Are two laptops better than one?

Crave attempts to answer the eternal question: Which laptop should I buy?

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

Which laptop should I buy? I get this question a lot, from CNET readers, friends, neighbors, friends of friends, and assorted relatives. Makes sense, since a large chunk of my workday is spent reviewing laptops.

I typically respond to this inquiry by first asking about one's intended purposes for a new laptop. Gaming? Serious design work? Heavy travel? Just getting on the Web at home? Then my follow-up question: how much do you want to spend? My line of questioning undoubtedly frustrates the questioner, who is looking for a single laptop recommendation from me.

Since there is no one answer to this question, I thought it might be helpful to tell you which laptop(s) I would buy should I be in the market today for a new laptop.

If I were buying a laptop today, I'd grab the HP Mini 1000 for travel and...

The last laptop I bought was my first Apple product outside of an iPod when I bought a white MacBook on Black Friday last year. I bought it because I wanted to dive into the Mac OS to gain a deeper understanding than what I got from the brief periods I spent on Apple's platform when a Mac passed through CNET Labs. And I liked the idea of using iLife to manage and edit my photos and videos.

I've been pretty pleased with it so far, other than the fact that I have had to send it in for repair--broken mouse button (thankfully, I called a few days before the warranty expired).

But if I were do it again and had roughly $1,350 to spend on a laptop (I bought my MacBook last year for $1,348), I might buy two. Instead of one, general-purpose 13-inch laptop like the MacBook (or the $1,099 HP Pavilion dv3510nr, which I may have selected over the MacBook had I been given the choice last year), I'd split my purchase into home and away models. I'd want a 10-inch Netbook for travel, whether it's around the corner to the coffee shop or across the country for business.

Then I'd want a roomy desktop replacement for home entertainment, a system I could use to store, manage, and enjoy my multitude of media: music, movies, photos, and home videos.

Disclaimer: there are plenty of good budget laptops that would do the trick for mainstream buyers for half of my proposed budget, of course. The above argument presupposes you have $1,350 to throw at a laptop.

For $649, the Gateway T-6330U is a good budget pick, for instance. And slightly more expensive recommendations still in the sub-$1,000 range, I'd say you take a look at the Dell Studio S1535, the HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr, and the Sony Vaio NS140.

OK, back to the two-instead-of-one plan.

For a Netbook, I'd select HP's 10-inch Mini 1000. A basic configuration costs $440 and features the roomiest keyboard of any Netbook I've used. With Netbooks, finding a keyboard that's usable for more than a single-line e-mail response is key. And the Mini 1000's broad keys are far and away best in class. HP actually sells two versions of its Mini 1000, a 8.9-inch model and a 10.2-inch model. It charges $50 to jump for the larger screen size, which I think is worth it even though the resolution is the same regardless. I'd also spend the $30 to upgrade to the 16GB SSD.

... the 16-inch Gateway MC7801u for home.

I would then pair the Mini 1000 with Gateway's 16-inch MC7801u. It currently sells for $850 at Best Buy and serves up a movie- and HD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio. Two drawbacks: it relies on integrated Intel graphics and doesn't include a Blu-ray drive.

Though its HDMI port would make outputting Blu-ray movies to my HDTV a snap, I wouldn't list a Blu-ray drive as a must-have on my next laptop. I'm relatively pleased with Comcast's slowly expanding HD offerings for my living room hi-def movie needs. And for movie watching on the Gateway MC780u itself, I personally don't see much of a difference between Blu-ray and DVD image quality on a small, 16-inch screen. Plus, the screen resolution falls short of 1080p anyway. And since my gaming needs are met by an Xbox 360, the integrated graphics aren't too great a disappointment, especially given the price.

So, there you have it. Go big. And go small.

What do you think of my two-laptops-under-one-roof idea? And if someone were to ask you this very question--which laptop should I buy?--what would you tell them?