’’re running some “high powered stuff ” like Quark, World Of Warcraft (or other high end games), Final Cut, Movie Maker, VMware Workstation, HyperV, Autocad, Camtasia Studio or Mathemetica, you might need more than what I’’ve listed here.

So, here’s my answer for your “modest needs” person going into 2014.

Chip type and speed:

Here’s the dirty little secret the laptop manufactures don’’t want you to know: This almost “doesn’t matter.” Or said another way, you almost “cannot go wrong.” Here are my suggestions:

•Intel’s chip lines are the Intel Core i3, i5 and i7s. The i3 is usually the best “bang for the buck” but I wouldn’t turn down the higher model i5s or i7s. Again, i3 (any speed) will be perfectly fine for almost anyone. Get the i5s if you can afford it. The i7s are almost certainly overkill for almost everyone.

Avoid “Intel Celerons” at all costs. None are acceptable. Ever.

• See the above line: NEVER EVER buy a laptop with an Intel Celeron. EVER.

Intel ATOM processors are perfectly fine, but .. slower.  Which is why they’re in Netbooks and some tablets (like the Dell Venue 8 and 11 as seen here.). They’ll run all Windows apps. But slower. The PLUS side is that battery life is greater on these, but definitely slower than the Intel “i” series I mentioned above.

Also:  Avoid all “gamer” laptops. Avoid due to the high price tag and low battery life and large power supply to lug around.

RAM:

•Some laptops come with 2 or 3GB RAM. This is annoying. Avoid these, and get one that comes pre-loaded with 4GB.

•Note that I am NOT recommending you get more than 4GB for most modest-needs users. If you happen to get MORE than 4GB of RAM, bully for you, but you likely will never really need or use it.

Hard drive:

There are three kinds of hard drives now: “spinning disks” (the kind we’’ve had for years) and “SSD” disks which have no moving parts at all and “hybrids” which are spinning disks with some extra SSD stuff slapped on.

The older spinning disks are still found in 90% of all laptops and are perfectly acceptable for 90% of the people out there. The minimum size you should get is 320GB and preferably 500GB.

Remember: These are spinning disks, and prone to failure when dropped, hit, smacked, etc.

Also note that there are two “speeds” you can get: 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. Just to be annoying manufacturers don’t always have 7200 RPM drives in all sizes, and, manufacturers don’’t always tell you the speed as you’’re buying your new laptop. If you don’’t know, assume it’s the slower “5400” speed, and avoid it. It’s worth the extra cash for a 7200 RPM drive.

Remember earlier when I said that the processor speed really “almost doesn’t matter”? Well, it doesn’t. And the reason it doesn’t is that your processor is running fine. It’s your slow-ass disks which makes your computer “feel slow.”

If you want your computer to “feel fast” then get out your wallet, and plunk down the extra cash and get an SSD disk. Because SSD disks have no moving parts, they transfer right to your computer’s brain at lightning speeds. It will feel (and is) faster. The “catch” however is that SSD disks are waaaaaay more expensive than older spinning disks. And, checking with a few laptop manufacturers, you cannot get the “bigger SSD” disks when you buy a new laptop (which is weird.) You have to buy them “afterward” and jam them in there. (This is what I’’ve done –– more on this later.)

In short getting an SSD vs. spinning disks is going to be the greatest “one thing” you can do to make your laptop (even your old, crappy 3 year old laptop) feel insanely fast. More on SSD disks a little later.

Video card / chip:

Unless you’re playing games, it doesn’t matter.

•Really.

•Even if you’re planning on watching NetFlix or Hulu, those kinds of apps really don’t care about your video card much.

Even on my super old crappy Netbook, I am able to see full screen videos (wirelessly!) without any issue with a good network connection.

Avoid laptops which tout “multiple” or “two” video chips. These give you extra headaches for almost NO VALUE to the mere mortal.

Screen Size / Resolution:

•Look for something with WXGA or WXGA+ resolution. This can mean 1280×720 and up, which is decent on a laptop.

Wireless Network Card:

•Most laptops now have built-in Wireless cards.

You don’t have to get all worried if you don’t have the fastest wireless card.

Ideally, look for one that has “n” in the spec, like 802.11n to get the fastest. Note that 802.11n isn’t actually the fastest thing out there. It’s actually 802.11AC but I think only a handful of laptop manufacturers put 802.11AC chips built into their notebooks (Asus being one of them).

Part VI: Windows 7 vs. 8.

Question 1: Windows 7 vs. Windows 8. Which should I get?

Answer: If your intended laptop’s screen is touch capable, get Windows 8.

Question: I’ve heard / played with the Start Menu on Windows 8 / 8.1 and hate it.

Answer: It’s not that bad after like an hour’s use. It’s totally fine and kind of neat after a while.

Question: I don’t believe you and Windows 7 anyway.

Answer: Okay, fine.

