[clug] Advice about buying a new laptop

Boyd boydwilding at gmail.com
Tue Sep 22 12:25:29 UTC 2015

I've procured two 2nd hand lenovos in the past 12 months and can't say
enough about how good they are. Works fine with both windows and linux, but
you really have to know a fair few ins and outs for co-existence to work
well for you (or a helpful IT-knowledgeable friend).

Models: X220, and T520. Fantastic value for money second hand, as long as
they are in good physical condition.

I've also previously owned an Edge E420 for 3 years, and it never missed a
beat, and worked fine with many many many different distros (yes it's a bad
habit of mine I'm trying to get out of).

General rules of thumb:

1) always install linux second (unless you're wiping the disk and going
linux only) otherwise the windows installer wipes the boot loader and makes
linux inaccessible without a reasonable amount of kung-fu to put the boot
loader back in place (tends to be very annoying for someone on their IT L
plates). Refer to helpful IT friend if you have a boot record stuff-up.
2) ubuntu unashamedly uses non-free drivers, so it works on the widest
range of weird hardware. Anything with a free software "conscience" that
means no non-free firmwares are used, usually has problems with wifi
chipsets. (yes even intel ones). So for less headaches, avoid Gnewsense,
SuSE, Fedora, and Debian vanilla, as they require lots of massaging to get
working. Refer to helpful IT friend if not using ubuntu.
3) windows vista and above now creates 2 partitions on a disk by default,
the first one is approx 100 to 300mb in size for "system files", and then
the rest of the disk for OS files and data aka the C drive (this is not
taking into account any additional OEM vendor recovery partitions!) This
means you lose at least one partition if you're not using extended/logical
partitioning on your MBR disk (max of 4 primary partitions on an MBR disk),
so typically your linux installer might get grumpy if you want to install
it with a customised /boot, a /home, and a swap partition, as 3 plus 2
equals 5 and won't fit unless you're using logical partitioning. You need
to plan ahead for that scenario. Refer to helpful IT friend for
partitioning advice.
4) win vista and above allows you to resize (extend or shrink) partitions
if you have enough free space, so you can pre-shrink your windows C drive
within windows, without playing the game of "linux installer
partition-shrink roulette" (I've had lots of unfortunate experiences over
the years). Refer to helpful IT friend for doing this. Requires C drive
defrag within windows beforehand, or you risk data loss from C drive. Make
sure you have backups.
5) don't bother with charity computers in this case. They won't have what
you want, and they focus on providing functional PCs for low income people,
not laptops for students. I personally have not heard of them having
laptops available anyways.

Hope this is helpful for someone!

On Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 8:22 PM, Paul Wayper <paulway at mabula.net> wrote:

> On 22/09/15 12:23, Bryan Kilgallin wrote:
> > Sharon:
> >
> >> I am looking at a sub $800 lap top computer to use for university
> studies.
> >
> > That will not help you with pen-and-paper exams.
> Bryan, you might think you're being helpful there but you're coming across
> as
> critical.
> I'm sure people would not expect that owning a laptop would improve
> writing.
> I'd generally say that if you're not actually contributing to the
> discussion
> of buying a laptop, then comments about studying and academic performance
> are
> tangential at best.
> My experience of Charity Computers back when I donated some gear to it many
> years ago was that they had fairly basic computers.  They then shipped
> Windows
> 95 (in about 2005) and MS Works on it.  When I asked why, they said that
> that
> would be what people could afford and would give them what they needed.  I
> pointed out that MS Works was incompatible with everything, and OpenOffice
> (which was compatible with MS Office) was free.  I don't know if they ever
> took up that idea.
> Lenovo laptops have a good history of working well with Linux.  You can
> also
> buy them second hand for reasonable amounts of money.
> Hope this helps,
> Paul
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