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Don’t buy a “desktop replacement” laptop

I found this oldie but goodie Lifehacker article: When two computers are cheaper than one. It advocates buying a cheap laptop and building a desktop PC to meet your computing needs.

I think it makes a lot of sense. A few weeks ago, a coworker asked me what the most I would be willing to pay for a laptop. I hesitated, thought for a while, and said you might be able to convince me to spend $600. “Wow,” he said. “I’m considering a $3,500 laptop.”

I wouldn’t.You can build a nice desktop for a small amount of money. I’d start with an AMD A10 CPU, a motherboard with four memory slots like an Asus F2A85, 16 GB of RAM (in two DIMMs so you can upgrade to 32 GB later), and as much SSD as I could afford, like a Crucial MX100. A rig like this would give very nice midrange performance, allow me to connect multiple monitors to it and a nice full-size keyboard like my go-to IBM Model M. I always recycle as many items as I can, so I build a PC like this every few years, generally spending less than $500 at a time and occasionally dropping in a sub-$200 upgrade to extend its life a bit. With a nice keyboard and mouse and dual monitors, it’s a lot nicer to work on at home than a laptop.

Then, when I need portability, I use a laptop. I have an ancient Dell Inspiron that I’ve upgraded to 4 GB of RAM and a 120 GB SSD that I use. If and when I need to replace it, I might buy an off-lease business laptop or just buy something new and low-end, but whatever I bought, I’d install an SSD and max out the memory. In the end I’d have $500-$600 in it, and probably not all in a single purchase.

My laptop is about nine years old, and I would expect almost any laptop purchased today, outfitted with at least 8 GB of RAM and an SSD, to be adequate for a very long time as well.

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