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Expensive laptop, or a micro-atx desktop with a cheap laptop for college and occasional light gaming?

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
I am going to college next year, and I need a new laptop before the fall semester starts so I have some time to get used to it. My current 16" 6.5 lbs laptop seems to be too bulky for college life.

1st Option:

Expensive laptop (first post): http://www.overclock.net/t/1333140/when-to-buy-a-laptop-for-college-mobile-and-light-gaming-plugged-in-most-of-the-time

2nd Option:

Cheap laptop:

Max budget: Around $300

Country: US

Uses: College. I don't want to replace it until after I'm out of college.

Brand loyalty
: None

Screen size: 13" or 14"

Screen resolution: 1280 x 720 or 1366 x768

New or refurbished/recertified/used: Refurbished as long as it comes from a reputable retailer such as Newegg. Not from Craigslist.

Battery life: Not sure since I have no idea how often would I get to recharge the laptop while on campus.

Game preference: None for the cheap laptop

OS preference: I am uncertain about Windows 8. I'm hoping that it would be fixed enough for me to use by the time I purchase the laptop.

Laptop style: Anti-glare, but other than that, indifferent. Something that wouldn't attract attention and make it a theft magnet?

Preferred HDD space: 320GB

Special hardware
: Support for msata, because I plan on installing a 60GB boot SSD, find the OS's product keys, and attempt a clean install.


Desktop:

Budget: Around $700

Case and motherboard: Micro-ATX
post #2 of 33
IMO its better to have one nice thing vs. having two meh items - besides that it will hold its value for longer and be current for a longer time.
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post #3 of 33
Its tough call. I used a less powerful laptop and medium desktop when I was in school for games. It wasn't worth spending the money on the desktop considering I didn't play that much. My suggestion is getting a portable laptop with onboard graphics and a good processor. Make sure it has an expresscard slot. Then get this:

http://www.villageinstruments.com/tiki-index.php?page=ViDock

This would last you quite nicely.
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post #4 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AMC View Post

Its tough call. I used a less powerful laptop and medium desktop when I was in school for games. It wasn't worth spending the money on the desktop considering I didn't play that much. My suggestion is getting a portable laptop with onboard graphics and a good processor. Make sure it has an expresscard slot. Then get this:
http://www.villageinstruments.com/tiki-index.php?page=ViDock
This would last you quite nicely.

My concern with ViDock is that the ExpressCard's max bandwidth is 0.3125 GB/s or 320 MB/s. Anything beyond a low-end GPU will severely bottleneck and would have lower performance than a mid-high end mobile GPU.

Bottlenecking of GPUs by restricting the amount of PCI-e lanes: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/pci-express-scaling-analysis,1572-8.html
post #5 of 33
You don't need a powerful laptop for college, and playing on a laptop sucks... So why buy an expensive one?
Working at a desktop computer is much more convenient when you are actually at home.
post #6 of 33
if you're living on campus odds are a gaming desktop isn't really going to be used as much as you think. i would get a nice mid-tier laptop like you were talking about in your other thread and pocketing the extra $400.

i had a nice desktop when i got to college and by my second year it was collecting dust. we played xbox and things like that that everyone could sit down and play together. one guy played CS:S, but even he kind of gave that up for halo nights.

you want a laptop that is battery conscious and portable, and they don't make gaming laptops in a decent price range like that. i'm still recommending the APU with an A6 or above.
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post #7 of 33
Hey!

I'm happy to see "fresh into college" threads. Makes me happy. I'm a fifth year at UCSD and I love it, learned a lot these last couple of years especially when it comes to technology.

So the first thing I have to ask is, what are you studying at school? If you're studying engineering or visual arts or something of that nature, you have to make sure you get the right tools for the job. If you're undecided, don't go 'meh' in two areas, rather, go super hard in one area and go super cheap in the other area. You might not even need a laptop, whether you're taking notes in class or not.

For social sciences, liberal arts, history and writing classes, I love using my laptop to take notes. But when it comes to math and science classes, it's a LOT easier to have the formulas and equations in your muscle memory when you write them with a pencil/pen. Not to mention, it's hard to write things like Greek symbols for density and angles using a computer. Symbols like the integration symbol, double integration, volumetric integration, chemical reactions and stuff like that are better written by hand or using a tablet. (I'll get more into that later)

Also, have you considered Mac? Now that I have a MacBook, I cannot imagine taking notes without it. Audio notes, multi tasking and mouse gestures are just so much better on a MacBook.

