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In search of the perfect laptop

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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I’m starting law school in the not to distant future and one of the first orders of business is to find the perfect laptop. The University of Houston law center techies have a recommended Dell laptop that gets you 3 years of free technical support, but frankly I’ve used a Dell for the last 3 years and it’s just not worth it, in my humble opinion.

So what constitutes the perfect laptop these days? Before I get down to the technical, let’s step back for a moment. What do I need to really do with a laptop?

Mostly basic stuff. Personally I think only fools buy new cars and laptops with the fastest processors. Fools or rich people, that is. Primarily, I need to be able to take notes, take quizes (on software that only plays nice with Windows apparently, no mac for me) and check e-mail in the library wirelessly. Those are the big three, for which just about any PC laptop will suffice. What does that mean so far?

  • Windows Laptop running XP Pro
  • Embedded wireless card, preferably G

However, some of my supplementary requirements will likely narrow the field quite a bit. My inner-geek desparately wants to be able to record the lectures I attend, either to share with fellow students or to review prior to the test. This will enable me to be less of a transcription machine during class (terrified I’ll miss the quirks that are on the final but not in the book) and be more engaged with the material, knowing I can always go back and review the tape if I get lost in a rabbit trail of thought. Ideally, I would like to have both audio and video. Video would require a video camera, a video camera that could capture the feed and the appropriate hardware hookups. Just doing Audio would require a mic-in and a microphone. Video would also require beefier hardware to handle the encoding. There are a lot of hardware/software combinations here, but I think I’ll be able to find one running the Windows Media Center, along with the appropriate inputs.

  • Windows Laptop running XP Pro Windows Media Center
  • RCA or S-video inputs (not sure about this one)
  • 80 GB plus hard drive
  • 512 MB plus RAM

Since I’ll be away from home a lot, I’d like my computer to serve as a mobile command center. I’ve signed up for Skype and plan on getting Houston number in lieu of a land-line. As I’ve discovered, headsets are unworkable and you never have them set up when someone calls, so a built-in microphone is a must. Skype does video conferencing as well, so a built-in web cab would be ideal. So far I’ve only seen these in Sony VIAOs.

  • built-in microphone
  • built-in web cam

Storage and media are another issue. Any laptop I get must have a CD burner (CDRW) and it would be awfully nice to have a DVD-RW for backup purposes. With an eye on cost, though, only CDRW is a necessity. Also, since I like to take pictures and I hate camera cables, a built-in memory card reader is a must.

  • CDRW
  • built-in memory card reader

So that’s my initial list. Expensive? Normally, but I think I can find some diamonds in the rough. I don’t want to spend more than $1000. Definitely not more than $1200. Rebates abound and deal-watchers have plenty of tools at their disposal on the internet now. Since I won’t be ready to buy for another couple of months, this is mostly just to see what’s out there, but it would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?

What’s next? Off to Best Buy to see if there are any intangibles I’ve overlooked.

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Category: life hacking, life in houston, technology


One Response

  1. [...] As recounted in my previous post In search of the perfect laptop I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect laptop (at least for me) before law school starts on May 30. In the previous post I detailed the first step of my buying process – deciding on what I needed, then setting out for the hunt. It occurred to me that detailing the experience would be an interesting project and perhaps provide some guidance for someone considering a next major purchase. [...]

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