How to choose a laptop/notebook?

Hi everyone

My laptop broke and I need a new one. I’m basically looking for a “FIRE guide to purchase a laptop”. :slight_smile:
I thought a general thread for optimizing this purchase might be of interest. So here are a couple of questions I stumbled upon, everyone welcome to add others.

What are good general resources for choosing a new one?
Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News - NotebookCheck.net looks like a somewhat systematic expert review site.
But there would also be merit in having reviews from people who actually use it, but they seem to be dispersed all over the internet.

Is a laptop more than the sum of its parts?
For example, if I read a thoroughly tested review on laptop X with processor Y, will the same laptop with the slightly worse processor Z perform a.) about the same b.) slightly worse c.) a lot worse.
I know it all depends on what you care about and what you want to use the laptop for but it’s confusing me.

How much should I pay?
Let’s say I find CHF 800 laptops now that do everything I want them to do. There are still some considerations that might move me to buy the CHF 1400 laptop instead like durability, long-lastingess (“Will the laptop still be able to do things I want it to do today in 2 years?”) or changing circumstances (“Maybe in 1 year I will have different requirements for a laptop that only the more expensive one can meet?”).
But there’s also the trap of wanting the shiny new laptop and using ‘reasons’ to justify the expense.

Where to buy?
Until now I’ve only ever bought electronics via “toppreise.ch” → “cheapest trustable source” (usually digitec, microspot or physical stores). But there are possible other ways?
You can get manufacture store discounts, employee benefits stores, student discounts, etc.
You could also buy electronics abroad (and either change the keyboard or get used to it).

Hope those questions are reasonably well posed. I’m obviously not an expert but I hope that others are neither and could also benefit from some mustachian guide to a laptop purchase :wink:

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I would buy a MacBook even though they are more expensive.

First of all, I really dislike Windows and all that fuss that comes with it, and MacOS just works without any issues and I don’t have to deal with computer problems, and it is much easier to run software I need on command line. You could install WSL for Windows and have a similar experience but it’s not working that nice so I prefer MacOS.

Then, my last MacBook lasted for about 7 years whereas the normal notebooks, I usually had to replace after around 2 years, so over time, it seems as if the MacBook is even cheaper. I also don’t have any idea about which processors are good etc. and I don’t care about some hardware stuff so with MacBooks I usually just buy one of the middle models and it will work for several years without issues.

So the deal for me is, higher initial costs, but it saves a lot of time, improves my productivity, it causes less stress, I don’t have to deal with choosing stuff like hardware and which processor is better etc., and eventually it’s cheaper because it lasts much longer.

Usually I buy electronics stuff at Digitec, so I have everything in one account in case I need an invoice or there is a warranty case or something. They’re usually also among the cheapest vendors.

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Cool guide, thank you very much!

My old laptop was a low-level thinkpad E450 (or something).
First went the keyboard and replacing it was more expensive than adding an external keyboard so I did this instead.
Then it suddenly didn’t turn on anymore. I opened the back and looked for any sign of damage/corrosion but couldn’t find anything.
Next stop would have been to go to a repair shop but not worth it anymore for a laptop that has already many smaller issues (bad build quality + not very squeamish handling on my part + 4 years of heavy use).

According to your guide this refurbished W540 might be a good option:
LENOVO ThinkPad W540 i7-4810MQ SSD STD “refurbished” in Zürich kaufen - Jes Computers GmbH - tutti.ch

It would be 500.- plus maybe some of my own changes. Not quite cheap and the missing USB-C is quite the downer.

I’ll keep an eye open on tutti.ch :slight_smile:

I’ve been thinking about changing to MacOS.

Really hesitant because of the learning curve and general lack of knowledge of what I might no longer be able to do. But I’ve spent the evening reading articles about it! :wink:

Do you think that the MB Air and MB Pro with the M1 processor would both be as durable as you suggest? I’ve hear bad things about the old Intel MB Airs overheating and have no idea if they are even built to last [Edit: Seems that they are built pretty much the same]. The MacBook Pro would be a bit expensive for me atm, but still worth considering. (Cool thing is that I can get “15% off” through projektneptun.ch, which is not really true but still 110.- cheaper for e.g. the MB Air.)

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There isn’t a great learning curve. I’ve shown and recommended Macs to Non-Techies and maybe showed them the OS for an hour or so - they could easily figure out things on their own after that.

