Do I get a Dell, a Sony or something else?

Updated on July 30, 2007

I’ve held out but I now have to face the inevitable – my venerable IBM T30 Thinkpad laptop just doesn’t deliver the goods any more and I have to replace it.

It’s been a terrific computer during the past four years. For the past couple of years, it’s been the machine I take with me on my travels, not the primary PC I use daily (that’s a Dell XPS Gen 5 desktop).

But with only 16 megs of video memory (that’s megs not gigs), it just can’t cut it running some of the graphics-intensive apps I regularly use now. And it can’t run Second Life.

Buying a new computer is an emotive experience. Just as some people drool over cars, it’s that way with me about computers. My heart rules far more than my head.

So bearing that in mind, what am I looking for that will do what I want during the coming two years?

Well, I want a fast machine that broadly meets these primary specs –

  • Dual-core Intel processor, 2Ghz or higher
  • 2 gigs of RAM
  • Separate video memory (not just shared system memory), minimum 128 gigs but preferably 256 gigs
  • Hard drive at least 160 gigs
  • Screen size not the most important thing but resolution must be WXGA
  • Light weight so no shoulder ache when carrying it
  • Long battery life, 2.5 hours at least on standard battery
  • Oodles of USB2 ports
  • Wi-fi obviously, plus the usual peripherals like writable DVD drive
  • Looks pretty cool
  • Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg :)

Not much to ask, really.

From looking around, I’ve zeroed in on two machines:

  1. Sony Vaio VGN-SZ5XWN/C. A gorgeous-looking PC that meets the specs I’ve mentioned. Exceeds some of them. Carbon fiber casing so lightweight, yet with all the processing and video power I need. Has a built-in webcam, which is nice, plus fingerprint reader for security. Comes in at less than 4 pounds weight. Only 2 USB ports, though.
  2. Dell Inspiron XPS M1710. The great thing about Dell’s website is you can customize any PC there to get a machine that is right on the button for what you want. So I’ve saved a spec for this laptop that includes a 2.3 Ghz dual-core processor, 512-gig Nvidia video card and some other bells and whistles. It has 6 USB ports. At over 8 pounds weight, it’s a hefty machine, though, so maybe this one is way too much heart and not enough head.

So my feeling is very much on the Sony Vaio.

What would you recommend? What else should I be considering in deciding on what PC to buy for the typical use I’ll give it? Any other brands I ought to consider? Please, no suggestions like “get a Mac.” I don’t want a Mac!

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. david brain

    Hi Neville,

    I have a Vaio which, as you say, is v cool looking and lightweight. But not nearly as robust as the IBM thinkpad it replaced. After six months on the road it looks battered and the plastic hinge area is a weakness (or at least the casing is). But v nice.

  2. Adam Parker

    Hi Neville

    I have had a VGN-SZ4XWN/C for about 2 months now. I think the only difference between this and the “5” is it only has a 120Gb HDD otherwise the spec is the same.

    Good points:

    1. It is as gorgsous in the flesh as the pictures and the carbon fibre casing seems pretty good so far at handling minor shocks.
    2. Really lightweight for such a powerful machine
    3. Not sure about in the US but in the UK it is bundled with a 3G card that is proving a godsend for me for mobile working.
    4. Battery life not bad should manage to match your 2.5 hour life target in my experience.
    5. Screen is excellent quality as my last Vaio was.

    Bad:

    1. Bit pricey – UK price is around £1,500 i.e. $3,000 inc tax, but suspect the US price is way better than this – electronics always so expensive for us limeys!
    2. There are more powerful graphics capable laptops think the Sony has 335Mb v the Dell example you quote 512Mb

    Conclusion – If its good looks, mobility and lack of back pain you want it for combined with high performance I would recommend it – those are the reasons why I bought it the 3G card was a bonus. But if its performance and particularly graphics above all else you are looking for then suspect you should look elsewhere.

    Regards
    Adam

  3. Frank Roche

    I’d go with “something else,” as in a Mac. No worries about viruses, built to handle graphics like SL, programs that work with each other.

