New toy important piece of office equipment

For the last eighteen months or so, I’ve been talking about replacing my laptop. I currently use a Dell Inspiron 8500 (Intel Pentium 4m 2.0 GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 40GB HDD, 15.4″ screen, ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics card, DVD/CD-RW, Win XP SP2) which has proven to be a rugged, capable and reliable machine with hardly any issues. However, I am now finding that it struggles to cope when I’m using applications like Outlook, Excel, Word and Skype all at the same time (which I frequently do when talking to colleagues and clients internationally and looking up information at the same time). In addition, in spite of regular housekeeping, the hard drive is worryingly close to capacity. So it is time for a new machine.

As I have only a single laptop which I use for both business and pleasure (it is property of my company, so it is a business tool primarily), it has to be very much a maid-of-all-work. It needs to be of desktop-replacement calibre (I have no desktop) but also needs to be reasonably portable (I take it abroad several times a year and cart it to clients). I also expect it to have a similar lifespan to my current machine which is five years old and is going into “semi-retirement” to become a spare machine for my company in case of disaster and also be available for Hels to use for domestic purposes. I hope the new machine will be my main equipment for at least three years, possibly five years and then become a useful item around the house.

So I’ve thought about what I want and came up with the following list:

  • dual core processor, at least 2.2 GHz
  • at least 2 GB RAM, preferably more for future-proofing
  • a reasonably good graphics card to cope with the domestic side of the remit
  • 160 GB hard drive at least, perhaps larger
  • 15.4″ screen. I considered 17″ screen machines but I’m not sure I want to lug about something that big 
  • 802.11a/b/g/n capability
  • bluetooth
  • DVD-RW
  • secondary battery – not vital, but definitely considered a bonus.

I’ve ummed and arred about the OS and have decided to brave Vista (in the Vista Business flavour), in spite of SP1 not being out yet. I figure that SP1 will be due soon (I had been holding out for it, but can hold out no more) and that will hopefully iron out the bulk of the bugs in the original release.

I also want to upgrade to MS Office 2007 Professional and need a new carry case (probably a backpack type to spare my shoulder a little). The budget is £1700 including all of the above, delivery to my office (or local collection), VAT and three year next-business-day on-site hardware support. This last item is important – the one time my current Dell did fail me, an engineer was with me within 24 hours to fix the problem. As my business relies on this one machine, I value that highly.

Given my good experience with Dell, I have begun my search there. My shortlist currently consists of these four machines:

  • Latitude D830 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia Quatro NVS 140M, 4.0 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, 802.11 a/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell main battery, 6 cell secondary, 15.4″ WXGA 1280 x 800 display – £1297 + delivery and VAT, OS, software, warranty and backpack included.
  • Vostro 1500 NB – Intel Duo T7500, nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, 4.0 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, 802.11 a/b/g, bluetooth, 9 cell main battery, no secondary battery, 15.4″ WSXGA+ 1680 x 1050 display – £1297 + delivery and VAT, including all the extras.
  • XPS M1530 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, 4.0 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, no modem, 802.11 a/b/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell primary battery, no seconary battery, built in camera and fingerprint reader, 15.4″ WXGA 1280 x 800 display – £1523 + delivery and VAT, including all the extras. Over budget.
  • Precision M4300 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia Quatro FX 360M, 4.0 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD, DVD +/- RW, 802.11 a/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell primary battery, 6 cell seconary battery, 15.4″ WSXGA+ 1680 x 1050 display – £1367 + delivery and VAT including all the extras.

I’ve also had a quick look at other ranges. The Lenovo ThinkPad T61 is nice, but too costly. The Sony BX range looks good, but only takes up to 2GB RAM. Fujitsu have some nice offerings. Neither the Fujitsu or Sony offerings come with extended NBD on-site warranty.

Any comments or suggestions? I’m currently tending to favour the Precision machine, although the graphics card is not a strong point. I hear that the 9 cell battery sticks out the side of the Vostro and looks odd and that the whole machine is glossy black and gets grubby (I need to look fairly smart). And, no, I’ll not be buying a Mac.

5 Replies to “New toy important piece of office equipment”

  1. Poking around in the Dell website, I get a prices of less than £1500 for the XPS M1530. Of course, I don’t know what extras you have included.

    Regarding the backpack, I can highly recommend the ones produced by Pakuma:
    I have used “akara” K1 for a couple of years and it has seen me through commuting and international travel without a problem.

    Also, I would recommend shopping around for Office 2007. With Dell, for example, it is sometimes more expensive to buy it bundled; you can often get it cheaper on Amazon (or elsewhere). You might also want to bear in mind that Office 2007 requires quite a steep learning curve after older versions; you might be better off trying to install an older version, before upgrading to 2007.

    If you don’t already use a free anti-virus tool, I would recommend getting AVG, rather than something like McAfee or (cringe) Norton. This will save you a few pounds and a lot of CPU cycles without any loss of effectiveness.

    (I’ve just been going through a similar process recently, for a desktop, and am now waiting with bated breath for my new toy to arrive.)

  2. One of the problems that I have with Dell is that they change their special offers on a daily basis. With my current laptop, the price was reduced immediately after I placed my order, much to my chagrin. I’ll check the XPS again.
    Thanks for the tip on Office 2007 prices. I was just looking at the price on and stroking my chin and saying "hmmm".
    As for the learning curve, well, it’s now or later – amounts to the same thing and there is never a good time. I’m on Office 2002 SP3 here, so we shall see how we go.
    AVG is my friend.
    Pakuma – I’ll check that. I think Gordon did some bag shopping recently too, so I’ll look in his dusty archives (ooer!).

  3. Seethe! I have just been through the customisation process again for the XPS M1530. The original price I had was £1624.33 plus delivery and VAT. I now have exactly the same specification for £1523.91 plus delivery and VAT. That’s a hundred quid cheaper! Dell are promoting £40 off, but they are clearly not being open and honest with their prices. I wonder if Trading Standards know about this?
    Once you get delivery and VAT in, it comes to £1850, so it’s still over my budget. I’m also concerned by the lower resolution screen, the lack of a modem (I find there are still plenty of hotels without broadband) and the lack of a second battery (the optical drive is fixed and not in a modular bay, so you can’t stick a battery in there).

  4. Yes, the desktop I bought dropped more than £300 overnight – but only if you entered the site by the right route! Since I pressed the “purchase” button I have managed to resist the temptation to check what the current price is…

  5. i am a bit of a fan of dell until recently for this reason – they are starting to price their systems the way airlines price their tickets. call and ask for the lower price – or cancel your order if they won’t give you the new price and then place a new order.

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