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Buying a Travel Laptop

our travel laptop - HP Pavilion

After a lengthy discussion on what laptop Vicky and I should purchase, we finally settled on the HP Pavilion dv6-7010us 15.6

For us, any purchase over $200 always results in a lengthy discussion. You’re spending a lot of money and you want some assurance that you’re making the right choice. However, in many cases you have to remember two things:

  1. Most of the time there are multiple decisions that could inevitably result in “satisfaction”
  2. For a given amount that you’re willing to spend, often products do not strongly differentiate themselves.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that although Vicky and I looked at many different laptops, the reality is that I think there were multiple that we would have been fine with, and frankly, most of them were pretty similar with the exception of a few things here and there.

That said, none of this means you shouldn’t do your due diligence. It’s important to be a smart a consumer and computers above all have certain specifications that make it a lot easier to know what you’re getting. Let’s start with some of the basic questions you should be asking yourself:

Can I get by with just a netbook?

Netbooks are essentially mini laptops. Here are a few notes:

Cost: They can be found for a lot cheaper (often a couple hundred bucks).

Processor: They don’t pack nearly as powerful a processor, which means that while the netbook should be fine for basic tasks like surfing the web, email checking, and writing, it will struggle with playing computer games, photo and video editing, or watching movies – intensive computer tasks.

Size: They are intended to be highly portable and generally weigh around 3lbs. Naturally then, they have smaller screens and keyboards. It’s certainly something you should test out to make sure you’re comfortable typing on something that small.

Hard Drive: They are not meant to have a large amount of data stored on them and therefore carry much smaller hard drives.

Disc Drive: Most netbooks don’t have a CD – ROM or DVD disc drive

So now that I’ve listed off all the ways that netbooks seem to be inferior to laptops, you may be wondering why you would ever want one?

The fact of the matter is in many cases a netbook is perfectly adequate. Many people are simply “email checkers” and don’t need their laptop for playing games and watching movies. They’re looking for something more portable, maybe as an auxiliary to already having a “main computer”. Many netbooks will have reasonable hard drives of several hundred GBs and run the most up to date operating system and therefore can be a great value for $200-$300.

Vicky and I decided that, because she uses Lightroom for photo editing and I make videos, we were definitely going to need a laptop. We are also considering buying a netbook in addition to the laptop given that we run two blogs and don’t want to be fighting over the laptop.

What laptop should I get?

I considered doing a bit of a “best laptops of 2012” post, however, the more I thought about it the less I thought it would be useful. Frankly, laptops are coming out so fast those types of posts go out of date rather quickly, leaving you unable to make a decision on the newest stuff out there. Also, it’s highly subjective and people use their laptops differently. Therefore, I thought it would be better to simply walk thorough the process of how Vicky and I decided on the HP Pavilion.

Retail Price: I think the first thing is always to decide on the maximum you’re willing to spend. You have to set limits and Vicky and I were looking for a laptop in the $500-$750 range. We certainly do a lot on our laptops but there are only a few applications that I would ever call “computer intensive” and after seeing what was being offered in this range I felt comfortable that this would suit our needs just fine.

Processor: This is the heart of the laptop and determines how fast the computer runs. The competing companies on this are Intel and AMD. The most important metric here is the speed (a number in Ghz). You should also consider how many cores it is. More cores generally means it can do more things at once by allowing them to be performed in parallel. Most computer programs and operating systems can run effectively with 2GHz. High end applications will run better on a system that has at least 2GHz and is a dual core processor. For many applications there will be system recommendations, Starcraft II (a video game I used to play) recommends 2.6Ghz. The HP Pavilion runs a AMD Quad Core A8-4500M at 2.8GHz.

TIP:You can usually check your computer’s processor type/speed by clicking the Start button, then Control Panel, System and Maintenance, and then clicking System.

Hard Drive: Hard drive is essentially storage space. Relevant metrics here are going to be size (how much can it hold) and speed (how fast can we access our data). Most of the laptops in this price range had hard drives in between 500 GBs and 1TB. Ours settled in at a comfortable 750 GBs. I’m going to give a blanket estimation here on sizes of some typical files just to put this into context:

Typical Movie File: 1 GB

Typical Music File: 5 MB

Typical Image File: 1-4 MB

So you have a sense of what 750 GBs holds. Remember you can always get an external hard drive or buy a cloud storage account for some extra room.

In terms of speed it’s a modest 5400RPM, which was also par for this price range.

RAM: RAM is useful for running multiple applications at once and maintaining solid performance. Certain applications can be really memory intensive, like gaming and photoshop. Considering some of the video and photo editing that we do we were going to need at least 6 GB of RAM. I only have 4 GB on my desktop and it seems to have worked fine with everything we were doing. The HP Pavilion has 6GB.

Battery: This was one area that I think could be easily overlooked but actually varied widely. I was certainly looking for a strong battery life considering the likelihood of some long bus rides, that, unlike Megabus, do not have outlets for charging. We saw some as high as 10hrs and as low as 5hrs. Also, let’s face it, the more you use your computer the more 5 hrs was going to become 2.5 hrs. Ours claimed to have 9.25 hrs for its battery life.

Value: The last and maybe most important thing of course was the value. Did I feel like we were getting a good value? Well, the laptop retails at $700, but staples was running a 4th of July sale which bumped it down to $600. There was also a $50 mail in rebate. Lastly, we found a coupon code which took another $100 off. After all is said and done we’re going to to be paying $480 (which included free delivery and taxes) for a $700 laptop. I like the sound of that.

Hopefully by now you have a sense of what type of user group you fall into, and where those different trade offs can be made. We will be certain to let you know how our laptop holds up (or doesn’t) after two years of travel and revisit what really ended up being important.

Let us know – how did you decide on your laptop (or netbook…or Ipad) for travel?


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10 Responses to Buying a Travel Laptop

  1. Pingback: Win a Free Laptop Computer » Blog Archive » Buying A Laptop For Travel

  2. I have all three for different reasons. I bring my Ipad on short trips, my Ipad and Laptop on longer ones and the netbook I pretty much only use when all my other batteries are dead 😉
    I think you got a screaming good deal!

    Annette | Bucket List Journey July 12, 2012 at 11:20 AM Reply
    • I’m interested to know where Ipad fits in your niche? Is it something you can actually type at length on? Or does it function more like a glorified kindle?

      Dave and Vicky July 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM Reply
      • In a pinch I can blog on it, but it is sometimes a very painful process. It is far too slow and the WordPress app is not up to par. With that said, it is great for short trips!

        Annette | Bucket List Journey July 12, 2012 at 3:51 PM Reply
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  7. We actually just bought the same laptop with the same Staples coupon. Good to know it is Starcraft approved.

    Raul Perera October 13, 2012 at 11:01 AM Reply
    • Now I know we got a good deal because you always do your research with these things.

      Technically, I built myself a special desktop dedicated almost exclusively to StarCraft, but I’m confident it would have been fine on the lap top as well (as long as you’re OK with not having the ultra graphic settings, which I was not).

      Dave and Vicky October 13, 2012 at 7:50 PM Reply

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