Laptop advice (variety of questions/confirmations)

  Malaclypse 13:46 19 May 03
Locked

Hi guys. Is this the right place for a post of this nature? I don't know.

Firstly, I'm wanting a laptop, to be bought in a couple of months time (July/August), partially cause I can't afford it now, but hopefully because the prices will have gone down by then. I've still been doing some research about what I'm wanting and where I'll buy, and I'd like to ask a few questions.

My Required Specification:
1) DVD-CDR Combo Drive
2) Decent Battery length (3 hours plus)
3) Decent Processor

Other stuff like Wi-fi would be nice, but I'm not *overly* concerned.

Processor:
I'm really wanting a P4, or P3 at a pinch.
I've got nothing against AMD per say, but I've heard bad reports from other laptop owners that they drain battery and overheat (which I'm not too concerned about on my two athlon PCs, but would be a drawback on notebook).
I once had a celeron 333Mhz, which, even when overclocked to 500Mhz struggled to rival a pentium 66Mhz. If somebody can convince me that Celeron performance has significantly increased in the past four years I won't bomb them out.

I'd go for a P3, but they seem to be limited to 1.5 Ghz and I can't find many places which sell them anymore.


I've looked in a variety of shops, real and online, and the price range for the specification I'm looking for seems to be in the range of £999 inc. Vat.

My main retailers:
click here (bit expensive)
click here
click here
and a couple of edinburgh based stores (click here, click here and a few others)

Can anybody recommend places where I could get a laptop of that spec for a reasonable (£700-900) price?


Sorry it's a bit convoluted but I'm still trying to work things out in my head!

  TechMad 14:12 19 May 03

Try click here . However do make sure that you select an Operating System, or you will be expected to supply your own. I am unsure about the battery life.

Try looking at the Intel Centrino set ups. They aim to give 4.5hrs of battery life, but come at the cost of processor speed (1GHz to 1.6GHz) They also tend to be expensive. Try click here ,who have a Centrino model, but is £999 exclusive of VAT.

Hope this helps!

  Malaclypse 14:18 19 May 03

On another note, how are the apple machines? I hear they have great battery life.

I'm a bit concerned tho, cause I'm a windows man. Would I be able to install my preferred OS on an apple laptop?

  TechMad 09:58 20 May 03

Yes Apple Macs do have battery life of 5 hours, but can be very expensive. A CD-RW/DVD model would set you back about £1,050. I think the battery life is the result of using a lower clock speed.

I hear that a 900MHz G4 processor gives the performance of a 1.8GHz Pentium 4.

In answer to your second question - I have heard that you can install Windows on a Mac, but you need a special version or an emulator program to take the x86 instructions and use the PPC equivalent.

  phoenix198 00:16 22 May 03

Malaclypse

Depends on what you want to use your laptop for. If its a desktop substitute that you are after (Pentium IV 2.0 - 2.6, Mobile Radeon 9000 graphics) then fine, but battery life will be terrible - less than 2 hours with normal use. A £999 model might suffer in terms of build standard and the quality of other components - DVD only or poor sound, less connectivity, etc.

If you simply want it for office or graphics manipulation, mixed with a bit of CD ripping then a slower processor (Pentium III) and will give you better battery life - 2.5 to 3 hours. Haven't researched new PIII laptop prices lately (do they still make them?)

Apple iBooks (G3 processor) and Powerbooks (G4 processor) are excellent laptops with very good battery life (up to 5 hours) but have a totally different processor architecture and OS - a new one will be exclusively Mac OS-X now. You can run Windows on a mac using an emulation programme called Virtual PC, but it cots around £200-£240. Mac devotees will flame me to hell but in terms of bang per buck, iBooks and Powerbooks are expensive albeit that they are highly desirable (I have an iMac as well as sveral PCs but I really lust after one of the 12.1 inch G4 Powerbooks)

Have you thought about trying eBay? Yes, you have to be careful and yes you might not get good customer support. But there are genuine good deals to be had at £100-£150 less than retail, and some real bargains amongst the older (nine to fifteen month) machines. Just remember the adage; if it looks too good to be true, then it is!

That said, you do need to know what you are looking for, so a bit more research might be required.

  Taran 01:46 22 May 03

The Apple Mac does not run Windows or the software you would install on a Windows PC without some slightly exotic emulators, so the battery life you gain would be at the cost of purchasing the emulator and would also entail a performance penalty - the emulators run Windows on a Mac slower than you might expect or like. Unless you are prepared to migrate in full to the Apple operating system (which has much to offer if you approach it properly) you will never see the Mac perform at its best.

I'd stick with a standard notebook that will run familiar software unless the time and money to spend on learning a new software system with a Mac is available.

If you're dead set against AMD for whatever reason, rather than let anyone persuade you otherwise stick to your preferences and go with Intel, although I have to admit that I have no issues with any of my AMD laptops.

The latest Intel Centrino notebooks are stunning in performance and battery life and many manufacturers are offering them in laptops at the price point you have mentioned. More manufacturers will follow suit very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for some excellent deals over the next month or two.

I also think you may be overlooking the possibilities of an Intel Celeron notebook. Comparing an old 333MHz CPU of ANY description is slightly overshadowed by today's entry level notebooks sporting Celeron 1.8 or 2.0 GHz processors coupled with half a gig of memory. And irrespective of your feelings toward a Celeron, as long as it's a mobile Celeron, nothing touches them for battery life. One of my Toshiba notebooks has a 1.8 mobile Celeron and I regularly get 3.5 hours from one charge. A second battery carried in the notebooks case means that as long as I am prepared to shut down the laptop for a moment and replace the battery then start up again, I can work for almost an entire day away from a power outlet.