The question - if any - is more about what you could do on Windows that you may not be able to (easily) do on a Mac.

They throttle down after longer periods of high CPU load. There’s no widespread reports of them becoming damaged to my knowledge (unlike, probably, some earlier generation MacBook Pro models).

With regard to thermals, the M1 CPU MacBooks are in a league of its own anyway, compared to previous Intel chips. They run much cooler in everyday use.

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May be off topic as the first author mentionned to buy a new laptop.
But why buy new when second hand works so well and is so cheap respective to the quality of the box.
Auctionline
Benno shop

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The learning curve shouldn’t be a problem. One of the strengths of Apple is that their stuff is really very intuitive and the interface minimalistic. I gave my old MacBook to my wife (she never used anything else than Windows before) and she didn’t have any issues at all and got used to it the same evening. She said it’s really a much better experience and that she would never go back to Windows again, because everything just works. No dealing with computer issues, and simple stuff like merging PDFs just works out of the box whereas on Windows you had to buy and use commercial software for that.

Regarding things that you might no longer be able to do, it probably depends on what you do with the laptop and if you need any special software. Most things like Office 365 and other popular software also works on Mac. Many stuff that was originally written for Linux, works usually even better on Mac whereas on Windows you sometimes get crippled versions which are painful to use. So if you use some rarely used or highly specialised software, I would check it before if it runs on Mac.

I don’t know about the MB Air as I never had one. But some time ago I bought an iMac (the cheapest model) and was not happy with it anymore after few years, it became a bit too slow. Then, when I decided to buy a new one I bought a MB Pro and will stick with it. But if you need only a Browser and MS Word, then maybe an MB Air is sufficient, but I don’t know.

Did you check for the 16" or 13" version? The 13" is much cheaper and at home I connect it with a multiport adapter to a big screen, power, and wireless mouse (with an USB dongle) USB‑C Digital AV Multiport Adapter - Apple (CH) so basically one USB-C cable to connect it with everything (the Keyboard uses Bluetooth). That’s quite simple and for traveling etc. the 13" screen is enough for me.

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I personally care a lot about repairability, so Macbooks are not an option for me. To evaluate how well the different models can be repaired, I look at ifixit.com.

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I don’t know but in the last 20 years or so I never had to repair a computer or hardly anything. Well, a VHS tape recorder maybe 25+ years ago or so, okay.

Not buying a product for something that has a chance of maybe 1% or less to break down and ignoring the convenience you get in 99% of the cases, would be a bit irrational, no? Besides, MacBooks can be repaired too. And the link you posted has guides for MacBooks, even though I would never do such things by myself because I hate hardware stuff and I’d rather bring it to an Apple Store so they can do it for me :wink:

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You could also buy electronics abroad (and either change the keyboard or get used to it).

For years, I did this with used ThinkPads from Germany. Great selection on ebay.de, good prices, good condition etc. However, two things have cooled me off recently.

  1. The replacement Swiss keyboards that I find aren’t always genuine parts, which poses a number of problems.
  2. The secondary market proposed by digitec makes it easier to just buy new or used and resell it on digitec when it’s time to move on.
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I usually disagree with @Patron but here our opinions align. I buy a new Macbook Pro every 7 years or so. Best option for performance and battery durability in my opinion.

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I need a new laptop and am really interested by @Patron , @san_francisco and @MrCheese comments about IMac reliability coming in a mustachian forum! All my life I’ve used Windows, here are my main reasons why I hadn’t considered risking the jump to Apple. Would you have any thoughts on the following?:

  1. I want to keep using office 365 which includes onedrive and ms apps which I am familiar with from work and can open them at work, and (for example) not get error messages about conversion or compatability of file types if they were created on iMac. Any experience how well that works?

