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Laptop Qualifications

March 11, 2010

I have never owned a brand new computer of any kind. My current desktop is old and rebuilt by my tech savvy step-father. Not to bad mouth his skills, I’m faced with a plague of issues. Always worried it’s going to crash and what the down time will mean to me, writing wise, I’m the type of writer who prefers pen and paper over word processors, but at some time the computer will play a factor in the writing process.

A few weeks ago, I received word I would be given a substantial amount of money for my hard blogging work. I caught myself getting a little excited because it meant I could buy a new computer. It meant all my old worries would go out the door. Thus, the comparison shopping began. There’s a lot to consider when buying a new laptop: screen size, RAM, CD burner, USB ports, etc. Do you plan to play games on it? Watch DVDs or play CDs? All will play a factor in your decision.

You can find a more in-depth explanation for features writers should look for in articles via a Google search. Graeme Houston penned one for Absolute Write called A Guide to Laptops for Writers. It doesn’t hurt to ask your fellow writers for suggestions and advice on the matter as well.

My quest for a new laptop ended with a huge setback, leaving me with future computer battles. What computer would you recommend for writers? Why?

Andrea will not let the setback get to her. One day she will be the proud owner of a new laptop.
  1. March 11, 2010 3:05 am

    I have an E-Machine desktop and a Toshiba Satellite laptop. These computers are fine for me for writing work. They each cost me no more than 400 brand new. I’ve had very few problems with them, and only recently did I upgrade the RAM in them. (RAM makes a huge difference). As with all computers, back everything up. I had a tablet PC a few years back which was a high end computer and one day it just randomly died on me, only to be deemed unfixable! So…to make a long story short, I’ve found my less expensive computer to be more reliable than the high-end computer.

  2. March 11, 2010 4:26 am

    I’d recommend a macbook and copy of Scrivener if its in your budget. Awesome computer, even awesomer program

  3. March 11, 2010 5:59 am

    I’d agree with the danpowell, a Macbook with Scrivener. For some reason it just feels like a writer’s computers and plus hardly any games work on it which reduces procrastination.

  4. March 11, 2010 8:50 am

    Each time I’ve considered a new laptop I’ve toyed with the idea of a Macbook, but I’ve just never had the extra money to spend when it came time to make the decision. Another thing to consider is that any software you already have won’t work on the Macbook.

    Sony and Toshiba make excellent laptops that have reputations as long-lasting computers, but obviously they cost more. A recent addition to the market are ASUS computers. Though I’ve never owned one I’ve heard generally good reviews about them, and they are cheaper than some other brands. From personal experience I would shy away from HP, Compaq and Acer.

    Here are three important tips if you’ll be a first time laptop buyer/owner.

    1. Get the RAM up front. To upgrade RAM later you will have to find the specific RAM module for your computer (there are some exceptions to this) , and while it’s not as expensive as if used to be, it still usually cheaper to pay for it up front.

    2. The biggest laptop-killer is heat. Get one of those laptop cooling pads to sit your laptop on. I don’t carry mine around town with my laptop, but I keep it on the desk where I generally use my laptop at home.

    3. The second biggest laptop-killer is dust. You need to make sure your laptop is relatively easy to clean out. I liked my Acer computer, but it came with no disassembly instructions, so the only way to clean out the dust was to send it in for servicing. You can generally check this by asking a GOOD salesperson or googling the model.

    If you do a relatively good job managing the heat and the dust you can double the life of your laptop.

  5. March 11, 2010 3:52 pm

    If you’ve got the money, as others have said – go with a Mac and a copy of Scrivener. By far the best bit of writing software I’ve ever used.

    Another bit of software I’ve used on the Mac is WriteRoom, which basically creates a distraction free environment, and just concentrates on the writing. There is a similar thing for PCs called Darkroom, which has the advantage of being free!

  6. March 15, 2010 1:18 pm

    I’m going to be slightly contrarian here and suggest that Mac may not be the way to go if you’re used to Windows machines. There are some nice things about Mac, to be sure, and I know several people who swear by them. But, what you’re doing is text entry. You don’t need all the things a Mac does to write. Look at the ads in your local papers and check the specials. You can often upgrade them at the time of purchase. Get as much RAM as you can and a big a hard drive as you can, right up front. Those will be the only things you’ll really change anyway.

