What Kind of Laptop to Buy?


Hi there,

I need to buy a new laptop in the next few weeks, but I am not sure which model to purchase. I just started working on my dissertation over the past week weeks, so I will need something that lasts at least a year (though, I hope it will last much longer!). My main use is writing--I don't stream many videos and don't download much besides PDFs. I have a bad habit of keeping over 20 tabs open and not shutting my laptop down for weeks at a time (don't want to lose all of the things I'm working on). I currently have a Lenovo Thinkpad. It works fine, but Microsoft word is having issues, the battery needs replacing, and the charger is falling apart. I bought it in August 2011. I know the problems are minor, but I would rather purchase a new unit than spend money repairing an older computer. I am open to the idea of a Mac, but I am not sure whether it is wise to spend so much money. I would like to keep it under $800USD, if possible. Thank you in advance for your suggestions!


HP are very resilient!


How portable do you need it to be? Do you use it mostly just at home or do you carry it around a lot?

What software packages do you use outside of Office? Compatibility issues might influence the PC vs Mac debate.


If you are used to an older version of Windows, I would say avoid anything with Windows 8 on it. Most of them do come with Windows 8 at the moment - including the one I bought for doing my PhD - but I would say it is well worth looking around for something with Windows 7 instead. If you don't know about Windows 8's reputation a quick Google will suffice :-) Apart from all the major problems with it, it doesn't come with any form of Office package so you'd find yourself having to buy that separately.


I recently bought a new laptop as my old one's motherboard got corrupted. I am using HP 2000 notebook (i3), it came with Windows 8 and no MS Office (as mentioned by chickpea). But I have had no problems with it. I bought MS Office and have installed statistical packages that I'm using for data analysis,Zotero for referencing, dropbox, googledrive. It seems to take all the load, but I don't leave it open for days. I shut it down once a day or in two days for updates.It has 15" screen, 750gb hd, but it is quite light, I can carry it around effortlessly. All this within AUD 600 (USD 560).

Good luck with the hunt!


Trouble is Windows 8 has been designed for (and works very well with) touch screen devices, but less so for traditional desktop working. I had a stint on a Windows 8 machine and it involved a lot of disorientation and confusion, though you can manipulate it to just behave like a regular desktop interface if you want. Just be prepared for a week or two of cursing and frustration initially!


Yes, the only thing I found I could do with Windows 8 on my laptop was to take it into the screen that looks more like Windows 7, and leave it there. I also installed some third party stuff (start button, PDF reader etc) as it really is not set up for any kind of desktop work or work involving documents.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Windows 8 does seem more crash-proof than Windows 7, however, I know not everyone is a fan of the Metro touchscreen-style start screen - that includes me.

I did the following:

1) Install Windows 8 or 8.1 if not already installed. Watch out for glitches such as sound card and other drivers.

2) If You've Windows 8, upgrade directly to Windows 8.1 by downloading from Microsoft store on the Metro screen.

3) *** Bear in mind that Internet Explorer 11 under Windows 8.1 can be problematic and unstable. Downloading Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox instead of using IE 11 is probably a good idea anyway. ***

4) It's possible to restore what I would call the Start Menu - I would recommend the excellent "Classic Shell", which is very customisable and seems to be the best one out there. There's an option to bypass the start screen and boot straight to the desktop. A real big miss for me were the little recently accessed file menus that popped up when you moved the mouse pointer over an item on the Start Menu under Windows 7 and Classic Shell gave me that back.

5) The gadgets from Windows 7 and Vista can also be restored from "8GadgetPack". I find the clock gadget particularly useful and wanted it back. The gadgets are the feature people probably don't miss that much to be honest from Windows Vista and 7 apart from me.

Whether you go for a Mac or PC is your choice. Despite it's critics (and setting the above Internet Explorer 11 issues aside), I've personally found Windows 8 more stable that previous versions. That said, others swear by the Mac and cite it as less of a target for malware and viruses.

