Author Topic: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide  (Read 10088 times)

Ari Altman

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The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« on: March 03, 2014, 06:40:52 PM »
Here's the thread to discuss the article "Laptop Buyer's Guide", updated quarterly on The Tech Buyer's Guru.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2017, 07:47:55 AM by Ari Altman »

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2016, 02:44:46 PM »
Hi Ari,

Your articles on desktop builds were great help in building my desktop computer.  I love it and I really enjoy not being tied to any of the major computer companies (e.g. HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc) because I hate having to work with any of their tech support setups. 

I need to get a laptop and wondered if you have any advice.  I've read your recent buyer's guide here:
http://techbuyersguru.com/laptop-buyers-guide

I mainly use my desktop (with Linux) and I prefer to use Linux.  However, after much work trying to come up with a good scan and ocr system for books and articles (something I do a lot) in Linux, I've concluded there isn't a great solution there.  Instead, I was going to just buy a super cheap laptop (perhaps even refurbished) and use the copy of Win 10 on it to install in a Win 10 virtualbox in Linux.  This approach failed (1) because MS has oem and refurbished licenses only work with the computer they are originally installed on, so I can't just buy the refurbished laptop for $250 and use it on my desktop.  Still, my hope was to come up with a cheap solution where I could just buy a laptop with Win 10, install Adobe Acro Pro and use that for scanning and my (rare) portable needs.

First I got a refurbished Dell from Wallmart:

Refurbished Dell Black 125 Latitude E6230 WA51114 Laptop PC with Intel Core i53320M Processor 8GB Memory 128GB Solid State Drive and Windows 10 Home = $286

In many ways it was a great deal.  It seemed really fast and I loved the keyboard (I don't tend to like the ASUS, ACER and HP keyboards at all).  However, after 2 days, it stopped booting and wouldn't even post.  It got stuck prepost and wouldn't boot anymore.  Fortunately, Walmart has a very good return policy and they even paid for return shipping and refunded my original overnight shipping.

Then I thought I'd just buy a cheap computer at Target.  I got the HP x360 11-p1112nr for $249:
-Celeron N2840 (2.16GHz), 32GB eMMC "drive" (which is not the same as ssd), 2GB RAM, Win 10 Home, 11.6 screen

It was too slow to bother running Win 10 in my opinion (though it is hard to know how much faster it might have been without all of HP's preinstalled bloatware).
I've decided to return that too.

So now I have to decide what to do.  I'd prefer an option where I make my own from components and forget about working with any of the major computer makers.  However, that doesn't seem like a realistic option.  After reading your reviews, here are what I see as my main options:

1) get another dell from Walmart and hope for better results.  I figure the odds are that I just got a bad laptop and the next one is likely to work for at least 3-5 years.  This feels a bit like playing the Lotto because Joysystems does all their refurbished computers and it seems like their customer support takes forever to reach (I tried once and it took me 20 minutes to move from 16th to 15th in the queue before I hung up and just returned it to Walmart).  So if the laptop dies just after Walmart's return policy expires, I could be really, really sorry I spent $286 like this--but still it is only $286.

2) I could get the Lenovo - Yoga 700 11 2-in-1 11.6" you mention from Best Buy for $650.  It looks rather slow for the money I'd have to pay, and I find I push computers when I browse since I tend to keep 20-50 tabs open while researching.  Also, the main use for me--Adode Acrobat--tends to really use comp resources while scanning and OCRing.  Also, I really don't like Lenovo.  I've had horrible experiences with their tech support (just before I turned to you to help me build my desktop) and I don't fully trust a Chinese company since I think the Chinese gov't could, at some point, decide to use them to pursue their foreign policy agenda.  I don't know exactly what this might mean, but...  call it a vague fear of conspiracy.

