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  1. #1

    Budget Laptop buying advice

    Hi there

    Can anybody help me, I need a cheap laptop to take to university and I've got it down to two models. The Dell N5050 and the Acer 5749. Basically I want something to surf the web, back up my work, write essays on, do research with, some photo editing, and a little bit of gaming (mainly steam/valve stuff like TF2, not too intense)

    I wanted a 1TB HDD because at home my PC has nearly 500gb of data on it and I know I will be adding a lot more at uni (I'm doing photography, so I will be producing a lot of large PDFs and RAW files) however thats possibly not in my budget. I wanted to match my current PC spec wise because it runs well, it has an AMD 640 (4 cores at 3GHz) So that meant I was looking at an i5 2450.

    Here are my choices:

    Dell N5050
    i5 2450
    500GB HDD
    4GB RAM
    15.6" Screen

    Acer 5749
    i3 2350
    750gb HDD
    6GB RAM
    15.6" screen

    The Dell is 10 cheaper and I can get it next day at no charge. However I am put off because its a Dell, it looks clumsy and is not upgradeable, so I will use up that HDD after a year or two and need to replace it. However, the Acer only has an i3, and the extra RAM is really just pointless right? Is it worth the trade off for an extra 250gb hdd? I will need to get an external 1TB anyway to take stuff between machines.

    Anybody got a better reccomendation? Budget is flexable, these are under 350 but I could go to about 400-450 if I got the i5 (2nd gen) and the HDD in a decent body with a good screen and battery.

    Amazed what your money gets you these days!

  2. #2
    Linux Enthusiast Steven_G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Western US
    Try the pawn shops. You'd be amazed what kind of deals you can get on laptops there. Go to one of the higher end ones that deals with a lot of jewelry. The "average" price plan at a pawn broker is 65% of retail. If you know about computers and how to negotiate you can quite often drop that to 40-50% of retail. So you could reasonably expect to walk away with a L800 machine for ~500 or less. Just make sure that it's in good shape, test it well. Also, DO NOT get any video card that has Optimus on it. You WILL regret it! Look for ones with minor defects; like the grounding plug is broken off (a $2 fix) or it is full of viruses and the system restore disk is missing. This will "make it very, very hard for me to fix it". (Don't tell them you're going to put *nix on it.) Or a bad keyboard, which is easy to fix yourself and costs about $40-60 for a new one. All of these are points to drive the price down. You can often walk away witha really nice machine that has a few minor, cheap, easy to fix problems for 40% or less of the retail price.

  3. #3
    Just Joined!
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Lund, Sweden
    I agree that you probably won't need the extra RAM. As for hard drive space, if you need lots of space for storing photos but don't actually need them at this time, you can get an external USB disk in a couple of years when budget allows.

    Personally, I might not recommend to go for the pawn shops, you don't really know what condition the machine is actually in when you buy it that way, with no guarantees. I would however look and see if there is someone selling refurbished business laptops such as Thinkpads. I got myself a refurbished Thinkpad T43 this way 7 years ago, and it's still going strong, in fact I have upgraded to another one now, but it was (and is still) rock solid and caused no problems. I chose between that one and a Toshiba dual core machine which was only slightly more expensive, but being brand new, Linux support on the Toshiba wasn't very good (which is commonplace for new machines before the Linux distributions have gotten support for new versions of graphics cards etc) and it didn't feel as solid build-wise as the Thinkpad. I've been very happy with it and never looked back.

    Linux support on Thinkpads is very good, and you also have good battery management so you can extend the life of your battery as much as possible - very good if you're on a tight budget. If you want to do some gaming you should try to find one which has a dedicated graphics card though, which limits the options somewhat, as many business laptops were sold with integrated graphics cards due to their intended usage.

    The thing is, many laptops look fine in the shops, but I've heard of more than one Acer, Dell or even HP consumer machine that has bit the dust after a couple of years (my sister's HP G20 power supply failed last year, taking the machine with it, which had lost it's delete key anyway due to the keyboard failing, so she had to rush out and get a new one even as it wasn't worth repairing the old one) which is a real pain when you need to find a new machine quickly, let alone find a way of getting the stuff off your old machine.

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  5. #4
    Linux Enthusiast Steven_G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Western US
    If you're not comfortable completely pulling apart a laptop and rebuilding it totally (or adventurous enough to learn how) then you should only buy brand spanking new with an extended service warranty. (One of the few times that you should actually spend the money on an extended warranty.)

    But, it's just like taking your car to the shop. You're going to pay through the nose for something that still shines and sparkles and it will always cost you much, much more for someone else to do the work.

    If you're not comfortable changing the monitor on a laptop (which is about the most difficult hardware maintenance task) or don't know how to do data recovery then buy new.

    If you own a set of non-conductive / insulated precision microdrivers and an external back up drive (or want to learn how not to be a retail slave) then take the plunge.

    It ain't that hard, even I figured it out.

