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September 13, 2004

Laptop Recommendations?

Blawg Wisdom's first ever Wisdom Request reads:
Hello all! I am a senior in college planning on attending law school in the fall of 2005. I have no computer and desperately need one NOW. My question is this: is there a certain kind of laptop that is recommended for law students by law schools? I want to get a laptop that I can use for the next four years. I know next to nothing about computers; all I know is that I want a PC that can play Sims 2! Thanks.
Any suggestions anyone? If so, please write about it on your own blawg and submit the link, or just reply in the comments.

Posted by mowabb at September 13, 2004 11:44 AM

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» Blawg Wisdom Requests from ambivalent imbroglio
Blawg Wisdom announces: The Wisdom Request Form! This new feature allows readers to request wisdom on specific topics. [Read More]

Tracked on September 13, 2004 11:59 AM

» Computers? from divine angst
...think the most important thing anyone looking to buy a laptop should consider is, "What are you comfortable with?" Sure, there are other, law-school-specific issues to consider... [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2004 04:33 PM

» Computers? from divine angst
Over at Blawg Wisdom the request of the day was for laptop recommendations. And Nuts and Boalts had this response. I threw in a comment, wondering why people always advise other people against getting Macs. Nuts responded: Mac's have the... [Read More]

Tracked on February 4, 2005 11:20 AM

Comments

Oh, the laptop conundrum... been there, still doing that! What to buy, what to buy. I still have pangs for a different laptop, even though I love my current Dell. It's techno-lust, usually. I can tell you this:

1. I used to *love* IBM ThinkPads... I had a 560 that I just adored. It was well made, ultra reliable, small and fast. However, since the good old days of IBM ThinkPads, the quality of construction and manufacturing has declined significantly. I have used (and many friends own) current ThinkPads, and I find them highly disappointing. Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I don't think they are well made anymore. They feel cheap. And cheap is the one thing they aren't. So I wouldn't waste my money.

2. I've seen many students carrying around these new 15-17" behemoth machines from Compaq/HP and Toshiba. Holy s*** these things are gigantor! I realize a big screen is cool, but get a dock and an external monitor for home. In law school you *will* bring your books to every class, and those books *will* be heavy. The _last_ thing you need is laptop adding another 10lbs. to your load. While personally I'm a huge fan of the subnotes (~3lbs) I would highly recommend that you consider a lighter laptop in the ~5-6lb. range.

3. An observation. In my orientation session for laptop configuration I took an informal survey of students in the room. There were probably 60 or so people in the session I attended. There were 3 HP/Compaq machines, 2 Toshibas, 1 IBM, and yes, you guessed it: the rest were entirely Dell. I've owned two Dell laptops myself, and I will say that they are not as nice as the old IBMs (oh, those were the days!) but they seem to be sturdy, reliable machines, and they are certainly priced right. I'm not putting down HP/Compaq, Toshiba, etc. but unless you're getting a dead sexy 2.7lb. Sony Vaio, I'd put my money on a Dell.

4. Laptops aren't as flexible on the upgrade path as other machines. Yes, you *can* add a bigger hard drive later... and yes, you *can* add memory later. But my experience (and the experiences of most of my friends) indicates that you won't. Chances are, what you buy now is what you will use. That said, get the biggest hard drive option that makes sense for the money. It's probably around 60GB these days. If you notice that a machine comes with a 40GB, but you can upgrade to a 60GB for $20, um, do it. But if the next level, to say an 80GB is $157 then don't. It's obviously not a good deal. Shop smart.

5. You will be running Windows XP, most likely, so get at least 512MB of RAM. Period. If you can afford it (and they aren't reaming you on memory costs) then go with 1GB of RAM.

6. If you have small hands and good eyes (or want a dead sexy, Sony Vaio sub-notebook) then 10.4 or 12" screens are okay. Otherwise, for humans with normal eyesight, get yourself a 14" or 15" screen. As I mentioned before, the 17" screen on a notebook might seem nice, but no way is it worth the trade in cost/weight.

7. If the model you are looking at has the option, get a dock. You won't *always* be in class at school. Sometimes you'll be falling down drunk at the corner bar. And other times, you'll be at home working on papers or frantically re-ordering your torts outline. And when you're at home, it's nice to sit at a desk, and use a real keyboard and/or monitor. A docking station let's you have the best of both worlds... a "desktop" machine you can use at home, and a laptop to take to class. Nifty!

8. Some people like Tablet PCs because they allow you to take notes on the screen in your own handwriting. Some people need to learn how to type. Just kidding. There are applications where a Tablet PC can come in handy, but the technology isn't 100% there yet, and they do tend to carry a premium for the convenience of the tablet. I say hold off on this one. When you're ready for your next laptop, these will be better and cheaper.

9. Don't forget software. Your school might have an agreement with Microsoft for Office, so before you plunk any money down, check. And you're a student: never pay retail for software. Check for student pricing with your school's bookstore.

Oh, and get yourself an outliner. I like NoteMap, but there are many others. Just do some research and find one you like. It will really help in the note taking department.

