Laptop suggestions for academic and research use

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Fred Barclay
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Laptop suggestions for academic and research use

Post by Fred Barclay » Sat Jul 07, 2018 3:22 pm

Hi folks,
I'm looking for recommendations for a small, portable laptop. It's just something I've been thinking about for a while, but I'm not in a particular hurry to buy -- I expect I'll buy one sometime between now and the beginning of the academic year next February. I've been doing some research, but you just can't beat personal experience and anecdotes -- so any thoughts, comments, suggestions, or stories are welcome!

There aren't any geographical limitations, and let's assume a max budget of about $1600 AUD (around $1200 USD) or a little less.

My current laptop can't even load a Calc spreadsheet or Google Sheets quickly (and chokes frequently on Google Sheets) so I think it's time for an upgrade! Particularly since most of my work uses spreadsheets or .csv's extensively...

Requirements are:
1. Decent touchscreen. I want to be able to quickly draw and handwrite notes.
2. OneNote. Yep, Microsoft :P. I've fallen pretty hard for OneNote (hence the bit above about handwriting notes).
3. No Windows 10 S or Chromebook. Regular Windows 10 is fine. I must be able to install programs like python and Firefox that aren't in the Windows Store.
4. While the screen doesn't have to be completely detachable (like a tablet), it at least should be able to bend completely around so the screen can lie flat like a paper notebook while I take notes. Bonus points if it is detachable from the keyboard, though.
5. At least an i5 processor (or AMD equivalent) and 8GB RAM.
6. At least one webcam -- a front and rear would be preferable.
7. Decent battery. 10+ hours would be ideal.
8. At least one USB slot.

While it would be nice if it is good for dual-booting, that's not an absolute necessity. At the end of the day, this will be a work machine so I won't be experimenting with it too much (yeah, right ;)). I'd also love an SD card slot but, again, this isn't a necessity.

My "dream" machine is light and portable. I'll be traveling and attending enough conferences and lectures that I want something I can just pull out of my bag and start recording and taking notes, and is good for quickly making a presentation at meetings. I expect I'll be writing lots of papers and presentations on it, or starting them on one machine and editing on this one.
I'll possibly be running some smaller python or R scripts on the side. My work and home desktops are powerful enough that this new lappy doesn't have to be a workhorse (for instance, I won't be playing games on it). I can also remote in to my work desktop for heavier stuff if needed.

I have unlimited cloud storage for the foreseeable future, so internal storage isn't the biggest issue (although if I go the dual-boot route that will eat up internal storage). I know some machines I'm looking at like the Surface Pro have an SD slot, so I can possibly just keep a memory card in for extra space if needed. I won't be keeping very personal documents on this computer or the cloud, so privacy isn't too big a concern -- if Microsoft really wants to read papers I've downloaded for boron neutron capture therapy, they're welcome to! :mrgreen:

So far I've looked at the Surface Pro, Surface Book 2, Dell XPS 13, and Dell Inspiron 13.
- The Inspiron, at least, seems to come bundled with Dropbox and McAfee adware.
- I believe Linux on the Surface Pro doesn't work well with the cameras.

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Re: Laptop suggestions for academic and research use

Post by AndyMH » Sat Jul 07, 2018 5:32 pm

How about a high end Lenovo Yoga? No idea how easy/difficult it is to install mint.

Within the budget might be worth splashing out on a copy of crossover, wine rates onenote as garbage, but crossover is showing 5* for 2007 and 4* for 2010. Or run win in a VM?
Thinkpad T430 i7-3632 Cinnamon 18.3, Thinkpad T420 Cinnamon 18.3, Thinkpad T410 Cinnamon 17.3, Thinkpad T60 19.0 Mate

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Re: Laptop suggestions for academic and research use

Post by AZgl1500 » Sat Jul 07, 2018 6:53 pm

I would suggest that you investigate the ASUS Transformer Bookflip series of thin 360* foldover tablets/notebooks/laptops,

whatever is the vernacular for these things.
I am using one right now, and if you don't plan on doing any upgrades like to SSD, they are great.
However, getting one of those things open inside is a royal PITA, the case is aluminium and everything is poured inside in reverse order. took me half a day to upgrade to SSD, replace broken keyboard, and add 8gB RAM.
( but from a user's perspective, if you buy with the SSD already installed, they are a dream to use. ultra lightweight, and good battery life )

IF, you think you might want to upgrade later to SSD, look at the Acer Aspire line of laptops.
I have one and the HDD and RAM chips can be accessed with the removal of two screws, and a small plastic cover.
Battery life with the HDD is about 3 hours, with the SSD almost 7 hours.
Almost as light as the ASUS, but very rugged, the case style is immune to fingerprints.
Very happy with mine.
As with all PCs, the more RAM you can stuff in it, the better.
My Aspire sold for $399 and only has 2 gB RAM, and was so sluggish with Win7 it was unusable.
With Mint 18.3 xcfe it is almost as fast as my ASUS Transformer Bookflip which is on Cinnamon.
( it will be upgraded to the max RAM it can accommodate next week, and a SSD )

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