How to Buy a Laptop

You have to buy a tool to do a specific job. What job? That’s your business. Maybe all you want to do is check email and watch Youtube. In that case, get a netbook. The vast majority of people don’t need anything more powerful than a netbook.

I want the two-computer solution, which started out of the advent of the netbook. People would buy an eeepc for mobility while having a desktop at home for gaming, HD video, photoshop, etc. The calculus was that for a $300 eeepc and a $1000 desktop, you could get more power than an equivalently priced laptop, not to mention the bonuses in flexibility and modularity that the two-computer solutions allow. But I don’t want a netbook. It’s hard to see how I’d accomplish anything on a 70% keyboard or a 10.1 inch screen.

So I’ll begin to spell out what the white-whale-holy-grail of laptops needs.

1. Build Quality. It must not begin falling apart the moment you buy it. Archibald bought an extremely cheap Compaq at Best Buy. Bad idea. The drivers began permacrashing after a week, and Windows would randomly freeze after a month, it was almost unusable. The computer had good specs for the money, yeah. But what good are specs if your computer doesn’t work at all? My laptop cost $1200 after rebate. But it’s lasted five years without any problems (that I didn’t cause myself >.>). Could you have bought two computers for $600 every two and a half years and had the same reliability? Waffle’s ASUS was $1000 and had two major hardware failures, the second of which necessitated a new motherboard.

2. Design Sanity. I call particular attention to the idiotic practice of putting air intake vents on the bottom of the computer. It might work okay on a desk where you have the little nubs on the bottom to raise the computer off the surface to get airflow under it, but when you have a LAPtop in your LAP, your thighs tend to block those vents. Heat is the #1 shortener of life of laptops. I met a guy who carried around empty fruit cups to put his Macbook on, precisely because he knew how dangerous heat was for a laptop.

3. Design Balance. You can buy a Thinkpad T410 in 2010 for $1250, and it’ll come with an overkill i5 processor and an underwhelming Intel 5700HD. You could buy a MSI GX630 for $750 in 2008, and it had a middling Athlon X2, but a Nvidia 9600GT. You could play games at medium resolution! You could do pretty much anything that required a graphics card. You would be slightly slower at compiling code, but that’s okay because for the $500 you saved, you could build an entirely new desktop that would compile code much faster than most laptop solutions.

These factors all play into your choice. I mentioned a number of specific laptops, but it’s hard to say that any is strictly inferior. It depends on your needs. The International Space Station brings up Thinkpads because they’re the most reliable, and they serve a function in which cutting-edge technology isn’t as important as reliability. ASUS makes a number of acceptably priced laptops for gaming at medium resolution if you’re willing to replace you laptop after two years.

I still haven’t decided. On one hand, I’d like a Thinkpad T410 because of the classic design, the reliability, and the mobility. On the other, even at the Lenovo outlet price, $800 is still a bit steep for a machine with integrated graphics. I should go for a cheaper machine and use the difference in money for a desktop.

A final note. The big brands, Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc all buy finished laptops from Chinese firms, which are the original ODMs. The Chinese firms will have a variety of laptops up and down the price range, and all HP will do is slap its logo on and provide customer service (also frequently outsourced). Often, different companies will sell the exact same laptop. You can tell because you can go on Amazon and find batteries that will fit across companies.



I was a TA junior and senior year of high school. I was helping out another teacher (not the one I TA for. I TA’d for history, and he was my old geography teacher). I said that I was pretty bored with school, but then he said that post-academic life was even worse because every day is a 9-5 routine, the same routine, every day. At least in school the subjects change and you’ll find stuff you like.

I remember that because this was one of few times that teachers ever said anything that seemed really heartfelt.

The Hardest Lessons (or, The Lessons Already Learned)

When L4D2 came out, I was one of many who declined purchase. Fifty dollars was too high a price for a game that was just a recapitulation of L4D1, released a year prior. This strategy may work for Activision with Call of Duty, but PC gamers are like cats — impossible to herd in any direction.

