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Time For A New Laptop

I don’t normally do this, because it usually turns into a clusterfuck. But the fine little Thinkpad X61 that Avatar Press picked up for me when my main computer died horribly last year… well, it’s been worked very hard, and is starting to cough a little blood. It’s also buzzing intermittently, after the last wave of Windows over-the-air updates made it do a fainting goat impression and then turn itself off.

I have, however, quite quickly gotten used to working on a laptop rather than the big desktop machines I’ve been using since the 90s.

(And I have to say, for a tiny machine, the Thinkpad is a terrific device. Its single real drawback has been that its recovery system will steal the entire hard drive if you let it.)

So I’m looking at new laptops, speculatively. I’m not going to have the spare money for one until next year. But, as much as I also need a new phone (the Nokia N95 8GB keeps randomly shutting itself off, which is not useful in a mobile device), a work computer is going to have to take precedence.

Being in the UK, I don’t have the selection of cheap and lovely things available to my US readers. But I would appreciate some suggestions for a big, powerful laptop that is unlikely to start jetting blood and asking for mummy in eighteen months’ time.

No Macs, no Linux: I have a lot of Windows-specific software and function that I need to maintain. Don’t even talk to me about partitions and Windows emulators and whatever, I’m a working writer who can’t programme a VCR and I Do Not Have The Time.

Published in brainjuice


  1. I replaced my X61 with the next model up, an X200, this year. Love it to pieces. I do run Linux on it, but I can’t see why you couldn’t run Windows on it.

  2. timscience timscience

    I have a Toshiba portege which has up to now been pretty robust. I use it on stage for Ableton related nonsense and it has had beer spilt on it and been dropped on the floor and it’s still working three years on. I’d hope the newer stuff works as well.

  3. I have a Toshiba & second the rec as well – even though mine is the “Student Special” Satellite – I am impressed with how durable it is, it has fantastic battery life, and Windows hasn’t borked it up at all despite many attempts.

  4. UK-based make fantastic machines, albeit relatively expensive. I spent a grand on my Pegasus… FIVE years ago, and it’s still going strong despite my total lack of care. However, the selection of 15″ and 12″ models is quite limited.

    At work I have a three-year-old Dell Latitude 620 and it’s a fucking llama, but it’s so incredibly unsexy, I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s also incredibly heavy.

  5. HR HR

    Keep it in the Lenovo family.
    The consumer line of Thinkpad’s have worked wonders for me and the new Thinkpad are great.
    It doesn’t hurt that Windows 7 is pretty great.

  6. HR HR

    Er, I meant consumer lineup of Ideapads are good and the new Thinkpads are great.

  7. I second Cory’s recommendation of another Thinkpad. Get the X200, and spring for the crazy 3-year onsite warranty. In the event the laptop suffers from the bends at any point, you give Lenovo a call and an IBM service rep will parachute out of the sky with either parts to repair it or a whole new system.

    The reason I pimp the Lenovo Thinkpad line is simple: they’re built to run, and to be serviced when something breaks. Flip your X61 upside down and you’ll see two little holes that have what looks like water drops next to them. Know what those are? Those are the “beer comes out here” holes. Seriously. In theory you can spill a beer over the keyboard of the machine and it will route around the electronics and piss out those little holes. There’s not another portable that can hold its booze like a Thinkpad.

  8. Mike Mike

    I work for a multi-national company that uses Lenovo’s for everything. The X200 is a great model and a direct upgrade from your X61. If you’re in for something larger/more powereful I’d look at the T500 series.

  9. I have no suggestions. Just wanted to shake your hand for this:

    >>>I Do Not Have The Time.

  10. Scarlet Scarlet

    The Sony Viao has been chugging away like a workhorse in my home for the last two years. It survived the crazed demands of my professors in both Digital Photography and Photoshop/AfterEffects. Also, it has outlasted the curious pokes, prods, key mashes, and occasional accidental drops from my three pre-schoolers. The poor thing has had every right to quit working completely, yet it endures without issue. Highly recommended.

