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.