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Battle of the Under $600 Notebooks!

by mk299 / August 8, 2005 6:32 PM PDT

Which of the following is the best to get?

I just graduated from college and have very little money, but I am going overseas in September for a year and giving my old desktop to my sister who is going to college.

So, the contenders!

1. Toshiba Satellite A85-S1072

Intel Celeron M Processor 360J, 400MHz frontside bus, 1MB L2 cache and 1.4GHz processor, 256MB PC2700 DDR SDRAM expandable to 1.25GB, 40GB HD, 15-inch XGA TFT, 8X DVD / 24X24X24 CD-RW, XP Home.

Price: $499.99 this week at Compusa after savings/rebates.

This notebook is also on sale at Best Buy: $449.99 this week after savings/rebates.

2. ACER Mobile AMD Sempron? 3000+1.8GHz

DVD-CD-RW - 512MB DDR-DRAM - Built-in 802.11g wireless - 15'' display

Price: $549.99 this week at Circuit City after savings/rebates.

I am personally leaning towards the second because of the 1.8ghz, but I am unsure about ACER & Semprons...

Please feel free to add any other laptop deals around this price range that are comparable/superior in quality!

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by mk299 / August 8, 2005 6:45 PM PDT

Another contender I forgot to mention:

3. ThinkPad R50e6lb value priced notebook Celeron M 350 1.5Ghz Free 512MB (free upgrade), 30GB, CD, 14.1in Screen, XP Home

Price: $599 shipped free, from Thinkpad | ThinkCentre, Exp 8/20.


I think there is a Dell $499 deal out there, but I can't find the specs right now. If you know them, feel free to post them if you think it is worth considering.

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Also: the ACER has a 60gig HD.
by mk299 / August 8, 2005 6:55 PM PDT

(I wish I knew how to edit my messages instead of adding more replies!)

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by Ryan T / August 8, 2005 11:26 PM PDT

The Celeron is not a chip worth your time. It's a de-tuned Pentium M. The Sempron is a value 64-bit chip which has a faster bus, and has only 4 watts more power consumption than the Celeron M.

AMD has always been better at making cheap notebooks.

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Another Contender (Sempron!)
by mk299 / August 9, 2005 10:34 AM PDT
In reply to: Sempron

4. HP Pavilion ze2000z series 6.58lb -
AMD Sempron 2800+ 1.6Ghz 256MB DDR/40GB, DVD-ROM, 56K modem, Ethernet, 15in Screen, ATI XPRESS 200M Video card, MS Works, XP Home

Price: $579 (free shipping)at HP Home:

For an additional $10, you can replace the AMD Sempron(TM) 2800+ (1.6GHz/256KB L2 Cache)with the AMD Sempron(TM) 3000+ (1.8GHz/128KB L2 Cache).

The main thing I am curious about with this machine is the video card - will this one perform significantly better than the Circuit City machine (Contender #2)?? Is it worth the price increase/ HD decrease (40 gb vs. 60 gb)???

Thanks Ryan for your advice - I don't know much about notebook processors, now I know I can eliminate about half of the budget notebooks that are on sale!

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$10 upgrade gains your mhz but loses 1/2 of your L2 cache !!
by KenSanramon / August 9, 2005 10:59 AM PDT

MK299 -- note that by spending the $10 and moving to the higher Sempron processor you are losing L2 cache by a factor of 1/2 - from 256kb on the 1.6ghz to only 128kb on the 1.8ghz.

This is a sucker job to get you to think you are moving up in the chip mhz speed for nearly no additional cost but you are losing 1/2 your L2 cache which is very high speed on chip memory which is much faster when utilized versus your RAM or hard drive.

What a country !

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What the hell
by currahee2100 / August 9, 2005 12:22 PM PDT

$10 does NOT get you an underpowered chip! The Sempron does NOT benefit from a large L2 cache. It's only 256KB- you think moving to 128KB will make a whole world of difference? The fact that Semprons and Celerom Ms are running on completely different cores makes that irrelevant.
Plus I might add that the Celeron M does NOT have any of the power saving features on the Pentium M. Celeron M are and will always be underpowered chips!

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1/2 drop in cache comparison was for 2 Semprons not Celeron
by KenSanramon / August 9, 2005 1:32 PM PDT
In reply to: What the hell


"For an additional $10, you can replace the AMD Sempron(TM) 2800+ (1.6GHz/256KB L2 Cache)with the AMD Sempron(TM) 3000+ (1.8GHz/128KB L2 Cache). "

This difference in cache is between the 2 Sempron chips referenced above my post in the chain.

I would not recommend a Celeron cpu to anyone and have said so multiple times in my post.

L2 cache size does make a significant difference and that is one of the reasons the Pentium M Centrino chips (the full chips not the Celeron ones) perform at up to 2x their mhz speed in comparison to a Pentium 4/4M with only 512kb L2 cache (Pentium M's that are either Dothans or the new Sonoma (715-760, etc) have 2mb L2 system cache.

I stand by my statement that I would not pay $10 more to upgrade from a 1.6mhz SEMPRON to a 1.8mhz SEMPRON and lose 1/2 of the L2 system cache (drop from 256kb to 128kb).

Read the preceding data more carefully and go curse somewhere else. You may impress your buddies cursing at a baseball game but you only show poor diction here.

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Acer Notebook ... NO!
by JazGram / August 22, 2005 7:38 AM PDT

The Acer notebook (or desktop replacement) is a beautiful machine. It has everything you will want, for a very limited time.

Then (13 months on mine) the backlight on the LCD screen goes dim (unreadable) and tech support says, "Oh well, this is a hardware probem so send it in if it is still under warranty."

