Help buying a computer (Windows)

candylandriots

unkempt
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Mar 30, 2004
9,910
Berlin
I'm going to cross post this from one of the Coronavirus forums, where I initially posted it.

I mentor/help an Afghani girl from Iran here in Berlin. We usually meet up once a week to chat, help with school, stuff like that. We're doing it on the phone now.

She's also doing her schoolwork on her phone right now because she doesn't have a computer. I'm going to look for one for her now. Can someone tell me what kind of the bare minimum necessities are for a windows laptop these days? I'm going to try and get her a used laptop that she can use for school. Unfortunately, I can't get her a top of the line one, but I want to get her something functional at least. Could someone give me some advice? I haven't bought a PC in years and have no idea what she'll need to do her schoolwork.
 

Couperin47

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
My german is nonexistent, anything with an i5 Intel processor and at least 8 gig memory with a decent amount of storage will be a 'real' computer. I suspect their German site is as least as generous with warranty, even on the refurbs, as I'm pretty sure both EC and German law requires that. All the Thinkpads are on the high end of rugged and will survive use by kids.
https://www.lenovo.com/de/de/sale/toprated/
 

The_Powa_of_Seiji_Ozawa

Member
SoSH Member
Sep 9, 2006
6,620
SS Botany Bay
If it needs to be Windows, then I second the Thinkpad recommendation. No need for it to the latest and greatest. I still use a Thinkpad T61 from c. 2007 that I equipped with a SSD and 8 GB RAM and it runs just about as well as my newer rigs for routine operations. I would just be leery of some of the "Thinkpad" line these days, as not all of them are truly Thinkpads. If a good, used/refurb X1 Carbon can be found cheap, grab it.
 

McDrew

Set Adrift on Memory Bliss
SoSH Member
Apr 11, 2006
3,638
Portland, OR
I would second the Chromebook idea. I got a cheap one, and it handles web/email/documents as much as I need it to.
 

cgori

Member
SoSH Member
Oct 2, 2004
2,897
SF, CA
I'm going to cross post this from one of the Coronavirus forums, where I initially posted it.

I mentor/help an Afghani girl from Iran here in Berlin. We usually meet up once a week to chat, help with school, stuff like that. We're doing it on the phone now.

She's also doing her schoolwork on her phone right now because she doesn't have a computer. I'm going to look for one for her now. Can someone tell me what kind of the bare minimum necessities are for a windows laptop these days? I'm going to try and get her a used laptop that she can use for school. Unfortunately, I can't get her a top of the line one, but I want to get her something functional at least. Could someone give me some advice? I haven't bought a PC in years and have no idea what she'll need to do her schoolwork.
Maybe the school has some recommendations about what their curriculum needs in terms of a PC? (I can pretty easily imagine something that is set up for / prefers Macs, or PCs or Chromebooks.)
 

candylandriots

unkempt
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Mar 30, 2004
9,910
Berlin
Maybe the school has some recommendations about what their curriculum needs in terms of a PC? (I can pretty easily imagine something that is set up for / prefers Macs, or PCs or Chromebooks.)
That’s a good idea too. Thank you! The only problem is I really don’t know how to get in touch with her school, and I’m not sure if she know. But I might ask some friends here with kids what they would buy for their children.
 

candylandriots

unkempt
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Mar 30, 2004
9,910
Berlin
One thing is she said that she needs to use PowerPoint. I think that she can get it on a Chromebook, and Google has its own version that’s compatible. But I also don’t want to get her stuck paying for a monthly subscription, given her financial situation. I’m seeing conflicting information about whether she would have to pay for an Office subscription. Sorry, I’ve been in the Mac ecosystem for so long, I’ve really missed all this stuff.
 

cgori

Member
SoSH Member
Oct 2, 2004
2,897
SF, CA
One thing is she said that she needs to use PowerPoint. I think that she can get it on a Chromebook, and Google has its own version that’s compatible. But I also don’t want to get her stuck paying for a monthly subscription, given her financial situation. I’m seeing conflicting information about whether she would have to pay for an Office subscription. Sorry, I’ve been in the Mac ecosystem for so long, I’ve really missed all this stuff.
The google online app ("Slides") is free for personal use (as are the other equivalent spreadsheet/wordprocessing apps). It's a bit different than the Microsoft versions, but they can basically can do the normal things you do most of the time. It definitely works with a Chromebook.

Office 365 is free for educational use (need a .edu or similar email address though), for using locally on a Windows PC.

