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Buying a new laptop- need help choosing features


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Hey everyone. I'm going to be getting a new Dell laptop in the very near future for college, and wanted some advice as to what kinds of features it should have to accommodate my needs. I'll be running FL Studio and East West's Silver Orchestra, as well as a little TF2 on Steam.

I've never been a computer gamer, so I was wondering if I'm going to need a better graphics card or something to be able to run that well enough.

More importantly, I really would like to know how much RAM I'll need to be able to efficiently work on my music projects. I've always heard that the rule of thumb is "the more RAM the better", but maxing out is pretty expensive to do. However, if it will make things smoother, I think I can shell out for it.

Does the processor make much of a difference- specifically, is that worth upgrading as well? If so, to what extent?

One other thing: Since I'm running the Silver Edition of the East West library, I'll only have 11 GB of samples. Should I invest in an external hard drive to keep those on, or just put them on the laptop's hard drive? I've heard that it's easier to work with the samples off an external, but I don't know if it'll make that much of a difference with a smaller library like this.

As far as models, right now I'm looking at the "Studio" and "Inspirion" lines, but I'm open to suggestions. I don't think I can buy outside of Dell, (my parents are helping me buy it, and they insist on a Dell) but if there's a solid laptop of a different brand that you know of I'd like to hear from you. I can always try to talk them out of their stubborn ways. :<

(If I left anything out, please comment on that as well.)

Thanks for your time!

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best suggestion? college eats laptops alive, not to mention that lappies tend to die constantly. why waste all that money and have all your dreams crushed when you drop it and your hard drive wastes? do what i did - buy a desktop, and get a netbook (under 300$ for an aspire one) for classes. you can pretty much only check your email and write papers and notes on a netbook, so don't worry about focusing in class =) put tinyXP on it and you'll be set. HP makes fantastic netbooks (their mini line is possibly the best out there), and the acer aspire one is 280 for a brand new one, 200 for a refurb. 200 DOLLARS. i can buy power supplies for more than that.

as for the desktop, if you don't want someone to build you one and save you a ton of money (i'm willing to bet i could build you one and keep the cost of that AND the netbook under the cost of the laptop you're looking at), acer and HP both make great customizable desktops for super cheap.

laptops are poor for music, for several reasons. one, the nature of a laptop is that they generally have lower-than-normal CPU power (limiting what you can do aurally), slow memory and memory interfaces (slowing your streaming samples down and increasing latency), slower hard drives (making streaming samples slow and choppy), and poor onboard audio (as in, terrible). plus, even beyond the delicate nature of them, they attract dust like poop attracts flies, and overheat often. it's rare to have a windows-based laptopn (read: poor quality control and build quality) to last more than two years. unless you're going to technical school, that's not how long it takes to get through college.

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That's some excellent advice, and quite frankly I'd love to have a desktop to work on. Unfortunately, I just don't think that'll be the most practical thing for me during school. I'll probably be doing a decent amount of work outside the dorm, and though I might be able to get by with a netbook, there's the chance that some of my classes down the road might require me to use software that will run poorly on it. I guess for me it really boils down to a matter of convenience- I want to be able to take all of my work with me and not have to retreat to my dorm as much.

My family has used our Dell Inspiron E1505 for more than 2 years, and it hasn't really broken down aside from some crapped out batteries. I can run FL Studio fairly well, but you're right, it's pretty slowed down. That's why I was considering an external hard drive and maybe some upgrades to the RAM in my next laptop. I figured since this one is rather dated that I could squeeze better performance out of a newer model, and back up everything to make sure that I don't lose it all.

In the end, I really think that a laptop, though risky and less efficient, will be the best option for me.

Please don't take this as an insult though- I truly respect and value your advice. With my choice in mind, do you think you could still make some recommendations as to how I should proceed?

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i rarely did work in undergraduate or graduate school outside the dorm that wasn't just typing or anything, but i was a music major :< if you're engineering or something, you'll probably have to do some advanced stuff that a netbook might not be as quick at. understood =) don't forget, though, that you could always remote-desktop into your system in your dorm, like several of my friends did. you get portability and power, works well if you've got a decent web connection. if your wireless is terrible, you're sunk, though.

i don't know much about specific types of laptops, but i can offer this advice.

always go with a 7200rpm hard drive that's way bigger than you think you'll need. 5400rpm drives are just soooo slow =( if you know a bit about computers, and your system comes with a "recovery" disc to reinstall windows (or you know how to clone a drive), buy the drive yourself and save the cash (and the extra drive) for a rainy day.

externals are ok, but remember that they're not built for portability, usually. get one for your desk, turn it on when you need to back something up onto it (or watch a movie, or something), and then shut it off again. cavalry sells a 1tb external for about 70$ or so that's real nice.

