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June 18, 2005

A cheap student laptop?

"Anyway," our correspondent informed us today by email, "as a student at university it is imperative I have a working laptop. I've had the same one for about five years now and as you can tell, it's fallen apart and doesn't seem to work anymore. Nor is it up-to-date as all computers should be.

"So, with a budget of about $1500, I was wondering which computer you would recommend me. I would mainly be using it for word processing but would also use it for photos and the Internet. I've decided I don't need a whiz bang laptop nor any of the fancy equipment such as wireless Internet but I would like one that is fast, easy to carry around and won't empty my hip pocket."

Before we started the Bleeding Edge blog, we would have attempted to answer that question. We would probably have started by suggesting that while the price of laptops has dropped, the best you can hope for out of those requirements - fast, easy to carry around and $1600 is at best, two out of three, and even those two will have to be considered in relative terms.

For $1500, you're not going to get either the lightest of laptops or the fastest. And indeed, people who - like us - put size and weight above everything, don't care all that much about speed. Ironically, the fastest laptops these days are the so-called desktop replacements, and they're only marginally more portable than a bucket of bricks.

So far as university students go, we'd have suggested that the best portable computer these days isn't a conventional laptop. We'd prefer a Tablet PC. Toshiba's just released a budget version, in the Satellite R10, but it's roughly double this particular budget.

We'd have added that when you're hunting for a laptop, you need to also consider things like battery life, size of screen and hard drive, the amount of RAM, the graphics system, whether or not it has a CD/DVD player built-in, and whether the brand you're considering has a reputation for reliability. Although there are a lot more OEM laptops around these days at good prices - and they generally come from the same factories that produce the best-known brands - we don't know enough yet about their build quality to recommend them.

We'd have done a little hunting around, and discovered for instance that Dell seems to be offering a particularly good deal on its Inspiron 6000MUA. It's got a 15-inch screen and weighs just over 3kg, which isn't particularly light, but the Centrino chip is probably fast enough for this reader's purposes and it comes with wireless. But even with the reduction, it's going to cost more than $1500. The answer to the question might be to look for a good second-hand laptop, but we thought we'd turn the question over to the Bleeding Edge community. Any ideas?

Posted by cw at June 18, 2005 06:52 PM

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The answer is simple.
A 12" apple ibook!
Apple sell all their equipment cheaper to students, so the going price including free delivery is AU$1,438.80
This should meet the requirements very easily, as it includes iLife 05 and OS X tiger and appleworks for word processing.
Plus, they'll look like the coolest kid on campus.
The specs I have listed below.
The details are:
Estimated Ship: 1-2 days
Free Shipping
1.2GHz PowerPC G4
512K L2 cache @ 1.2GHz
12-inch TFT Display
1024x768 resolution
30GB Ultra ATA drive
Combo Drive
ATI Mobility Radeon 9200
32MB DDR video memory
AirPort Extreme built-in

Posted by: Alister at June 18, 2005 09:00 PM

Simplest question I've ever heard, Charles. Try here: http://www.tpg.com.au/online/

Some very nice deals on both AMD and Intel systems, all but one for less than $1500. :)

Posted by: Luke (aka DogBoy) at June 18, 2005 09:04 PM

A second hand laptop? Nooooooo!

I'm surprised your correspondent has had his for 5 years - notebooks have a high damage rate. A second hand notebook isn't like a second hand desktop - the hard disk has been bumped a lot, the screen hinges have been continually stressed, the cabling has been bent and twisted and if the screen/lid has not been heavily reinforced, the LCD panel would have had lots of stress twisting everytime you open and flex it. Additionally notebook prices have come down a lot faster than desktop prices and the technology has moved faster as well.

The bottom end of the market - notebooks below $1600 (a $100-$200 makes a big difference in options) to notebooks of $999 is well populated now. Just look at the Green Guide ads.
So much so, one needs to rank the purchase criteria before one goes shopping because there are so many alternatives. Now rank the following:
a. robustness due to real portable use or are we leaving the machine at home only
b. battery life - are we using the machine on batteries for the whole day or will we plug into library and tute room power?
c. weight - do we want to bias towards a reasonable light screen - towards 12 inch or towards a big screen, e.g. 15 inch - see question a.
d. how careful a user are we? the kind who work with eggshells or the kind who thump things?