Here’s my general rule of thumb:

  • Get Windows 8, especially if you have a touch-capable machine.
  • Only get Windows 7 if your machine isn’t touch-capable.

If you’re very set on NOT getting Windows 8 because of your distaste the start screen stuff, then, you will find at least Dell and some other manufacturers still putting Windows 7 onto new machines. For instance, the Latitude 14 3000 Series — Windows 7 is the ONLY option.

So, you CAN get Windows 7 in lieu of Windows 8 if you wanted, but I wouldn’t.

Do take the time to update a Windows 8 machine to the (free upgrade) of Windows 8.1, which is available in the Windows Store.

My advice for “normal people” would be to spring for a machine with one of the following operating systems:

  • •Windows 7 Home Premium: If you’re never going to join an IT department’s domain)
  • Windows 8 (that’s it’s name: Windows 8): If you’re never going to join an IT department’s domain)
  • Windows 7 Professional (if you’re possibly going to join an IT department’s domain.)
  • Windows 8 Pro:  (if you’re possibly going to join an IT department’s domain)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate:  if the machine just happens to come with it. Note: You can always upgrade your existing Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional to ultimate if you discover there’s some wonderful Ultimate feature you “must have.” Most “Ultimate” features are IT / business related things like Bitlocker and AppLocker (again, geeky business-y things.

Note: My geeky friends will notice neither Windows 7 Enterprise nor Windows 8 Enterprise appear on this list, because they are NOT sold with NEW machines are only available to IT departments.

These two charts are excellent to see what you get in which edition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_7_editions and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_8_editions

Part VII: 32 bit vs 64 bit.

Most new machines you will get are 64-bit capable. 64-bit capable means you get two major benefits.

Since most machines (laptops, not netbooks) you will buy nowadays are 64-bit capable, if you had an extra minute before clicking “buy now” I would check to ensure your new machine it’s 64-bit compatible and the operating system is Windows 7 or Windows 8 64-bit pre-loaded.

Okay  — why would you care?

  • Benefit #1: With 64-bit you can tap into all 4GB+ of memory you purchase. If you were to use the older 32-bit OS you will only see 3.2GB of your 4GB purchase. Weird, but that’s how it works.
  • Benefit #2: By and large, the computer will be “faster” than the exact same machine running a 32-bit operating system. Even though we’re talking about identical systems, the 64-bit is faster all around because it processes (many / most) things in 64-bit “chunks” as opposed to 32-bit “chunks.” So it’s overall, faster.

So, in short, if you CAN get a 64-bit Windows 7 or 8 edition pre-loaded on your machine, I say “do it.”

In the old days, there were driver problems with 64-bit editions.

No more.

If the machine comes pre-loaded with Windows 7 or 8 and it 64-bit support, you’re likely quite golden with regards to drivers. You could, maybe possibly have some problems with some of the stuff ATTACHED to your machine, like Printers and Scanners. But Windows 7 and 8′s drivers support is excellent. It’s a rare (mostly modern) device that won’t work with Windows 7 64-bit. Note: some won’t, and that’s a possible 64-bit Windows 7 risk.

For more information on 32 vs 64 bit support from Microsoft’s perspective, read this.

In short, for regular people, my advice is simple: Get Windows 7 or 8, any 64-bit edition pre-loaded on your laptop if you want guaranteed success.

Where do I go next:

Finding the Vostro laptops in the Dell Factory Outlet was a little hard. So here’s a link.

I found many, many, many under $600.

Look for: Intel i3, 500GB HD,  4000 MB RAM (That’s 4GB), Windows 7 64-bit OS, a DVD drive with Read/Write capabilities.

Total price: $600 – $800.

Are these the best, lightest, fastest, crispest, nicest laptops you’re going to find? DEFINITELY NO. But for MOST PEOPLE these laptops (and the warranty I explained earlier) are PERFECT for mere mortals.

So, after this: everything else.. everything else.. is just bells and whistles when it comes to laptops 

Part VII: Wait.. you said SSD disks were the best, why don’t I see those when I try to buy a new laptop?

Here’s a fact: Your computer is ONLY as fast as its SLOWEST part.

Want to know what the slowest part is? The “spinning disk” hard drive.

Remember: Most computer manufacturers are cheap. They want to make something cheap and sell you something that works. When you get it they want you to be REASONABLY happy enough NOT to send it back. Its also in their best interest to say “500GB hard drive” or “750GB Hard drive”. Sounds HUUUUGE. So, ”spinning disks” do the job. They’re cheap and plentiful.

But, your spinning disk is holding you back.

SSD disks are where the action is. Except you (usually; not always) cannot buy them as part of a NEW system.

Why? See point #1 above: Spinning disks are good enough. So that’s what manufacturers sell. It won’t be like this forever. I suspect in the next year this will tip the other way to SSDs being normally available.