pay the 30 bucks and buy a damn chill pad. you'll double the life of your system. also, you'll double or triple the life of your battery if you remove it when you sit down for the night. charge your system, then remove it so that it's not constantly charging and discharging all night long. along those lines, don't set your system on the carpet, or somewhere where it won't have good airflow. heat kills laptops, every time. blow it out with some canned air every three or four months, too - once a semester and over the summer is what i used to do.

normally, i'd say that there's not much of a difference in ram speeds, but in a laptop there's significant differences (because they're so slow to begin with). it's usually more cost-effective to buy your ram seperately, but max out your system asap. if it can take 4gb, more power to you.

it's worth the extra cash for a discrete graphics card if you're planning on gaming. if your system can toggle between integrated and discrete, even better - but those systems are usually pretty expensive. the nvidia 200M is the best nvidia-based graphics out there besides the ION cards. if you see a system with ION LE, there's a simple hack to make it the full version. google it, you'll find it.

get a dual-core, with the fastest combination of FSB (front side bus) and GHz that you can. not even a question =) you likely won't need a quad, since the performance expense (battery life and straight-line speed) will take a big hit for a quad.

i'm assuming you'll go with either w7 or xp. xp's going to give you the best overall performance, since it takes up so little of your system resources to run (128mb of ram!). w7 needs close to a gig even after you turn off transparency, but it looks nice and is much more secure. your choice - if you're careful about your websites, even with xp you won't need an antivirus beyond a monthly scan from your favorite program, so you'll be fine there.

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That's some excellent advice, and quite frankly I'd love to have a desktop to work on. Unfortunately, I just don't think that'll be the most practical thing for me during school. I'll probably be doing a decent amount of work outside the dorm, and though I might be able to get by with a netbook, there's the chance that some of my classes down the road might require me to use software that will run poorly on it. I guess for me it really boils down to a matter of convenience- I want to be able to take all of my work with me and not have to retreat to my dorm as much.

What's your major?

Going on "a chance that some of your classes down the road might require" seems kind of fishy :)

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My advice: listen to them.

I am still an undergraduate student, and I lived in the dorms on campus for two years. You simply are -NOT- going to get any musical good out of that laptop. I have a separate laptop that I do all my college/school things for my Comp Sci degree and my Music Composition degree that have nothing to do with the software I use for music production outside that realm.

Here's a picture of my dorm room with my "gear" in it from 2009.

whelchel1.jpg

I simply took the dorm supplied desk, built the little "bridge" for my monitors and monitor (heh), and it worked very, VERY nicely. I mostly used the headphones really, for obvious reasons, and I'd also like to add that I shared this room with another person.

I also err on the side of being more social and outgoing as far as school events are concerned - I attend football games, all that fun stuff, go out on the weekends. Doesn't keep me from knowing when to focus and get work done, which is an important balance you'll have to have. As far as needing your laptop for convenience, you'll find that online applications are making this super easy - but beyond that most software that you'll likely use for school was developed for really the crummiest of computers to operate on. If it's something high end like in the digital design field or something truly intensive, your school should have labs for you to work at - which, even with a desktop and laptop, I still use quite often.

Just sayin', it can be done. (:

EDIT:

Also, EWQL Play will expel ROT all over your harddrive for how much use you'll give it, rendering a laptop's lifespan mooooterific.

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is that an axiom 49 and a behringer 6-input i see? great products with great pricetags =) i used one of those behringers for years before i got my saffire pro 40.

it's worth noting that netbooks are getting quite powerful. for 400$, you can get an hp mini 311 that's got ION graphics (can play Freelancer or Torchlight pretty easily), and although the 1.6ghz processor in that looks a little paltry it's actually pretty quick. just get one with xp, not w7 =) all this is getting even cooler with the fact that dual-core netbooks are coming out within the month.

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What's your major?

Going on "a chance that some of your classes down the road might require" seems kind of fishy :)

Well I'm thinking of going into Information Systems/ Technology or something like that, but I'm still pretty shaky about it all. I don't have to decide on a major until Sophomore year, but I'm pretty set on business. That said, I really have no idea what software I'll be needing to install for my classes. I'm thinking that being prepared would be the best idea.

don't forget, though, that you could always remote-desktop into your system in your dorm, like several of my friends did. you get portability and power, works well if you've got a decent web connection. if your wireless is terrible, you're sunk, though.

Yeah, that part. We were told at Orientation that we would be using Ethernet cables in the dorms, because the wifi inside sucks. Ah well.

I won't be majoring in music, so I'm not looking for a super professional set up. Hell, I don't even have a decent pair of monitoring speakers or headphones. Uh, now that I think about it, could someone recommend me a pair of headphones?

Anyways, all I'm really looking to do now is make music as a hobby, and maybe get a mix posted here one day. But that's a ways off.

Also, EWQL Play will expel ROT all over your harddrive for how much use you'll give it, rendering a laptop's lifespan mooooterific.
If someone could elaborate on this...

