I like Toshiba, I have 1 toshiba and a compaq (and also a packard bell) the compaq is the newest and is pretty good. I like toshiba because whenever I open it up it reminds me of the adverts - 'hello tosh, got a toshiba?' 8-)
It is really down to pot luck! What I would suggest is get one of the main models but make sure to get it local and get it guaranteed for a year at least. That way, if things go belly-up, you'll get it fixed. PC World or one of those lads would do the trick. If it is for the PhD, don't go top of the range - all you want is something that lasts three years. Not from the UK, but can I make a suggestion? Ye lucky f**kers get great laptops at 1/2 price we do, so as a long term plan, I would spend £300-400 on the laptop, £50 on an external Hard-disk (for backing-up all your info) and put the rest away for a start on the replacement laptop 2-2 1/2 years down the line or getting broadband. Forget the Mac ... too much hassle interfacing with PCs. And if sh!t hits the fan, I bet the college Computer Helpdesk will not touch a Mac and if they can, will just see it as a hinderance.
Acer or one of the other top brands (Toshiba, Compaq) would do. Dell are ok, but after-sales can be a nightmare. If you do wish to go Dell, go to the Outlet store (just search for outlet on your local Dell site) ... you'll get reconditioned laptops at a discounted price.
At the end of the day, they all come from the same 10-20 factories, just different stickers. 8-)
Toshiba is the way to go, I've had a couple of them and they are extremely reliable and VERY durable. I've stomped, kicked, dropped etc and they have always survived. One died because I left some used waxing strips on it and the wax seeped it. The second one I had to get rid of for my new work laptop.
You also need to consider desktop replacement vs lightweight. Desktop replacement = heavy but useful if you are not going to lugg it around, can have high specs, dvd drive, large screen etc.
If you want to get a mac, there are various pieces of software that allow you to simulate different OS but this might be a faff for you.
Dell is ok, good after-sales services.
Sony laptop's are stunning but you pay a not-so pretty price for the brand.
HP or Compaq are about the same price as Toshiba's but not as good (IMO)
ACER are good for the price.
fujitsu siemens - absolute crap, stay away.
If you know anyone with a Costco card and you can get to a Costco, they do excellent prices on some of these laptops.
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