3) I could get Dell's version of the Yoga. I'm not sure which one, but I think I would only spend about $750 tops.
http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/laptops?~ck=mn#inspiron-laptops-netbooks
(send me a link to them if it helps you in any way and I'll buy after clicking on it)

4) I could order a refurbished computer directly from Dell.  I'll pay more, but it will probably be less of a lottery than JoySystems.  Still, I can't seem to figure out if the ones that come with Win 7 can be upgraded to Win 10 for free.  Do you know?  I emailed Dell and the unhelpful person who responded just sent me a link to 10 or so articles, none of which answered the question.
http://dellrefurbished.com/browse/?navDesc=16355+4294961276+4294961291+4294960832+4294960343+4294961290+4294960200&sortby=P_discountPrice&hits=100


If you have a moment now, please send me your thoughts.  I'm impatient to get a new one and move forward because I've already had 2 failed attempts.


Also, does it make sense to buy one with minimum RAM and add RAM myself?  It seems like many come with onboard RAM now, but perhaps a Dell laptop (not 2 in 1) would be easy to add it to and I'd probably pay 1/4 the cost for RAM.

Best,

Richard
« Last Edit: June 01, 2016, 04:25:04 PM by rabarrett »

Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2016, 05:53:30 PM »
Welcome back, Richard!

Sounds like you've experienced the challenge of buying a cheap laptop. They're not all created equal!

I love my Lenovo Yoga 700, and I'm sure it would be more than powerful enough for your needs. It comes with a Skylake-based Core M processor, and under most loads, it's every bit as fast as a Core i3 due to its aggressive Turbo mode. I think you'd be happy with it.

But yes, it's Chinese, and that comes with certain drawbacks, as you've mentioned. So for your purposes, I'd strongly recommend the HP x360. Yes, at 3.8lb, it's heavier than the Yoga, but it's also cheaper, faster, and has a bigger screen. I am not that impressed with Dell's lower-end 2-in-1 laptops because you have to pay way too much to get one with an SSD, so I can't recommend one to you at this point. In fact, Dell has never really done a great job with lower-end laptops. They're pretty disposable in my opinion.

By the way, very few laptops allow you to upgrade memory at this point. That's the price you pay for a thin chassis. So just don't go into it thinking you can upgrade the RAM unless you've checked it out ahead of time.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2016, 05:58:34 PM by Ari Altman »

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2016, 09:56:19 PM »
I went to Best Buy and played with the Lenovo and Dell for about an hour.  Driving there, I thought I would end up with the Dell.  Partly that is because the Dell's processor looked slightly faster for less money ($529).  But I noticed the glass on the Lenovo was substantially better and the viewing angle was a lot better.  That plus slightly sturdier and thinner construction pushed me to the Lenovo.

The one I ended up with was slightly different from yours.  They had yours for $649 and another with 256MB ssd and the m5-6Y54 processor for $699.  But they had the openbox version of the $699 one and the person there agreed to sell that for $575, so I took that one.  Strangely, I found that the m5 processor appears to be slightly worse, at least from these tests:
http://cpuboss.com/cpus/Intel-Core-M5-6Y54-vs-Intel-Core-M3-6Y30

This chart makes it less clear which is best (also includes the Dell model I looked at that was $529 with i3-6100U):
https://www.cpubenchmark.net/compare.php?cmp%5B%5D=2631&cmp%5B%5D=2664&cmp%5B%5D=2623

But I figure the lower price and doubling the ssd is probably worth the minor difference in CPU.  If you think otherwise, let me know.  I can't really follow how processors are named and rated anymore.


Thanks again for your thoughts on the decision.  I don't remember how I first stumbled upon your site, but I'm glad I did.  I find the information here is much better than the vast majority of sites (and there are a LOT that profess to give good buying advice).
« Last Edit: June 01, 2016, 09:58:26 PM by rabarrett »

Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2016, 10:25:34 PM »
Sounds like you got a great deal. And yes, the M5-6Y54 is faster than the M3, but not under all scenarios. It has to do with how turbo boost works on this ultra-efficient chips. Anyway, it's plenty fast for your needs.

And I'm not surprised you found the build quality of the Lenovo better than the Dell. As I said, Dell really doesn't make good low-cost laptops.

Glad to hear you find The Tech Buyer's Guru so helpful. Do you mind if I quote that positive comment on the home page? I'd just want to know what state you live in. Thanks!

