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Find the Perfect Laptop

Ask a Geek Girl: I Need a Laptop!

I know a lot of you may be in the same boat as HipMom, who recently enlisted my help in her search for a laptop that not only satisfies her work needs, but that is comfortable to carry, and that falls within a strict budget. She writes:

I need help finding a laptop. This wouldn't be my main computer, (I have a desktop PC I use all the time), but I have started writing and I'd like to be able to just jot stuff down whenever I feel like it, so it seems like a laptop would be a good idea. I might also decide to keep my web design stuff on it, but I'm not sure yet. I need something basic, but I'd like it to be fast, have a comfortable keyboard, and I want to be able to put some graphics work on it, too. Oh, and it needs to be under 500 dollars, and I don't like the new tiny ones.

What a mission! Check out my recommendations when you


I have some good news, and some bad news HipMom! Good news first: It's possible to find a great and portable laptop that gets you plenty of space for work and play, is easy to tote around (for those quickfire writing sessions), and that will allow you to work easily with a full-sized keyboard. The bad news is, you might have to throw down slightly more money than you want to, to get exactly what you want. But really, purchasing a laptop is an investment that shouldn't be taken lightly (unless you're Daddy Warbucks, of course). For these kinds of situations, I'd have to go with Dell — they provide reliable machines at low prices.

To get you started, I'll recommend the Dell Inspiron 1420. At $599, you won't be going over your budget by too much, but you'll still get all the specs you need. For example, the 5.5-pound PC holds a 120GB hard drive and comes with 2GB of RAM (which you can upgrade to 4GB for better performance), and a nice 14-inch widescreen display with 1280-x-800 resolution, so you can work on your graphics comfortably. The 6-cell battery will give you about five hours (give or take) of life before you need to juice up.

But if you seriously want to stick to your budget, you may want to check out the Dell Inspiron 1525 — a less powerful machine, but it would be perfect for your writing sessions, and you'll still be able to store your design work. The downers about this model are the watered-down processor, graphics card, and less on-board RAM (although you can still upgrade to more). The 1525 is still portable at six pounds, but more affordable at $479.

Anyone else have any recommendations for HipMom? Tell us what's up in the comments below!

