Still looking for the perfect laptop

So this is going well. I’ve only had my new laptop for about six weeks and already I’ve wrecked it. Well, wrecked is maybe a bit strong. But getting out of the car on Friday I dropped my bag (more on the bag another time). Later I discovered I’d chipped off a chunk of the corner of my new Dell Vostro. It means that the plastic supporting the screen is cracked and the casing surrounding one of the speakers in the base is broken. Maybe it will be fine, or maybe it’s the beginning of the end.

The upshot is that having initially been pretty impressed by my Dell Vostro I now seriously doubt that it will be strong enough to survive on the road with me.

I don’t think I’m very fussy but after being a foreign correspondent for seven or so years now I’m getting to know what I need. Basically what I want is a computer built along the following lines:

  • 13-inch screen – small enough to be portable, but not as fiddly as a netbook for those times I need to knock out a swift 1000 word
  • sturdy – I’ll be on the road, bumping around. Sometimes I’ll be typing in the back of a 4×4, so I don’t want the screen bouncing around with every bump of the road
  • simple – I don’t need your fancy graphic cards or masses of Ram. I’ll just be using a browser, a word processing application and a few simple bits and bobs
  • good battery life – for those times when I’m far from power sockets (or when the electricity is off at home)

I’m still no closer to working out what might be the best laptop for my needs. a 13″ screen puts me into the realm of business computers, which ups all the specs.   Anyway,  in the past few years here’s what I’ve been using:

Sony Vaio – can’t quite remember the exact model, but it was the s series and I bought it in 2006. Initially wasn’t sure. But this served me well. Pricey and overspecced. Quite heavy. But although the optical drive packed in after a couple of years it proved sturdy and reliable. Came with loads of irritating Sony software though. Eventually died a couple of years ago after four years loyal service

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge 13 – sturdy build, as you’d expect from this company, and I did without an optical drive to save weight. But the performance was lousy.   Crashed all the time until I uninstalled Google Chrome. But still very slow. Never managed to get it to work with my Thuraya satphone. Maybe because it was running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. If I hadn’t moved to Pakistan I would have taken it back to the shop to get them to sort it out, maybe reinstall Windows and what have you. Its hard drive packed in on way home from Libya last year – so maybe not as sturdy as I’d hoped. Anyway, thieves took it off my hands a couple of months ago. Think I paid about £500 for it.

Dell Vostro v131 – Again it cost me about £500, which I thought was pretty good here in Islamabad. Performance has been excellent. This time it’s running 32-bit Windows 7. I’ve done without Word in favour of OpenOffice and Chrome works wonderfully. The backlit keyboard will be useful when I’m filing in the dark. The fingerprint scanner doesn’t seem to work, but really who cares? The real issue, however, is that its lightness translates into flimsiness. The screen wobbles in the breeze. And a simple spill has broken the casing, which is a shame because so far I like it.

Ultimately, if I knew a bit more about computers I’d have a stab at sorting my own specs and getting someone to build it for me. I’d willingly pay a bit more for a sturdy frame and a small screen, and then compromise on performance and software. I’m sure there must be a way of getting everything I need into a computer for say £350. Any suggestions?

(And Apple fans will note from my requirements that whizz-bang fancy Macs are really not what I’m looking for…)


8 thoughts on “Still looking for the perfect laptop

  1. Someone told me that the MoD shipped out 900 Toughbooks to Iraq in 2005 and only eight came back with problems. A wee bit heavier than your normal plastic slab, but they can take more abuse than a pub football referee. Also a bit more expensive. A lot less disposable than the average laptop, but it depends on what you need it for.

  2. I’m with Mr Bennett – I bobble about the desert and as an ex-PC user, the Mac has it for me. I’ve done the same -dropped my bag, containing Macbook Air and mobile as I got out of a car – into a puddle. Mac survived mobile did not!

    1. Did you two not read the Mac users need not comment bit I put at the bottom! No, it’s a fair point. A solid state hard drive might be the answer. But really my plea is not for a high-end, well-specced indestructo-pad, but a cheaper specced, better built computer.

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