Finally I got round to buying a new laptop to replace my defunct Sony Vaio FE41E. I had a fairly good idea of the specs I was looking for. I wanted a small business rather than a consumer machine and my maximum budget was £600. Fortunately I didn’t have to include an allowance for Office as the church already has a licence which will cover this PC – albeit Office 2007 rather than 2010. These were the specs:
- Matte screen
- Second generation (Sandy Bridge) i5 processor
- At least 4Gb RAM
- Discrete graphics (for the occasional bit of gaming)
- USB 3.0 for faster backing up
- Not too heavy because I have to carry it to and from the church office every day
- HDD at least 500Gb and preferably 7,200 rather than 5,200 rpm.
- Windows 7 Professional for ease of connectivity with the network at church
My shortlist included the Lenovo Edge E520, HP Probook E4530s, Samsung 400B5B and Dell Vostro 3550. I couldn’t find any reviews at all for the Samsung, and like many business laptops it can’t be found in the shops, which makes it difficult to assess. So it was a toss up between the Lenovo, HP and Dell, all of which had fairly good reviews. In the end I went with the Dell when the price dropped dramatically on the model I wanted and it was on sale for less than £500 – £100 less than any similarly specced laptop. I caught the offer just in time – the same laptop now costs well over £700. I put my order in and the laptop arrived a couple of days ago.
So how is it? Initial impressions are very favourable. One website review described it as a ‘plain Jane’, but I really like the minimalist approach – brushed aluminium on the outside and matte black plastic on the inside, a combination looks smart and seems very resistant to fingerprints. Inside chrome trim around the touchpad is a nice touch. The touchpad is huge, which I like (much larger than my old Vaio). The keyboard is great for typing – the rubberised chiclet-style keys offering just about enough feedback. No number pad, which suits me and gives it a less cluttered look. What I really like about the keyboard is that it is backlit – great if you are using the laptop in a dark room.
The screen is OK – 15.6″ at the standard (for this price) resolution of 1366×768. And it’s non-reflective – such a relief after the super glossy display on my old Vaio which was hopeless under bright office lights. That’s one of the features that sets it apart as a small business machine – along with the merciful lack of pre-installed bloatware, a fingerprint reader which I haven’t yet had the chance to try out and plenty of connectivity – USB 3.0, eSATA, HDMI, VGA, card reader and an ExpressCard slot.
Setting up the Vostro from the box was pretty straightforward – the procedure seems to be much simpler than I remember from the Vista installation on my old Vaio.
The only niggle I have so far is with the graphics, which is a Radeon HD 6630M card. This is one of the latest generation cards from AMD and is classified as a mid range card. Like many contemporary laptops with discrete graphics, the Vostro is able to switch between the HD 6630M and the i5 processor’s integrated graphics, depending on whether better graphics performance or improved battery life is most desirable. Unfortunately AMD’s implementation of this technology is not as smooth as the rival Nvidea cards. When running an application for the first time, a window pops up asking whether normal or high performance graphics are required. (And the answer to which is not always obvious.) It works, but it’s a bit clunky.
Apart from that. I’m very happy with the Dell. I think it looks great and it has the advantage of being lighter than my Vaio (2.5kg vs. 2.8kg). The powerpack is also smaller and lighter than the brick that came with the Vaio. Amazingly it’s also over £200 cheaper than the purchase price of the Vaio 4 years ago. Which goes to show how much computer technology has advanced in the last few years.