More importantly, at this price bracket forget the following:
tablet pc
superlight cuties like the small sony vaios
exotic metal sony chromed skins
dvd burner
firewire connection
3D accelerated nvidia/ati graphics

With regard OEM notebooks, yes, they are often from the Far East factories. However, even at this pricing, you get HP/Compaq, Acer/Benq, IBM, TwinHead - meaning that the big names are still competitive.

Posted by: Ananda Sim at June 19, 2005 12:23 AM

http://www.tpg.com.au/online/ has several laptops that fit the requirements. I'll include the standard $99 delivery fee in the prices.

The first two are excellent for word processing, number crunching, DVD's, etc. but the graphics end won't handle modern 3D gaming very well at all.

$1297 - the mobile Athlon 64 2700+ (35W), 512 MB, 40Gig HDD, DVD RW+/-, XP Home, Wifi (PCMCIA), 15.4in widescreen.

$1497 - the mobile Athlon 64 2800+ (35W), 512 MB, 60Gig HDD, DVD RW+/-, XP Home, Wifi (PCMCIA), 15.4in widescreen.

The third laptop is slightly over budget but more suited to gaming, and I suspect it's lighter as well. Inbuilt wifi means it has a free PCMCIA slot.

$1597 - Pentium M 725 (1.60GHz, 2MB cache, 400MHz FSB), 512 MB, 40Gig HDD, DVD RW+/-, XP Home, Wifi, 15.4in widescreen, 64MB ATi Mobility Radeon 9700(!), 2.5kg

TPG's website claims it's been trading for 18 years (in the general IT industry), so it's not likely to go out of business tomorrow. But having said that, there's no hand holding with their laptops either. You get 1 yr RTB warranty and that's it, no carry case, no free & frivolous software, no other options except to buy it, or not.

Build quality won't be the best, but it's not too horrible either. If you just want a serviceable laptop with a warranty and not much else, then this is probably the way to go.

I should point out that I haven't bought a laptop from TPG but I did a lot of research towards buying one about 6 mths ago (then I realised I only wanted it as a new toy...). The TPG forums over at Whirlpool were an indespensible resource on user experience with the TPG laptops.

Best of luck with finding the perfect laptop,


Posted by: Peter at June 19, 2005 12:59 AM

I am wanting to buy a laptop too and have come across this website where second hand ones are an option.

Posted by: Danielle at June 19, 2005 01:54 AM

FWIW as a student he/she qualifies for Apple edu pricing so a 12" 1.2GHz iBook would come out around this price point (≈$1490) from the Apple Store

Posted by: Tim McLaughlan at June 19, 2005 09:08 AM

You might want to check out refurbished iBooks and Powerbooks.

One place I know you can get them sometimes is:


The powerbooks are out of the price range. In any event, you would also want to add further 512 M RAM. Before the end of the 3 month warranty, you should also take out the 3 year Applecare.

Sometimes newwavesystems.com has them too.

Posted by: Warwick A Rothnie at June 19, 2005 09:55 AM

Perhaps the more fundamental question is "do you need a laptop"? Is it a "nice to have" rather than a "must have"? I completed a degree (early 90's) and graduate diploma (early 2000's) without a laptop, instead working on quite old desktop's at home, and for the diploma, at work (after hours) too. Is the laptop for image or a genuine necessity? $1,500 would get you a new mini-mac and probably a screen and keyboard, with all the software you require. After 11 years of work I only now have my first laptop.

Posted by: Dave at June 19, 2005 11:31 AM

Interesting question, my very old Toshiba laptop, we're talking DOS Word 4 and 20MB! harddrive, just died and I also need something new to lug around uni, especially to the library and for the odd research trip interstate and overseas. And I'm pretty sure I'm going second hand because I have a desktop for grunt work and I don't fancy carrying even $1,000 around.

For me I want lightness, a processor and ram that can run XP, usb ports and at least a CDRW drive. Hdrives for older laptops are much easier to pick up now so this means as a rule you can pick up something going cheap because it has 15 gigs or less, and slap 40gigs in it.

I've been looking at the lighter (usually 12inch screen) Compaqs and Acer Travelmates. Acer in particular had a nice very light unit, under 2.3 kg, with a seperate CD and floppy drive, that has processors from 600-850mhz. They usually have 256mb ram. These can be picked up on ebay for less than $600, some much less. This works fine for notetaking, light graphics and number crunching, and storing audio files and pictures. They certainly will surf the web and run Office fine.

The issues would be that I guess they wouldn't be easy to adapt to wireless (correct me if I'm wrong) and thus couldn't take advantage of the proliferation of hotspots unis are setting up around campus. Also they often don't have good batteries, or even a battery at all. This means also carting the power to the library or wherever or investing around $120, maybe more, for a new one.

