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July 13, 2010

Ask Ben Anything July Edition: Fun for the whole family!

It’s family time here at Ask Ben Anything! Not just because my son Evan James was born on June 30th, but also because this month I got literally dozens of questions that began “I’m looking to get my mom/dad/brother/sister/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/etc. a brand new PC and am having some trouble picking one…”. So I thought I’d share a few that were representative of the types of questions that I got over the last few weeks.

Remember that if you have any kind of PC buying question, you can Ask Ben Anything by finding me on Twitter @BenThePCGuy, leaving a comment on one of my posts, or emailing me at [email protected].

Hey Ben –

My brother is looking for a laptop that meets the following reqs:

1. Cheap, as in, $300 or UNDER. (this is probably the biggest req, so I put it first. )

2. Screen size of 14″ or greater.

3. Processor and RAM at least 1.5 ghz and 1 GB, respectively.

Thomas S.

$300 means you’re going to be almost exclusively looking at netbooks, but since they all run Windows 7 beautifully, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. I’ve recently grown fond of the Gateway LT210 series and I recommend you check them out – they look great, perform well, and are right in your brother’s price range. If you can get him to go up just a bit to the $500 range, you can get some really great full-size machines. I’d first have him check out the Acer Timeline 5810, 4810 and 3810 series. I reviewed them a few weeks ago and was impressed by their performance-to-price ratio. We also schlepped one of the 5810’s to our press event last month, where it was very well received. You might also want to look at the HP G62.  It’s got a Core i3 processor, sharp design, a very nice display, and it runs right around $500. My mother-in-law just got one and I really liked it when I played with it. …and by “played with it” I mean “was conscripted to set it up for her.”

My sister is in the market for a new laptop and needs something sturdy (can handle being tossed around a bit) and optimized for entertainment (music, TV, movies, photos). She is willing to spend up to $1,000. Any recommendations?

Thanks in advance!

Julia K

At that price you have lots of options, and all of our recent offer machines – the Sony VAIO EB, the Toshiba e205, or the HP dm4 – meet your criteria. The latter is the one I’m most intrigued by right now because it has switchable graphics and a really slick laser-etched aluminum case. All are under $1000 and very solid machines with big drives, Core i5 processors, and nice, bright screens. The Asus UL80vt, the big brother of the UL30vt that I’ve been carrying as my main travel machine for the last few weeks is also a good bet. It also has switchable graphics, a big 500GB drive, and gets 10+ hours of battery life.

Then again….

If you want REALLY sturdy, go with a ruggedized laptop. I’m a devotee of the Panasonic ToughBook 30 and the Dell E6400 XFR. Both are shock, water, dust and impact resistant, and feature fully armored cases and crack resistant screens. They’re used mainly by professionals in heavy industry, law enforcement and the military, but they’re available for moms to purchase as well.

My mom is looking at iPads, but uses a Windows 7 PC for work and loves it (she’s a teacher). She wants something she can travel with (they live in Ecuador, so lots of traveling), that’s super light so she could answer email if she wanted, listen to music, read eBooks and watch TV shows.

Is there a sub $1000 (or around that price point) netbook or super lightweight PC you’d recommend? She likes the idea of a touch screen for the ebooks, but that isn’t a deal breaker.

Beth N.

If lightweight is key, netbooks are always a good bet. I just got my hands on an HP Mini 311 which has NVIDIA ION graphics inside, meaning it’s very capable of handling movies and recorded TV shows. If you go to full-size lappies, I’m a new fan of the just-released Toshiba r705. It’s under $1000, has a Core i5 processor, and Toshiba bills it as the lightest full-feature laptop ever made (it weighs just over 3lbs.). There’s also Dell’s brand-new Inspiron R series, which are also pretty impressive in terms of specs and video playback and available under a grand. And while it’s (way) over her ideal price point, I can’t leave out the Sony VAIO Z. It’s wicked light, nasty powerful, and super slick.

Thanks again for all of your questions – keep ‘em coming!