Wednesday, November 27, 2013
A bleg for laptop advice, please
I'm in need of advice from those of my readers with greater technical and user expertise than mine in the field of laptop computers, please.
My present laptop is a fairly basic 2009 Gateway model (it's really a re-badged Acer unit). Its hard disk is starting to give errors on boot-up, requiring more and more frequent CHKDSK runs to resolve them - a sure sign that it needs to be replaced. (Yes, I have good backups, both local and online!) However, the computer has only USB 2.0 ports, and I'd like a couple of the much faster USB 3.0 ports for use with an external hard disk drive for backup and data transfer. Also, it's got a 15.6" screen at 1366x768 resolution. I'd like a larger screen for working with multiple documents, with higher resolution for better sharpness and less eyestrain during long periods of editing. Finally, its 4GB of memory becomes overloaded when I have multiple documents open, plus a couple of dozen Web sites in browser tabs, plus e-mail, music and other programs. I'm therefore looking at replacing the whole computer, rather than just the hard disk.
My problem is that there's a massive price jump between low-end 'consumer' laptops and more sophisticated units. On a disability income (until my book royalties improve to the point of providing a livable income stream) I find it hard to justify dropping a grand or more on a high-end unit when for half that sum, I can buy something that may be at least adequate for my current needs (albeit with the likelihood of having to upgrade or replace it within two to three years). To illustrate the problem, here's a comparison between three Acer units, one low-end and two rather more high-end (see below the graphic for links to each one). All are supplied with Windows 8, but none has a touch-screen display.
From a technical perspective, I'd say the second or third unit is more suitable for what I need, and for long-term growth. However, they'll cost me double or more the price of the first unit. My computer will be used primarily for writing, Internet browsing and blogging (including a limited amount of image processing - cutting, cropping, sizing, etc., but not Photoshop-type work), some YouTube viewing and occasional on-line movies, and simple single-player games to distract me when writing gets too frustrating. For that sort of workload, are the more expensive units worth their much higher price? I understand that I might have to upgrade or expand the lower-end unit within two to three years, but might I not have to do the same to the higher-end units anyway? Technology is moving so fast that I'm not sure spending twice as much now will buy me twice as much 'future-proofing', if you know what I mean.
Battery life isn't a major issue for me. I seldom take my computer out of my office, although I do need to do that from time to time. I'll usually use it in hotel rooms or at friends' homes, where a power socket is available. I need 2-3 hours battery life at most, and these units will provide that. A user-replaceable battery is a nice thing to have, if possible - I prefer not to have batteries that can only be replaced by the supplier.
Have I specified all the important bits and pieces above? (For example, should I look for a touch-screen display if I want to get the most out of Windows 8?) Also, what about a docking station or port replicator? I presently attach external peripherals like keyboard, mouse, a 1TB HDD for backups, a larger monitor, etc. to my laptop when it's at home. I've plugged them into a USB 2.0 hub until now, but that's definitely going to be a problem when I have a mix of USB 3.0 and 2.0 devices. Is it worth investing a little in a universal docking station or port replicator like this one? For less than $100, it looks like it might significantly extend my computer's connectivity.
I'd be grateful for responses and suggestions from those who deal with these things more often, or at a more technical level, than I do. If I really should buy one of the more expensive units, I'll find a way (even if it means ramen for supper for a while), but I'm only going to do so if that's essential. Over to you, friends! Let us know your reactions in Comments. (I'm not necessarily committed to the Acer brand, either, so if you want to suggest alternatives to that, fire away.)