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2016, 10:34:41 PM »
Feel free to quote me.  I'm in California.

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2016, 11:42:22 PM »
Oh, one last question:  Is there any reason I shouldn't just completely reformat the hard drive, remove all partitions (including the ones called LENVO, LENOVO_PART, and LRS_ESP) and then reinstall window 10 from scratch, saving a portion of the drive for my linux install?

I suppose the main thing I lose is the Lenovo specific software.  But it looks like all the drivers are available on Lenovo's website:
http://support.lenovo.com/us/en/products/Laptops-and-netbooks/Yoga-Series/yoga-700-11isk?tabName=Downloads&linkTrack=Mast:SubNav:Support:Drivers%20and%20Software|Drivers%20and%20Software&beta=false

and the add-on software is something I generally *do not* want.  I find systems always run smoother without any of the OEM software.  I already have a win10 usb key made and ready to install, so I can't think of a reason not to just start from scratch and reclaim some additional portions of the sdd.  The other approach would be to leave them and to uninstall the software from the current oem install, but I find uninstalling usually leaves a lot of residual stuff.


Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2016, 04:28:37 AM »
Before you do this, make sure that you have the Windows license number. It's great that you have Windows ready to go on the flash drive, but you will need that number from the existing install.

Otherwise, you're fine doing this. After the Lenovo spyware fiasco last year, Lenovo seriously backed off of bloatware, but given your many concerns about these things, I think you'd be happier with a clean install.

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2016, 02:21:16 PM »
Oh wow--I hadn't read the details about Lenovo *three* successive episodes of putting unwanted software on users' machines.  That's really bad.  And one of them was even in the UEFI and redeployed after clean installs!

I think it is a really nice machine.  And it has some real advantages over the Dell.  But is it worth having a computer that I worry about every time I type a password?

I think I'm going to return it and get the Dell.  It will be a little heavier.  It won't look quite as sleek.  But the weight of not knowing what the company is doing behind my back will be much less.  I wish I had known that earlier.

Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2016, 02:34:14 PM »
Oh wow--I hadn't read the details about Lenovo *three* successive episodes of putting unwanted software on users' machines.  That's really bad.  And one of them was even in the UEFI and redeployed after clean installs!

I think it is a really nice machine.  And it has some real advantages over the Dell.  But is it worth having a computer that I worry about every time I type a password?

I think I'm going to return it and get the Dell.  It will be a little heavier.  It won't look quite as sleek.  But the weight of not knowing what the company is doing behind my back will be much less.  I wish I had known that earlier.

Yeah, it was pretty bad, but I bought my Lenovo after the fiasco, knowing full well what had occurred. I don't think they'll go nearly that far again, and truthfully, most PCs have some type of advertising/bloatware.

If you're seriously concerned about this, I'd recommend buying a laptop direct from Microsoft, as it requires the PCs it sells to be free of all adware/bloatware. I think the Asus UX305 for $700 would be perfect for you. Comes with free shipping and free returns in case you don't like it.

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2016, 06:52:43 PM »
I've been reading more about the various issues of bloatware and spyware.

What bothers me the most about Lenovo is that it was founded and is still based on mainland China.  From what I gather, there are no truly independent companies there.  All of them have serious ties to the government, which has no qualms about invading people's privacy.  It may also be interested in having a wide network of computers it could access or compromise in the event of war (or if it decides to wage a covert economic war).  I'd rather not be part of that.  That Lenovo also has the most egregious and repeated violations to date--the one where they intentionally infected used the bios so that it would reinstall their spyware even after a clean install bothers me the most.  That seems like just the sort of extra advantage a company--allied with the Chinese cyberwar effort--would take.  At the same time, when I started looking at other companies, Dell and Toshiba have at least one violation that is similar in the past few years (though not involving bios).  And ASUS is based in Taiwan, which though a traditional opponent of China, has been friendly enough with the mainland in the past decade that is would not be surprising to find someone at ASUS that allowed their systems to be compromised by the Chinese.  The same could be said for AS Rock, whose motherboard I have on my desktop (so in theory, that bios might be suspect).