Oh, how's this looking? Hot or cold?

http://www.dell.com/us/en/home/notebooks/laptop-studio-1450/pd.aspx?refid=laptop-studio-1450&s=dhs&cs=19&~oid=us~en~29~laptop-studio-1450-cto1~~

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laptop hard drives are notoriously slow, meaning that if you're streaming more than a few hundred MB of samples, it'll be uber-slow and take forever.

in dorms isn't a big deal - you'd want to plug in there. how's the wifi for the rest of the place?

lol, you're worried about performance requirements for business? you're going to be using number-crunchers...the kind of thing a netbook is generally best at when it comes to high-intensity figuring.

as for the laptop you've linked, i don't know much about it (cnet reviews are your friend!), but i'd say that you should upgrade to w7 pro (13$), possibly the backlit keyboard (25$), and centrino wireless-n card (5$). there's a lot of crap they try to push on you.

i can't say enough that i've been very happy with HP's laptop offerings over the years. dell's always got atrocious rankings in consumer reports, and HP's been near the top year after year. keep it in mind.

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laptop hard drives are notoriously slow, meaning that if you're streaming more than a few hundred MB of samples, it'll be uber-slow and take forever.

Ok, so will an external drive fix that?

in dorms isn't a big deal - you'd want to plug in there. how's the wifi for the rest of the place?

From what they said at Orientation, it's decent.

http://www.baylor.edu/its/index.php?id=46470

as for the laptop you've linked, i don't know much about it (cnet reviews are your friend!), but i'd say that you should upgrade to w7 pro (13$), possibly the backlit keyboard (25$), and centrino wireless-n card (5$). there's a lot of crap they try to push on you.

i can't say enough that i've been very happy with HP's laptop offerings over the years. dell's always got atrocious rankings in consumer reports, and HP's been near the top year after year. keep it in mind.

Thanks for the tips! Ok you've convinced me, I'm going to start looking at HP's laptops.:<

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Ok, so will an external drive fix that?

no. 5400rpm refers to the access speed, not the transfer speed. it's still a sata drive, and will still outstrip USB by three or four times.

From what they said at Orientation, it's decent.

http://www.baylor.edu/its/index.php?id=46470

shit, baylor? you'll be fine, man =) just buy a 20$ wireless router, put a password on it, and BOOM! you've got wireless in the dorms. the rest of the campus is more connected than 90% of colleges out there.

Thanks for the tips! Ok you've convinced me, I'm going to start looking at HP's laptops.:<

sounds good =)

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Well I'm thinking of going into Information Systems/ Technology or something like that, but I'm still pretty shaky about it all. I don't have to decide on a major until Sophomore year, but I'm pretty set on business. That said, I really have no idea what software I'll be needing to install for my classes. I'm thinking that being prepared would be the best idea.

Chances are the most complicated program you'll need are programming languages, which are generally quite easy to run and don't require much power. The most advanced program you'll probably use on a regular basis is an IDE like Eclipse or MS Visual Studio.

You'll have labs for that kind of stuff though, I didn't have a laptop through the entirety of my software engineering program and made it through but that was 8 years ago.

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My advice: listen to them.

Here's a picture of my dorm room with my "gear" in it from 2009.

whelchel1.jpg

Hey, someone else who uses BX5a's and AKG240's! Excellent combination. On that note, you asked for some headphone recommendations; the AKG240's are excellent, and go for about $99.

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shit, baylor? you'll be fine, man =) just buy a 20$ wireless router, put a password on it, and BOOM! you've got wireless in the dorms. the rest of the campus is more connected than 90% of colleges out there.

I'm not sure if they'll be cool with that, but I might be able to do it. So are you saying that I could remote access a desktop from campus with a router in my dorm?

On that note, you asked for some headphone recommendations; the AKG240's are excellent, and go for about $99.

Those sure do look nice, but I'm going to have to start pinchin pennies if I want a nice computer. How do these look?

http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATHM40FS-Precision-Headphones/dp/B0002D03ZW/ref=pd_cp_MI_1

They've gotten pretty good reviews, and they're about half the price.

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there's no way for them to know if you're using a router. well, technically they could, but how big is baylor again? they won't care. i went to a college with 1500 people, and they didn't mind.

the router was just an idea to improve your wireless connection in-dorm, if you go with a laptop. if your desktop is plugged into the wall jack at your dorm room, and you've got a decent wireless signal anywhere on campus, you can RD into your desktop from a netbook no problem. like i said, i had a lot of friends who did that quite often.

contact your tech department about it if you're not sure.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ok, so I decided to go laptop. I'm most likely going to get an HP in the next few days here.

This comment is still haunting me-

EDIT:

Also, EWQL Play will expel ROT all over your harddrive for how much use you'll give it, rendering a laptop's lifespan mooooterific.

So I'm curious- will using EWQL really pack that hard a punch? Will my laptop really suffer from casually using this software? Will other applications slow down as a result? Will this hinder the laptop that I'm going to depend on during college?

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