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Shopping for a Blogging, Traveling Laptop

Portable hard drive stack - photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenMy laptop has reached the four year birthday and I’m ready for a new one. Every computer and laptop I’ve owned I’ve pushed beyond it’s capabilities from day one. I will never forget the first computer my husband and I bought “together”. Within three days, I’d filled the 2 gig hard drive, the largest one available at the time. He went to work and bragged to his co-workers that his wife had overloaded the hard drive before the end of the first week. Some weren’t sure what he was talking about so they just nodded and acted like they knew. The others were left with their mouths hanging open at the thought, and envy, of having access to a 2 gig hard drive.

As a photographer, writer, and designer – especially as a photographer – I can fill up a hard drive in no time when I’m photographing or editing images. A few months ago, my husband brought home a little present for me, just to spoil me and show he cares. It was a 750 gig portable drive by Seagate. Hmmm. That’s a man who knows how to please. I added it to my stack of an 80 gig, 250 gig, and 400 gig portable drives.

I used to build and test drive computer systems, building by hand one of the early “suitcase” portable computers with a monochrome amber monitor and a fold down keyboard. Part of the ancient history of Lorelle’s claim to fame for breaking things and explaining how I broke them so the developers and designers could learn how to fix them. I’ve had just about every type of computer built, from old magnetic card typewriters to Apple to Mac to state-of-the-art laptops, and it’s time for another one.

So I’m thinking about replacing this laptop that I’ve hauled all over the world with a new one. This thing has been bounced and brutalized by airlines, TSA, and international airport security checks so many times, I think it speaks 18 languages. On one trip, when it was still new, it was seized by Israeli security at the airport as we were flying out of the country for a short trip. We were told repeatedly that it would be padded and carefully handled and probably be at the airport in Oklahoma by the time we arrived. And for reasons that still baffle us, we believed them. Dumb us.

Laptop on temporary table while traveling and researching genealogy - photograph copyrighted Lorelle VanFossenI picked it up 5 days later as I got on another airplane to fly to a conference. It was in an unpadded and unprotected white box, with lots of banging and bouncing room, with the sides punched out from the banging and bouncing. I’d been on the phone with the airport three to ten times a day since our arrival and they kept saying there was no laptop from Israel there. According to the information on the box, it had indeed arrived the same day as our flight, though not in one piece.

Scarred, battered, and with two cracks in its casing, it keeps on ticking. It’s a Gateway. I’ve bought Gateway since nearly their conception, ordering hundreds of Gateway computers for clients over the past decade. While this one has taken a licking and kept on ticking, I think it’s time for Gateway and I to part company. I’m not sure, but I haven’t been happy with the last two models. I just hate leaving the best ever customer support and service I’ve found anywhere. Their products had always been top notch and way ahead of the competitors in technological advances. Unfortunately, according to news reports Gateway didn’t make a showing at all on the national and international sales in the end-of year sales.

Yet, there are a couple of new Gateway ultra portable laptops luring me in their direction, now available at Best Buy and other store fronts as well as online.

In the past, my husband got my hand-me-down computers. I’d beat the snot out of them and then he’d get the hand-me-down when I got the new toy. Last Christmas, he finally bought his very first very-own laptop – without consulting me. I was traveling. A Hewlett Packard wide screen laptop, the one that tries to squeeze two monitors into one and ends up with a rectangle. He loves it and hates it, sometimes more hate than love. He wishes now that he’d asked for my help. It’s too big and doesn’t travel well and has a fan that you have to shout over. It overheats and the battery is dead, unrechargeable within 4 months, which means it can’t run off the fabulous looking docking station that clutters the kitchen table permanently. Since it won’t run in the docking station without a battery, we put it on the table and it runs too hot, buckling the cheap veneer. But it does what he wants and he avoids traveling with it if he can.

As a full-time blogger and web consultant, my computer is my gateway to the world and my work. While I’m not quite as bad as she is, sometimes I think I agree with Liz Strauss that I live inside my computer. So I’m nervous about my next laptop purchase.

I miss the days when computer manufacturers came to me to test drive their new technology. SIGH.

Starting the Computer Laptop Hunt

Laptop inside trailer on custom computer desk - photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenSo I’ve started the hunt. I found an article from Frugal for Life that says the best time to buy a computer is April. No reason is given. I wonder why? I don’t know if I can last until April.