There is also what used to be called Office Online, that should (may?) work with a Chromebook. I've never tried that.
 

kelpapa

Costanza's Hero
SoSH Member
Feb 15, 2010
3,888
Quick question and didn't want to start a thread. My mother in law is getting a new laptop. All she does is Facebook, email, and hunt for deals on United miles program. How different is the Chromebook from windows? Debating getting one, but concerned about changing operating systems. She's the worst person I have ever seen with a computer.
 

tmracht

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Aug 19, 2009
2,303
Does she use Android or IOS?
Quick question and didn't want to start a thread. My mother in law is getting a new laptop. All she does is Facebook, email, and hunt for deals on United miles program. How different is the Chromebook from windows? Debating getting one, but concerned about changing operating systems. She's the worst person I have ever seen with a computer.
 

tmracht

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Aug 19, 2009
2,303
Haha. Flip phone.
Okay so chromeos is definitely a little different. It's pretty straight forward but it's definitely a deviation from windows ecosystem. When Mia tried having her great grandmother use it she was lost. They do Facebook messaging on an ancient windows box all the time.

The other concern is if you aren't familiar with chromeos and you're the it on call can you do tech support without knowing it. We have a chromebook and it's weird. Definitely easier if she's illiterate to stick with window.
 

kelpapa

Costanza's Hero
SoSH Member
Feb 15, 2010
3,888
Okay so chromeos is definitely a little different. It's pretty straight forward but it's definitely a deviation from windows ecosystem. When Mia tried having her great grandmother use it she was lost. They do Facebook messaging on an ancient windows box all the time.

The other concern is if you aren't familiar with chromeos and you're the it on call can you do tech support without knowing it. We have a chromebook and it's weird. Definitely easier if she's illiterate to stick with window.
Yea I think we will probably about the Chromebook then. She does have her husband who was a hardware engineer. So I'm less concerned about the tech support. But if chromeos is that different we will probably about it. Thanks bud.
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
Maybe take a look at setting up a laptop with Linux Mint instead of ChromeOS
 

Joe Sixpack

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Sep 9, 2002
5,362
Canton, MA
Honestly chromeos is pretty simple if someone is just doing email, Facebook, etc. There's a chrome icon at the bottom of the screen, you click it, you do whatever you need from the web browser. For a basic user I don't think they'd really notice a difference or run into any issues if that was all they were doing.

If she's one of those people that prints a lot of stuff, that may be a different story. We got my son a chromebook for school a couple months ago. It took me a couple hours of digging through reddit and various support forums and tweaking a bunch of weird settings to get the printer to work.
 

bohous

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 21, 2005
3,374
Framingham
When did Chromebooks become so expensive? Is this a demand issue due to Covid? My daughter has a Chromebook I purchased last year for homework, but its only an 11" with 4gb RAM, which had been fine for homework and basic internets, but really struggles with Zoom. Our school district will be fully remote for at least the first 2 months so I'm looking to upgrade for her, as well as a new one for my son who has been sharing my personal laptop. You can't find an 8gb Chromebook for <$650 bucks. Similarly spec'd full W10 are significantly cheaper, but feel like there has been a surge in laptop pricing as well.
 

edoug

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
3,989

Couperin47

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
Demand is thru the roof. The Lenovo Outlet has virtually no refurbs, just discounted new laptops, all but one are i7 cpu models, virtually nothing under $1,000. Even fewer desktops too.

Laptop Experience (an authorized refurber for Lenovo and others) can, for example, deliver a Thinkpad T430 refurb (a very solid business laptop) with i5-3210M 2.6 Ghz cpu, decent 14" screen, 8 gig memory, 500 Tb SSD drive, CD/DVD drive, 2 x USB 3.0 and 2x USB 2.0, 11 a/b/g/n wifi with their own 1 yr warranty for $416 if you configure it here: http://laptopexperience.com/lenovo-thinkpad-t430-laptop-intel-core-i5-windows-10/

They also sell on Amazon. Needless to say, something like this is a real computer and runs rings around chromebooks.
 

bohous

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 21, 2005
3,374
Framingham
Demand is thru the roof. The Lenovo Outlet has virtually no refurbs, just discounted new laptops, all but one are i7 cpu models, virtually nothing under $1,000. Even fewer desktops too.

Laptop Experience (an authorized refurber for Lenovo and others) can, for example, deliver a Thinkpad T430 refurb (a very solid business laptop) with i5-3210M 2.6 Ghz cpu, decent 14" screen, 8 gig memory, 500 Tb SSD drive, CD/DVD drive, 2 x USB 3.0 and 2x USB 2.0, 11 a/b/g/n wifi with their own 1 yr warranty for $416 if you configure it here: http://laptopexperience.com/lenovo-thinkpad-t430-laptop-intel-core-i5-windows-10/

They also sell on Amazon. Needless to say, something like this is a real computer and runs rings around chromebooks.