  11. Hey Mr Ellis (cc to mail)

    first if you want robust then go for either a Thinkpad or a high-end DELL machine
    (the Thinkpad line is more robust in terms of hardware)

    second if you are accustomed to work with win xp check that your new machine supports it
    (if you work with vista then same or similar problem with new pc will happen probably)

    the third option witch i think best it take your X61 witch is a superb machine top the ram to 4 gb (so u can disable virtual memory in hard drive)
    move all your stuff out (or clone entire disk to a backup disk)
    restore windows and keep using it
    it will be really hard for you to find a better machine (there are some out there but not much)

    on a side note the X200 that Cory suggested is a really good machine just add a cellular card a good battery 4 gb ram and u have a killer portable work station (same goes for your old X61)

  12. Jonathan Jonathan

    I’d recommend leaning towards ASUS and Toshiba, as they’re two of the more reliable brands in the business (they beat out Apple and Lenovo, according to a US warranty company). If you’re looking for a new thin&light like the X61, I’d recommend looking into a T130 from Toshiba or an ASUS N20 or UL30A.

    On recovery systems, almost all of the blasted things will steal the entire drive. A lot of them are for restoring to factory defaults after some ignorant fucker has done something so confoundingly stupid it has a zen koan-like quality on the technicion.

  13. Yeah, if you need Windows, the Thinkpad line is about the most robust hardware you’re going to get, and giving your history with making machines gain sentience jut so they can pray for death, probably a good choice. ASUS makes tough stuff as well but the construction can be a little flimsy.

  14. I’m a screaming mactard fanboy but for windows machines the thinkpad wins. Not cheap or pretty to look at but can take a beating and continue to Just Work.

  15. Mike Black Mike Black

    I contract for Dell and would point you in one of a few directions – First, Dell’s current line up is pretty solid and well versed. If you’re willing to try something dainty out, you might want to pick up a MINI 9 (little 9-inch netbook for as cheap as $249 USD. ) for those trips to the pub. Otherwise, if you want something with some more power, check out the XPS/Inspiron line.

    Otherwise, I would tell you to check out Cyberpower PC (, although I’m only 70% sure they ship to the UK. Pound-for-pound the most cost effective power PC’s in the world.

  16. Alex Alex

    Regarding your Nokia phone, I’ve had similar problems on multiple Nokias. Their battery compartment is a little too long, and every once in awhile the battary slips away from the contacts.

    The fix is simple, even if you can’t program your VCR:

    1.) Turn your phone off.

    2.) Take the back off your phone.

    3.) Fold up a small piece of paper and jam it in behind the battery to push the battery against the contacts.

    4.) Put the back on your phone and restart it. This should solve your problem.

  17. I have always had excellent luck with Toshiba laptops. They have some great models, the one I have currently, X205 SLI-5 is too darned big for lots of travel but using it for graphics work it is great.

  18. Personally, I’ve run a Dell Precision M2300 for a few years; it’s been solid and has a business level support team with people out to fix things in 24h rather than 2 weeks, but to be honest, when you need one, look up the current top of PC Pro’s Business laptop category and that should do you fine.

  19. Eric TF Bat Eric TF Bat

    I do use Linux, and that gives me an insight that might help you too: crappy laptops don’t work well with Linux, but good solid ones too. In that regard, I can only say: Toshiba, IBM/Lenovo and Dell tend to be the best. They work well (enough) with Linux, and therefore very well indeed with Windows. Be sure to get Windows 7 rather than Vista, of course, or stick with XP which is tried and true.

    Whatever you do, stay away from Acer. That company produces the biggest boat anchors, toboggans and chocks for tables with one short leg that the world has ever seen. Avoid.

  20. Grover M Grover M

    I buy Dell laptops for work. The Latitude line, the business models, have been rock solid for us. We have had very few problems with them over the last 9-10 years and wouldn’t consider switching off of them. Dell recently launched the Dell Latitude E line and they seem rather sharp. With Dell, and any other laptop line, stay away from the consumer models and buy something in the business line since they are designed to last longer.

  21. Being sort of a nerd (or at least hanging out a lot in very very nerdy places) i must say: the only thing I have never ever seen anybody cursing and wielding Axes at is the Thinkpad.
    Not only are they quite rock solid in the first place: very much more important is the fact, that for a fair price (i think it’s 300 Euros in Euroland) you get this extended world-wide warranty that guarantees you replacement within 24 hours. I have seen a broken display on a congress (Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. I’d love to see you giving a Talk there some time) whose owner was visited by a technician first thing next morning. He had his machine up and running again in close-to no-time. The guy actually came to the congress venue.
    So: really great service and machines that are actually built to last even for people who have a destructive talent.
    Also: although it being very very expensive the X301 is the most amazing piece of hardware ever built. If I weren’t such a sucker for my mac operating system this would be the laptop of my dreams.

