What Notebook Should I Get?

I need a new notebook (when did they become “notebooks” anyway? I always thought they were “laptops”). The one I share with my better half Angela (a Toshiba Satellite M100-JG2) is too big, too heavy and too old. But as with pretty much everything else I find myself in a self-induced deadlock over which one to throw my money away on. I’m a very indecisive guy I guess.

So what laptop notebook should I get? The annoying thing about computers is that they evolve too quickly and there are way too many options. Regardless of what I get it will be outdated and price-reduced two weeks from now and I’ll feel like a moron for having spent the money. Nevertheless I need to make a decision: I spend a lot of down time during the day in transit and in the control room where I broadcast a live TV show and with a thin and light notebook with enough power I can get a lot more work done – or at least I think I can. And it is with this scenario in mind I have set down some basic parameters for my search:

  • It has to be relatively small and light. I am comfortable with a 13.3” screen but nothing smaller. Anything larger gets too heavy and bulky anyway. That pretty much narrows the field to a select few computers.
  • Then there is the question of power and future-proofing. I tend to run multiple applications at the same time (usually several different browsers, Photoshop, Expression Web plus a bunch of other stuff) and I’m very impatient. I also occasionally do some video editing work so it really has to be up to snuff. So a high-end and low-power processor is a must, ie a Penryn, preferably the T8100.
  • Finally the notebook needs to be tough and portable. I can’t stand those flimsy paper like notebooks that have screens that bend and twist when you breathe on them and I’m sure I’d just break them anyway. I have an ancient ThinkPad and it’s great (and slow) but I can’t really get myself to shell out an extra $1000 on that extravagance.

After lengthy research and a lot of hair pulling I’ve narrowed it down to three choices:

Dell XPS M1330 (Product) RED Edition

This notebook comes highly praised by both reviewers and friends alike and with customization has everything I’m asking for: 13.3” screen, T8100 (2.1GHz/800Mhz FSB/3MB cache) processor, 4GB of RAM, dedicated nVidia video card, massive and fast hard-drive with free-fall sensor. To boot it even has an optical drive that doesn’t ruin the tiny form factor.

Price: $1,349 with special offer discount (ends September 12)

The pros: The notebook is very small and light, has everything on my list, is considered to be strong and sturdy and since it’s part of the (Product) RED program $50 US of the purchase goes to curb the AIDS pandemic (too little, but it’s a start).

The cons: It’s a Dell. For those of you who don’t know, Dell started out as a company that built computers with the discarded parts from other manufacturers. As a result they had an incredibly high failure rate. Surprisingly even after stepping away from that (incredibly stupid) business philosophy their computers are still questionable when it comes to performance. At the same time I’m reluctant to shell out $300 for a 3 year full service plan in case something should go wrong (which is quite probable). I’m also apprehensive because I have yet to actually see or try any of these notebooks in real life. The Dell booth at the local mall shut down and neither FutureShop nor Staples have the M1330 in stock for me to look at. To get this unit I’ll have to order it online and wait however long Dell deems appropriate to get it. And I don’t like waiting.

LG P300

The LG P300 series also offers all the features I’m looking for and is even thinner than the M1330. When it came out the reviewers all agreed that it was a true contender to the M1330. On the downside it is hideous and expensive and has an external DVD drive. But it’s available right across the street from my house right now.

Price: $1,599 at several major electronics retailers

The pros: The LG is the thinnest of the bunch yet as powerful as the M1330. In addition it is available right now and I can have it in my hands in less than 30 minutes.

The cons: At $1599 it is much more expensive than the M1330 (with the same specs and the discount, the M1330 would be $1249). Some of this can be explained by the thinner form factor but I think it is also in large part due to the so-called “stylish” looks of the lid. Unfortunately it is anything but stylish – the “wine red” lid looks like streaks of bloody whale barf with Peto Bismal mixed in. If I were to get this notebook I’d have to invest in a skin for the lid to conceal this artistic atrocity. But I digress. The P300 achieves its slim shape by ditching the internal disc drive for an external one. But is that really a con? In some ways I would be getting an external USB drive more than losing one. And I don’t really use the disc drive for anything except installing software so it’s not really a loss at all. One thing that is annoying is that LG has replaced the all-important FireWire port with a “SmartLink” port which is basically a mini USB. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that port.

Lenovo IdeaPad U330

Lenovo has released a new line called IdeaPad in the States that looks very promising. Supposedly it retains much of the ThinkPad ruggedness and form without the insane price. The U330 has a slightly slower processor P7350 ( 2GHz 667MHz 1MB ) and less RAM but this is reflected in the price. Unfortunately it is only available in the USA so I’d have to cross the border to get my hands on one.

Price: $1,249 US

The pros: I trust Lenovo 100%. They are rock solid. The price is also good and even though it is not as powerful as the two others it is still up there. And it has an ATI graphics card which unline the nVidia cards in the other two won’t spontaneously self combust two weeks after purchase. Did I mention it’s a Lenovo?

The cons: It’s less powerful than the others and also a bit bigger. But the main problem is that for some reason, known only to the morons who decide where to sell these computers, it is not available in Canada.

What do you think?

Like I said, I can’t make up my mind on this one. So I figured I’d ask you, my trusted readers, what you think. Do you have experience with any of these notebooks? Do you have any preferences or reasons for or against one or another? Do you work for Dell, LG or Lenovo and want to give me one for free or at a massive discount in return for a fair and honest review here on this blog? If you have anything you’d like to share on this topic, please drop me a line in the comments below. I would really appreciate some honest input.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

17 replies on “What Notebook Should I Get?”