500TB! I can fit the whole internet on this thing!
Seriously, this is an interesting, albeit weird, option. Is Lenovo actually still manufacturing laptops with an optical drive, VGA out, and a 4-1 card reader? They must be rebuilding using old lease laptops or something right?

Also thanks @Harry Hooper and @edoug for your recs as well.
 

Joe Sixpack

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Sep 9, 2002
5,362
Canton, MA
I bought one from Costco about a month ago for $299 (4gb RAM, but 14" with 1920x1080 screen which is rare at that price).

It looks like that model is gone since it's no longer on the costco.com web site. I think the back to school rush has everyone buying them now.
 

Couperin47

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
500TB! I can fit the whole internet on this thing!
Seriously, this is an interesting, albeit weird, option. Is Lenovo actually still manufacturing laptops with an optical drive, VGA out, and a 4-1 card reader? They must be rebuilding using old lease laptops or something right?

Also thanks @Harry Hooper and @edoug for your recs as well.
LOL Gb obviously. That part of the Thinkpad line is for business laptops where neither being extremely slim or light is considered as important as rugged versatility. There is also Displayport video. They continued to include the VGA because A) it costs virtually nothing but the connector and B) in many business locations the only input to commercial projectors for presentations are still limited to VGA input. The optical drive can actually be removed and replaced with a cassette that allows another hard drive. An ethernet port is always included, a lot of new thin laptops eschew this and unless wifi is open without a password, Internet connectivity becomes problematic: If a friend vists me good luck while I add his MAC address etc to my guest wifi account....

The current iteration of this line starts with the T490 and yes, now they omit the optical drive...
 

Couperin47

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
If you need current product, just got a Back-to-School Sale promo from Lenovo: a Thinkbook 14, a slimmer current less rugged laptop, uses an i5-1035G1, 4 cores instead of 2 but base frequency is only 1 Ghz (turbo up to 3.6) probably similar real world performance to the older 2 core 3210M that runs at base 2.6. USB 3.1, bluetooth, fast 512 Gig PCIe SSD....with discounts $699:

https://www.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkbook-series/Lenovo-ThinkBook-14-IML/p/20SL0013US
 

5050HindSight

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
1,390
Upstate NY
I'm surprised there isn't a more recent thread (or maybe I just sucked at finding it?)... I'm looking to buy a computer for the first time in 7-8 years. I feel like I'm out of my element as just about everything has changed, and I can't figure out what is worth it, and what isn't.

Budget: Probably up to $1,000 but less would be better

Uses: Daily would be web, email, zoom (or other teleconference) meetings, accounting/financial analysis. Occasionally streaming video like netflix. Possibly learning some data analysis (like through data camp)

Preferences/nice to haves: Prefer Windows environment but would consider chromebook. Probably don't want Mac as I don't have enough familiarity with the OS. Do laptops still have DVD drives? I'd prefer one with bluray but not a dealbreaker. Microsoft 365 Family would be another nice to have but likely a separate purchase.

Don't care as much about: I don't think I'd have much use for the 2-in-1's or touchscreens (unless you can convince me of a reason to reconsider that)

Anything else to consider?
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
I'm surprised there isn't a more recent thread (or maybe I just sucked at finding it?)... I'm looking to buy a computer for the first time in 7-8 years. I feel like I'm out of my element as just about everything has changed, and I can't figure out what is worth it, and what isn't.

Budget: Probably up to $1,000 but less would be better

Uses: Daily would be web, email, zoom (or other teleconference) meetings, accounting/financial analysis. Occasionally streaming video like netflix. Possibly learning some data analysis (like through data camp)

Preferences/nice to haves: Prefer Windows environment but would consider chromebook. Probably don't want Mac as I don't have enough familiarity with the OS. Do laptops still have DVD drives? I'd prefer one with bluray but not a dealbreaker. Microsoft 365 Family would be another nice to have but likely a separate purchase.

Don't care as much about: I don't think I'd have much use for the 2-in-1's or touchscreens (unless you can convince me of a reason to reconsider that)

Anything else to consider?
First, consider whether you really want a laptop vs. a desktop. Second, whatever you buy are you expecting to get something like 30-40 months out of it before replacement, or are you aiming for 60 months or more?
 