  22. ryxxui ryxxui

    I know you said “no Macs”, but my answer pisses everyone off usually: get a MacBook Pro and install Windows 7 on it. You put the Windows 7 disk into the drive, it installs not much more difficultly than installing any random program, you get the Windows drivers for everything from the OSX disk that came with the MacBook Pro. You get the best physical hardware for a somewhat-reasonable price and you also get the superior operating system without having to use an emulator or virtual machine or some crazy shit. Also the warranty is pretty good, and the computer is rather quick.

  23. ryxxul: the only problem being that the macbook pro only has one button on the trackpad :/

  24. promethian promethian

    I’m using an hp pavillion tx2524. it is optionally a tablet (the monitor rotates and locks flat) and comes with a tablet pen (the guts of the tablet, the digitizer, is made by wacom, same as the intuos and cintiq, but more recent 2009 models have a different make of digitizer). it has been a wonderful and reliable unit for 15 months now, the only drawback is the amd processor runs a bit hot and hence the fan can be a bit noisy. but having the tablet enables pen functionality. even if you never plan to draw/ paint/ touch up photos, you can still use the pen for editing in microsoft applications. the new word 2007 allows pen comments, you can literally write all over your document just as if it was printed, and write comments. and ms one note is a great application, you can use the pen-tablet to write notes, and optionally convert hand writing to text. can’t recommend this little baby enough <3.

  25. John John

    Sony has recently rolled out a new line of VAIO notebooks in the medium size range that are just fantastic (and cheap!).

    I looked specifically at the CW line for myself, because I wanted something smallish (14″) but still powerful. I got one on black friday special for about a thousand (US)with a sick core2duo processor, 8gb(!) ram, and dedicated 512mb video card. Wow.

    Anyway, I did a hell of a lot of research before buying and concluded that the VAIO CW was the best out there for the price.

  26. promethian promethian

    HP TouchSmart tx2-1300 is the equivalent model in the uk

  27. ryxxui ryxxui

    Julian- with the MacBook Pro drivers, you can choose between clicking the trackpad “button” or tapping the trackpad. Using those drivers you can also set it so that a two-finger click/tap registers as a right click. It’s pretty nice after you use it for more than ten minutes.

  28. Todd Baker Todd Baker

    I’ll agree with all the other Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad recommends here. I’d never used one till I started working IT helpdesk/field support for the company I’m at now, and I’ve become a huge fan. In the 4 years I’ve been with this company, I’ve dealt with pretty much the entire T/W and X line of laptops. They are super easy to replace parts on, reliable and rock solid performers. IBM warranty service is top notch and all the tech’s we’ve dealt with know these suckers inside out.
    The T4/500’s are the heavier 14.1 and 15.1 inchers, while the x200’s are closer to a netbook in size at 12.1 inches and come with a docking station that holds the CD/DVD drive and additional connection options. All are widescreen systems. Hell, I have a homebrewed, quad core desktop hooked up to a 24 inch LCD and I find myself on my work T61p way more frequently.
    Hope this helps!

  29. Bob Bob

    Hi Warren,

    Bought an Acer Aspire One for just under $300US awhile back. It’s a netbook, which is nice because it’s just small enough to work on, but not as big as a full laptop.

    They key for the netbook is screen size. It doesn’t give you the huge screen of a normal laptop. While this is limiting work-wise, it does allow you to see more of the world as you work.

    There are netbooks from many companies including HP and Dell. I’ve had nothing but excellent performance from my Acer. Oh, these netbooks also have great batteries, getting up 7 hours or more of work time.

    There’s plenty of info online on the model if you are interested.

  30. Hey guy.
    Look I dont want to waist your time with details and Geek Speak, so quickly, I have been a doing I.T. support for over 15 years now hardware, software, networking and now management. I answer this question everyday so take it for what it is worth. Our company has a direct purchase relationship with HP and through supporting that product in (48 states?) I can share some wisdom.
    (this is assuming you can deal as I do with HP’s website where you are)

    1. The prices on their website (direct purchase> are as competitive as any retailer anywhere. You might save $20 somewhere else but the bottom line is you can get service for this purchase anywhere UPS will pick up and deliver.

    2.All of there laptop packages are customizable.

    3. It is a business computer. (this means)
    a. It has a easy to understand and very good back up and restore feature.
    b. A lot of company’s and a lot of people invest in them and therefor yo can get support form your local geek.
    c. It is simplified and come with a “for dummy’s” mentality.
    d. You take it out of the box, plug it in, within 30 minutes of setup, you are using it at its full capacity.
    e. HP’s website is very very very user friendly and comprehensive.