  6. #5
    Well I've been to both CEX and Cash Generator (Cash Converters?) today which are big name pawn shops/trade in stores. Both have some laptops in my price range, however the best I could do was an Acer (i5 750gb 4gb) used which was the same price as the new ones I listed above. Neither would move on the prices as they apparently don't set them themselves. The smaller pawn shops don't deal in laptops, mostly jewellery, music and camera equipment, mostly rubbish! I can take a PC to bits, do my own backups, rebuild it etc but I know its harder on a laptop. The thought of taking a mac to bits scares me, I wouldn't dismantle something like the Dell above unless it was to rescue data from a dead machine (you have to remove the keyboard, the battery, a metal shield and disconnect the screen before you can get to the HDD caddy)

    Thanks for the advice but I'm going to stick to a new model as the second hand ones just don't seem value for money. There are a few on ebay but once you factor in a new battery it pretty much works out as buying new in this price bracket, perhaps some bargains on things like ultra portables and gaming machines but not the low end "just a laptop" student/business models

    Wouldn't mind a thinkpad, haven't seen them on sale for quite a while though its like all the major retails are in a cartel with Acer, Dell, Sony (how overpriced?) and Lenovo =o

  7. #6
    Just Joined!
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Lund, Sweden
    I agree when looking at the price a refurbished business PC doesn't look very advantageous compared to a new consumer machine. I had my doubts myself at the time. You have to remember though that business PC's have a much higher build quality and will probably last much longer and have fewer problems than a brand new Acer a couple of years down the line. That may or may not be important, of course you could always be lucky with your Acer, or have bad luck with your Thinkpad, or be very careful with your machines so the additional ruggedness is not a factor. Last year by accident I dropped my T43 one a stone floor, with the only casualty being the trackpoint top flying off (it's not a tight fit anyway as it is meant to be replaced easily).

    One thing to note if you ever plan on opening your machine: It seems that at least Lenovo and HP have very good service manuals which are published for free on the Internet, so in the event that you do need to dive in, you can at least get hold of a good set of disassembly instructions. Sony are hopeless in this respect, and I don't think Dell or Acer are much better. Then of course there might be a bunch of Youtube videos with good descriptions by the time you need the, or other consumer-drive sites on the 'net when the time comes - I put one of such sites to good use when I needed to replace the hard drive in my wife's iBook a couple of years ago.

    I will agree though that the specs of new machines is very tempting compared to something just a couple of years old. I'm considering getting a machine for my son and can't really decide on which way to go.

  8. #7
    Not on your list, but if you are happy with a Linux only machine, then this Zoostorm laptop that you can find on the Ebuyer site might be worth a look.


    Intel Pentium B970 Dual Core Processor 2.3Ghz,
    2MB Cache
    Intel HM65 Chipset


    8GB DDR3 1333Mhz
    2 x SO DIMM

    Hard Drive

    500GB SATA II

    Optical Drive

    Super multi DVDRW


    Operating System: None


    15.6” HD LED Screen
    Resolution: 1366 x 768


    Intel HD Graphics

    Input Devices

    Keyboard and Touchpad


    Wireless LAN: 802.11b/g/n
    Network Interface: 10/100 LAN

    Power Supply

    6 Cell Battery


    Width 268 mm
    Depth 359 mm
    Height 37 mm


    3 x USB 2.0 ports
    1 x VGA port
    1 x HDMI port
    1 x Headphone port
    1 x Microphone port
    1 x RJ45 LAN port
    1 x DC-in jack


    9 in 1 Card Reader

    Warranty / Miscellaneous

    1 Year Manufacturer Warranty
    1.3MP Webcam

    I bought one for my daughter who is off to Bristol University in October. Loaded on Ubuntu and everything works. At 270 I think it is quite a good buy.

  9. #8
    Linux Enthusiast Steven_G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Western US
    Since you seem to be comfortable with tinkering with stuff I wouldn't give on the pawn shops after just two. Some times it takes me a couple of weeks and several trips to all of the better pawn shops in town to find a good deal.

    Last one I got was a Thinkpad with an i3 quadcore and 4GB RAM w/ Blueray player. When I got it the model had been on the market for a litttle bit and and was down to ~$800 retail (give or take - depending on where you looked).

    The shop had it marked for $350. I talked the owner down to $150 because the grounding plug was broken off ($2 fix), the keyboard was bad, it was so choked full of viruses that any moron could just look at and tell it was fouled hardcore on boot / login and it was missing the recovery disk. I made a big deal out of how hard and expensive it was going to be to fix it and walked out the door with a steal.

    The new keyboard was $60 (including shipping) from Amazon and it took about 5 minutes to install and of course all that virus crap cleared right up when I nuked the drive with a free *nix utility and slapped a free copy of *nix on it. So I'm in to it for $212 total. Who cares if it dies in 4 years. I keep regular backups and I'm in to for 26.5% of retail. (A savings of 73.5%. Take that extreme couponers!) And I can probably fix whatever would go wrong with it any way.

    Personally the shops that I like to go to are on the outskirts of the rich part of town. (The rich folks don't want to drive over to the ghetto.) It's been my experience that rich teenagers are pretty hard on electronics and it is easy to find some fairly nice machines that have a big scratch on them or minor hardware issues or serious virus issues and the parents would rather toss them amd get junior whatever the flavor of the minute is as a replacement; rather than spending the money to fix them. I've gottten some really good deals doing this over the years. And I don't really see those machines in the ads. I'm figuring it's because mumsie doesn't want scum like me tracking up the carpet while she's trying to offload juniors latest "hunk of junk". (Little does she know.)
    Last edited by Steven_G; 08-29-2012 at 05:23 PM.

  10. #9
    In the end I went for the commercial option of a Dell;
    Dell N5050 Black
    340 (with discounts)
    i5 2450
    4GB RAM
    500GB HDD

    This was better than what I could get in the second hand shops. For a decent thinkpad second hand it was around the same spec and price although a year or two older. I think in midrange laptops that would be the way to go, however not for my budget.

    The real steal though was the discontinued Dell N5050 in red;
    170 (with discount)
    i3 2350
    3GB RAM
    500gb HDD

    Made a great gift for my brother!

    Thanks for the advice guys, certainly be looking at the ThinkPads in future

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