    I’ve owned some of the sexy little VAIOs in the past….they are always a gen behind, and the materials they use are weak. Plus, good luck with their customer support…it’s Japanese outsourced…and they don’t care.

    Apple is the standard. And before anyone starts saying Apple are too expensive, they need to compare feature-to-feature. Sure, a stripped down Dell is cheap, but it’s stripped down. iBook or MacBook Pro, either work.

  4. Garrison

    I have to agree with Frank ;-)

    Get a Mac, don’t look back!

    Although I’d used Macs on and off since 1991, it wasn’t until 1999 that I decided enough is enough and bought my first one – same day as the total eclipse by the way: August 11th.

    Before that I’d bought a Dell laptop in 1998 running Windows 95! I could never upgrade to Windows 98, despite buying a legit copy. It wasn’t until a couple of years later I managed to upgrade using a hooky copy of Win 98! Amazing!

    I had various problems with the Dell, none of which were adequately resolved. I was advised to reformat the hard drive. I did. But had to do it several times, reloading 5 floppy disks each time. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it would just hang.

    Horrible, horrible, horrible experience.

    The only trouble I’ve ever had using my Mac was when I had MS products on it, such as IE5 (for the Mac) and the seriously bloated Office – let’s not forget the dreadful Entourage (Outlook for the Mac)

    Like I said, get a Mac and don’t look back ;-)

  5. Terinea Weblog

    The Sony’s are good machines but I often think you pay for the name. One I recently installed for client had DVD mode which doesn’t require you to boot up into Windows to play DVD’s.

    Other suggestions..

    Don’t get a Mac!
    HP
    Samsung have some stylish laptops
    Toshiba

    Jamie

  6. Chip Griffin

    I have a Dell M1210 which is very lightweight yet packs a lot onto its screen with some nice resolution and good backlighting. I’m very pleased with it. The only problems I have had in the 6 months or so that I have had it was with Vista (and you and I have discussed those issues already).

    That said I’m writing this comment on my other laptop (yes, I have a disease when it comes to these thins). It is a MacBook Pro. I’ve gotten hooked on it the past few weeks that I have been experimenting with it because of the ability to use Parallels. I have a full install of Vista on the machine and can seamlessly switch between apps in Vista or Mac OSX. I can even access files directly from one to the other.

    I recommend either route (and certainly understand the Mac aversion — this is the first one I have used regularly since 1990).

  7. Armin

    Why am I not surprised that despite the clear “I don’t want a Mac!” note at the end the Mac zealots leave their “Get a Mac” messages….

    But a different question: Do you really want “minimum 128 gigs but preferably 256 gigs” video memory?

    That’s going to be veeeeery expensive…

    ;-)

  8. neville

    Everyone, many thanks for your suggestions and comments. I’m now more inclined towards a Sony Vaio. I’m going to look into that a bit more as I’m not really sure the model I’ve considered is the one I really need. There are many different Vaio laptop models. So much choice!

    I know quite a few people with one Vaio model or another so plenty of personal reference out there (and I have asked: feedback coming in, mostly positive, reflecting what you’re saying here).

    I do like the Dell XPS. I’ve had overall great experiences with Dell and often recommend them to friends and others who ask about laptops.

    But the Sony Vaio has got a hook in my heart right now, which actually started over a year ago when I drooled over a fully-loaded Vaio on display at a CompUSA store in California. Maybe it was actually the cheap US$ price I was mostly drooling over.

    Whatever I said about Macs, Armin, I thought someone would still suggest I get one!

    I hear the case for a Mac. I just don’t want a Mac. I’m not interested in figuring out that platform more than I already know it from casual acquaintance. Ok, I can run Windows on it now. In that case, I’d rather get a PC which it that OS’ native platform. Plus I have too much invested in Windows-based software with no guarantee any of it will run on Windows on a Mac. Heck, if some apps have problems with Vista on a PC, I’m not confident at all about a Mac.

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