My possible recommendations to you:
1) Big Bertha + a tablet: Pick up a $100 Android tablet, maybe a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 from an OCN member or on Ebay and a cheap stylus from Amazon. Use this for class/notes. I'm willing to bet $100 that your school not only has powerful computers in the library, they also have computer labs attached to printers and even computer labs in your student shopping center. All the UC's have them and our funding sucks compared to some out of state/private colleges. Spend the remaining $900 on a badass dragon slaying desktop (Just a 64GB SSD for Windows 7) maybe an AMD rig because an Ivy Bridge would really hurt the wallet. Pick up a GTX 650 Ti, 8GB DDR3 and a 21" monitor and you're set. For a mouse, you could get the Cobra E-3lue mouse. It's $13 on Amazon and it's actually fairly decent lol. There's streaming Apps that will let you remote desktop from the Android tablet and your school probably has super fast Wi-Fi so worst case scenario you could use your desktop from the tablet while you're in class. The other advantage to the tablet is that they're a lot better for reading e-books so if you can find your textbooks online, you can store them on Dropbox and easily reference them during lecture. They also have MUCH better battery life than laptops. MacBooks, which are famed for their battery life, last roughly 6 hours. A tablet easily lasts 9-10 hours.

2) Mid-range plus cheap laptop: Pick up an AMD quad core with a cheap motherboard, an 8gb ddr3 kit, maybe an HD6850, no SSD but maybe a 1TB hard drive mechanical. Could probably get all this done using a bundle from Newegg and save some money. The monitor will still eat $100 from your budget. And then spend $300 on a laptop. You could pick up this Lenovo:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834310621

It's $349 but 4GB of ram, 320GB hard drive and it has Windows 8.

Your build would probably be $600 or so, which after the monitor, keyboard and mouse, leaves you about $450 to spend on the tower. AMD Phenom II X4 for $73, Asrock 970 for $85, a 1TB WD Caviar Blue for $70, an HD6850, $50 PSU and a $30 case and you'll be pretty set. Any cheap DDR3 8GB kit will do. Performance won't be that bad compared to the rig in my first recommendation but you get more money to spend on the laptop if you absolutely want a laptop.

In my opinion, I think you should consider a nice tablet and a nice desktop. You get the best of both worlds, you can pick up a cheap tablet case/keyboard combo and a mobile office suite. EverNote syncs in the cloud so you can access your notes anywhere you go and you will TRULY appreciate ebooks/PDF's on a portrait oriented tablet.
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
I'm going into engineering as my major.

Hm, since I am going to take most of my notes on paper, that means there's not much of a need for a really cheap laptop other than web browsing. But a more expensive laptop could do the same, and pick up the gaming tasks as well. And there's a risk I would be away from my dorm most of the time, which would make the desktop computer inaccessible.

Macbook? That's... A tad expensive for the hardware inside, and the non-repairability (battery glued to monitor, RAM soldered to the motherboard, proprietary hard drive and screws, etc).

My sister's 6 years old laptop has a 5 minute battery charge, when installing Windows updates and nothing else. It used to have a two hours battery charge when brand new.
post #9 of 33
Personally, I prefer to just have a desktop. I was usually too lazy to take my laptop with me when I went to classes, and even when I did it was more of a distraction than an aid, so I ended up selling it, as I didn't particularly enjoy using it anyway. I prefer to use my desktop at home (I commute to my university) and if I really need to do some last minute work on a paper or print something out last minute while I'm on campus, there are plenty of computer labs (with Core2Quad machines) and computers in the library that I can use. I keep all my school work in my Dropbox account for that reason.

Also, desktop parts hold their value MUCH better than laptops. I paid $530 for my Laptop (Lenovo X120e) when it was released in summer 2011, and was only able to sell it for $230 a month or so ago. I'll never buy a laptop again, I consider it one of the worse purchases I've ever made. mad.gif
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post #10 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by A Bad Day View Post

I'm going into engineering as my major.
Hm, since I am going to take most of my notes on paper, that means there's not much of a need for a really cheap laptop other than web browsing. But a more expensive laptop could do the same, and pick up the gaming tasks as well. And there's a risk I would be away from my dorm most of the time, which would make the desktop computer inaccessible.
Macbook? That's... A tad expensive for the hardware inside, and the non-repairability (battery glued to monitor, RAM soldered to the motherboard, proprietary hard drive and screws, etc).
My sister's 6 years old laptop has a 5 minute battery charge, when installing Windows updates and nothing else. It used to have a two hours battery charge when brand new.