I bought L4D2 when it dropped to $6.50 or so. Steam is known for having pretty deep price cuts during its sales. I played it, and it was initially enjoyable. I could play L4D1 with my roommates, but one moved out and my computer runs Linux now, so our mini-LAN parties aren’t an option. I could only play L4D2 on Waffles’s computer when he was at class. Even still, I racked up a lot of time on it. 

I hate that I spent so long playing it (Waffles doesn’t have any other games installed that are on my Steam account, and I have a lot of free time between midterms and finals) and I hate that I even spent the six bucks on it. This series is the first I’ve ever played that makes me mad after playing them. All the problems yet remain.

Versus (pvp) is ALWAYS unbalanced. Each game is a complete wipe. Either your team dominates and the other team ragequits, or the other team dominates and your team ragequits. This game (and everything said here applies to L4D1 as well) suffers from a structural problem, which is teamwork in a randomly-selected, noncommunicating group. Teamwork is impossible with random people from the internet because they all expect teamwork to mean different things.

Some people (Waffles) ascribe to the “I’ll lead, you follow right behind me” school. He doesn’t realize that when he runs out, he wakes up all the zombies which subsequently attack the people behind him. Then he gets butthurt when we aren’t there to cover him.

Some people ascribe to the fieldmarshall policy, where they try to dictate terms of engagement to their allies, which is acceptable in a prepared ambush, but idiotic during an engagement when he doesn’t have the same information you do or you don’t have the information he does. For instance, I was the only one on my team holding a molly, and our fieldmarshall was adamant that I throw it immediately. He was unaware that I was blind and had no conception of where my target was, and I missed.

Some expect everyone to have microphones and alert the group when he’s in trouble. Others (me) expect people to pay attention and realize when others are in trouble. This requires no communication, but I play this game as if it were single-player. I don’t really like protecting my allies or working with other people. I do that in real life. When I’m gaming, it’s about me, and I hate how all of a sudden it’s my problem that one person lagged behind and got ganked. I hate how the entire ambush falls apart because one of my allies boomed too early or missed a pounce. It’s fine if I fail due to my own shortcomings, but failure due to those of others is annoying.

Maybe this game doesn’t have any structural problem at all (although I do not think this to be the case) but I have the wrong personality for it.

Left 4 Dead 2, you’re not fun to play. I’m leaving you (for dead).

I can see the stars are falling into line.

I got in. Yay Minnesota. That means I won’t bother applying to my “safety” schools — one in Oregon and one on the east coast. I’m kind of curious to see what my other school will say, but at this point it’s not too big of a concern to me.

It also means that I’ll bring up my desktop next semester. Hopefully I’ll buy a hard drive for it too, so I’m not limited to the 30 gigs on the current one from ten years ago. (Although it’s reasonably good for what it is. Load times aren’t horrible. Maxtor Diamondback 30gigs, 7200rpm, IDE.) I don’t actually need very much storage — if you add all the information from every hard driver I’ve ever owned, OS and all — it probably doesn’t break 100 gigs.

Also I was thinking of buying another laptop for next year. If I’m far away, it’s not worth shipping my desktop cross country, so I’d implement the two-computer setup, which is actually pretty reasonable. I could endlessly rant about laptop quality, so let’s save that for another post. Basically, check the Lenovo outlet store for new business-quality thinkpads priced half off.

Anyway, getting in is great. It doesn’t mean that I work any less (or more) hard. Moral hazard isn’t in play here. I still went to my 8 AM class right after I got the acceptance.

Not much.

Still waiting on Minnesota. The results of that are going to determine whether or not I apply to Oregon and New York.
Had hell week a few days ago, it was seriously not okay.

Also if I get in, I want to bring up my desktop because I wanna do some gaming. It’s seriously bothering me. On the bright side, black friday marks Steam’s ridiculous sales, so hopefully I’ll pick up Total War or something.