If I was buying new the ibooks (despite my distaste for Mac)represent good value.

That's my take, I look forward to others observations.

Posted by: tflip at June 19, 2005 12:06 PM

you can pick up a laptop from BigW and office works and other re-tailer an Acer for $999. i fyou are looking for a cheap laptop with combo drive and 15inch disply 256Mb RAM, 40 or 60GB HDD don't remember.
have a look at it.
it was in the latest catalog rom BigW and Office works

Posted by: Gto_pontiac at June 19, 2005 02:14 PM

Apple 12" ibook + extra RAM module. Should fit the budget just about.

Posted by: steff at June 19, 2005 04:18 PM

I was at the Target store at Knox yesterday and they had a Medion unit with a 14" screen $998. Not usre of the specs as I wasn't all that interested (vive le PowerBook!).

They had some other no-name there for $999 and I saw that Officeworks was flogging some sort of Acer unti at sub-$1000 the other day.

If the student was going to have a paying job in a year or two then an el cheapo that lasted a year might do the job. Given it's coming from a large retailer you'd also have some buyer protection.

Personally, I'd keep an eye on the specials list at Next Byte (www.nextbyte.com.au) and wait till a 12" iBook hit the price range I was after. This list holds the factory/store returns and some trade-in stock.

Posted by: Anthony Caruana at June 19, 2005 06:26 PM

Right now Willtech have some ex-hire HP VT6200 P4 1.5 256Mb 30Gb DVD Docking Stn WinXP going for less than $1000.

They've got some extra RAM if you need it. Not super fast but should do a student doing wordprocessing and some photos.

Interested, contact Judi on 03 9878 7296.

Also there's always the entry level iBook for $1 under $1600.

Posted by: chriscurnow at June 19, 2005 08:58 PM

Another recommendation for the 12" Apple iBook.They are designed with students in mind, and are a super tough, drop-resistant snow-white construction. They are also very cute and portable, and do 1024x768 screen resolution. Also, a dedicated graphics card means that they are a big step above anything with "integrated graphics" or "onboard intel graphics" etc. These systems merely steal system RAM to run the graphics with, which significantly slows down the system. This is bad. :P

Also, the iBook comes with all the software you will need: with any PC you will need to purchase anti-virus software, and probably some other word-processing stuff too. The iBook has no virus issues, and runs an OS that is a good 5 years ahead of Windows XPoo, and probably even better than Longhorn (which even now is still years away from release.)


Posted by: Ozi at June 20, 2005 02:04 PM

Does the student have a part-time job? If he has a co-operative employer he could salary sacrifice a laptop and pay for it out of pre-tax dollars (this could allow his budget to stretch a little further)

Posted by: Mick at June 20, 2005 02:37 PM

i love the fact that at least 3 people have suggested an apple! keep up the fight guys!

- matt

Posted by: Matt Shadbolt at June 21, 2005 01:16 AM

I would advise against the iBooks at this stage. As nice as they look and as excellent as OS X is, they're drastically underpowered for the price you pay for them and now that the Mactel announcement has been made it's only a matter of time before some Mac laptops with modern chips are released.

Posted by: Watermelon Boy at June 21, 2005 01:00 PM

yeah... lets all take the advice of someone calling themselves "watermelon." :P

I would agree that a Pentium M chip would be handy in an iBook, but that is 6months away, probably more. In terms of "drastically underpowered for the price", it is a) short-sighted to judge computers purely on clock speed, which is a hugely inaccurate tool for comparison, and b) wrong to call them overpriced: with student discounts, the iBook is a bargain, and comes with more and better software than any black plastic laptop. :)

Posted by: Ozi at June 23, 2005 07:19 AM

I don't like iBooks because they are white. It would quickly get filthy! Get an IBM, because they are black and won't look so dirty.

Posted by: Billy at June 23, 2005 04:42 PM

Are you the person on that ABC tv show that said "does it come in any other colours?"

Posted by: Jamrob at June 23, 2005 08:37 PM

The Compaq Presario M2045AP has a $100 cashback at the moment, they are very reasonable for what you get
Pentium Celeron M 350 (1.3 ghz, 1M Chache, 400mhz FSB)
40 GB Hard drive
Intel Extreme 2 graphics 64mb shared with 256mb
256mb DDR266 memory
15inch TFT XGA
DVD/CD-RW combo
Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG 802.11b/g WLAN with 125HSM*/SpeedBooster support; integrated 10/100 LAN
56k modem
6 in 1 media reader
JBL pro speakers
Im picking one up next week for $1089

Posted by: Sam at June 24, 2005 08:48 PM

Another vote for the 12" iBook. It's very rugged, nice and small, and pretty light. The 12" screen is on the small side for certain tasks, but works fine for text-oriented tasks like writing papers and surfing the web.

