Recommendation needed

Laptops, PDAs, Cell Phones, and all other tech that you carry with you.

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Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 6:33 pm

So my sister is going off the college. She is going to for Chemical Engineering. I am looking for a laptop for her, preferably 15.6" and a dual HDD bay. Powerful enough for whatever a student of that pursuit may need.

Any thoughts?
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 7:11 pm

Hmm...first option I can think of that includes dual drive bays is something like the Sager NP6165 or maybe something in the Dell Lattitude line.

But speaking as someone who had two friends go through a Chemical Research program (CE's older, angrier brother), are you sure that a tricked-out machine is what she needs for the next year or two while she does pre-reqs and such? Any software she needs to use that requires extensive processing power will probably be available on lab computers, and for general classroom work and reports she might do better with something a bit smaller, lighter, and battery-friendly. Anything with a Core i5 and a screen resolution better than the el-cheapo 13x7 ought to be in the right ballpark.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 7:30 pm

What's the budget?

For college/university students, I would recommend getting something thin, light with good battery life. I lugged around a 7 lb Dell beast of a machine for 4 years. It was a horrible experience.

Is there any particular reason why you want the dual hdd bays?
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 7:43 pm

Byte Storm wrote:So my sister is going off the college. She is going to for Chemical Engineering. I am looking for a laptop for her, preferably 15.6" and a dual HDD bay. Powerful enough for whatever a student of that pursuit may need.

Any thoughts?

If you want something fancy with dual bays - try www.xoticpc.com (or any similar reliable reseller of Sager stuff), they also do custom wrapping/skins if you want extra "fancy" surprise for someone :wink: I've purchased stuff there - was pretty easy and they were pretty communicative (though it was a couple of years ago).
If you have particular questions about particular model - try these forums, they are the best for such stuff:
http://forum.notebookreview.com/
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:12 pm

Any particular reason for why she needs two HDD bays? That requirement right there is going to bounce you up into relatively large + heavy sizes, and also higher price brackets.
Honestly, for an undergrate Chem-E degree, there are certainly scientific programs you may want to run, but any modern notebook should be able to handle the workloads that undergrads will get. A lot of it is that scary scary organic chemistry where you are dealing with hand-drawn benzene rings and other things that still frighten me when the real Chem-Es talk about them :o

Instead of a huge notebook, I'd be looking into a decently sized notebook + a good digitizer (with a real stylus, not an iPad + fingerpainting) if she's serious about Chem-E since she could draw diagrams & complex formulas easily but still have digital copies instead of having to rely on paper.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:16 pm

sid1089 wrote:What's the budget?

For college/university students, I would recommend getting something thin, light with good battery life. I lugged around a 7 lb Dell beast of a machine for 4 years. It was a horrible experience.

Is there any particular reason why you want the dual hdd bays?


Yes, but you were able to walk on to the football team after your first semester of carrying it around! 8)
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:34 pm

chuckula wrote:Instead of a huge notebook, I'd be looking into a decently sized notebook + a good digitizer (with a real stylus, not an iPad + fingerpainting) if she's serious about Chem-E since she could draw diagrams & complex formulas easily but still have digital copies instead of having to rely on paper.

And don't forget the external HD for backup. The daughter is 15 and routinely trashes her laoptop. I can't imagine a college student being any better.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:45 pm

Captain Ned wrote:
chuckula wrote:Instead of a huge notebook, I'd be looking into a decently sized notebook + a good digitizer (with a real stylus, not an iPad + fingerpainting) if she's serious about Chem-E since she could draw diagrams & complex formulas easily but still have digital copies instead of having to rely on paper.

And don't forget the external HD for backup. The daughter is 15 and routinely trashes her laoptop. I can't imagine a college student being any better.


Backups FTW, no matter what hardware she gets! When I was in undergrad (yes, even back in the dark ages), we had online storage with the University that was pretty safe and was easy to access. Of course, back then it was measured in megabytes, but it was enough to keep copies of whatever work I needed for the semester, and I'm hoping that things have gotten better since I was kicking around in undergrad!
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 5:16 am

Thanks for all the recommendations! I can eliminate the thin and light ones, oddly enough, as she doesn't like them because they feel to flimsy to her. She's afraid she'll break them. My budget is around $1k, the closer the better (from the going over side that is)

I had heard from one of the professors that most of the stuff they need is on the lab computers, but I wanted to hear the same thing from a student.

It doesn't really need to be tricked out, per se. I just want it to be powerful enough that she won't complain about it for a while, and to be able to throw an SSD in it, with a normal HDD. I am looking into getting her hooked up via VPN to my server, that would eliminate the need to have the larger storage drive, as I can store whatever she wants on my 24TB array.

