help me spec a laptop (+suggestions?)


Senior member
Mar 5, 2003
It' been so long I bought a laptop (or a new computer for that matter) that I'm having trouble figuring how much laptop I need vs what's out there.

This is a family laptop so it will be used for:

1) pickup and use at any time, snappy response
This is the number 1 request in the family from my old clunker laptop that just died:
the laptop takes forever to boot and get into firefox, even after removing some of the crap from the startup menu.
For example someone may want to look up movie times or quickly check email, so they want it to boot quick to be in and out as fast as possible. the family has been reluctant to use the sleep function of the laptop for this, althoguh it may work better under win7 than XP. Still fast boot would be great.
I probably can't afford at SSD at the moment, but I have on in my desktop. I will consider upgrading the desktop to a higher capacity SSD at some point and put the old one in the laptop.

In the same way we want the laptop to be pretty snappy opening programs, displaying pages, etc... I assume proc+memory will be the most help here?

2) watching movies (at least DVDs, we don't own B-Ray discs or players)
* so must have at least DVD player, we don't own B-Ray equipment or media at this time, so B-Ray not a must
* must write at least single layer DVDs. I think any laptop come with that nowadays?
* I'd like to be able to output to a TV, I assume that means I should get HDMI out? (we don't have an HDTV yet, but it'll happen by Christmas)

3) light gaming:
* The wife and kids play bejeweled, crayon physics, Runscape etc... I assume any proc/graphic card combo will handle those if the computer is powerful enough to play movies?
* I play some MMORPGs (Guild Wards being my current poison of choice). I'm OK not being to play those games, but where is the cutoff point?
* I play shooters like Left4Dead 2, I'm guessing only a performance laptop will let me play those, so out of my budget, I'll play on my desktop.

so what CPU/graphics are a good value happy medium?

4) Internet browsing
* I use wirelss at home. Currently 802.11g. I would love to future proof by allowing the 5GHz band (802.11a) but it seems very few laptops come with an a compatible wireless card?
* must have Ethernet also for when I want to transfer major data, but I think all laptops still ship with a LAN port?

5) word processing
'nough said

6) video calling
I use skype video to stay in touch with my folks (way more fun to interact with the kids), and I would love an integrate camera. I assume any built-in camera will do for this purpose?
doe I nee to worry about sounds card/CPU being able to keep up with echo cancellation?

7) No major storage needs.
I'm not concerned about storage size, so anything over 60G or so to hold OS + programs is good. I don;t keep my music library on there or anything.

8) decent battery life.
while we mostly use the laptop at home and often leave it plugged in, it's nice to be able to unplug and move around without stressing about the battery life. My old laptop was a "desktop replacement" and high specs way back when, but its battery life was always horrendous (3 hours when new?)

9) reasonably portable
if we go on trips we like to pack the laptop in a backpack. the kid may take it to a friends for some homework ( :) ), etc... it doesn't have to be netbook size/weight, but should not be a 10 pounds barely luggable monstrosity.

so.... thanks for reading through so far. I would like to keep my budget in the $400-$800[\b] range.

Given what the usage I'd like to understand what components are best suited to my needs:

CPU: I was thinking i3 2.26 or better. is that enough for movie playing and light gaming?

RAM: is 3GB enough? would I be better off with 4G, especially for "snappiness"

Display: I assume I neef 16:9 for the best movie experience? it seems the world is moving this way. I think 14" is the right compromise between size and function?

Resolution: do I get a choice in that price range? I think the higher the better
technology: I know nothing about display technologies in laptops, anything I should avoid? try to get (like LED backlight?) what are the gimmicks I should be aware of?

GPU: Is Intel integrated sufficient for smooth movie playback (including movies from the HD, not just somehow straight from the DVD player) or do I need to get better? This seems one component that changes the price dramatically.

OS: Does Win7 64 or 32 matter? I will *not* buy an apple product. I have too many windows programs to consider Apple (or linux for that matter. I have my own linux server, but wife and kids will want Windows)

For grins I went and price a baseline Dell Studio 14 and upgraded the video card to a Radeon HD540v and the wireless adapter for the 802.11a support.
that's $704 before taxes, etc... so in the high end of my price range.

PROCESSOR 2010 Intel® Core™ i3-350M 2.26GHz (3M cache)
OPERATING SYSTEM Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
MEMORY 3GB Shared Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz
HARD DRIVE 320GB SATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
BATTERY OPTIONS 56 WHr 6-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery
VIDEO CARD 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 540v
WIRELESS CARDS Intel© Centrino© Advanced-N 6200
HD DISPLAY 14.0” High Definition (720p) LED Display with TrueLife™ and Camera
OPTICAL DRIVE 8X Slot Load CD/DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive)
KEYBOARD Standard Keyboard
SOUND OPTIONS High Definition Audio 2.0

Is it too much laptop for what I need? Not enough? I don;t like Dell my previous Dell laptop died 1 month after the warranty expired. Is there something equivalent or better or cheaper?

Finally I'd like to find a reputable online source to save tax if possible.

Thanks for listening. Looking forward to your advice


Senior member
Mar 5, 2003