Gone Laptop Shopping (My Search for an Affordable Notebook Computer)

Loyal bLaptops readers would probably know that my ThinkPad is dying on me and I’m looking to replace it soon (but hey, I’m still using it right now to type up this blog post). To tell you the truth, this particular model is quite heavy, bulky, and severely underpowered especially by today’s standards. It’s 14-inches (my preferred size for any laptop), so the form factor is not as wide nor tall as a 15-inch notebook, but it’s quite thick and heavy.

What I like about this computer, though, is that it has a surprisingly long battery life for an old model. I still get about 3.5 hours on this baby, when many Celeron M-based notebooks today would offer only 2 to 2.5. I’ve even slapped on upgrades along the way, such as 512 MB of RAM (which comes standard in most new laptops these days) and a 40GB hard drive (ditto!) In contrast, standard retail releases of laptops this vintage maxed out at 6GB and 128MB of RAM. And then there’s the combo drive (CD RW plus DVD-ROM).

So while performance is not at par with today’s models, it’s still as zippy as can be for my purposes (anyway, I don’t play games on my laptop. That’s what my desktop is for).

Also, the ergonomics is as excellent as you would expect on a ThinkPad. Probably more than half a decade of use, and there are still no fade-marks I could see nor feel on the wrist rest. The keyboard is also still superb. Other newer notebooks would have this sign of wear and tear even a few months into use (or maybe my palms are not that oily nor acidic as I think).

Of course, there are cons. Living with an old laptop, you would inevitably get hinge issues with those older, un-reinforced models. This is why IBM (and now Lenovo) employed those thick, metallic braces that make up the hinges. Yes, they can be ugly for some, but they’re a beauty to me, as you’re assured the hinges won’t crack nor break.

Unfortunately, my budget these days won’t afford me a decent mid-range ThinkPad. Probably the lowest-end model would fit my needs and funds, though. Still, I thought of looking at other choices.

My hunt

Please bear with me as we don’t have many online-commerce facilities here in my country as would those in more developed nations. And I don’t really like buying expensive gadgets online, as I would like to inspect them first upon purchase (I hate having to return something for replacement, especially if a gadget has grown quite well on me).

Also, I’m not really looking for the highest-range, speediest, zippiest laptop around today, as that would cost big bucks. If I need raw processing and multimedia power, that’s what my desktop is for. I would just be needing that laptop for writing and blogging while on the go (I make a living out of that!), copying some pictures off my digital camera (and burning ‘em onto CD), and maybe even the occasional DVD movie. So a Celeron M-powered model would fit my needs. And I still prefer laptops that come in 14-inch form factor or smaller. My back’s already killing me with having to lug an eight-pound notebook around town.

And with my colleagues snapping up spanking new laptops of their own (Hiya, Dave, and Phillip!), I think it’s high time I had an upgrade myself. So I’d been strolling around in the malls in the search for that perfect (as well as perfectly-priced) laptop. And I plan to purchase on as soon as possible. Cash preferred, of course.

I narrowed down my choice to models not exceeding $1,000. I found a few to my liking, such as the IBM Thinkpad R51e 1843 A21 (about the equivalent of $810). Yes, it’s a ThinkPad. And it’s probably first on my list, cash-permitting.

I’m also thinking about something probably more progressive in terms of the peripherals and form factor, such as the Acer Travelmate 3624, which retails for the equivalent of $750.

I could go cheaper, still, and opt for ODM brands Neo 350SL (a brand marketed exclusively, I think, in my country), which is actually similar to the borrowed laptop I’ve been ranting about a while back. A Blue Argon C 14-incher would likewise be of the same specs. These two models retail for roughly only $570, but I still have qualms about design.

Something I found to be interesting is the HP Compaq V2617, which comes in the V-series form factor (14″ widescreen), but with a Celeron-M processor. And I was offered a $100 discount in one of the stores I visited, bringing the price down from $680 to $580. Sweet! My only gripe, though, is that it doesn’t have built-in WiFi. So if I went for the V2316, I’d have to plug in my Wireless PC Card, which would be a bummer.

Worst-case scenario: if I decide to go really cheap, then I might go for the OLPC $100 laptop instead. Wait! Are they really listing this on their retail site? This must be a joke!

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