  2. I am unfmailiar with the logic of the Apple filing system and scared of making the jump and not liking it. I have an iPhone and I want my photos backed up automatically. After hours reading up on potential solutions I couldn’t figure out a reliable integration to MS Onedrive and in frustration bought Apple icloud - so I have onedrive and icloud. The integration of icloud from Apple into windows is pretty terrible. It dumps all photos in one folder which takes ages to load on my laptop. And when I try to look online at icloud it only gives me thumbnail view of photos, not list view. I assumed this is the Apple “dumbed down” approach but it makes it impossible to sort through 1000s of photos by date

In summary I am fed up having crap product experience with windows pcs but am scared to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Perhaps I should go to the Apple store and ask them to show me a demo on the above points

Regards other products: We had ASUS laptops with high end processors the past 6 years and which kept dropping wifi since the start and have been slow to start up since 4 years. We just bought a Dell, it wouldn’t power on so had to be sent back under warranty but which meant 6 weeks without laptop. Now it keeps giving the blue screen of death. At work we have HP elitebooks, they are great when they work but reliability is terrible and they are also giving issues with blue screen of death

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I can totally understand your frustration! I’ve been doing the same last year for the iPhone from my GF. From my point of view, Apple is intentionally slowing down the integration. Also, when to clean up her iCloud (because it was full - I think she doesn’t have a paid plan), I ran from one error to the next one. I simply couldn’t back up all files from iCloud to an external disk in one shot. Had to restart her WIN laptop several times, even tried different version of iCloud etc. Gosh, just writing about it makes me freaking angry again…

In general (from my point of view): Apple works pretty flawless in their own ecosystem. E.g. if you have an iPhone, iPad and iMac (Macbook whatever), it’s pretty easy and even a non-technical person can do it. As soon as you want to do something out of the box (e.g. sharing files with Android or WIN), it gets tricky. Apple is pretty good at hiding things from the user, which is ok as long as everything works. If it doesn’t - be prepared for some serious frustration. Please note that this is coming from someone who’s not using Apple at all, so my views might be biased.

From that I heard from friends (also working in IT): Macs have a better quality than normal WIN laptops, but also for Macs the quality has declined over the last years. Still, if you can use your Macbook for 5 years vs. 2 years for WIN, it’s still better in terms of budget.

Regarding WIN laptops: I had HP elitebooks at work some years ago. They worked pretty well without any problems. Nowadays, I’m using Thinkpads. Qualitywise, they also declined a lot from older days. I still have an IBM T30 here, and this thing is just rock-stable. You could hammer a nail into the wall with it. Still running btw with a low spec Linux system. If you decide to buy Thinkpads, you need to be aware of the models. Because Thinkpad is a well-known name, Lenovo also introduced cheaper Thinkpad models (e.g. models E + L). Don’t buy those! Personally, I really like the X1. It’s really lightweight and has medium specs. Other than that, you can go for model T (business) and model P (mobile workstation). I have one big customer who uses the Yoga series for all employees (also pretty robust). Just prepare yourself to almost pay the same price for P/T/X/Yoga models as for the Macbook (Pro).

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1 - Even given the fact that some applications (Visio, Publisher) are Windows-only. Office has never been 100% the same on Mac or Windows in look, feel and functionality of the common applications. But Microsoft seems to have unified the look, feel and functionality over time. They do use the same file format.

But there may be some corner cases. If you are a power user of any application, and especially if you depend on optional add-ins/scripts/plug-ins outside of the app’s core functionality, you may want to check for compatibility.

2 - As soon as someone mention the words “photos” and “folder” in the same sentence, there’s a great likelihood that they won’t be happy with Apple’s Photo’s App. Apple’s “Photos workflow” just isn’t meant to expose folders to the user. While you can have albums within the Photos app, which work quite similar to folders (though one photo can be part of multiple albums) and these folders can be exported, it’s often not what these people expect.

3 - Apple’s notebook quality has not declined over the last years.
Anyone who says so must have a short memory or not have used Apple’s computers for long.

“Apple is declining” or also “This wouldn’t have happened under Jobs” are common and recurring tropes among Apple fans and regular occurrences in the respective online communities discussing Apple’s products and announcements.

Their “butterfly” keyboard design introduced in 2015 was controversial in terms of keystroke feel and relatively prone to small particles getting beyond the keycaps. Which, by the way, aren’t replacable individually. They have rectified this by moving everything to a more traditional scissor switch mechanism, a transition they completed last year.

Other than that, I absolutely don’t think the quality has declined. They’ve had certain issues, among them mechanical issues or overheating issues (especially with dedicated GPU chips) on some models ten years ago, just as they did twenty years ago. I wouldn’t expect overheating on their M1 chip, that’s used in form factors (tablets) that are even thinner and smaller than iMacs or notebooks.