What I want is something that weighs nothing, has a huge ergonomic keyboard for my weary fingers, a screen the size of the side of a barn, ability to hook up to everything bluetooth, WIFI, projectors, televisions, VCRs, DVDs, and whatever else they come up with next, the biggest hard drive in the world, the fastest CPU possible that expels no heat at all so it won’t burn my legs when I’m using it as a real “lap” top, dozens of USB, Firewire, media cards, and every input possible, and… did I already say that it had to weigh under three pounds? Less than one pound would be even better, but I’m a realistic notebook computer shopper.

I think that’s a reasonable request. Don’t you?

What I would really like is the next generation of Palm handheld computers to use with my wireless keyboard. I love mine, Palm T. It’s small, light, powerful, flexible, capable, but limited as it was one of the first steps into handheld computing. Why did they stop making them? And why has handheld computers dropped off the computer technology landscape? So far, not a cell phone/handheld computer can compete with the power of that old Palm T – at least in capabilities and flexibility, not speed and storage space.

Still, I write my blog posts on the airplane with my ancient Palm T, even with its tiny memory and limited storage capabilities. It takes a licking (literally) and keeps on ticking. It’s the best thing for reading books, though! Wow! I’ve found nothing better, including Kindle, for book reading. Ah! Don’t get me started on that subject! It’s the only way to read books. Ah, skip the laptop. Palm or whoever, come up with a better handheld computer.

Okay, so what do I really want in my next power blogging laptop?

  • Light weight – under 5-6 pounds (2 kilos).
  • High speed action for games and running multiple RAM sucking programs at once.
  • High speed and RAM for graphics.
  • Cold temperatures – not heat generation.
  • The largest hard drive capacity possible.
  • A secondary hard drive.
  • Bluetooth, WIFI, and all wireless capabilities with a huge range, with the ability to turn them off with a button.
  • Not Vista. (In reading reviews of new computers and laptops, many are scoring a computer lower if it has Vista installed.)
  • Not Apple.
  • Touchpad with sensitivity, scrolling and hot spots.
  • Durable keyboard with laser embedded and sealed keys. I tend to wear mine out really fast.
  • Lots of USB and Firewire connections at top speeds.
  • S-video and other digital media inputs and outputs.
  • Ability to run without the battery on.
  • Ability to run without the battery present.
  • Ability to turn off the battery without removing it from the laptop (save battery life when hooked to AC.)

So the hunt begins. And I have to decide fast. After lugging my current monster laptop around San Francisco recently, I’m done with it. My laptop case weighs more than my suitcase.

What is the best laptop for a top blogger to blog with – with all the capabilities of a powerful desktop that will not be the only thing she can carry-on an airplane due to new weight restrictions? Got any recommendations?



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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

25 Comments

  1. Steve
    Posted March 18, 2008 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Why not Apple?

  2. Posted March 18, 2008 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Ditto to Steve! The two platforms are increasingly compliant, and macs are substantially more stable.

  3. Posted March 18, 2008 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    You might check out Lenovo Thinkpads. The keyboards are wonderful for a fast, touch typist and really do stand up to pounding. Both the T and the X series will do for weight. They do not do well in some of your other categories, but they have the best keyboards I have ever used on a notebook. I’m on my 3rd. Oh, you can also get refurbished models so cheap that they effectively become disposable. Check out the Lenovo or IBM web pages for the refurbished models.

    Elaine
    Norman, Oklahoma

  4. Posted March 18, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I’m a working student and my laptop (Toshiba Satellite series) goes everywhere I go. I don’t get to do a lot of airplane travel but so far my laptop has managed to make it everywhere I go.

    I say it’s more the backpack than the laptop that matters when it comes to durability.

    I bought this backpack and in the 2 months that I’ve had it I’ve seen 5 people with the exact same one.

  5. Posted March 18, 2008 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    If you are tied to Windows in some way, go for a Toshiba/Sony VAIO laptop. Otherwise, get an Apple Macbook (Macbook Pro is not only more expensive, but also larger and less portable). Just make sure to max out the RAM, because RAM is very cheap and can help future-proof and improve performance a wee bit.

    Mac OS X is elegant, stable, and for web workers, quite helpful to improve productivity. Zenhabits.net has some reviews of productivity apps for Mac, so that should help too.

  6. Posted March 18, 2008 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I agree on the Lenovo. Get their ThinkPad series and you should be set. I am more happy with my ThinkPad than my MacBook Pro. Sorry Mac fans…

    I would say that you should avoid the refurbished ones, despite the reduced cost. Get an upper level T series. Good luck with finding a laptop that meets all your needs. With the features and weight limit you have, it might be near impossible. I stand behind Lenovo’s ThinkPads though for durability, great wifi, and decent battery life.

