In Which I Seek Your IT Advice

January 30th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I’m enjoying a very pleasant, on-time flight–yes, that’s right–on Alaska Airlines, which has great in-flight wi-fi and other nice perks as well.  My only problem is my ancient laptop battery that holds its charge for about 22 seconds (currently rockin’ the Nexus tablet with the Logitech keyboard–very excellent with loooong battery life, but it’s not a laptop).

So here’s my question for the IT-inclined out there: what’s the best laptop on the market for an aging road-warrior that meets the following criteria:

–long battery life;
–it’s a real laptop where I can load and run my econometric programs, like E-Views;
–not an Apple–I know they’re great but don’t want to make the jump this late in the game;
–very light–doesn’t have to be paper-thin ultrabook, though that may be the way to go;
–pet peeves, but this may be too granular: mousepad isn’t so big that your cursor is always mistakenly jumping all over the place, until your cursor turns you into a curser; doesn’t come loaded with a bunch of clunky crap;
–under $1k, all in.

Whadya got OTE’ers?


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38 comments in reply to "In Which I Seek Your IT Advice"

  1. foosion says:

    I have a Lenovo Thinkpad x220 and I’m very happy with it. The newer version is the x230.

    It has both a trackpoint, an eraser head in the middle of the keyboard to control the cursor, and a trackpad. I use the trackpoint, so I’m not sure of the answer to your mouse question.

    If you want to save money, they usually have indistinguishable from new refurbs at a substantial discount in their outlet store. Use the savings to buy more memory and an SSD.

  2. Fred Donaldson says:

    Aspire One AOD270-26Dkk netbook is my wife’s road warrior. It has 10.1 inch screen and about a high eight hours battery life running programs. It’s just like a regular laptop but much smaller. A 320 GB hard drive and 1 GB ddr3 memory for about $250 means an CNBC contributor could afford at least two. It’s wireless, with multi card reader and HDMI output if you want to stream from computer directly to tv in HD. Weighs a little less than 3 pounds, so even your trainer will approve that, since it won’t break your arm. Comes with Windows 7 starter and Excel runs fast on it.

    Good luck. Prices are cheap and quality seems to be up with the net books. My son is the senior software engineer at Locamoda and he just went over to Apple after years of using Windows to program. But for the casual user, including this former budget producer for JRC, I am used to Windows and probably will never change.

  3. Brian says:

    Lenovo’s ThinkPad’s have a small enough touchpad, but what I like is that I can disable the stupid thing and just use the pointer stick. Never have an accidental click when I’m typing. The other nice thing about ThinkPads is that even on the smallest ones, they have a keyboard that feels like an actual keyboard.

    I have an X-series, which is light enough for me, and can use it all day without plugging in (with the larger battery).

    Being reasonably patient and stalking Slickdeals (set an email alert or RSS feed for a search for “thinkpad”) and you can get a great price on them.

  4. Ken Houghton says:

    If you’re happy with your current laptop, just replace =the battery= with a new one.

    My old laptop lasted an extra two years for about a $75 battery (which also took me from a 3-hr to a 9-hr battery).

    (Caution: if you don’t have a solid-state HD, you might want to think about replacing that as well; 2.5″ HDs are–to be nice–not the longest-term investment you’ll ever make.)

    Not a replacement, but an equipment upgrade that avoids a major learning curve, not to mention Windows 8.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      No way–it’s a brick–way to heavy to schlep around. Plus the other warriors laugh at me when I take it out at security.

  5. Julio says:

    Go for the Lenovo X1 Carbon. Forget about the price. Ultra-light, fantastic keyboard, wide screen, fast as lightning.

    I got one myself last month, not completely convinced (we’re talking Chinese tech here), but after 7 weeks I had to swallow my words. Install TuneUp utilities to keep it clean and tidy and enjoy your long honeymoon.

  6. Bill says:

    Get a MacBook – meets every requirement except number three. 🙂

    • Nick Batzdorf says:

      You can run Windows on a MacBook Air. They’re a little less powerful per dollar than a generic laptop, but the batteries last a long time (mostly because of the solid-state drive), and they weigh nothing.

      My daughter has one at college, and it’s fabulous. That’s definitely what I’d have if I didn’t need the power of a regular laptop.

  7. Tom in MN says:

    Acer’s with 11.6 inch displays and an i3 processor weight about 3 lbs and have many hours of battery life. Any smaller and you don’t get a full size keyboard. They also have VGA output for presentations on projectors that only do analog at conferences, which was a key item for my wife. We have two variations of them and they have been very solid. There are lots of combinations out there, here is one:

  8. SeattleAlex says:

    The Samsung Series 9 laptops are pretty much the top of the line in the Windows based ultrabook market. Beautiful, sleek, boots up in under 20 seconds, and is feather-light at about 2.5 lbs. Granted they run just about $1000 it’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made. I get a lot of head turna when I take it out of its case. The one down side is that some say the touchpad can be a bit finicky. I almost exclusively use a usb mouse and haven’t noticed any problems when I do use the touchpad.