Acer is known for the backlight going out. I have a $1700 Acer "desktop replacement" notebook and am using a 17" Pyxscape LCD monitor with it. Don't bother ... never again Acer.

Learned hard, learned well.

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IBM is selling a $599 ThinkPad
by Nooorm / August 9, 2005 11:59 PM PDT

Lowest price I've ever seen for a ThinkPad.

System specifications:

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Any thoughts on the ACER?
by mk299 / August 11, 2005 9:59 AM PDT
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Dedicated video card not likely for gaming under $1,000
by KenSanramon / August 11, 2005 10:38 AM PDT

It is not likely you have a dedicated video card in any notebook much under the $1,000 level.

An integrated video card is the largest impediment to serious games on any notebook.

So, check the specs but you would want at least 64mb dedicated video RAM as a minimum for many top shelf games and 128mb dedicated video is the effective mainstream ideal (that option is available on the Dell 6000 but that notebook is over $1,000 of course). does have dedicated video on its AMD 64 notebooks as well but again that is higher then the AMD Sempron notebooks you are comparing.

On a desktop you can add a dedicated video card later if you have the slot but on a notebook you are effectively fixed in this area at purchase.

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by Nooorm / August 12, 2005 4:04 AM PDT

There's no doubt the specs (on the Acer are better other than the processor), but I've never used one, so I can't comment on there reliability or customer service and support. The biggest reason for the cheap price is the AMD processor and non-Intel chipset.

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(NT) (NT) Acer, is better in this case
by Willy / August 12, 2005 1:29 AM PDT
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Skip the Acer
by contech / August 16, 2005 9:09 AM PDT

I would reconsider and skip the Acer. I got the exact model about 2 months ago, I could hardly touch the touchpad after 30 minutes of use. It got very hot, whether I was using the battery or it was plugged in. Additionally, the battery lasted for no more than 40 minutes. I returned it to Circuit City and got another and had the same problems. Called Acer about the battery and the heat. Rep said that life was about right for the battery, and they did not offer a higher capacity one since it was a low end model. They weren't familiar with the heat issue, since the model was fairly new. I returned that one as well. Definitely a poor job of thermal management. I have an IBM and Toshiba and do not have the heat problem with those. Good luck.

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Acer sounds good until you read this
by Gardyloo / August 17, 2005 12:22 AM PDT
In reply to: Skip the Acer

This is a great thread. The Acer sounds like the better machine until you read contech's experience. Thanks for the input.

Now to find the Thinkpad with free shipping and no California sales tax. Am I cheap or what? Happy

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Thanks! And this weeks MVP!
by mk299 / August 17, 2005 5:00 PM PDT
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Acer has not been a problem
by rperlitz / August 19, 2005 12:11 AM PDT
In reply to: Skip the Acer

I have purchased and have been using the Acer for about a month now. The battery life is only about 1 hour but this is not a problem for me because I rarely need to use the battery for long.

As for the issue of the touch pad becoming hot, I have not experienced this.

I purchased the Acer because its specs were better than all other sub-$600 laptops.

60GB drive
512MB Ram
AMD Sempron 3000+

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Same here
by sharmaine73 / September 9, 2005 1:40 AM PDT

I have had no problem with the Acer I bought. I'm actually really happy with it.

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Use credit, get what you need
by mdgawlik / August 19, 2005 12:46 AM PDT

Use a store credit plan and get a laptop that you really need and want. Payments will be manageable and you can spend a little more money and get a more reliable machine with the specs that will be right for you.

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I need features, not speed
by Grinhooks / August 19, 2005 2:43 AM PDT

My needs are not speed intensive. I am a pro musician, so what I need is disk capacity, good screen, wireless, and cd/dvd burning.

I got my first laptop in 2003, a WinBook J4. It has a 2GHz Celeron but still seems kinda slow, maybe because I have over 3,000 MP3s on it that I use in my teaching and performance. (Or maybe the disk compression, or the 512MB RAM, or poor chip/MB performance) The disk capacity is listed at 20GB but only has 16GB available, that's one thing I want to upgrade. I have to carry a canvas bag around with external HD, external DVD/CD burner, USB 2.0 & Firewire card, wireless card, and their assorted cables. I have to set it up and tear it down at least once each day. My next laptop will definitely have all this built in.

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I can't believe...
by bstellar / August 19, 2005 11:26 PM PDT

That you're a musician & you're not looking at a Mac! A new iBook would work well, but a Powerbook is the true ultimate portable studio.

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I bought the Toshiba
by jlang66 / August 19, 2005 5:17 AM PDT

I mean how can you beat a named brand machine for $449 with all the specs it has. It even has a 15" TruBrite screen! The specs are fine unless you are a gamer but I will tell you that I run flight sim 2002 and it runs great! I was surprised at how well things look and how fluid the plane flies at high res. I have heard there are issues with the Toshiba's speaker cage causing shutdowns but otherwise I have been happy.

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Sale Price
by odab / August 21, 2005 3:40 PM PDT
In reply to: I bought the Toshiba

Where was the toshiba laptop on sale for that price?

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go with the most RAM
by ChazzMatt / August 20, 2005 12:06 AM PDT

the one with the 512MB RAM is what to get. the sweet spot for Windows XP is 512MB RAM (or more). If you get 256MB RAM you will always be a little frustrated. Makes even more difference because most laptops use "shared" RAM for video -- instead of a dedicated video card with its own RAM. So, 64MB or even 128MB will be sucked away for video display, leaving less for applications. More RAM helps overcome the sluggish performance caused by cost-cutting companies. 1.6 or 1.8MHz CPU? More RAM will give you a bigger difference than quibbling about a slight decimal point diffence in CPU speed.

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