My last laptop was a Dell, it was rock solid, no problems as I had it on the road for a couple of years. Now I’m on a Macbook Pro, but it wouldn’t look good for an author of a book on Microsoft software to be running Mac OS 🙂

@ Jon: Yeah, I keep hearing good things about Dell. And yes, there is no way I’m giving the Devil Steve Jobs my money.

@ Stephen: Asus eh? Well, the one you listed has an ancient processor and no LED screen. The others do. I’m picky.

I’m a practical guy so check it out…

When you look at the T5750, it is 2.0 GHz with a 667FSB and 2MB cache, it is a little better than the Lenovo which has a 1MB cache. It actually isn’t as ancient as one would think. The LG and the Dell both sport the T8100. That CPU has 3MB of cache onboard, 2.1 GHz and has a FSB of 800MHz. On a laptop, the extra CPU performance is trivial between all these CPU’s. It’s purely academic with a 1MB swing in cache either way and 100MHz of play. However, the T8100 is a 45nm CPU that will run a little bit cooler.

The ASUS is right off the bat 2 year warranty. 1st year is accidental damage covered. Also, ASUS put a 2GB x 1 and 1GB x 1 combo so you don’t have to replace both sticks of RAM, meaning, you can buy a single stick for around $25 on special and get it to 4GB right away. I betcha the others don’t do that. Also, the nVidia GPU isn’t miserly on power and unless you play games, probably won’t do much to help you with work. The X4500, despite using shared memory, performs surprisingly well. This negates the power savings somewhat with an LED screen.

At that price, you can also eliminate the one single thing that makes any laptop slow: The hard drive. Simply taking the money you saved and putting it towards a 128GB SSD drive and a cheap $15 casing to use the included 250GB drive on backup duty. Real world wise, with 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, it can make some desktops feel pretty insignificant.
Since I have an LED screen on my ASUS U1F, I can say that it is nice and thin, but I don’t really notice much in the way of difference in true picture quality. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker. It just makes the lid of the LCD thinner and when implemented well, can lead to more consistent lighting.

So based on your points in your post, I think the ASUS meets the criteria. Your impatience will be taken care of by 4GB of RAM and an SSD. It’s fairly compact, without sacrificing durability, and real world, it would be quicker overall at a very similar price point to all other candidates with said upgrades. It’s what I would do if I was in the market for a new laptop again. I pick real world performance, quality and value any day of the week. There is a reason why media that come to Asia, leave with ASUS laptops smuggled through customs.

Hey, Morten.

Sorry I’m late to the party! 🙂 In my opinion (like I’ve mentioned to you in other venues) the Dell M1330 model is hot. Guys I work with swear it’s the best laptop they’ve used. It provides a great balance between productivity, power, flexibility and style. I wish I had one myself…


How long have the M1330’s been in service Paul? I know our man Morten here will be using it a lot and there have been many cases recorded on the interwebs where the GPU/motherboard have been failing in the 6 -12 month period. I think the reason this happens is because recently it was uncovered that the NVIDIA mobile GPU’s were defective straight from the factory. Although the GPU’s are similar to their desktop counterparts, the problem lies in the fact that the GPUs inside the notebooks are subjected to more “off and on” cycles, leading to this failure, which has something to do with the chip actually seperating inside its own substrate. This isn’t isolated to just the M1330 as many nvidia based noteooks running the 8xxx series GPU’s have been failing. MacBook Pros are also having this sort of problem, but because of the smaller install base, you don’t hear of it as often. Food for thought.

Alright. Now I’m even more undecided than before. The M1330 still looks good but as Stephen says, it does have some very bad reviews around the web. Question is if that’s just because it’s a Dell and people like to harp on that company or if it really is a prevalent problem. One of the things that really stands out is actually the complaint about extra noise from the slot-in DVD player. That concerns me.

As for the Asus F6A-A1 there are a lot of people out there complaining about bad battery life and the “very dim screen” – both issues that are important to me.

I went out browsing the shops yesterday and I came across the Vaio VGNSR140DB. It’s the same price as the LG, about the same weight and it has a built-in DVD drive. To top it off it even has the P8400 processor which should be marginally better than the T8100. On the downside it’s a Sony which means massive bloatware etc.

The question now is this: Is there a pile of 13.3” ultraportables just waiting around the corner that will be released in the next month?

The SONY looks good, and the magnesium chassis is a plus. I don’t pick a laptop without one these days. Light and strong. Bloatware can be fixed pretty quick with a clean install so I wouldn’t factor that in to the buying decision. Usually, SONY’s are overpriced, but when the price is right, they can be a nice machine. I’d keep an eye on it.

How’s the screen on it?

As per that link, this is a problem related specifically to the TZ series (though I have heard of some early FZ’s having issues, but not this specific one) and is not related to any of the new series of laptops. Based on the distinct design changes between the SONY in question, and the previous laptops that SONY sold, it is probable that the OEM is no longer the same and that these problems tied to that OEM are no longer present.

As much as I have never liked SONY laptops (mainly due to the value angle being out of whack), I’d have to believe that at this point, SONY is going to do everything possible to not lose anymore customers. Their stock took a huge dive after this latest recall, and TBH, the latest crop of laptops do look really good and have the features to back up the pricing making them worth a second look.

I’ve been using IBM-Lenovo notebooks for about 3 years and I’m more then happy with them. Solid, fancy, practical, good support.. I’m not sure if pure Lenovo has the same quality, but I’m pretty sure it does… So I would go for the Lenovo.

Why not get a standard router and then add a switch to provide the additional ports you need? It is possible to use the VPN router, you just would not program up any of the VPN section.

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