  7. Posted March 18, 2008 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    “the best time to buy a computer is April”.

    Most manufactures have released their current years model by April, following Intel’s chip announcements. Intel now sets product cycles.

    The best bang for the buck is the discounted “previous” offering.

    As a photographer who blogs, two weeks ago I purchased a heavily discounted previous model 15″ Apple MacBook Pro, added 2Gb RAM, and use (3) 320Gb Lacie all terrain drive(s) for portable external storage. i shoot RAW, and edit in Lightroom and Photoshop.

    My next laptop will likely be a MacBook “Air”. best…skip

  8. Posted March 18, 2008 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    The Slashdotters were into the OneLaptop kinds of things– Plus, the Macbook air confuses TSA security.

  9. Steve
    Posted March 18, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Why would you go for a PC laptop just because you’re tied to WIndows? All macs runs windows just as fine, if not even better.

  10. Dan
    Posted March 18, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Avoid the Thinkbooks. They have a lot to recommend (I love the mouse nub!) but I can’t stand any machine that takes 4+ minutes to wake it’s wireless card from sleep or bootup and connect to a network.

  11. Doug
    Posted March 18, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m gonna have to agree with the people that reccomend the macs. Go with a re-furbed MacBook (with the super drive and 120 gig hard drive). Then buy Widows XP. Run it in BootCamp (you can set it up to default boot into Windows) or get VMware Fusion.

    I own an MacBook Pro and use both Windows options mentioned in the above posts. I prefer virtualization to BootCamp. Wi-Fi access is a bit of a drag on the Pro, but my wife has a MacBook and the Wi-Fi conectivity is much better (aluminum is durable and great for blocking wireless signals). And yes, Windows runs better on my MBP than any PC I have ever owned. I can boot OSX and fusion’s virtual XP faster than I can boot XP through boot camp. I’ve never done any time trials, but trust me, it’s much faster.

    Oh yeah, my wife has also spent most of the past year+ in Haiti with said MacBook. It’s still rockin’. And she’s very bad at treating fragile things carefully =)

  12. Posted March 18, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Ubuntu anyone? With their latest stable upgrade coming up in April, and some good blogging tools available for free… Maybe you would want to look at System76 or Dell for Ubuntu? :)

  13. Posted March 19, 2008 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    “Not Apple” was apparently hard to swallow for some commenters here. ;)

    Anyway, I second Sony Vaio series. They are a bit on the expensive side, but high quality stuff, and with screens to die for, and I’d reckon that’s a must for your photo editing. Make sure you get one with a decent dedicated graphic processor, that’ll ease on the gaming and help out.

    Good luck, and do let us know what you get, Lorelle!

  14. Posted March 19, 2008 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Wow, with all your photography and writing I always assumed you were a Mac person. Check out the refurbished MacBooks, they run Windows just fine.

  15. Posted March 19, 2008 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    @ Vivek:

    Is Ubuntu hardware specific?

  16. Posted March 19, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    @Lorelle: Ubuntu runs on almost any x86-based computer. It runs decently (from the LiveCD version) on my 233-MHz AMD K6 system (which, of course, is not my primary machine – far from primary).

  17. Posted March 19, 2008 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Another Slashdot about that eeeusPC or whatever and mentions your Palm. Can REDFLY sell in an EeePC market?

  18. Posted March 20, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, unless you are in the mood to learn a whole new OS, I wouldn’t go for Ubuntu. They’ve made many strides in the last year or so, but if you have a blogger workflow that is set up efficiently in Windows, don’t go messing with that.

    Also, for the Mac Fanboys out there, I’ve found that as Apple has gotten more popular, there has been increasing attention paid to the decrease in the build quality of their systems. My MacBookPro is less than a year old, and while I didn’t put extra covers on it or anything, it is showing far more wear than my two year old ThinkPad.

    It also crashes just as much, so don’t give me that “It Just Works” line.

