What I Look for in a Laptop

After having a slight scare with the “h” key on my trusty Vostro 1400 (the key mechanism was binding slightly so that it had to be firmly pressed from the top to register), I began casually perusing the laptop market to see what was available.

Since I’ve had this laptop for over 3 years now, it is nearing the end of its normal service life. Lithium Ion batteries are only good for 3 to 5 years. Based on previous experience, I probably have about a year left before the battery stops holding a charge. Even though I could just buy a replacement battery, getting something new may be a better alternate (already have a fatigue crack near the ExpressCard slot).

Below is the list of requirements I have for a new laptop:

  • 13″ to 14″. My current laptop, the Vostro 1400 is just about the perfect size for using as an actual laptop (lugging around to conferences, classes, meetings, etc.).
  • <1.3″ in height (when closed). One thing I don’t like about the Vostro 1400 is it is a little on the pudgy side.
  • “Generation 2” Core i processor or better. They get better battery life than the first generation of Core i processors.
  • Performance equivalent to a Core 2 Duo X9000 (2.8GHz). While I don’t exactly need any more performance than what my current laptop offers (all the heavy lifting is to be done on the desktop), I certainly don’t want anything that is much less powerful.
  • 6+ hours of battery life (low screen brightness, reading/editing code). This is the battery life I get with my Vostro 1400 and will not accept anything with less run time.
  • 1280×800 or higher resolution display, and I prefer this to be 16:10 format (16:9 is pointless as all movies are wider yet so you will always have black bars). 16:10 screens are very difficult to come by these days, maybe we’ll see a rebirth of them in the future. This one is quite important, I will not go to a screen with less than 800px in height.
  • Preferably an IPS panel, without a glossy screen.
  • Not a Toshiba, Lenovo, or HP. Lenovo and HP have special requirements for add-on hardware (I have a Intel Ultimate-N 6300 card in my Vostro 1400 and I want to bring this to my new laptop). And, I have had bad experiences with Toshiba in the past.
  • Backlit keyboard. This is essential, even when I “know” where the keys are on the keyboard, typing in the dark while riding in a vehicle isn’t easy on the Vostro.

The ultrabooks look interesting. Though none of them have 16:10 screens. Performance wise, looking at notebookcheck.net, the Intel Core i5-2557M found in the ultrabooks is comparable with the X9000 that I currently have (even though they rank it lower). Speaking of which, their list is quite good for getting a general feel for the performance levels of mobile CPUs, and they include some desktop CPUs in there for reference.

Mobile Processors - Benchmarklist - Notebookcheck.net Tech

Mobile Processors – Benchmarklist – Notebookcheck.net Techhttp://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Processors-Benchmarklist.2436.0.htmlThis table is sorted by the approximate speed of the (laptop) CPU. It contains average benchmark values of some internal and external reviews. Furthermore, the list can be sorted…

-John Havlik

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7 thoughts on “What I Look for in a Laptop

  1. Great post John. I always enjoy hearing what other people like in a laptop!

    One to checkout IMHO: Dell Vostro V131

    It is 16:9 but other than that it is a killer machine (nice screen size, matte LCD, great portability, nice battery life [and has interchangeable battery], USB 3.0, nice trackpad, backlit keyboard, good CPU options… :-)

    Other: Lenovo x220 w/IPS display (unfortunately it’s just 12.5″ and 16:9)

    Beyond that I am fuzzy at the moment, but boy is it amazing how nobody makes the “perfect” laptop :-(

    Do you have any top candidates?

    • Almost unfortunately, Apple’s 13″ MacBook Air is the closest to perfect there is right now. That is if you can ignore the fact that it is a Mac, and that the hardware is not going to be upgradable at all.

      I was looking at the Samsung Series 9 in the spring, but it doesn’t have a backlit keyboard and it had some WiFi connectivity issues.

      The Asus UX31 looks interesting, but again, no backlit keyboard.

      I’ll probably wait to see what Dell offers in the Ultrabook category, and may wait until the second phase of Ultrabooks come out next year (with Ivy Bridge/Generation 3 i series).

  2. I agree, a backlit keyboard is a must-have feature when you spend a lot of time in a cave!

    It’s too bad that this seems to be a “premium” feature, when I got my last laptop I couldn’t find anything under a grand with backlit keys. Didn’t want to spend twice as much just for that, but next time I will for sure, I’m just too used to the backlit keyboard I got for my desktop.

    • The funny thing about the backlit keyboard is it is something you don’t always think about, but when you need it, you really need it. I didn’t even add it to the list until yesterday (rest of the post was written back in May). It came to the forefront of my mind when my brother was complaining that his new Inspiron was difficult to use in the dark on a trip up North a few Fridays back.

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