There are so many factors that can limit battery life, figures can be misleading. If you use the most favourable power settings to prolong battery life, you lose a big chunk of overall performance along the way regardless of whether you have an AMD or Intel processor.

Until the new Centrino notebooks settle into the mainstream, I'd imagine you'd get the best overall value for money from a Celeron or desktop Pentium 4 processor based laptop. Vendors will be keen to push the latest offering from Intel, so prices will be more favourable for the alternatives. Note than a desktop P4 produces more heat, offers lower battery life and often seems noisier due to the cooling fan constantly running.

A quick look at the Toshiba, Dell, Compaq, Hewlett Packard and Packard Bell ranges shows that all of them are offering some very nice laptops at or below your £999 price point. As mentioned by phoenix198, without knowing your intended use, it's impossible to suggest one or even several comparative models, since you will have to choose from models that deliver the performance you require where you need it.

I'm sure that if the above vendors do not meet your requirements then others such as Evesham, Rock and Mesh, to name but a few, will have something suitable for you.

Try looking at the notebook charts in PC Advisor. Even if the models listed are slightly more than you want to pay, looking at the better performing manufacturer/model can be a useful guide to transpose to a machine one or two level lower in the same range.

Regards

Taran

  Malaclypse 16:13 22 May 03

Intended Use:

I want to watch DVDs while on the move, and I don't want the battery to run out halfway through The Godfather.

I suppose some simple stuff like word processing and graphics manipulation may be in order, and I'd occasionally like to play Need for Speed: Porsche 2000, but not constantly.


I'll seriously think about the Celeron and have a look around the shops, but It's a pest that I can't just go into a showroom and run some sort of application as a benchmark for the machine.

But Celerons give good battery length? as long as the performance is acceptable battery length *will* take priority.

  anchor 09:25 23 May 03

Taran:

My compliments on a very clear and informative explanation. I am sure this will provide guidance for this member, and others in the future.

  Taran 00:51 24 May 03

"But Celerons give good battery length?"

They most certainly do.

Dedicated mobile Celerons used to give about the best notebook battery life there is/was, until Intel unleashed Centrino a few short weeks ago which took notebook battery life to even higher planes as well as seriously improving performance.

Since you list DVD watching as one of your major requirements, you limit your options severely. Playing DVDs is a very intensive set of instructions for any computer to carry out, and asking your notebook to do it from battery on a long film is likely to leave you little or nothing left for actual work.

Before anyone jumps on me here, yes, most notebooks will happily play a DVD through on battery power.

Now we've got that statement out of the way, here is one of the problems you absolutely will encounter which consists of several different facets, all of which add up to a pain in the rear;

To perform any long processes (watching DVD films for example) you have to first prepare a personalised power scheme where your settings for power management allow the notebook enough steam to play the film without going into standby, hibernation, shutting down the hard disk or any one of a number of other possibilities where it tries to prolong its battery life as much as it can. Once you've done this, you then have the relatively unpleasant experience that watching a DVD is when viewed and listened to on a notebook.

You have to keep in mind that despite a pretentious masquerade as an entertainment device by the inclusion of a DVD drive, a notebook is a poor excuse for a TV despite the inherent screen image quality, sound is normally pretty awful and certainly not up to film quality and even if you pipe the laptop through a proper TV set, results are disappointing to say the least.

Others may disagree, but I find the DVD capabilities of notebooks pretty awful overall.

The best advice I can give you here is to invest in a second power pack or carry the one that comes with your laptop with you. After all, you'd be pretty unimpressed if you watched a film (regardless of whether or not it gets all the way through or not) only to find that there isn't enough juice left to manipulate a spreadsheet, check your emails or even keep the notebook running. For anything other than quite general notebook work you really need access to a power outlet or be in possession of a second battery.

Gaming and DVDs do nothing to prolong battery life.

Finally, to put this into some kind of perspective for you, the notebook I'm typing this on is a Toshiba Satellite Pro 2100. It has a mobile 1.8 GHz Celeron processor, I've upgraded the memory to 512MB of DDR, it has a 16MB NVIDIA GeForce 420 Go graphics card, 30GB hard disk, CDRW/DVD combo drive and so on. It's my general workhorse and gets used daily for teaching at college, much of my software engineering prototyping, web development (which by its very nature requires a lot of still image editing) and I have more software loaded up on it than you could shake a stick at. I multi-task like there's no tomorrow, I regularly burn backup Cd's while I'm coding web sites or database applications, I often have an overhead projector plugged into it and I also control much of my personal network with it via its WiFi link.

It will also play games, or so I've been told - I'm not a gamer personally but one of my young cousins verified its gaming capabilities with Star Wars Pod Racer a few weeks ago. It does everything I ask of it without blinking an eye while regularly delivering 3 to 3.5 hours from one battery. I have other notebooks, Apple Macs and desktop PCs, but this one is my favourite by far.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that you go out and buy one, but if I can get the above results from this notebook you can too and there are many counterpart products of this nature from most of the mainstream laptop manufacturers.

Don't get too hung up on the big numbers bandied around when referring to hardware. I shan't dispute that you should actively seek the best value for money in terms of hardware for price, but it's easy to lose track of the fact that entire networks were and still are run on servers with far less power than my laptop.

Regards

Taran

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