    Also, a note on software;
    1. You can get almost everything for the PC than you can get for the Mac.
    2. Look into free software. There’s a lot of it out there, like OpenOffice and GIMP, which is a Photoshop “replacement” and the previously mentioned Darkroom.

    Finally, though you might not be able to tell from my linked website, I do computer “stuff” for a living. My other blog, that started as a much more professional blog before devolving into the personal mess it is now, is Diary of a Network Geek. Just Google “network geek’, and you’ll find it.

    Good luck with whatever you end up getting!

  7. March 21, 2010 11:27 am

    A laptop is by far the best way to go. That way you can take your work with you wherever you go — whether it’s just home at your desk, or to your local library, or on a road trip.

    I have a Mac, but having grown up in the Windows world, I far prefer a Windows PC — which I find to be more useful for writing than the pretty Mac OS is. Personally, I found that not only is a Mac initially more expensive, but it keeps taking money from my pocket throughout its life. But if you’re the type of person for whom the clean white box is helpful for your creative process, then there’s no other argument to be made.

    I like that there is more freeware available for the PC, including software indispensable for me as I work at the writing trade. I use the venerable old Keynote for keeping my project notes. I use yWriter for the actual writing process. I use either Compendium or Freemind for brainstorming ideas. I use OpenProject for laying out a timeline. Although I use MS Word for formatting my final manuscript, you can use OpenOffice, which is in almost every respect MS Office’s equal. (Note that several of these run on multiple platforms, including Mac, but not my two essential tools, yWriter and Keynote. )

    If you’re on a budget, using a Windows laptop will be not only easy on your pocketbook, but eminently suitable for your work, and despite claims by Mac fanboys, your creativity won’t suffer, either.

    As for what to look for in a laptop, well, it all depends on what you plan to use it for. My suggestion – speaking from a writer’s standpoint – is don’t get the behemoth 17″ ones, which are not all that portable. Don’t get one of those netbooks, either, since their chief virtue is portability, and for that you sacrifice screen size and keyboard size. (I have one, and absolutely LOVE it, but I would never use it for day-in and day-out writing.) Get one with a 12″ to 15″ screen, which is sufficient for anything except graphics or video work. The next thing to look for is how many USB and other ports it comes with. With a laptop you are likely to find that you’ll still want a real mouse, and you’ll likely want to use other peripherals, even if only occasionally. (A scanner, a printer, a camera, my MP3 player, are just a few that come to mind.) Two USB ports or less will leave you in a bind.

    Next, get the most RAM you can afford. (This is true in both the Windows and Mac worlds.) The more RAM you have, the easier it is to run many applications at once, and although most PC laptops make it easy to pop in additional RAM, if you’re on a budget chances are slim that you’ll ever actually spend money on more RAM. However, if you can’t get all the RAM your heart desires, don’t worry, as 2 Gigs will still be sufficient for most of what you’re likely to do as you write. (Don’t get less, though!)

    Most new laptops have both Ethernet and WiFi modems, CD/DVD burning drives, speakers, mic and speaker jacks, plenty of hard drive space for all your storage needs, and even video output ports for when you might want to use a larger screen.

    Everything beyond this is just icing on the cake. Battery life? That’s only important if you spend lots of time in places where you can’t plug your laptop in – like if you habitually do your work in cafes or restaurants. Light weight? Only important if you’re constantly on the go — like if you travel for business. DVD burner? Again, only useful if you also want to burn videos or a lot of data to disk (although these are standard on most laptops). Bluetooth? I only use mine for syncing my Palm and for a bluetooth mouse — but neither of them are essential to me. Extra slots for various memory or expansion cards? Only important for those who might take a LOT of photographs or perhaps run some other specialized software or gear.

    Which brands to consider? All of the name brands make a decent product. I’ve successfully used HP, Toshiba, and Asus, but there’s no reason to think that Sony, Dell, Gateway, or Acer won’t work as well. (Lenovo users in particular seem to LOVE their machines.) You have just as much chance of getting a lemon in the PC world as you do in the Mac world — it happens, but with vastly more PC users in the world, you rarely hear about the Mac lemons. (And trust me, they exist — just check in on any Mac forum.) If you need a lot of hand-holding to run your computer, you might get more of that from a Mac dealer, although I found mine to be less responsive than the kids at Best Buy.

    These are just my opinions, and your mileage may vary.

  8. March 21, 2010 3:03 pm

    If you’re going to get a new PC, you’ll find that Windows 7 is just as sparkly as the “pretty Mac OS”…. 😉

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