I have both a 12" iBook and a fully loaded 15" PowerBook, and the iBook still gets plenty of use. Sure, it's not the fastest computer out there, but it is plenty fast as long as you have enough RAM and aren't doing anything too processor intensive.

If the 12" screen is too small, you can easily hook it up to an external monitor. It requires a 3rd party patch to do screen spanning though.

Posted by: Ken Liu at June 27, 2005 04:40 PM

After shopping over several weeks for a laptop, I recently purchased a Sony Vaio VGN-A17GP second-hand. Having now used it for several hours each day for three months, including six weeks travelling through four European countries, I confess to being absolutely delighted with it. Rock solid in its performance; the 15.1” screen the best of any I saw in its resolution, clarity and brilliance; wireless works a treat when travelling tempting wireless piracy often; battery life is 3 hrs plus each use; keyboard smooth and quiet; weight a bearable 2.8 kgs; the fan makes virtually no noise; and it has plenty of crunch to snap through the spreadsheets I often use.

It was purchased from www.laptop.com.au at 102 Dover, Richmond. They specialize in factory refurbished Sony’s with full factory warranty. Price was $2,000 after trading in my old Toshiba Portege 3020, plus obtaining a refund of the GST when exiting Melbourne airport overseas (what a steal that is - you can do so within 30 days of purchase). Dan Ho the owner of Laptop.com.au gave unobtrusive expert service, as did the laconic chief techo John, who thinks made-in-Japan Sony makes the most trouble-free laptops available. So far, he is spot on.

Posted by: Barry at June 28, 2005 01:45 PM

To you Apple peddlers, Your iBooks blow.
so do your gay white ipods with crap ear buds.

The TPG Amd units seem good.
I love evil black TOSHY, with Echo sound card and Shure earphones.

Posted by: stormloss at August 23, 2005 02:04 AM

Sony Vaio have really great trade in deals at the moment.also hp back to school deals have been recommended until end of the month.
go now have a look.I still believe ebay is the best place to get bargain laptops.but some that i have purchased lately have no os installed not a problem if you have install disk or you download os like linux which costs nothin.anyway check the link see what you find.ps:there are no google adds on this page..just links to real deals..

Posted by: Cheap laptop at July 19, 2006 06:45 PM

Yes to second hand laptops.

Second hand laptops are really the way to go. If you buy a quality corporate brand and model (like a T-series IBM for example) it will be much better build quality, and lighter and more durable than a brand new cheapy consumer model.

There are some online retailers, for example http://www.bargainseeker.com.au and http://www.laptop.com.au that sell them with a warranty (BargainSeeker offer a 1 year warranty).

Posted by: Johno at November 17, 2006 04:05 PM

My last Laptop purchase was a well used ibm thinkpad,very cheap on ebay ofcourse..thinkpad models have special features for shock protection
so if you are wanting to save money or you are on a budget the thinkpad is a great option.the power supply and cables are cheap and easy to replace and most are constructed with extra strong materials..there are many laptops made from weak plastic and one solid bump can sometimes be the beginning of the end..do some research but my advice is thinkpad.they are really tuffff..and probably the safest choice for second hand buyers...goodluck...Have a nice day...
ps: there is a picture of my ibm r30 on my website
used for advertising purposes..but it is the one I got cheap on ebay...

Posted by: cheapest laptops at November 28, 2006 02:16 PM

I disagree on the post that said never to buy a second hand notebook. My last laptop was bought from Notebooks Galore http://www.notebooksgalore.com.au/ (a toshiba A100) and i haven't had a problem with it.

I still have 6 months of warranty left i do anyhow (it came with 12months warranty and a 30day money back guarantee). New ones are so overpriced that it just makes sense sometimes. Though i guess it depends on what your requirements are.

Some people need the bleeding edge models. (pun not quite intended)

Posted by: Brendon at January 16, 2007 11:59 AM

A student may want to consider hiring or leasing a laptop for the reason outline above, including damage and needing to upgrade instead of buy new.

Posted by: Computer Rental at January 14, 2008 03:24 PM