Max Power

thai good. you like shirt?
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
4,935
Boston, MA
Also think about whether you want to bring it different places of if it will just stay home all the time. If you're on the go with it, you'd want something lighter weight with better battery life, but if it stays at home you could get a larger screen and more power.
 

5050HindSight

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
1,390
Upstate NY
First, consider whether you really want a laptop vs. a desktop. Second, whatever you buy are you expecting to get something like 30-40 months out of it before replacement, or are you aiming for 60 months or more?
Thanks... I see myself using the machine in my home office at least 80% of the time, but I do want to have some flexibility to bring to other rooms or to take with me occasionally, so I'm leaning pretty heavily towards laptop and then would supplement with an external monitor and keyboard in the office setup. I'm pretty gentle on computers and not using for top productivity so I'd probably stretch a 3-4 year life out to 5-7 years.

Also think about whether you want to bring it different places of if it will just stay home all the time. If you're on the go with it, you'd want something lighter weight with better battery life, but if it stays at home you could get a larger screen and more power.
After the past year it's hard to picture being out of the house and in the public much at all, but even thinking about it in terms of post-Covid, I would anticipate minimal times out of the house. No work travel, vacations we can get by with phones or tablets, etc.
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
5050,

Here's an Asus from Newegg for $629.

Here's one from HP Direct for $899.

This lenovo from Walmart squeaks in at $949.

Any external USB DVD drive from LiteOn/LG/Asus should be fine. Best Buy has this one on sale for $27.99 right now. If you must have Blueray, that will cost at least double that amount.

Oh, and grab one of these or equivalent as well.
 
Last edited:

Max Power

thai good. you like shirt?
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
4,935
Boston, MA
If you're not going to take it anywhere, a laptop with a 15" screen would give you more screen space for working on documents or spreadsheets. I'd recommend going with an 11th gen Intel CPU. It was a big bump in graphics performance and battery life over the 10th, and if you're going to keep it for 5-7 years, it will age better. The newest AMD Ryzen mobile CPUs are supposed to be really good, too, but I haven't used one myself.

I'm personally a big fan of touchscreens even in a standard non-convertible laptop. We're all so used to our phones that you just naturally touch things and it's nice for it to do what you want. It's also much, much easier to pan and zoom a photo or map with a touchscreen than using a trackpad or mouse.
 

TallerThanPedroia

Civilly Disobedient
SoSH Member
Jul 19, 2005
18,235
Boston
Right now I have a Surface 3 that I both use as a tablet and laptop, though not much anymore for either since I moved and my desktop is in a much more convenient place than it used to be. But it's gotten quite slow.

I kinda want both a new tablet and a new laptop. The tablet for the indoor cycle we bought, and then eventually if I ever travel again. The laptop because I want to be able to type and also I want something with an actual hinge. But I don't actually want to get two devices.

I was considering just getting a Fire 10 whenever it goes on sale again. I was hoping to find some kind of keyboard case that also has a real hinge instead of a kickstand but I'm apparently the only person in the world who wants such a thing as I can't find anything decent (just random stuff like this).

But now I'm thinking maybe an Acer Chromebook? It's decently cheap and has the form factor I'm looking for. All I want to do is web browsing, watching streaming things (quality doesn't need to be great, this is stuff I watch when I'm exercising, not Lawrence of Arabia), and non-professional Zoom calls (which is really where that hinge comes in).
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
Right now I have a Surface 3 that I both use as a tablet and laptop, though not much anymore for either since I moved and my desktop is in a much more convenient place than it used to be. But it's gotten quite slow.

I kinda want both a new tablet and a new laptop. The tablet for the indoor cycle we bought, and then eventually if I ever travel again. The laptop because I want to be able to type and also I want something with an actual hinge. But I don't actually want to get two devices.
FYI,
Dell Refurbished will sell you this ultra-portable laptop with touchscreen & webcam, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Pro for $301.08 after 48% off with code LUCKY48DEAL but must be purchased by 9:00 AM CST* tomorrow.

* Ad copy probably should say CDT
 

nayrbrey

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
1,456
Driving somewhere most likely
FYI,
Dell Refurbished will sell you this ultra-portable laptop with touchscreen & webcam, 256GB SSD, and Windows 10 Pro for $301.08 after 48% off with code LUCKY48DEAL but must be purchased by 9:00 AM CST* tomorrow.

* Ad copy probably should say CDT
Thanks for this link, my 10 year old HP laptop went dark a few weeks ago and I had been looking around for an inexpensive Windows OS replacement.
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
Great, put it through its paces when you receive it to make sure everything (especially the screen) is in good working order.
 

