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Buying a notebook, need advice!

Hello.  I am looking to buy a new notebook, and basically have about $3500 to spend.  I will be using it for college, and will be using Photoshop, Visual Studio, Bryce, and other demanding applications.

I a need the highest end model available (I really want a UXGA screen), but would still like it to be portable (not a 10lb giant).

I have in mind the Compaq 2800, which is 1.3" thin, up to a gig of RAM, 64mb video card, great battery, UXGA screen, and the works (no firewire though).  Is this a poor choice for any reason?

Opinions on brands would be great too, such as Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Gateway, and Compaq.

Links to reviews on high end notebooks, or up to date buying guides would be very useful.


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I really like my Toshiba Satellite.  Mainly because it has a GeForce2 graphics processor.  In addition to being VERY good at LAN game parties, it does cool things like dualhead multimonitor when using the built in SVGA port and an external monitor.

Beware if you want to do any serious graphics work on most laptops; even the expensive ones usually have lousy integrated chipset video 'solutions'.  Check the graphics subsystem carefully, not just the resolutions specs of the monitor.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
You're going to get about 10000 comments on what to buy and maybe 2 will match.  That said, here's mine:

DELL.  And while I'm not a salesman for them, I might sound like it.  If you buy it now and you are good at negotiating, you should be able to pick up a decently equiped Inspiron 8200 for between $2500 & $3000, depending on what you want on it and how well you can negotiate the price.

I just bought one myself (expecting it to arrive tomorrow) with the following config:

P4-1.9 GHz
384 MB RAM (1 GB Max)
60 GB 5200 RPM Hard Disk
64 MB nVIDIA Graphics
Ultra-sharp UXGA screen
Internal 10/100 network
Internal Wireless Networking
Internal Modem
24X CD Burner (built-in)
8X DVD (modular)
Floppy Drive
XP Home
3 Year Warranty
Built in Firewire


Dell's support has been quite good to me.  I am posting this through my older Inspiron 7500 - it's worked great EXCEPT I twice had problems with the screen.  However, I called Dell and the paid for shipping back to them, fixed it, and shipped it back to me - in under 48 hours.  

Only drawback is that the unit is between 7 & 8 lbs

One thing I would say, comparing them, feature for feature and then in price, I'd recommend you drop sony from your list of options.  You'll get a better price from Dell.  We've ordered a few at work and if you ever have a problem with them, first the warranty is 90 days if you don't register it, otherwise it's a year (unless that's recently changed) and if and when you have to get it fixed, it can take as long as a month before you'll get it back.  (One of our VIPs bought the Sony because he liked the feel of the keyboard - he didn't like the feel of the service when he was without it for 4 weeks.

Now I mentioned before your negotiating skills.  Dell is trying to pad their quarterly earnings and revenue (they operate on a quarterly schedule one month off the calendar year).  During this time if you can get the best possible price because all they want to do is ship units.  (The salespeople (sections) have sales goals and as long as you are helping them reach them, they SHOULD discount things greater than usual. When speaking with a Dell sales rep, they will likely tell you they can't do anything on the price.  Don't accept that as an answer.  (You can always call back, get a different person, and try again).  Ask to speak to a sales manager if they refuse hang up and call back and tell them you know they are near end of quarter and you want their best possible price.  If you're a hardass about it, you should get at least a couple hundred knocked off the price.

One other thing, you said you were doing to college and taking the notebook there.  Contact the college - they may use Dell for their systems and you might be able to purchase the notebook using the College discount.  Even if the college says you can't use them, find out if they use Dell systems then contact the higher ed people at Dell and ask if you can.  (you might try this even if you don't go with a Dell notebook).
I agree with leew.  I've been a technician for a few years and have worked on all of them.  Dell, Compaq, Toshiba, IBM, and many other brands you've probably never heard of.  I hope that in the next few weeks you'll hear somebady say, "Dude, you're getting a Dell".  I used to be a Dell hater, but as soon as I started using them, I became a believer.  This is being typed on my Inspiron 8100, which is great.  It is fast, great graphics, all the options, lets you use three different mouse options simoultaneously (eraser, touchpad and regular PS/2), and as stated by leew, their support is top notch.  Also, I'm not up on all the Compaq model numbers any more, but if that Compaq 2800 is a Presario, run away.  Run far away.  Their Presario laptops are hit and miss.  You may have a neighbor that gets a great Presario laptop, and yours end up a piece of junk.  They come packed with features, but I'd trade it for reliability and great service and support any day of the week.  That's my 2 cents (although it's probably only worth about half of that).
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samsonite1023Author Commented:
I looked very hard at the Dells, and they seem a bit large.  I know they have a beautiful screen, from what I hear, and their support is excellent also (from what I hear).  What is the drawback to the Compaq Presario 2800?  It is virtually identicle in all ways to the Dell, except smaller and lighter.