    4. It is a business computer. (this also means)
    a. It is not a gaming computer. The graphics cards are really good but no one will ever buy one of these to write code for games on. Movies and pictures look great. I would never want to but if you did… it would probably suck to play a high graphic game on. You want that? get a desktop or at least a MAC. Macs are superior in graphics and in price. You get what you pay for unless you have a friend to build it for you. But, even then…. you will get what you pay for.

    b. If there is a problem with the model, HP is slow to admit it. They deal with millions of customers and never are the first to admit a problem.

    c. The warranty is great and the turn around for repairs is quite impressive, but their phone support is very basic. (well to me at least)

    d. (The one big drawback) They totally suck at data recovery. The good news for my company is I am really good at it. If we had to depend on them it would be a bad day. The real trick here is to make back ups as much as possible. If you can get a up-datable back up plan in place (And being I never want to wait for you to catch up that system down you cant be hurt anyway.(yes you are my favorite writer)

    That said… all that probably goes for Dell but my experience is (for the price) HP has a superior product and the brand recognition makes for a product that is easy to support. I am sure you can get a smaller company to make you a better computer for less… but their is a lot to be said for going with the big guy on things like this.

    If you got through all that, I hope it helped. I am stoping now because I really dont know what you are looking for but that was a few “pro’s and con’s)
    If not… have a great night and thanks for all you do.

  31. Liz Liz

    Either a Vaio or a Dell XPS M1330 etc- 13″ – light, beautiful and Windows 7 is okay

  32. I went for a Y460 Lenovo Ideapad here after years of faithful thinkpads and I absolutely love it. Well over a year now and its still in use constantly for work and play. aaaaand its a slick looking system and anyone that says thats not important in a piece of gadgetry is full of it.

  33. Kemper Norton Kemper Norton

    I’d stay away from the Dells unless you want lots of unalterable audio options locked in , such as the inability to record streaming audio. Heard many good things about the Sony Vaios and Toshibas.

  34. x301, long battery, built in 3g wireless, fast SSD drive, comes out of hibernation in 10secs, 13″ screen, built in light for the keyboard when youre working in the dark and it weighs nothing. oh and quiet.

  35. John R. John R.

    Wow… it was 1 in the morning when I wrote that and after re-reading it I just hope you understood it…lol I was so damned tired it looks like I’ve typed a mess. Anyway… my email is on here and I would be honored if you needed any help or information, if I cant answer any question, I know who to ask to get an answer. Good luck Warren and (if you read all this) Thanks man. you bring great intrigue in to the world and have a gift I am in awe of.

  36. Lem Lem

    Probably wouldn’t dream of it, but unless Windows 7 is *substantially* better supported than Vista, give the Dell M1330 a miss.

    I mean, the hardware is great. Light, very portable, has a wonderful screen, doesn’t have the Dell Hinge Problem, (but the slot-loading CD drive doesn’t work anymore for some reason)… but mine came with Vista pre-installed and nothing worked.

    Wireless problems, graphics problems, driver problems. It was just a nightmare.

    Ripped Vista off it and installed XP and it’s been wonderful ever since. But that’s because I Had Time.

  37. monk monk

    I have to say the thinkpads are generally insanely great. If you want something powerful, I’d suggest the W series. Throw as much ram as you possibly can. alternatively the X301 is about the best laptop I have ever used in my life, however it can be a bit pricey, and is more expensive than other thinkpads.

  38. monopole monopole

    My Thinkpad T42 is still chugging along w/ interchangable XP and Ubuntu drives very solid w/ a great keyboard and display, and available dirt cheap on the refurb market.

    Also my trusty Asus EEE 1000HE has proven indispensable and absolutely reliable w/ an insane battery life.

  39. I’m also a Mactard, but have to agree that the Lenovo Thinkpads are probably the best way to go. I’ve never had luck with HPs or Dells, but if the Evil Rodent Corporation can run on Thinkpads, so can you.

    I’m shocked to hear that Toshibas are more reliable than Apple laptops, all the past Toshibas I’ve had acquaintance with have been buggy and had weirdo parts and drivers that caused serious problems with compatibility and repairs. Perhaps they’ve learned their lesson.