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Never have bought Mac and probably won’t ever do it. I plan 5 years of active everyday use for a newly bought laptop and, except for one laptop that died after less than 2 years because of my mistake, it worked so far. Now I have 3rd laptop on a 5+ years cycle, two previous are still around and occasionally used, although the 10+ years old one (assembled by a small company) is terribly outdated. Two last ones were from HP, the previous one was one of the cheapest available at the moment, but worked well for almost 7 years. The current one is more of a high end.

My thoughts about it are following: like with all things, it is rather how you handle it. If a laptop has a defect, it will most probably die in less than one year. If it has no inherent problems, it will work until outdated if handled properly.

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Do you consider to look at the Microsoft Surface products ? They are like Macbook in quality and design :wink:

I had experienced the two product when I was a student. I took my first MacBook Pro in 2009 and used it during my Bachelor. Good quality, easy to use, and never had any problem with the autonomy. However, in 2014, I was looking for something thiner than my 15’’ MacBook Pro and I’ve considered the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

My old MacBook Pro is used by my father now, I’ve changed the battery and the drive to put an SSD, it was like new back in 2014.

I still have my Surface Pro 4, but the autonomy drop drastically after 5 years of intense used (Master, CAS, and other professional project).

You should consider the Microsoft Surface products if you want to stay with Windows :wink:

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I had for years Apple laptops.The OS is great. But they are forcing the usage of the last version of the OS for consumers and developers (as for Windows).
In my opinion, it is more durable to have good hardware and Linux. There are replacement software that do the job, but on some cases you have to look under the hood.

I have currently a seven years old laptop. I’m using it for working and for the moment, it works well without slownesses nor any issues.

Sidenotes:
I will never use a computer with windows. I can’t stand it.
I like osx, but there are too many components that you cannot change anymore. In laptops, common and easy upgrades are to change the HDD, Ram & battery. For commercial purposes, this is now hard or impossible. As long as it is the case, I will never buy again an Apple laptop.

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I’ve used a Mac in two consultancy firms (means creating lots of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel sheets) in a mixed environment where some colleagues used Windows and others used a Mac. That wasn’t really a problem. It may be the case that on rare occasions, some things don’t look exactly the same as on the other system, but it’s not like that it’s an unbearable situation. Important is just to use newer files formats such as .docx from newer versions of Word, rather than .doc from Word 2003 or so.

In general, I think the interoperability between the two systems is very well. If you write very complex documents with complex formatting (and Adobe illustrator probably would do better than Word anyways) such as marketing materials or a news paper etc., then it might be a bit different, but for normal business docs, a Mac isn’t really an issue IMO.

I’ve also used a Mac in an academic context with the Zotero plugin for Word for referencing which works quite well and I haven’t received any complaints when I submitted texts etc.

Actually the main advantage of a Mac over a regular computer is not only that quality, but also the operating system. MacOS is elegant, intuitive, minimalistic, and it just works. Windows is bloated, confusing and I have much more issues with it than on MacOS (unfortunately I’m forced to use Windows for most of the time in my workplaces). Yes, Windows 10 is quite an improvement compared to older version but it’s still far from MacOS in such aspects. Of course, it’s also a bit a matter of choice, if you don’t like minimalistic things but thousands of buttons, tiles, and settings everywhere, then Windows might be the better choice for you.

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I moved from Windows to Apple in 2012 when my Windows 7 PC died and the dreadful Windows 8 was my only Microsoft option.

The only “learning curve” is finding new software when there is no macOS version. I quickly found replacements for everything, though. And I’m sure there’s some Subreddit where you could ask if you really can’t find anything. But everything else is really easy.

Exactly.
And if you are a techie, there’s enough for you to play around with. macOS is based on Unix, so you have a shell and all its goodies available. For example, I use rsync to backup some of my data. And you can install a 3rd party package manager like Homebrew. Or you can install Xcode, Apple’s software development environment, and have for example Python automatically available.

Now, one negative thing that I must mention: Bugs.
In the past few years, the quality of Apple software has been deteriorating more and more. While the hardware is indeed excellent, I always wait before installing new OS releases, to give Apple a chance to fix the worst of the newly introduced bugs. Just see the article below, for example, on all the problems that iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are causing. It’s sad to see that following a new OS release there are enough bugs to fill an entire article! I hope Apple gets a grip on software quality in the future.

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