I suppose that is a long way of saying it isn't clear who to trust.  I still think a Chinese company should be at the bottom of the list just based on the access the Chinese government is likely to have there.  Still, if it were to mount a sophisticated enough effort, I suppose there is always that chance that underlying chips used by nearly all of the major companies could be compromised, though the details of how that could work are far beyond my competence. 

From what I understand, the mostly likely avenues of infection are (1) software, (2) bios, and (a distant 3) hardware itself.  That being said, perhaps my best approach is just to replace my bios and then do a clean install.  After that, using LInux as much as possible is probably better than Windows.

I'm not sure the best approach (or the safety) of replacing the bios, but I've found this:
https://libreboot.org/
http://www.tianocore.org/

but there is also this:
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2883903/how-intel-and-pc-makers-prevent-you-from-modifying-your-pcs-firmware.html

I'd like to think that if it didn't work out, Lenovo has an easy way I could flash the old bios back on my motherboard, but I'm not certain of that, having never ventured down this path before.  Maybe I should just go get the Dell, but it's not as clear of a decision as I wish it was.

« Last Edit: June 02, 2016, 06:54:50 PM by rabarrett »

Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2016, 06:56:47 PM »
I can't speak directly to the issues you've raised, nor have I ever overwritten a laptop BIOS with a third-party version. Do so at your own risk!

As an alternative to Dell from the U.S., take a serious look at HP's mid-range laptops. I think HP is doing great things in the $500-$1000 range, much better than Dell.

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2016, 05:20:26 PM »
What do you think about the HP Envy Note at $199
http://store.hp.com/us/en/pdp/Laptops/hp-envy-8-note-tablet---5002-n7t27ua-aba
or
the ASUS T100HA-MS-GR at $269
http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/ASUS-Transformer-Book-T100HA-MS-GR-Signature-Edition-2-in-1-PC/productID.328071400

If I got one of these, I'd mainly use it to mark up pdfs with highlighting and such (which I use my 3 year old Nexus 10 for now) and then I'd scan and use Adobe Acrobat Pro to OCR documents too (the real issue pushing me to get anything right now).

It was just today that I figured out a tablet alone might suffice.  I didn't know tablets were running full Win 10 and thus could install Adobe Acrobat Pro and my normal scanner software.  It might be nice to have a keyboard available (e.g. ASUS transformer), but I think I'd use it as a tablet except for when I'm scanning.

I hadn't taken the Microsoft store seriously until you mentioned it.  I went to see what this higher end Dell was like (currently a good deal on it at $674)  http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Dell-Inspiron-13-i7359-8408SLV-Signature-Edition-2-in-1-PC/productID.333089100
I fear it is probably too heavy for me to actually use as a tablet.
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 05:22:18 PM by rabarrett »

Ari Altman

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2016, 09:01:39 PM »
I've previously reviewed (and extensively used) the original T100. It's a nice basic machine, but the Atom processor is just not that powerful, and I don't think you'll be satisfied with it given your previous comments.

I'd focus on the $500-$700 range where you'll find M3 and Core i3 processors.

Asus has a nice offering, the T300, which might interest you.

rabarrett

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Re: The TBG Laptop Buyer's Guide
« Reply #14 on: June 06, 2016, 01:19:07 AM »
So I ended up getting the HP Pavilion x2 with stats very similar to the ASUS you last mentioned:
m3-6y30 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB ssd, 1920x1080 display for $495
In the end I decided I couldn't use the keyboards that ASUS had on either the one you last mentioned (T300) nor the T100 (though you're right, I think it would be too slow too).

In the end, it is like the yoga or samsung tab pro s for less price or and 4GB RAM instead of 8.  One of the things that pushed me to this model  was the thought that I'll be using it 80% of the time as a tablet, but the 20% I'm not, I'd like the keyboard to be full sized.  I have larger than average hands and the smaller keyboards make typing anything really painful.

This model detaches to be a robust tablet that still can run anything in Win 10.  I suspect that 2-3 years from now, I'll only use it as a tablet.  Now my remaining task is finding a really nice tablet protector that minimizes the chances I damage it while still making it very usable in the case/cover/sleeve.