Chuckula: The Digitizer and Stylus sounds like a great idea, what would you recommend for that.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 8:34 am

A few things to consider:
1) Get a laptop with an SSD or swap out the hdd for an SSD, then add an external hdd (or 2.5" external enclosure if swapping) if she needs more space. 120-180 GB SSD should be sufficient, 256GB would give more flexibility if the budget allows.
2) Get a computer with a SSD cache drive.
3) Get an optical drive bay adapter to convert the ODD to a hdd bay. Put the SSD where the hdd was and the hdd goes in the optical bay. (oftentimes the optical bay wont have as fast of a SATA interface as the hdd bay.) It's a very simple changeout to do. If she really needs an optical drive, get an external one.

These alternatives would open up MANY more laptop options to you.

Also, consider waiting until closer to September to get an Intel Haswell processor. They will bring improved IGP and battery life.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:10 am

Thanks for the suggestion pete.

I actually checked my Company's Dell Employee Purchase Program, a touchscreen Inspiron 15R with:

Processor 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i5-3337U processor (3M Cache, up to 2.7 GHz)
Operating System Windows 8, 64-bit, English
Display 15.6 HD (720p) Touch screen with Truelife (1366x768)
Memory2 8GB3 Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Hard Drive 1TB 5400 RPM Hard Drive
Optical Drive 8X CD / DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive)
Video Card Intel® HD Graphics
Weight 5.12 lbs

For $668. About $300 or so off from retail. Switch out the HDD for SSD, and get an external drive cage, and this seems to be perfect. That way she has the additional storage needed, and I can backup all her data to my server.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:31 am

Looks good, but it pains me to see that a 15.6" screen is stuck at the apparent standard lappy resolution of 1366x768.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:39 am

Sounds like you're already on the EPP front. Make sure to check out any university discounts she might be able to get as well.

And yeah, if most of the software she needs is running on lab machines, that Inspiron is a good fit. You really just want something mobile that can handle Microsoft Office at its worst (which isn't bad), and anything else is just overhead to get a nice (or nicer) machine. As Ned pointed out,1366x768 resolution...bleh...
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 10:01 am

Yeah, I would agree on the resolution. But she doesn't want a 17", so 1920 is out, and Dell doesn't have a 1600 at a 15.6" form factor. They do have 1920 at 15.6", but from the screens I have sampled, that makes things ridiculously small. Should wouldn't like that.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 10:12 am

What "things" are we talking about? You can beef up the size of your Windows icons, and unless they removed it in Windows 8, Ctrl + scroll wheel and Ctrl + +/- will zoom things. That's something you can use regardless of native resolution, so at least she would be able to get higher overall resolution.

Oh, and if you go with this and still have some computer cash, consider peripherals/accessories. Laptops are great to be mobile, but you can set one up at a desk with a decent keyboard+mouse, monitor, or even a docking station, and a laptop bag/backpack could also be a good investment to protect the purchase. The desk setups are really personal preference, but I know that I always preferred setting up a static location when I was "home" doing homework.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 10:17 am

It isn't sexy, but a Dell Latidue E6530 or a Lenovo ThinkPad T530. You can put a hard drive in either's CD-ROM bay, you can find them on their respective outlets for dirt cheap, and the warranties on the Dell are standard three year. They're also built like a tank so they'll take the day to day abuse.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:30 am

Byte Storm wrote:Yeah, I would agree on the resolution. But she doesn't want a 17", so 1920 is out, and Dell doesn't have a 1600 at a 15.6" form factor. They do have 1920 at 15.6", but from the screens I have sampled, that makes things ridiculously small. Should wouldn't like that.

See: Windows DPI scaling.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:34 am

Thanks, I know about DPI Scaling. I have had her try this on other computers in store (microcenter), and she wasn't a fan; things looked to forced to her, and some things didn't even scale completely.

Since this is a gift, I am not going to have her use something she doesn't like.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:36 am

Under Windows 7, "Medium -- 125%" font scaling is okay, but "Larger -- 150%" breaks the requesters in a number of the applications that I use.
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Re: Recommendation needed

Postposted on Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:07 pm

Byte Storm wrote:Since this is a gift, I am not going to have her use something she doesn't like.

That's the right idea. If she's fine with a 720p screen (or even prefers it), no need to go any further with this portion of the discussion. It's all a matter of personal preference.

I scale all my displays 110-125% depending. (keep in mind you can specify your own scaling percentage, you don't HAVE to use Windows' three presets) If I don't use DPI scaling, I catch myself leaning in toward the screen for some reason. Sure there are the occasional programs that don't handle DPI scaling well and things get cut off, but that doesn't happen often, at least for me. I don't really notice any other ill effects.
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