Handwritten notes:
There are SOME engineering majors I know that take notes with a laptop, but usually they're computer science majors so their notes are programming notes and it makes sense to type them out. The general consensus is that if you're doing physics, chemistry or calculus, it's better to write notes by hand. Check this out:

http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/howtostudy.html#takenotesinclass

The truth is, a computer is a distraction. While it's true that you can reinforce your ability to concentrate by eliminating other applications, turning off your cell phone and iTunes, the truth of the matter is, your brain becomes conditioned. I always tell people to NEVER study at their bed. Why? The bed is for sleeping, resting and unwinding (having a girl there helps). If you condition your mind to associate the bed with your studying, you'll find yourself making up bad sleeping hours by sleeping on the couch (I slept on my couch for a few weeks and didn't understand why) or at your desk or a friend's house.

The same thing applies to a computer. If you associate your computer with playing games, checking out OCN and other forums, you'll condition yourself to subconsciously associate the computer with your leisure activities. Likewise if you associate the computer with work. That's why most people have a computer purely for work and a computer for home. I've found that people that use their computer for both are usually bad at doing either or only mildly good at doing both.

By taking hand written notes, you will associate your notepad with doing WORK and whenever you see it, you will think of physics, chemistry and math. You will also reinforce the formulae because you wrote them by hand. You yourself wrote the equations rather than typing them out. It's easier to remember stuff you wrote than it so to remember stuff you read. Typing is a form of reading more than writing because you're merely 'mirroring' what you heard or saw on a screen. Whereas when you write by hand, you're reforming the ideas in a way that you will remember them.

MacBooks:
That's not entirely true. The Retina MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air are 'difficult' to upgrade. The MacBook Pro non-Retina are not. My 2012 MacBook Pro has regular screws and once I remove the bottom cover, I have access to the hard drive, optical drive and battery. Only the battery requires a special tool to remove. In terms of battery life, what you have to understand is that not all batteries are created equal. A cheap laptop has a cheap battery and cheap power management hardware. A nice laptop, Windows OR Mac, has a much higher quality battery, much nicer power management components. I just worked on a customer's 2007 MacBook non-Pro and he BARELY replaced his battery this year. Up until then, he easily got 3-4 hours of battery life on it. Likewise, my Dell XPS M1530 I gave to my mom, still gets 2.5-3.5 hours of battery life and it got 4.5-5 hours when I bought it in 2008. However, those are $900-1000 laptops when they were released. My XPS was on special for $750 but it was $900 MSRP. I just upgraded my MacBook Pro to 8GB of ram and it took me 6 minutes to swap them out. They even sell optical drive HDD-trays to replace the super Drive with an SSD and have dual hard drives. I will say that, myself included, a lot of people I knew that were die hard Windows non-Apple fans were TRULY surprised about how functional and productive OSX is for students and professionals. If you can't justify the costs, that's fine. If gaming is even PARTLY what you do, a MacBook is not a good choice.

In terms of being away from your dorm:
I think this falls into the conditioning aspect. Are you thinking of playing games at the library after you study? Would that affect your ability to concentrate? Are you going to absolutely NEED the full size computer experience when you're away from your dorm?

I think you could also consider asking students that go to the same school how their day plays out. I know at UCSD, I have no problem with my gaming desktop being at home, my MacBook in my backpack with a tablet. The battery life for my MacBook is so great that I don't need to bring my charger and a tablet easily gives me access to my emails, ebooks, calendar and communication. I think a cheap gaming Windows desktop, a MacBook and a Nexus 7 is the best combination of technology a student could have. It ups the budget to about $1600 but you could easily replace the MacBook with another ultra light laptop and gain the same advantages. I do think you'd be better off separating your gaming machine from your mobile computer. I know that you can get a gaming laptop for $950 but trust me, in a year it'll be outdated and you'll end up going the eGPU route to get a better video card and that is a royal pain in the butt.
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