From what I hear, along with what Edmonds_Robert has said, the Compaq's are "hit and miss," where some can be great, and others break upon arrival.  Is this really true?  And if so, can't I just return mine for a new one, if it doesn't work properly? (Or buy accidental protection, and break it, then get a new one)

I really appreciate your input, thanks

Also, if you get the Dell soon, I'd really be interested in how the screen looks, and how fast it runs.


What I am saying about the Presarios being hit and miss comes from my experience working at a Compaq service center and seeing Presarios come in all the time.  The thing is, the Presarios aren't what I would call a "business class" computer.  In other words, they are marketed more for home use.  In general (although obviously there are exceptions) home PC's tend to be less robust and reliable than business PC's.  On the other hand, they usually handle things like gaming and cool multimedia applications better.
I already have the Dell, and I am running it with a resolution of 1400x1050 and 32-bit color.  It looks great.  On my particular laptop (with an Nvidia GeoForce2 display adapter with 32MB of memory) that is the highest possible resolution.  Of course more VRAM would increase this, but it is plenty for all I do.
As far as returning the laptop if it doesn't run properly, that is to a large extent at the discretion of the tech support folks.  And why would you want to go through the hassle.  Of course there are no guarantees that you would get a Dell (or any other brand, for that matter) and it works perfectly, but if I were a betting man, I would go with the one that has the better reputation.  
Also, if I were a legal eagle type, I would end this with some kind of disclaimer like, my advice is based solely on my experience and constitutes no guarantee as to the quality or lack thereof of any aforementioned products.  All brand names are the sole property and legal trademarks of their respective owners  ;)
It sounds like youre going to a visual arts school in which case youll want a Mac and especially if youre going to be using Photoshop. Wide aspect screen, firewire, USB, better battery, good video card, 1" thick, light weight, built in cd-rw/dvd, 1gb ram, etc etc. We're expecting the specs to change somewhat as of tomorrows Macworld New York announcements. Probably faster processors and maybe cd-rw/dvd-rw combo drive. And of course you dont have to run windows.
Kyle SchroederEndpoint EngineerCommented:
>>resolution of 1400x1050 and 32-bit color.....with 32MB of memory) that is the highest possible resolution.  Of course more VRAM would increase this

No, that resolution only requires ~5800K of frame buffer memory.  The resolution limit is in hardware, either the LCD/CRT or the GeForce2Go chip itself (actually the GF2Go will do up to 2048x1536...)

Don't discount IBM as an option, their laptops are a bit more expensive, but they are very long-lived in general.  I build this one at IBM's website:

ThinkPad CTO 2653 A Series

Base Model Features and Specifications Part No Unit Price* Quantity Price*
ThinkPad 2653 A Series 15.0 UXGA TFT,Pentium 4 1.7GHz,Modem/Fax/Ethernet,16Bit Integrated Audio,2 Integrated Speakers 2653HLU  1
128MB DDR SDRAM 01N1586  1  
256MB DDR SDRAM 01N1587  1  
30GB Ultra ATA/100 Hard Disk Drive 09N4228  1  
Microsoft Windows XP Professional 49P0905  1  
IBM 8X/4X/24X CD-RW Drive WCCDRWA  1  

Total Price    $3,094.00  

This has an ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 video card.

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
If you're willing to go with the Radeon chipset, look at the Dell Inspiron 4150 - It's got a smaller screen (with the same UXGA resolution option), but you can get just about the same as my system (other than the screen) for about $2900 - again if you're a good negotiator, you can probably shave at least a couple hundred off the price.  It weighs around 6lbs (1-2 less than the 8200) and I don't think it has firewire.
samsonite1023Author Commented:
I'm about 90% sure I'm gonna get the compaq presario 2800.  It has the same, if not better, hardware than the Dell and Thinkpad (no security system though, exclusive to IBM), and is thin and light.

I definately do not want the mac.

If the Dell wasn't so big, I'd probably get it.  It has a really nice screen, from what I hear, and it's pretty fast too.  But I really don't need 2 bays, and it's just to big and heavy for carrying around all day.

Now to the negotiating.  Would it be possible to negotiate a price with Compaq?  Do you know anything about how to save a couple hundred, if possible?  Thanks for your input!

All these features are fine and dandy, and I'm sure you want to the most for your money.

Whatever you do buy get the most warranty you can.

Something else you may want to put on the high priority list is durablility.

Most brands are put together like model planes with thin plastic. If you're taking this to college, IBM thinkpads are a good choice.

See one too many broken hindges and LCD frames and latches.

samsonite1023Author Commented:
Thanks.  BTW, I got the compaq, and it is great! (so far)
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