So, here’s the (counter-intuitive) recommendation if you want to maximize your new laptop and make it feel AWESOME / ZIPPY for the next several years. Note: There is a litttttttle risk and costs involved here. But I think its worth it. Here goes:

  • Buy your machine with the SMALLEST spinning disk hard drive you can. Usually the smallest is 320GB for laptops made in 2013 / 2014.
  • Buy your own SSD. Buy the biggest you can afford. I have tested several brands, and can only hands-down recommend ONE manufacturer: Samsung.

Samsung has three “flavors” of SSD disks. But, for YOU the mere mortal, there’s only one: The Samsung EVO.  Here on Amazon it’s $89.99 for the 120GB version. (And you can select up to 1TB if you wanted for obviously more money.)

In MOST cases (not all!) these drives come with a cable and software to MIGRATE the hard drive you HAVE onto the new platform. Always remember that in most cases, you need to be USING less space than you’re GOING to. (Be sure to read the details of your purchase CAREFULLY to ensure that your drive comes with a transfer cable if you want to do this yourself.)

Anyway.. here’s an example:

- Your new laptop comes with a 500GB hard drive.

- Its using 20GB of space of that 500GB.

You can then upgrade to the 120GB SSD because you’re only using 20GB of that space.

Here’s another example:

-Your laptop comes with 500GB hard drive.

-You’re using 300GB of that space.

You cannot shove 300GB of stuff into that 120GB SSD disk.

Its usually pretty easy to then take out the OLD drive and throw in the NEW drive. If you’re UNCOMFORTABLE with all of this, you can pay someone at Best Buy or your local computer store to do all of this for you. Don’t pay more than $100 for the LABOR involved here.

What do you do with the original drive you took out? For $11 whole dollars on Amazon, you can put your ORIGINAL drive in a USB 3.0 case and reclaim that space as “spare” .. for pictures, videos, docs, whatever.

Part IX: What kind of laptop do you own, Jeremy? (Here comes a little geekier stuff.)

Some of you may wonder what kind of laptop I am running?

I use a Lenovo T520 with a four-core i7 processor and 1.5TB of SSD hard drive space (two disks) and 16GB of RAM. It’s big and heavy and the power supply is .. just.. huge. But I do live demonstrations in front of thousands of people and my laptop has to FLY.

I have another machine which is a Lenovo T420 running Windows 7 64-bit with 4GB of RAM and 120GB SSD disk, and its totally fantastic to represent my “mere mortal machine”. 

I can hear you now: “But what about Dell? You reference Dell like 80 times in this article. Didn’’t you basically tell me to buy a Dell?”

Yes, I did.

I recommend Dell for most people. I needed some special stuff that I could only get with a Lenovo.

Remember: I’m an IT guy who does hard core demonstrations, so my needs are greater than some others. I need 16GB of RAM in my laptop, and SATA III and a lot lot more. Why the T520, specifically, and not another Lenovo (or Dell for that matter.)

So, Lenovo (and a handful of others) are using new faster “guts” called “Sandy Bridge” –which is the stuff “between” the Intel chips and the hard drives. It’s the stuff that “moves data” between the main processor and, well, everything else. And Sandy Bridge laptops are super slick and fast – provided –you jam in a super fast hard drive. For the geeks out there, Sandy Bridge laptops can take SATA III disks which are stupid-fast. So, I’ve decided for my new T520 with an Core i7 and also decided to splurge and get (crazy, I know) a 1TB SSD SATA III disk. (Note: Geeky people will also know that something NEWER than Sandy Bridge is out called Haswell. Except it’s not all that much faster as evidenced in this article.)

Anyway.. no kidding: the SSD drive I purchased literally cost as much as the laptop itself.

Again: my set up is NOT RECOMMENDED for regular people.

If you’’re geeky and/or interested in other Sandy Bridge laptops, here’s a short list here for Sandy Bridge and another list for Haswell laptops. Some from Lenovo, Dell and others. Again, Sandy Bridge and Haswell laptops are only for those who need upscale performance, and again, is NOT required for regular people. And they’re usually somewhat more expensive. And, honestly, you only get the “super slick” performance WHEN you get super fast SATA III hard drives.

Let me be frank: the Lenovo buying experience is not great. The laptops take forever to get to me and the last time, my assistant called every day for 90 days to get confirmation of the activation of the warranty.

I wouldn’t want to put Jon and Jane Buyer thru either of those experiences. And I’m bordering on “afraid” to use the warranty service. Haven’t used it yet, I’ll cross my fingers. Heck, I don’t even know where to call if I had a problem. And that’s a problem.

Final Thoughts (and if you read nothing else…)

So, for regular people, I still recommended the Dell Outlet to get cheap, reliable, new computers and the Dell warranty for reliable, easy to understand warranty service.

Hope this guide helps you and your friends out.

- Signed, your friendly neighborhood Jeremy Moskowitz, Group Policy MVP