Buying a computer system/Buying a new laptop! ... Confused!


Hi Bobbert,

I'm in the process of buying a new laptop at the moment and was after some advice on the best ones around currently. I'm looking to spend around 350-500 and would like a fast processor (intel core i5? - not that I know and awful lot about it, I've just heard its a happy medium!) as my previous laptops have all been fairly slow.
I need my laptop primarily for Microsoft office programmes but also use laptops to watch movies and play music a lot... Is there anything out at the moment that you would recommend?

Kind regards,


In general any modern computer (for example one equipped with a Core i5) will have no problems with your needs; nothing you've mentioned is particularly demanding of a modern system, and you should not expect any dramatic slow-downs or hang-ups if the machine is kept in good order (e.g. have an up-to-date anti-virus application that you use regularly (Microsoft includes a quality AV solution for free with Windows, which will be absolutely sufficient for what you need)). The only potential "hang" with playing movies is if you're streaming them from the Internet - this is more a function of the connection speed to the Internet than the system itself, at least with modern hardware, and is just something to keep in mind; usually the freebie WiFi you get at coffee shops and similar isn't up to the task of streaming 1080p, but a quality high-speed connection at home should have no problem. With modern hardware you will see things like h.264 decode assist from the GPU as standard (even with IGPs), so even HD content from a Blu-ray or HD-DVD (which is much higher bitrate than what you would stream off the Internet) is generally a non-issue, and modern memory and disk systems have improved considerably in speed in the last 5-6 years, to improve responsiveness and application loading times.

As far as a specific model, I'm unfortunately not familiar with the computer market in the UK - in general I suggest users to look at Dell or Hewlett-Packard for Windows-based computers, and if their budget allows, Apple as well (there does exist an OS X version of Microsoft Office, and the other tasks you've mentioned are supported by other Apple-centric applications (for example iTunes in place of Windows Media Player)). The only "hang-ups" for Apple tend to be cost, and the lack of support for 3D gaming (OS X does not support DirectX, which is required for the majority of modern videogames) - everything else tends to be fairly straight-across (albeit if you're unfamiliar with OS X, there is that learning curve to tackle). As far as other manufacturers, I would specifically avoid Acer Group (eMachines/Acer/Gateway) as they have a notorious reputation for both poor overall reliability and poor customer service, and would advise some extra scrutiny if you look at Lenovo (they generally make quality machines, just double-check their pricing against what you can get from Dell or similar for the same cost - they've recently started raising prices on certain upgrades or features, and in some cases just represent a poor value for the money).

If you have a specific machine in mind, I'd be happy to look it over, or provide more directed guidelines for what kinds of specifications to look at (however I will need more input from you in order to do this; for example how much storage space you will likely need is based on the kinds of things you store on the computer and in what quantity), but overall nothing that you've mentioned is a red flag for finding a relatively inexpensive and competent laptop computer. I would also suggest watching for both Christmas sales, and post-New Years sales (which in some cases are better than the Christmas-time discounts you can get on equipment).


Revision based upon feedback comments:

Looking at that specific Toshiba model, the specifications look very sound for a general use computer. It should have more than enough processing power, memory, and storage for day-to-day tasks including multimedia usage and office tasks. I'm not clear as to why the Core i3 would be a black mark to the computer shop, but it should have no problems with the tasks you've described. Note that the model you've mentioned will not play Blu-ray discs (it lacks the hardware to physically handle the discs), but shouldn't have any problems with DVD or video from services like Netflix or Hulu.


Buying a computer system

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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner.


I have been an enthusiast of PC's for many years, and can answer questions about the purchase/use of a new computer or the purchase, installation, and use of upgrades for existing computers. There probably isn't a whole lot related to the home computer that I haven't seen over the years.

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