I am about to enter into my last year of industrial design school and I’m in the market for a new lap top. My budget is tight, trying not to spend more than $800. I also get a family discount on Dells, so ideally I’d like to find that. Any suggestions, thoughts, things that I cant live with out in a computer? I’d like this to carry me onto my job hunt and life after school.


I would suggest doing a search, this topic comes up fairly frequently and there are a lot of good topics on it.

Cliffnotes: Get whatever the highest spec CPU, 3-6 gigs of ram, a 64 bit operating system and a dedicated video card. Everything else is mostly unimportant as a student.

Also don’t expect a laptop to last more than 4 years these days. A machine thats state of the art right now is going to be obsolete in two and nearly unusable in 4-5. Software keeps getting more and more hardware intensive.

I’m going back to school and thinking of getting a laptop too. Looking at the Dell M4500 series. Wonder if they have deals for uk students.

Do you know precisely what you will be using your laptop for? Because depending on what programs you plan on using you can get completely different spec’d laptop at widely different prices.

For example, a dedicated/high end video card isnt a necessity if you just plan on using photoshop, illustrator and indesign.
If you plan on doing 3d modeling or playing games as well then a good video card is recommended.

But if you will be using it mainly for work on non graphics intensive programs, you will need to focus on these 3 things and try to find the highest combination of these: Processor, Ram, Hard drive speeds.

You can try building your laptop on dell’s website since you get discounts anyways, and try to max out those 3 things i mentioned above and see how close to 800$ u can get. Then post it here and we can give you an idea of how useful it will be towards what you want to do with your laptop.

I got 5 years out of my last laptop and this one is 3 years old. Our other laptop is a budget one (Asus) but is four years old and no problems ever. But I usually spend about $1200. And I only use photoshop and Illustrator - no 3D.

If you want your laptop to last look after it!

Get one with a high spec but make sure that you can upgrade it if needs be (mine came with 2gb of ram but now has 4gb of ram). Use with a keyboard and monitor and a riser with a fan in. This avoids wear and tear on screen and keyboard and also coffee/laptop incidents. I take mine apart every three months and clean with an airduster - I downloaded the service manual and follow that in order to clean it, it’s quite easy.

If you’re in the UK and buying Dell and on a budget, Google Dell Outlet.

But I usually go to Tottenham Court Road in London, where there is lots of choice, you can try before you buy and you can often get cheaper than internet deals - especially if you pay cash.

Most rendering programs are more RAM-based not video-card based nowadays. Video cards will help, but I’d prefer higher RAM over it… or better yet more CPUs (multi core processors) to handle multiple thread renderings. My single-core 7 year old tablet PC still does 3d modeling fine, not as fast as my desktop but still can handle CAD programs w/no problems.

Saying that years old PCs are useless is like saying old iPhones can’t handle calls anymore once the next gen comes out… I used to be a PC tech for many years prior going into ID and built many custom PC setups, what most people believe that if a processor is twice as fast as another then it can do twice as much or twice as fast, which is never the case. That’s like saying a 500 hp car can go twice as fast as a 250 hp car. It can handle programs faster, more multi-tasking, etc… just stating the misconception to keep ideals more realistic.

My personal priority list for hardware
1)multiple processors (quad-core, dual processor = 8 CPUs… if you can afford it)
4)harddrive size

Aesthetics are all personal taste (portability, weight, etc) so I won’t get into it. And always get a good mouse, at least 5 buttons (I use a 12 button one). I always wonder how so many design students can go through 4 years using only the touchpad!

I agree with you re. mouse - I really like the Logitech nano ones - my latest one works on glass - handy if you show up somewhere with laptop and they’ve got a…glass desk!

I suppose at the end of the day it depends what kind of work you’re doing. For 2D only stuff I suppose the point is negligible.

But look back 5 years ago today. In 2005 the standard was single core, 1-2gb ram, and virtually no applications ran multi-threaded, and GPU + 64 bit support (which is now standard in apps like Photoshop) was non existant.

If you’re still doing the same work as you were as a student, and running mostly the same apps you will be fine.

On the other hand when you were a student you could probably let a rendering go all night. When you’re no longer a student you no longer have that luxury. Technology is so freaking cheap these days (when I went to college a low end laptop would cost $2k and a good one would bump up past $3k) - now you can get a machine thats $600 and almost entirely adequate and upgrade to something thats faster again in 3 years for the same price. At the end of the day you’ll have spent the same amount of cash and wind up with a newer and more reliable machine, plus you’ll have a not-so-obsolete machine that you can easily pop on Ebay and sell to regain some profit.

I have a herculean workstation these days and I STILL wind up watching the little Pro E clock spin around loading big assemblies even with 12 gigs of ram. Every crash, 2 minute load, etc all wind up adding up to a lot of time - time that I would rather spend at home and not in the office.

I suppose at the end of the day it depends what kind of work you’re doing. For 2D only stuff I suppose the point is negligible.

Absolutely - I don’t need a rocketship of a laptop, so I go for build quality and reliability.

Thanks for all the advice.

I will be using a lot of 3D programs on the computer, so I’ll be looking into video cards. I’m going to look on the website today and see what I can come up with. I’ll make sure to post here what I find.

Anyone heard anything about XPS series with Dell. I’ve had that recommended also.

Thanks again!

I would suggest looking at the modularity of it, read reviews on the individual components of the laptop, not only the package itself. As today you may only want t spend a certain amount on it, you may want to juice up the RAM later on, or stick a new video card in it, or buy a bigger motherboard. So i suppose the best thing to do would be to buy the entry level to the high end model, as to allow the upgrading later, because that ensures that the useful life of your laptop is longer. those XPS series look pretty handy, can handle the full 8Gb ram possible with the manufacture of 4Gb chips these days, the high end processor looks meaty, and so does the lower spec versions.

The greatest thing about computers is the fact that there are thousands of people willing to write reviews on them, so the best thing is to trawl through IT websites and forums and ask the people who know.

I completely agree with Cyberdemon though, you’ve ruled out a desktop? unfortunately for all of us who like to sit in bed and read our emails, these trusty desktop offers the most in terms of lifespan, simply because when one things out of date, there are a tonne of new components to replace it with and ‘spec it up’. Ive never seen a laptop than can render cad files quicker than a nice desktop, and they’re cheaper!

One other thing, software! If your spending the money on hardware, buying a nice new laptop with a crisp 64 bit operating system, don’t go putting 32 bit programs on there! Its a waste :slight_smile:

I can see the value of going full laptop for students. Most students aren’t pumping enough data where they need a desktop these days. Back in my day I would have argued the opposite (again - 3-6 hours a rendering meant staying up all night so you could kick off that next shot at 4am) but now with Quad cores being easily attainable in a low end laptop I can see sticking to one machine and being OK.

The XPS machines should do you good, but frankly you can probably step down to one of the lower Studio or Inspiron machine and get almost as much bang for the buck. I would avoid the urge to get a “Desktop replacement” IE a giant 9 pound 17" laptop with a 3 pound power brick. With 20" displays for around $100 these days you can get a big display for your desks and keep your laptop portable.

As far as video card, a dedicated video card (I suggest Nvidia for driver reasons) should do most of your student stuff just fine. Jumping to a workstation class machine with a Quadro card will be nice in certain scenarios, but none that I see many students in and you’ll pay a big premium.