10. You should get wireless built in. Anyone selling a non-wifi configured laptop these days should be shot. And if your school doesn't have wireless, write the IT guys a nasty note, and let them know that this is 2004(!) fer chrissake, get with the program.

Finally, see it before you buy, if you can. Granted, today's mail order world makes that hard, but check on the return policies, just in case. A laptop that looks good in the picture might turn out to be a cumbersome brick with a crappy keyboard. And once you buy something and are happy with it, never look at other laptops again. You'll just see something that is faster, cheaper, and lighter, and you'll lust after it more than that hottie in Criminal. You'll just have to accept that in computing, 4 years is an eternity. But then again, in law school, 4 years is an eternity.

Posted by: Dave! at September 13, 2004 12:59 PM

I'm not going to reiterate what Dave! said, but I add this small item. If you can, pay for the higher resolution. It may not seem like much, but the difference between 1024 x 768 and 1400 x 1050 is like regular TV and HDTV. The amount of time that you spend staring at your laptop makes this money worth it. You may be able to even forgo the docking station.

Posted by: Beanie at September 13, 2004 02:03 PM

I got a ThinkPad T-series. It's light and durable. I had a Dell Inspiron for 3 years; after about a year the keyboard stopped functioning, the pointer keys broke off about 4 months after that, and I had many, many, many problems with the hard drive itself. I can't speak for how they are made today but I personally would never, ever buy a Dell laptop again.

Also--pay for the 3 (or more) year on site warranty. It's worth it.

Check with a few law schools to see what models they recommend and try getting it through your undergrad's computer sales department for less than market price. You shouldn't have a problem with compatibility when you get to the law school, but you don't want to be stuck with something that no one knows how or will be willing to fix.

Posted by: em at September 13, 2004 06:19 PM

I'm pretty brand agnostic as far as laptops go. I have a vprMatrix, which Best Buy used to build, undercutting their OEMs in the the process, and I've never had a warranty issue with it in two years. Definitely do your research, though. I've had classmates sitting around for months waiting for their laptops to come back from the repair shop.

The warranty is definitely worth it though. An extra battery might not be a bad idea either. Last year mine died the minute I arrived home from my last exam.

The biggest problem I encounter in school is classrooms with too few outlets. When you've got 80 people in a small auditorium and 60 of 'em are using laptops, obviously everyone cannot plug in. I bring a power strip to school and sometimes that isn't enough. My point is, battery life is very important if you have a lot of classes back to back. And remember, if you're taking notes and surfing the internet and playing TextTwist, your battery will last about half as long as it should.

You'll probably have to use Windows XP, so like other posters have mentioned, 512 MB of memory is necessary. If you know how to do it, you can get away with Linux or OS X for everyday use, but if you want to use your laptop for exams, Windows is usually the only option.

Also important and mentioned above: software. My university bookstore sells Office 2003 to students for $10 so definitely check before shelling out $$$ for software. And even if you borrow the software from a friend, sometimes it's worth it to have a licensed copy if you can get it for $10.

Oh, I just noticed you wanted to be able to play Sims 2. I also wanted a laptop I could use for games because my old desktop machine was lagging behind. The original Sims runs fine on mine which has a 32 MB video card, 2.0 Ghz Pentium IV and 512 MB of 333 Mhz DDR RAM. I just looked at the minimum specs for Sims 2 and you'll have no problem far exceeding those if you buy anything new on the market right now.

Posted by: Steve at September 14, 2004 12:02 AM

Apple 15" PowerBook. Period.

Or, if you'd prefer to have a broken computer as the deadline nears, go with what these guys recommend.

By the way, it weighs in at under 6 lbs.

Posted by: Phil at September 14, 2004 01:46 AM

Here's some advice I recently received -- get a tablet pc. They're getting pretty cheap (you can get one from averatec for $1300). The best part, in situations outside the classroom, you can use it like a legal pad -- so in your trial advocacy class, during a moot court competition, etc..., you can take notes on what's being said without the noise accompanying typing.

Posted by: Justin at September 14, 2004 10:22 AM

i have a tablet PC and adore it. it's a Toshiba Portege, so it's actually a convertible tablet rather than pure. it has a keyboard attached, and you can open it like a normal laptop, but then the screen turns around and lays flat on the keyboard face-up.

it's awesome. i take my notes handwritten, which means more than you'd think. as i've heard from people who type their notes, it's easier for them to write down every single thing the prof says, and not really listen. handwriting forces you to actually process what's being said. so that's good. it's also easier to draw diagrams, charts, etc.

but my computer is just like a normal laptop, just that i can write on it. it's fantastic.

no matter what you get: absolutely buy the 3-year extended warranty. it'll cover your entire law school career, and after you graduate, technology will have changed so much that you'll want a new computer anyway.

Posted by: monica at September 19, 2004 03:49 PM

oh yeah, and don't settle for anything without built-in wireless.

Posted by: monica at September 19, 2004 03:50 PM