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Picking a new laptop

by Brandon on August 23rd, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m planning to buy a new laptop very soon.  The timing seems to be about right, with a bunch of new machines become available in the next week or two.  Unfortunately, I’m having a really hard time deciding what I want.

Right now I’m using a black Macbook, Core 2 Duo 2.0Ghz, 2GB memory, with an Intel GMA 945 video chip.

What I’m looking for in something new is:

  1. Smaller and lighter.
  2. Same screen size if possible, but higher resolution is a plus.
  3. Better video adapter (an X3100 or better).  It don’t play games on my laptop generally, but the 945 is pretty old these days and Intel’s support for it seems to be waning.

I’d like to avoid buying something slower.  And battery life should be at least as good as my Macbook originally was (the battery has long since started to wear after ~20 months of use).

I’d like an SSD if at all possible, otherwise a 7200RPM drive.  And something sturdy and solid like my Macbook.  Stylish is a nice plus too.  I’d also like to be able to have it before my upcoming trip to Italy, which means having it by the second week in September.

Here’s what I’m looking at and my current assessments:

1) Lenovo X301.  Really thin, really fast, good battery.  Unfortunately real specifics aren’t up on Lenovo’s site quite yet, and availability of the SSD models sounds like it won’t be until sometime in September, which might mean later than I’d like.  Not much pricing info yet, except that it will be expensive.

2) Dell Latitude E4300.  Slick design.  Not that thin though, barely smaller than my Macbook it looks like.  Lighter, though.  SSD seems to be limited to 64GB, but it’s an “ultra performance” SSD.  No pricing / availability details yet sadly.

3) Voodoo Envy 133.  Crazy thin, but uses the slower Macbook Air line of CPUs, and the battery doesn’t sound especially impressive (3+ hours at best they say).  Also ordering one of these things seems a bit complicated.  Appealing device though.

4) Sony Z series.  These are interesting, and appealing in that I can order one right now.  On the other hand, they’re pricey and not as small as the Lenovo or Envy.

5) Sony TZ series.  These are tiny, with a screen that might be too small for me.  Sadly they aren’t even terribly thin, but they are very very light.  And battery life is impressive.  Unfortunately that is largely due to the use of a ULV processor (Ultra Low Voltage… ie, ultra slow).  Fry’s seems to have one of these, and it looks pretty nice.  But it’s the performance (especially since the one at Fry’s isn’t an SSD model) that worries me here.  Actually, since it only has a GMA 945/950 video chip, I can basically rule this one out.

6) Dell XPS M1330.  I’m really tempted to order one of these given the deals that Dell is running right now (they’re having a “weekend sale” apparently).  More on this one below.

The Macbook Air also gets some consideration, as does the incredibly light Dell E4200.  But the Air has a lot of limitations, and is very pricey especially with the SSD which is all I’d really consider.  I’m also not that big a fan of the silver look.  Supposedly Apple is going to rev all their laptop lines soon, but I’m growing impatient (and increasingly annoyed with Apple, see prior post).

The XPS M1330 seems like the best hardware bang-for-the-buck right now.  It looks like I can get a 2.5Ghz T9300 chip, 4GB memory, a 128GB SSD, DVD burner, 128MB Geforce 8400 graphics, and some kind of Creative sound chip option, all for $1824 and have it in barely more than a week.

Strangely, it won’t let me choose to just use the on-chip X3100 graphics, or the built-in Intel HD sound device.  If I go through a different entrypoint I can choose those things, but the cost is higher!  $1948, in fact.  Very strange.  The more expensive one does have a wireless N adapter instead of G, but it won’t let me change that.  Anyway, I think I’d actually prefer the Intel chips just because their drivers tend to be more reliable and use less power.  But I don’t want to pay more for them! 

The downsides of the XPS seem to be that it’s a tiny bit heavier.  Only very slightly lighter than my Macbook.  I’m also concerned that the quality / sturdiness won’t be at the same level as the Latitude or Lenovo models.  And I don’t think it’s as stylish.

The 1.8Ghz Macbook Air is kind of tempting too, but that 64GB disk just isn’t going to be big enough with 2-3 OSes, and wiping out Leopard feels a bit risky.  On a pure PC I might scrape by with a 64GB drive, but the Air really needs a 128GB disk to be a really viable option.  It is awfully small / light though.

Sigh… I wish there were an easy answer here.

From → Life of Brandon

  1. For sure spend some time with the Macbook Air. I bought one, and not without trepidation. The limitations are actually a lot less limiting than you’d think. I’ve rarely needed access to a CD/DVD player, I’ve yet to require more than one USB port, and have no problems finding wireless access whereever I go. The only real limitation is the amount of disk space the SSD has, though since I removed Parallels and Vista it’s a lot less tight.

    It’s not for everyone, but like the iMac way back when, it’s not bad to oush the tech a little. 🙂

    If I were in your position, I’d wait for a few more weeks for the refresh. I suspect more disk space for the SSD and a speed up are in order.

  2. dovella permalink

    Brandon Buy Dell XPS 1330 and separate HD SSD

    ps. You came in Italy for holiday??

  3. Your asking for a lot. I would suggest the Macbook Air. It has many of the features you specified, but I would try not to be too picky unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money. Good luck with your search.

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