  19. Jesse
    Posted March 20, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    I’m a new subscriber to your blog, but I would DEFINITELY suggest the Asus EEE as a blogging platform, but it won’t suit every single need you have. Here’s what I’d say it excels at:

    * Light weight – under 5-6 pounds (2 kilos). It’s also teeny-tiny and easy to carry.
    * Cold temperatures – not heat generation.
    * A secondary hard drive (this is pretty much a must, as the built-in memory is only 2-4gb of solid state memory).
    * Bluetooth, WIFI, and all wireless capabilities with a huge range, with the ability to turn them off with a button (bluetooth and gps both require a ‘hack’ so they don’t come with it out of the box, and you probably won’t want to mess with them anyway).
    * Not Vista or Apple. You can get it with XP, but I’d suggest either keeping their custom Xandros (linux) or installing Ubuntu (despite David’s valid arguments against it, I’d say Ubuntu is the best do-everything operating system if you don’t mind the initial learning curve associated with … well, anything new).
    * Touchpad with sensitivity, scrolling and hot spots. You’re missing hot spots, but Linux has built-in functionality for it (you can also use mouse gestures and set your own keyboard shortcuts).
    * Durable keyboard. Mine is holding up as well as my t22, t41, and t60 are holding up (all Thinkpads… every other laptop I’ve used had a terrible keyboard).
    * Ability to run without the battery on.
    * Ability to run without the battery present.
    * Ability to turn off the battery without removing it from the laptop (save battery life when hooked to AC.)
    * Lots of USB connections at top speeds.

    And here’s what it doesn’t do so well with:
    * High speed action for games and running multiple RAM sucking programs at once.
    * High speed and RAM for graphics.
    * The largest hard drive capacity possible (isn’t that what USB hard drives are for?)
    * You completely miss out on Firewire.
    * S-video and other digital media inputs and outputs.

    I’m not trying to give you an end-all argument, but for the hardcore bloggers among us who want something mobile, I’d definitely suggest carrying an EEE with you wherever you go. It’s what I author and edit my posts on the bus ride to/from work every day. Oh, and it’s only $400 for the highest trim level. That puts it in the ‘disposable electronics’ category, for me.

  20. Posted March 20, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Wow, not Apple? Reading your blog over the last month or so, I had a certain picture of you and your interests, I’m genuinely surprised you’re not already a Mac user.

    I’m no Apple fanboy, only made the switch a year ago and my previous laptop, a Dell, was fine once I got some parts replaced under warranty. I was pretty handy with XP too, pretty comfortable with it. Honestly, though, the switch to Apple was great for me, it did a lot for my productivity, hard to explain exactly why but it seems to give me clearer platform to work from, the slight spur my creativity needed. I don’t procrastinate as much now.

    But each to their own, I guess. Whatever you do, make sure you buy in the next couple of months because Microsoft are discontinuing XP in June and, after that, new machines will only come with Vista. Vista is not as bad as some make it out to be but, on balance, judging from my clients’ experiences, I would definitely recommend giving it a couple of years to settle down before making the jump.

  21. Posted March 23, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle,
    I use a Dell D630. It’s light. Tough. Has a great telephone support. Takes 4GB of RAM. WiFi. Bluetooth. A 14″ high resolution screen. And under 5 lbs. And when I get back to the office, I can slip it into a DBay stand that puts the screen at comfortable height and connects to my peripherals and second screen. It’s the best notebook I’ve ever used.

  22. Posted March 24, 2008 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I would go with Ubuntu, or at least try out a dual boot to make sure you like the software available – Gimp vs Photoshop, OpenOffice vs MicrosoftOffice,etc.

    Less of a resource hog – on a 2 gig lappy it will run better than vista on a 4 gig. Dell sells only their cheap machines with Ubuntu pre- installed, but Ubuntu is Linux and can be installed on almost anything if you are willing to download and install drivers and edit config files.

  23. Steve
    Posted March 30, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Comparing Gimp to Photoshop is like comparing pee to a nice fresh espresso. Sorry…

  24. Posted April 5, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    The brand does not matter. You should consider the specification. The fast changing technology always hurt us consumer so my advise… Buy the latest and the best

  25. Posted July 2, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Im a big fan of the Acer Aspire series


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] laptops are mentioned. I know a lot of famous bloggers do: Sidin has been pleading with the missus, Lorelle has been shopping for one, Scobleizer doesn’t need an [...]

  2. [...] laptops are mentioned. I know a lot of famous bloggers do: Sidin has been pleading with the missus, Lorelle has been shopping for one, Scobleizer doesn’t need an [...]

  3. […] Shopping for a Blogging, Traveling Laptop covers some of my wishes and concerns as I start shopping for a new laptop to help be blog as I travel. Readers offered some fantastic recommendations. […]

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