5050HindSight

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
1,390
Upstate NY
Just wanted to circle back... @Harry Hooper and @Max Power

I ended up building off of your advice and went with a solid HP (smilar to the one HH suggested) at Staples. I focused on 15", FHD, 12GB Ram, 512GB SSD, 11th Gen intel i7 as my minimum requirements and was happy with the price point. I added a 27" monitor and Office 365 Family (as much for the cloud storage as the office suite) and it came to just over $1,000 after tax delivered to my door. It's also much sleeker than I was expecting - much closer in form factor to an Apple than the Windows laptops I'm used to. And the built in speakers sound great as well.

HP 15
 

Max Power

thai good. you like shirt?
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
4,935
Boston, MA
Just wanted to circle back... @Harry Hooper and @Max Power

I ended up building off of your advice and went with a solid HP (smilar to the one HH suggested) at Staples. I focused on 15", FHD, 12GB Ram, 512GB SSD, 11th Gen intel i7 as my minimum requirements and was happy with the price point. I added a 27" monitor and Office 365 Family (as much for the cloud storage as the office suite) and it came to just over $1,000 after tax delivered to my door. It's also much sleeker than I was expecting - much closer in form factor to an Apple than the Windows laptops I'm used to. And the built in speakers sound great as well.

HP 15
Looks good. One thing that HP often does is load their computers up with McAfee garbage. I'd remove all of that and just go with the built in Windows Defender. You may lose some small degree of protection, but regain a lot of performance.
 

bohous

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 21, 2005
3,374
Framingham
Just wanted to circle back... @Harry Hooper and @Max Power

I ended up building off of your advice and went with a solid HP (smilar to the one HH suggested) at Staples. I focused on 15", FHD, 12GB Ram, 512GB SSD, 11th Gen intel i7 as my minimum requirements and was happy with the price point. I added a 27" monitor and Office 365 Family (as much for the cloud storage as the office suite) and it came to just over $1,000 after tax delivered to my door. It's also much sleeker than I was expecting - much closer in form factor to an Apple than the Windows laptops I'm used to. And the built in speakers sound great as well.

HP 15
I have a lower spec'd 14" version that I bought a fee months ago and have been really happy with the overall performance and build. My nitpick is that the silver keyboard can be hard to read in certain light. The power button tucked to the left the delete key is an odd placement and exasperated since you have the numeric keypad.
 

cgori

Member
SoSH Member
Oct 2, 2004
2,897
SF, CA
Looks good. One thing that HP often does is load their computers up with McAfee garbage. I'd remove all of that and just go with the built in Windows Defender. You may lose some small degree of protection, but regain a lot of performance.
FYI: I actually don't think you lose much (or maybe anything) using Windows Defender, from all that I have read. In some cases it performed better than AVG/McAfee/etc is what I remember.
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
The 2-year version of the Bitdefender Family Pack for 15 devices has been on sale several times in recent months for about $40 from Newegg, Fry's (now deceased), and the like. It could be available again soon. Here's the current Best Buy 1-year version.
 
Last edited:

Joe Sixpack

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Sep 9, 2002
5,362
Canton, MA
FYI: I actually don't think you lose much (or maybe anything) using Windows Defender, from all that I have read. In some cases it performed better than AVG/McAfee/etc is what I remember.
You don't lose anything. Windows Defender is really good, and McAfee is shit.
 

TheRooster

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 3, 2001
2,356
I was considering just getting a Fire 10 whenever it goes on sale again. I was hoping to find some kind of keyboard case that also has a real hinge instead of a kickstand but I'm apparently the only person in the world who wants such a thing as I can't find anything decent (just random stuff like this).

But now I'm thinking maybe an Acer Chromebook? It's decently cheap and has the form factor I'm looking for. All I want to do is web browsing, watching streaming things (quality doesn't need to be great, this is stuff I watch when I'm exercising, not Lawrence of Arabia), and non-professional Zoom calls (which is really where that hinge comes in).
Amazon now has the Fire10 on sale for $95
 

Harry Hooper

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
28,796
I ordered some new Western Digital hard drives at the end of last week. They were delivered yesterday with a date of manufacture on them from only 3 weeks ago. That is one tight supply chain.
 

tmracht

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Aug 19, 2009
2,303
I ordered some new Western Digital hard drives at the end of last week. They were delivered yesterday with a date of manufacture on them from only 3 weeks ago. That is one tight supply chain.
Yep I used to work for 2 hard drive companies. And was able to see their factory that was next to my old Display factory in Thailand, place was insane.