Need help choosing a new laptop

born-again-biker

Is looking for a 16" bar
The brief:
My old man needs a laptop for his work. He runs a residential construction company and needs something portable between the office & home.
He asked me what to buy. I haven't looked in this space for a very long time....and I don't know much about Windows stuff.
He has two desktops already in the office & a company LAN of sorts.

He needs document handling, emails, a few photos 'n' shit. Needs plenty of inputs & outputs for devices.
Graphics don't matter. Bells & whistles don't matter. He needs dependability, rugged construction (if possible) and ease-of-use.
I told him to prioritise processing power over storage.

My questions are:
  • Is Dell & HP still the cheapo shit it used to be?
  • Is ASUS a Yeti/SantaCruz/Pivot ?
  • Is Microsoft good vfm?
  • Is Toshiba out of the game?
  • 15 inch?
  • Are those flippable tablet-come-laptop hybrid looking things any good?...or overkill?
What should he buy?
 

Plankosaurus

Hydraulic Jack specialist
I think dell are one of the better brands out there for build quality honestly, I've got an early i5 that's still kicking goals even after being used for field tech work on the public transport system.

Toshiba wish they were as good as dell

Acer is good bang for buck but might not go the distance

Gigabyte have some amazing performance options for much less than the equivalent alienware or ROG but tend to be flimsy feeling

I like alienware, but then I pretend to game too. Dell build quality but with gaming grunt.


  • I'd still recommend getting something with a graphics card, it takes the load off the processor when it needs to. Low end is still usually a massive help over integrated.
  • SSD is an absolute must, walk away if it's a spinny drive (SSD as a primary and spinny for storage is fine).
  • i5 processors and up will keep you going for years, I don't know much about the amd equivalents anymore. Last few times I looked hard into this the previous generation was not much slower than the latest and greatest.
  • 16gb of ram will see you through almost anything and will cost stuff all, less than that speaks volumes of the manufacturer's cost cutting.
  • Get a feel for the laptop, some will feel flimsier than others or might have shitty keyboards, this stuff is important if it's being used as a laptop and not just a desktop replacement.
  • Easily changeable battery is a big plus, can change it when it's dying or even carry a spare (some laptops have it just clip in, others need to remove 86 screws to get them out).
  • 15" is fine for most purposes, 1920x1080 looks good on a 15". Don't settle for a lower res than that
  • Touch screen is fun but gimmicky IMHO. Others will disagree but I never had an issue using the mouse

Same as with bikes, a little knowledge can help you get a much better price/performance ratio on the second hand market. Computers devalue almost as quick as bikes too


(Take all this with a grain of salt, it's been a while since I was a tech. For all I know cyrix have made a comeback in the CPU world)

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link1896

Wheel size expert
Second hand Panasonic toughbook, or a vanilla Lenovo would be my choices.

Toughbooks are just that, designed to take a beating. Not cheap new, but designed for military use initially and really are tough.

If a second hand toughbook is out of the budget, look at Lenovo for a quality build that will last in regular notebook build spec.
 

Plankosaurus

Hydraulic Jack specialist
Second hand Panasonic toughbook, or a vanilla Lenovo would be my choices.

Toughbooks are just that, designed to take a beating. Not cheap new, but designed for military use initially and really are tough.

If a second hand toughbook is out of the budget, look at Lenovo for a quality build that will last in regular notebook build spec.
Lenovo have some really oddball mouse arrangements. Some are regular and usable but others will make you wonder exactly how many fingers the engineers at Lenovo have (I'm guessing around 11 of varying lengths on each hand). The relief I felt when going from a Lenovo to a Dell was indescribable

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Isaakk

Likes Dirt
The Lenovo X1 Carbon is good quality for money. They're built pretty tough but are still light, and have very nicely balanced specs where it counts.

Something to note/watch out for - The 8th generation Intel stuff is leaps and bounds better than the generations prior. Avoid the older stuff and stick to an i5-8250U or i7-8550U (or the other similar variants from same gen). I've not looked into it much, but the newer AMD Ryzen lappys are supposed to be damned good value too.
 

Mr Crudley

Eats Squid
We have an earlier Dell one here plus I had another Dell as a work laptop. They are pretty solid overall but a bit on the heavier side if it matters.

I have a Lenovo X280 now which is compact enough and enough horsepower to do all you need in business. I prefer something smaller since you always have to lug it around all sorts of places. My gripe would be a few more Usb ports on top of the 2 it has now would be handy, but laptops are all about trade-offs ultimately.
 

Haakon

veni, vidi, volanti
MacBook clearly the answer ;)

I’ve been researching this a bit lately too, wondering what would be good for a Hackintosh, and it seems Thinkpads have a cult following for being bomb proof and focused on usability. But be aware they they make some less good ones.

I’ve had some Dells that are tough (and heavy and chunky) and ran Ubuntu well, but as for what’s good for Microsoft shite I’ll leave to other who will know.

I do know surface pros and the dell tablet with a keyboard clones are fucking awful. I don’t know if it’s just windows or shitty hardware but god damn they’re annoying laggy buggy crashy flimsy piles of pus. Soooooo annoying to use!
 