Join The Conversation
fashionista119 fashionista119 8 years
I have a Dell Inspiron 1525 (in Spring Green) and love it! We got it last June haven't had any problems with it. We do have Microsoft One Care (which I get for free, cause my Boss's Husband works for Microsoft, but I think it's typically about 60 bucks/year) running on it for our anti-virus/backup/firewall, and are religious about keeping it updated/running Tune-Ups, as well as regularly updating all Windows Security Features. We had a horrible time with our old desktop PC because we were not consistent with updates. Lesson learned, and we really take care of this laptop. So far, it's treated us well!
cali_student cali_student 8 years
If you want it to last for more than two years I recommend a Lenovo laptop. They're built to last and they're waterproof, have a roll cage to prevent damage if you drop it, and mine is super fast! Mochick, the EEE pc's aren't actually that great for writing more than an email now and then. The keyboard is very uncomfortably small. You can't take down notes or write on it for long and the screen is pretty much only suitable for emails too. I used to have a Dell and so does my brother and I wasn't impressed. Customer service wasn't very helpful and both our laptops got major problems just after the 2 year warranty ran out (like literally a month after). It was like they placed a timed malfunction in there. :p
girlwparasol girlwparasol 8 years
i don't know. i have a love/hate relationship with laptops. i love the portability, but they seem to die/screw up very quickly. i had a dell that lasted two years and then died (an inspiron. i never turned it off, ever, btw. which is probably what killed it. i'd had no issues with it prior), my mother has an hp pavilion on which the screen just died, and she's had issues with its audio. and my boyfriend has a powerbook which is about 4 years old, BUT it's slow as anything (like 'i'm typing and i have to wait ten seconds for the text to appear' slow), the wireless is weak, the bluetooth hasn't worked since a few months after he got it, and the headphone jack and a usb port stopped working. (not to mention that his screen randomly brightens and darkens even with the ambient light feature turned OFF.) if i get another laptop, i'm not dropping money for anything more expensive than an eee pc.
PiNkY-PiNk PiNkY-PiNk 8 years
mn48225, I would love to be able to do that! how were you able to?
mnp mnp 8 years
I have the Dell 1420 in yellow. It was an easier decision because I was able to scope out the inventory for refurb items and got my laptop really, really cheap. I just added a better service protection plan so in case anything goes wrong, I can just send it back. It's has a 250 gb hd and 2 gb ram.
Jessiebanana Jessiebanana 8 years
ehadams I do believe that the white macbook with 160GB and cd drive is $999 and with the new macbooks out I'm sure plenty of tech trendy people are anxious to sell their newly purchased macbooks on ebay in order to buy a new one. Apple also sells refurbished macbooks on their site. Haha and think of all money you'll save on anti-virus software...yeah I can never go back to Windows now. I didn't realize that would happen when I bought a mac, considering that I didn't even like them.
nextjen nextjen 8 years
My mom ordered one of these with my help last week! (The 1525 I think, maybe it's different on the Canadian website?) After getting the webcam and Office Home and Student, upgrading the ram, and falling for and a little scanner and cute bag it came to just over $1000. She got Ruby Red, and I think she is going to love it!
gixbr gixbr 8 years
Seriously, I think each case is different. In different situations the Dell is a perfect choice, but maybe someone had a bad experience with it! I personally have a Inspiron 1520 for a year now and I love it! It's fast and very chic (it's a red one!). I recommend you to buy it straight from Dell and customize it. Add some more ram, upgrade the processor or something, that's how I did with mine. If you still wanna try a pc another option would be the Sony Vaio, they have really skinny laptops and as far as I hear they are very good. Good luck!
sundaygreen sundaygreen 8 years
I'd have to recommend Toshiba. I have a Toshiba Satellite A200 which I bought overseas and it traveled all through Europe with me. I've had it for well over a year now and have had no trouble with it at all. It's fast and I move it around a lot, and it gives me no problems. I also have lots of design programs running on it (I work on it at home if I need to) - and it's totally capable for anything that requires a lot of memory. If you can find a Toshiba in your price range, I would seriously consider it.
kcwebgirl kcwebgirl 8 years
i love my dell despite the apple sticker i have covering the dell! hahaha. i wouldn't trade my dell and i'm upgrading to another next year. but i'm going for a cool color like green or yellow. or maybe white. who knows!
corcar86 corcar86 8 years
Also I must add that we were dumb enough to give us our business after I had purchased my Inspiron (which I wasted a student grant on to purchase by the way...)so we do have a couple newer models (newer as in from 2005 and 2006 so not the newest for sure) but they are ALL crap! And they are horrible with customer service!
L-Inches L-Inches 8 years
HipMom, just make sure u have enough $$$ for the best anti-virus software u can get too. very important!
corcar86 corcar86 8 years
NO DELLS!!! The Dell Inspiron series is complete crap!! PLEASE DON'T buy Dell I know from painful experience!!! In my family we have had 4 Dell laptops between us and they are nothing but trouble...they have all had multiple hard drives and mother boards and then once the service contract is up you are screwed. I happen to be the sorry owner of a inspiron 5150 which is the worst of the worst check out the dell messageboards on their own website from user reviews if you don't want to take my own word for it! The particular model I used was admittedly faulty by Dell (and they stopped producing it) but they won't do anything for people who had already purchased one (not even extend the warranty) I had 2 hard drive replacements, one power cord replacement, and two mother board replacements and then ONE DAY after my warranty was up my motherboard broke AGAIN and customer service told me too bad I' have to pay! PLEASE don't patronize Dell!!
PiNkY-PiNk PiNkY-PiNk 8 years
i REALLY want either the pink or white dell laptops. my bf and i went on the website and built ours just like we would like it and it ended up being $579. it's been on my x-mas list for half a year now!
hkmarks hkmarks 8 years
I have a 14" laptop that's alright, but at over 6 pounds, way too heavy to carry around a lot. Since it's not my main computer and I use my desktop for most things, I'm thinking of getting a Netbook. (Probably an Aspire One.) That'd be enough to watch videos and write on. Unlike a full-size notebook it'd fit in a (big) purse. Some cost as little as $350 or so. Not very good for graphics work, though. May or may not be any good for reading PDFs.
refinedharmony refinedharmony 8 years
When I came to college I bought a laptop with a huge screen so I could take it to class but wouldn't kill my eyes. BIG MISTAKE! It was so heavy and I hated lugging it around so much I just left it at home. This January I decided to buy a smaller, lighter laptop to take to classes on a daily basis that's not too heavy. I picked up a 13.1" Toshiba Satellite and in general I love it; but I did need to buy more ram to support Vista.
eLdanae eLdanae 8 years
haha, ditto emms! I would go back to using my blueberry iBook before I would consider using a brand new Dell! They're sooo unbelievably, to the point where it should be illegal, slow!
julieulie julieulie 8 years
I've been really happy with my Dell... they had some bad products back around 8 years ago... one of their older Inspiron models had a lot of problems, everyone I know my year in college seemed to have one, and we all had issues. But I've used two different Dell laptops since then (an Inspron 700m and an XPS M1210) and loved both of them, and the tech support is fantastic. My husband has had both a Toshiba and an HP, and after what he has gone through, aside from the fact that he isn't picky and really only uses them for email and internet so he got them on super cheap sales, he regrets not getting a Dell like me.
emms emms 8 years
I would maybe look on ebay for a used mac. I would buy a used mac over a Dell any day of the week...
ehadams ehadams 8 years
I wish Mac would come out with some around $500!
yellowshoe yellowshoe 8 years
Regarding Dells... my sister has a Dell Laptop, and so does her hubby. They both love them, and any issues, she has been able to call tech support and receive REAL help to solve the issue! Fantastic! My parents have a Dell desktop, and aren't exactly happy about it's internet speed (it is s-l-o-w and we cannot figure out why) but they are happy with it, overall. Anyway, with all that being said, I'm looking to buy a new laptop... Dell has many refurbished, as do many other companies, so you can purchase a nice computer with neat features at a decent price.
Jessiebanana Jessiebanana 8 years
Yeah my macbook is my main computer, so I don't feel bad for the splurge.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
:woohoo: ?
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
I just got my 1420 a few hours ago! I'm so happy!!! :whoohoo:
margokhal margokhal 8 years
Thanks GeekSugar! I've been in the market for a new laptop (my rule: when maintenance costs exceed 1/2 of the original price of the computer, it's time to upgrade), so this is really neat...except I have a Mac, and I *really* don't want to go back to a PC - I absolutely LOATHE Vista (I can't use it at all, I have to at school and work and the compatibility things are terrible), and I switched because I went through 3 different PC's in 7 months...but I really don't have the money to buy a new Mac right now. Dilemma, dilemma...I kind of want a Dell...if I can reprogram it to use OS X! =D
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