    Give it a go, you won’t regret it!

    • D. C. Sessions says:

      I certainly love my Samsung phones and tablets, but apparently the Samsung laptops have a mystery problem of bricking themselves (as in, can’t be recovered without a total motherboard replacement) under conditions that Samsung engineers haven’t pinned down.

      It has something to do with the “secure boot” feature — which, as designed, sometimes makes it impossible to boot the computer. That’s the kind of security I can do without.

  9. D. C. Sessions says:

    The wide consensus among the (semiconductor industry) road warriors I used to travel with was ThinkPads. Overwhelming — as in, even the guys from Toshiba insisted on them. Not cheap, but for us having the ‘puter down killed the whole trip; it was professional life support. Mission critical.

    And we ALL carried spare batteries. For the obvious reasons.

    However, since reluctantly passing my 2005 T42 to my lover as too old to maintain (still doing great for her, though. One of the last true IBMs …) I’ve had problems with the newer Lenovos such as this T520, and the cow-orkers here at the office are constantly griping about them. Totally unscientific, but there you are.

    But get over complaining about the weight of spare batteries. They’re essential equipment unless you plan on sleeping through overseas flights or else taking an airline that provides line power to the seats.

  10. Sal Giorgio says:

    Lenovo ThinkPad X230

  11. Mark Thomson says:

    Extremely happy with my Asus Zenbook UX31E. Super light, super thin, loads of power, outstanding battery life. I believe the current model is the UX31A with an improved keyboard, which is certainly the weakest aspect of mine. I think if you shop around you can find them just over $1k.

  12. MazeDancer says:

    MacBook Air. Light. Beautiful. Runs all your programs. There is no learning curve. Abandon your prejudices. There is also rock solid reliability and no virus risk.

    Refurb at Apple Store is $850. (Have bought many refurbs from Apple. All great. All under same warranty.)

  13. James says:

    If you can wait until August, Intel will have a new processor out that will enable better battery life. If not, check out the following holiday guide that has a range of options for different budgets.

  14. Christopher C. says:

    What about the new Microsoft Surface Pro? It’s full on Windows 8, fast and you won’t find lighter. We got an RT in at work to test out and it was pretty nice. Lenovo is making a Surface Pro which seems to be getting some good buzz…

  15. The Raven says:

    Lenovo, indeed, makes good systems. But give the Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro a look when it comes out a week from Saturday; portable, a decent-sized keyboard, and relatively good battery life.

  16. CNR says:

    Concur on the Macbook Air. There is no learning curve. Mac OS is very intuitive. I mean, a web browser is a web browser and a keyboard is a keyboard. Its not rocket science, you’re a smart guy, dont sell yourself short.

    For all the anti-Apple cult types, whatever. The Apple is a superior hardware product and a fantastic internet terminal, which, lets be honest, is mostly what a laptop is.

    Get a Macbook Air. You wont regret it….

  17. Tom Cantlon says:

    Any of the suggestions from others but don’t get conned into a “netbook”. They have longer battery life but get that by having frustratingly slow processors. I have a dell 14″ full sized keyboard (I write a lot) Intel i5 cpu (good) and if I use the power smart mode I get 3 hours of work on it.

    And I’d bet for what you do and want you should avoid Win8, so get one with W7 now while you can. You can probably get any of those suggested by others with W7, and Dell business class lets you choose.

  18. EdH says:

    without getting into a specific brand (although I’m kind of a Dell guy) you really did describe an ultrabook if you can deal with the relatively small hard drives. The Dell XPS might be out of your budget but there are ultra’s < $1g at this point.

  19. JoeBloggs+ says:

    1. I’ve never gotten much more that 3-4 years out of any laptop battery,
    over time, they run down more quickly. I use 1 battery around the
    house, and save the extended (9-cell) battery, and spare 4/6 cell
    for trips. I haven’t found any charging regime that lengthens the
    lifetime, but others here may know better. Some of the “power managers”
    might help. On Windows, you can also try to minimize the number of
    services, and helper programs running in the bgnd; on linux, try a
    intel tool: ‘powertop’.

    2. Be aware of cheap batteries; it’s my perception that there
    are a bunch that fail testing, and get resold on the 3rd market.
    f.ex, the one or two cheap knockoffs I have, report little/no time remaining but may last for 4-7 hours

    3. Consider a SSD drive as your primary drive; can bootup in less than 30s.
    power consumption will usually be less than a HDD, and you’ll have
    fewer worries about the drive, if (when..) TSA knocks your
    laptop to the floor. Also consider maxing out your memory, if
    running a 64bit O/S.