Nambra

Postmeridian
@born-again-biker, your old man should be able to sign up to Dell and Lenovo with an ABN and qualify for small business deals and discounts.

I agree mostly with the above, have used Dell in the past but think their current stuff isn’t as good as it used to be (got a 10+ year old Precision 4300 that’s still powering along with Win 8 on SSD and have bought two newer Dell laptops since and returned them both as the quality was shithouse). I changed to a Lenovo T470s a couple of years back because I wanted something portable to travel with. I’d been using a T450s supplied by a company i had been working for at the time and was impressed with it - light, robust, fast, good display, great battery life and Lenovo keyboards feel very nice, aside from the Ctrl + Fn keys on the left which are arse about but you get used to it.

As @Isaakk says, Intel 8th gen is great with power management, integrated graphics is good enough for everything except serious gaming (and uses less power than dedicated graphics). Definitely Win 10 on an SSD and use cloud storage for files / backups as SSD failure is brutal.

As far as connectivity goes, get something with a Thunderbolt port. It looks like USB 3, but you can power the laptop through it, and connect it to an external dock with display outputs. It’s a lot more versatile than the old fashioned docking station that is specific to the model of laptop.

The big question for you is how robust it needs to be - if it’s going to be dragged around on construction sites and cop knocks, dust, spills etc. then the Toughbook is the best choice. They’re ridiculously expensive though.
 

Mr Crudley

Eats Squid
I agree mostly with the above, have used Dell in the past but think their current stuff isn’t as good as it used to be (got a 10+ year old Precision 4300 that’s still powering along with Win 8 on SSD and have bought two newer Dell laptops since and returned them both as the quality was shithouse). I changed to a Lenovo T470s a couple of years back because I wanted something portable to travel with. I’d been using a T450s supplied by a company i had been working for at the time and was impressed with it - light, robust, fast, good display, great battery life and Lenovo keyboards feel very nice, aside from the Ctrl + Fn keys on the left which are arse about but you get used to it.
I have a Dell D820 that has to be hitting past 10 years old. It is about 3 kgs and I've hauled that guy around everywhere. Not the most feature packed laptop but its tough. The only thing that wore out was the keyboard and Ebay replacements are cheap and easy to fit. Not needing optical drives anymore sure saves a bit of weight too.
 

Freediver

Likes Bikes and Dirt
I've got a bit of experience, Mrs Freediver has even more. She started https://www.computerbank.org.au/ and I worked there for over ten years. Me, I'm not fussy and figure they pretty much all work and I look after them so they last. Mrs. Freediver however is as rough as it gets, throws them in the back of her car, trips over the cords and sends them flying off the table, all kinds of punishment. She only uses Lenovo. Nothing else goes the distance.
As for processor etc., Get one that does what you need it to do. There is no point getting super fast or a whole heap of bells and whistles you won't use. Maybe get one a bit better than what you need for a degree of future proofing but from the sounds of it your Dad doesn't need a lot of processing power.
 

Hal-9000

Likes Bikes
I've always been a Mac user but I have recently bought the Razer Blade Base 15" that I use for work (Film/Media) and am super impressed with it. Upgradable RAM, An NVME system drive AND a 2.5"SSD all built in (which too are both easily upgradeable). Probably overkill for what you need but Razer also do the Blade Stealth 13" Ultrabook. Has two USB3 ports, a USB-C port and a Thunderbolt 3 port so most bases covered. The build quality is the best I've seen on any windows laptop but more importantly, Razer's trackpads are top notch and bigger than almost all other Windows laptops I've seen making it a joy to use (closest to a Macbook Pro trackpad). You do pay a premium for the build, but for business use, i'd say it's worth it.
 
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Haakon

veni, vidi, volanti
I've always been a Mac user but I have recently bought the Razer Blade Base 15" that I use for work (Film/Media) and am super impressed with it. Upgradable RAM, An NVME system drive AND a 2.5"SSD all built in (which too are both easily upgradeable). Probably overkill for what you need but Razer also do the Blade Stealth 13" Ultrabook. Has two USB3 ports, a USB-C port and a Thunderbolt 3 port so most bases covered. The build quality is the best I've seen on any windows laptop but more importantly, Razer's trackpads are top notch and bigger than almost all other Windows laptops I've seen making it a joy to use (closest to a Macbook Pro trackpad). You do pay a premium for the build, but for business use, i'd say it's worth it.
You can run MacOS on those too I think :) I’m hesitant to buy a new MacBook because they’re so sealed up. Soldered ram and ssd and new ones don’t even have a terminal to connect into the ssd to retrieve data is the motherboard is dead...

Not sure if any of the windows computers are going down that road (yet), but if that may be something to check. Sounds like the OPs dad is a light user so the ram and storage is unlikely to need upgrading (although I don’t know how windows is these days for making hardware obsolete quickly, Mac stuff still lets current OS run happily on 10 year old machines).
 