  40. I’d second the suggestion of an Acer Aspire One. It might not be as mighty as a Thinkpad, but I’ve found mine to be robust, nippy, and very resistant to Windows-enduced consumption. It goes everywhere with me, and if I’m at home, I can, if I need to, very easily hook it up to a cheap 19″ LCD and full-size keyboard.

  41. Rob Rob

    I’m a Mactard, but needed something small, light and portable for mobile writing. I settled on the Dell Mini10V, specifically because it’s keyboard is pretty much full-sized, while the footprint is still netbook sized. Love it to bits, and it seems pretty bulletproof. Caveat – invest in the bigger battery. The three-cell is puny.
    It’s running Linux, but they’ll happily ship with Windows.

  42. Chris Chris

    Save your money for a while — get another X61 from a refurb shop, then have someone work on your current X61 for you. This buys you enough time to figure out what you really want without having to worry about a wheezy laptop. Unless you can move up to the latest and get a better deal doing it, that would at least be a low-hassle way to go.

    If you get more or less the same hardware config, you can swap the hard disk and be running on the new hardware in a few moments with not even the merest whinging about drivers from Windows.

    When your other laptop comes back from a cleaning and refurb, you’ve a spare in case something bashes in your main laptop. All the cards would be interchangeable, so when bits start falling off or you beat on them hard enough, you’d still have something to pull parts from.

    I have a small stack of laptops I scavenge from. An X61? You’re quite stylin’ compared to what I’m running and I’m still able to run the full Adobe CS4 suite among other things.

    Buy a new laptop? I don’t buy new cars …

  43. The Aspire One is great for writing, with the battery life and portability, but trying to watch movies while doing anything else is a no-go (processor bus speed is horrible), and you’re not going to want to blog or websurf on it. I own one, and I hates it, my Precious.

    I just upgraded to an Inspiron 17… the base model runs maybe $400, and the one you’re likely to want is the second-highest, which I think is around $600. I went all-out, but my college paid all but $200 of it, so your mileage may vary. This is, however, the beast you seem to be looking for.

    I’m buying this for my daughter:

    I haven’t ordered or used it yet, but it’s 15” and only TWO HUNDRED FUCKING BUCKS AMERICAN. This is NOT the beast of your dreams, but the specs on it are better than the Acer (by FAR). I have served the last nine years in the US Army as an IT specialist, and I’m spending MY money on it. That’s about all I can say by way of illustrating my confidence. For writing and teh Interwebz, it seems solid enough. And again — TWO HUNDRED YANKEE DOLLARS.

    If you do end up needing help comparing specs, etc., feel free to email me.

  44. Hell, if all you need is something to write on, I’d probably consider GIVING you my Acer in trade for some signed books and stuff. Only caveat is, the sonofabitch is pink (it was my daughter’s) and if you say yes, my wife can still veto. Even if you get angry at it and dash it to pieces, neither one of us is really losing.

    Email is

  45. Chris’s refurb Thinkpad suggestion seems sound. Even the best builds of laptop don’t take well to being hammered on a daily basis. Buying new just means you’ll be back in the same situation a while down the line, but spending more.

  46. Adam Oxford Adam Oxford

    I’d recommend the Asus UL30A. Not as rugged as the Lenovo, but ultra lightweight, a charm to use and exceptional value for what it is.

  47. Nick Donald Nick Donald

    Ok. Regardless of what make of laptop you go for, here’s a couple of helpful suggestions from someone who learned the hard way (PC death took from me years worth of work. photos, and our theatre companies archives all in one fell swoop, and it was only two days from retirement, damn it all!!).

    HINT ONE: Keep XP, obviously it runs your programmes and vista is evil shite. However, after downloading Service Pack 3 from the microsoft website, NEVER download another one of theie official updates. I have never known a computer to survive any of these unscathed. SP3 for XP has every thing you need, anything else is bollocks.

    HINT TWO: If there’s an official windows programme that you want, odds are there exists a much better version, like Open Office for example, and most of them are free. See the following:

    I use these programmes regularly and strongly recommend them to anyone reading this.

    HINT THREE: Either buy yourself an external hard drive or get a laptop with an SD card reader in it and BACK UP EVERYTHING as you work on it. When you save it in Open Office before shutting down, be sure to save it to your external source too. That way if your computer is raped overnight by invisible aliens strung out on coffee, simply plug the removable storage into a new machine and you won’t have lost anything and you’ll have no excuse for keeping us waiting for more NewUniversl.

    As I said, I had a similar experience with PC death, so I’m more than happy to elaborate further on any of the above.

    Be Good

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