    4. My preference is for IBM/lenovo thinkpads. They’re not light, though.

  20. Kevin Rica says:

    Get over it and go with Apple. It’s much easier to use.

    But if you want to keep all your MicroSoft stuff, ask the nice people at the Apple store to load Parallels or VMFusion on you machine with Windows and set it up so that you can use all your old software.

    But everything is available for mac including e-views.

    And you can drag and drop one folder into another.

    And when you are on a plane and need to boot up, you don’t have to ask the stewardess for two sticks to rub together.

    • Nick Batzdorf says:

      Just to clarify, you don’t even have to use Parallels or Fusion – you can install and boot up from Windows so it becomes an actual Windows laptop and has nothing to do with Mac OS X at all.

  21. Don Roszel says:

    “Not an Apple”

    You’ve eliminated your absolute best option. Apple can run Windows, often faster than PCs can run windows.

  22. Another Scott says:

    I’ve been very happy with my Toshiba Portege R835-P88. I’ve done some upgrades to it (more RAM, SSD), but it was speedy and light out of the box. i5 processor, magnesium case (~ 3 pounds), 13″ screen, DVD, good battery life.

    The R930 seems to be the current model.



  23. Jonathan Taylor says:

    MacBook Air. Run don’t walk to get a MacBook Air. Best Laptop in 17 years of using laptops.

  24. Fred says:

    make the jump to MacBook. It is not too late!

    Either the Air or Pro depending on your requirements (size and need for built in optical disc.) The size is right. It is sturdy. The keyboard is perfect. The mousepad is large but that is a benefit and doesn’t get in the way.

    (I don’t mean this in a bad way)… your mind and you will be rewarded.

  25. Dave says:

    An Apple 😉

    You’re aversion to switching is based upon the operating system. You can run Windows natively on an Apple using Boot Camp. It will look just like any other windows machine. The hardware is far superior to everything else out there.

  26. PeonInChief says:

    I certainly don’t have the competence of my fellows here on tech stuff. (I just refer all my tech problems to my husband, sometimes in a loud, accusing voice.) But I know two things. First, pay for a bigger battery. It’s worth it. My husband got me a larger battery for my laptop and it makes a world of difference. Yes, it will make the laptop heavier, but it’s worth every ounce. Second, do not buy HP. When the hard disk died, my husband bought a new one, and then couldn’t reinstall all my programs. It turns out that this is HP POLICY, as it forces people to buy a new computer. We didn’t do so, but will never buy another HP. Never.

    Husband has now entered the fray. He’s nervous about Apple, as it might not run all your programs. If you go that route, make sure that what you need to run will work on it. (I love Apple, but my husband hates them and, since he repairs and maintains, he rules.)

  27. Dave says:

    I should have added a caveat to what I said about Apple and Windows.

    To a large degree, the battery life of a laptop depends upon efficient power management by the operating system. Apple has put a lot of effort into that, and so their operating system will most likely provide better battery life than Windows on the same machine. I haven’t run extensive tests on that, but I’ve encountered the problem before.

    There is another solution to that, which is to run Windows on a Mac under one of the virtualization solutions, such as Parallels or VMWare. The downside is somewhat slower performance of the Windows OS, but power management is handled by OSX in this case and you’ll probably see better battery life.

    Or if you really don’t like those solutions, then you really don’t want an Apple. You might be better off with a PC. I’m biased to Apple, but the limitations of available applications can be a problem.

  28. Peter Schutt says:

    i have the Lenovo x230 and recommend it based on your requirements. comes with a docking station to hook up at home/office to a larger monitor and go with a wireless keyboard and mouse.

  29. David says:

    Try the Tosshiba Protege — very light, fast, good battery, but it was over the $1K.

  30. Robert Weiler says:

    I have to agree with that the best choice is an Apple Macbook Air. The learning curve is about 1 day after which you won’t ever won’t to use a Windows laptop again. If you rally need to run Windows, you can buy an oem copy and run it in a VM. In addition you can still buy an oem copy of Windows 7 whereas most laptops now come with Windows 8. This will save your from having to do the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7 yourself.

  31. Robert Weiler says:

    I should also mention that while the Lenovo is nice, the Macbook air is about 30% lighter.

  32. Boris says:

    Windows 8’s power management is far superior to OSX, I’ve found after using both in parallel over the past couple months. This is one case where Microsoft was inferior (Win 7 power management was not as good as OSX), but has completely lapped Apple at this point.

    There are other things not to like about Windows 8, but power management and basic boot performance blows OSX away.

    • Dave says:

      It might well be that windows 8 has much better power management than windows 7, but I’ve read that windows 7 users face the same learning curve coming to windows 8 as moving to OSx.

      If you are claiming that windows 8 provides better battery life on an apple than OSx, I simply don’t believe you. Please site the test data. I don’t have data, but the claim is extremely dubious.