Hal-9000

Likes Bikes
You can run MacOS on those too I think :) I’m hesitant to buy a new MacBook because they’re so sealed up. Soldered ram and ssd and new ones don’t even have a terminal to connect into the ssd to retrieve data is the motherboard is dead...

Not sure if any of the windows computers are going down that road (yet), but if that may be something to check. Sounds like the OPs dad is a light user so the ram and storage is unlikely to need upgrading (although I don’t know how windows is these days for making hardware obsolete quickly, Mac stuff still lets current OS run happily on 10 year old machines).
Yep, I'm done with Mac Hardware. Too limiting and not upgradeable. On my Razer, I upgraded the NVME System drive to a 1TB Samsung Pro and the 2.5" drive to a 1TB Samsung Pro SSD for storage. You just can't do anything like that on Mac or even upgrade RAM and battery.
I've built a few Hackintosh Desktops but TBH, I'm pretty happy with Windows 10 on this Laptop. If I'm bored, I may try a to Hackintosh it but since Apple have stopped supporting NVidia GFX Cards (Since Mojave..) of which the Blade Base 15" has a GTX1060, I'm not sure I'll bother.
 

Haakon

veni, vidi, volanti
Yep, I'm done with Mac Hardware. Too limiting and not upgradeable. On my Razer, I upgraded the NVME System drive to a 1TB Samsung Pro and the 2.5" drive to a 1TB Samsung Pro SSD for storage. You just can't do anything like that on Mac or even upgrade RAM and battery.
I've built a few Hackintosh Desktops but TBH, I'm pretty happy with Windows 10 on this Laptop. If I'm bored, I may try a to Hackintosh it but since Apple have stopped supporting NVidia GFX Cards (Since Mojave..) of which the Blade Base 15" has a GTX1060, I'm not sure I'll bother.
And some of the Linux distros are pretty slick too these days, depending on what apps you need to run. I have a perhaps unreasonable aversion to windows, it’s design and performance is still utterly horrible...
 

Plankosaurus

Hydraulic Jack specialist
The thing Mac (and general apple) users need to do is stop trying to compare them. Your Mac comes in varying degrees of expensive, an equivalent priced windoze PC will last just as long or longer. But if you compare a Mac to a budget PC (or iPhone to a prepaid android) you will almost definitely find the apple better in every way.

For what it's worth, I have a couple of tiny old (2008ish) acer laptops here with early power friendly dual core processors. I stuck an SSD in one and it runs windows 10 happily and smoothly. I stuck Linux Mint on the other and that one also ticks along fine. The major bottleneck in performance in the last 10 years was the speed of storage and SSD fixes this.

Obsolescence in PC's isn't what it used to be for general users. Gamers will find themselves wanting much sooner but even then it's more subjective than actually needing something new. I'd definitely be looking at the build and features much closer than the specs now, because that'll make much more difference to the experience and longevity than the incremental differences in processor or ram.

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born-again-biker

Is looking for a 16" bar
OK, so he definitely wants a 13" for travel-ability. And we've ruled out the hybrid 2-in-1 tablet/laptop jobbies.
He is very appreciative of the RB brains trust :);) (so much good info here!)

We don't think he needs to spend any more than $2k (abs. max)....in fact there's plenty that'll cover his needs for a lot less.
I said Dell & Lenovo get good feedback...so prolly zero-in on those.
And points taken regarding the physical build quality and avoiding the flimsier, lighter models. This thing will be chucked around a bit.

The Metabox looks awesome (made me wanna buy one)....but no 13" options :(
The Razer looks great too, but prolly doesn't need everything it is capable of...and it's north of $2.5k.

Anything Apple Mac (Hardware or Software) is out because the office PC's are already Windows....and he's been on Windows machines for years.

Can anyone recommend a good online store? Assuming buying online will be a little cheaper?
Failing that he's gonna head for OfficeWorks....
 

Plankosaurus

Hydraulic Jack specialist
13" is definitely a sweet spot. Much smaller and it's hard on the eyes, much bigger and it starts getting ungainly. My little dell workhorse is 12.5, brilliant for field work.

$2000 is plenty, like reallllly plenty. If you're not going for gaming grade then I would have thought that'll cover something pretty high end. I'm not great with the brand new market though so maybe the pricing is ridiculous?

I picked up this little used 13" alienware for one of my boys for $700. i7, M2 SSD + sata SSD, 16gb ram, gt960m graphics, touch screen and HD. Weapon of a machine that's still portable, great build quality and didn't cost an arm and a leg. Not saying your Olds will want one of these but that's a price-build starting point at least...


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Haakon

veni, vidi, volanti
Used is good... I got my Mum an old 2012 MacBook Air with a dead battery for $200 and spent another 100 on a third party battery and charger (and apologised for ever introducing her to Microsoft...). Runs wonderfully for her light use, has the latest Mojave OS on it. I’m on the lookout for a decent 2014 MacBook Pro, first of the high res screens and last of the well built upgradable machines...

But I’m after MacOS rather than the hardware and retrofitting it onto PC machines is fiddly.

I too reckon a new Lenovo as high spec as he wants to spend is the go for the OP.
 
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