The one qualification is Windows accounts for one hell of a lot more computers that the Mac even now and there's probably a lot more software purchasable and downloadable for the Windows platform.



Thanks for all the insight!

I work at a writing center at a university, so my clients come in with all kinds of computers. I have seen Windows 8 and Mac and am not sure which is more confusing (I am guessing the Mac would be harder to learn, though). Microsoft Office is an absolute must--I don't want to deal with compatibility problems/learning a new system. I am going to ask some of my coworkers and colleagues if someone has an extra download (sometimes, it can be installed on up to three devices). The only other programs I really use are Mendeley and Adobe. I might need to get SPSS or a similar program when it comes to the quant part of my work.

Portability is somewhat important as I have to travel to Colombia a few times to collect data. My Lenovo is not very lightweight but it is fine, so I would be okay with something that is around the same size (I would prefer smaller, but definitely not bigger).

Does anyone have one of these fancy new touch screens? I have heard mixed reviews. I don't need one by any means, and would certainly not like one if it is problematic. The more I think about it, the less appealing the Mac seems. Sure it is sexy, but I am impatient. I can barely stand waiting for the bridge to close on my way home--the thought of weeks of unnecessary confusion makes me cringe. I will look into HPs and see if there are any good deals. Thanks!


Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

I get the impression that Office does work best under Windows, though I stand to be corrected on that.

If you need to travel I'd be looking at a 10 inch screen notebook computer, which will be next to no weight at all to carry - my Toshiba has a good 9 hour battery life too. You can then transfer the data to your main PC on your return home. Note that they do enough to run Office, Windows and can do say day-to-day graphics and video work, however, the Intel Atom processor used in them will be sluggish if you're running any really high end software.

The notebooks can be attached to a larger screen if you need this out in Columbia. My Toshiba 10" notebook can be attached to a monitor to give a normal sized display.



Frequentflyer, if you can't get a download of Office from anyone, you can get a decent deal on Office 365 as a student. It's a four-year subscription rather than a permanent installation, but mine was £52 for the four years and I think the US price is about equivalent. My partner swears by Macs and they are actually highly intuitive to use but I think Ian's right about the Office compatibility being better with Windows. Incidentally I had issues with Adobe and Windows 8 and had to go for a free pdf reader from another provider instead, but that wasn't a major problem.


Try software for students for some good prices (I got my word from there). I myself am using a Fujitsu - Siemens lappie. IT professionals seems to rate Lenovo, Fujitsu - Siemens and HP as being the most computers. I recently upgraded to Windows 7 from XP this week.


I'm a computer engineer (though I don't say that with any authority - we can rarely explain how or why they work :-), so thought I'd give a few points, hopefully without too much techblab
1) Go for a Mac if you know you want a Mac. Compatibility issues are bound to crop up every now and then. So buy it if you are willing to deal with them. Linux is extremely safe and useful, but not everyone wants to deal with it when it becomes a pain.
2) Win8 is definitely a user interface disaster - but not necessarily a programming disaster. In any case, liked or not, it will be the way forward. So might as well get used to it now. I would recommend Win8.1 though, either pre-installed or upgraded - many good features have been added to it.
3) With Win8, many tabs open, and days of being left on - if there are budget constraints - I'd focus on more RAM, rather than faster processor. Also, faster processors tend to have a higher power consumption which can heat up the laptop, especially if left switched on for long durations of time. They also consume more power, so it might mean you can't use it on battery for extended periods of time.
4) Speaking of battery life, if you want to be able to use it on battery for a long time, check how many cells are in the battery (6, 9, etc). The more the cells, usually the longer it'll last on battery - but the heavier it'll be to carry around.
5) Adding the touchscreen is a good idea to improve the Win8 usability. But I'd stay away from them for a little while until the technology matures. Due to the electronics of how they work, they are not necessarily very stable. Unless you want to go for one of those laptops that convert into tablets.

Hope that helps. Ask anything if you need to. Happy hunting!