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Laptop for a Physics major: Lenovo vs. Mac vs. Acer

  1. Apple

    4 vote(s)
  2. Acer

    0 vote(s)
  3. Lenovo

    5 vote(s)
  4. HP

    0 vote(s)
  5. Dell

    5 vote(s)
  6. Something else

    4 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Jul 15, 2009 #1
    I'm an undergraduate at Stony Brook University (safety, but i had no choice) and I'm planning on buying a laptop soon, and i've narrowed down it to either a Mac, Acer, or Lenovo. I'm going to major in physics, and i'm not sure what my second major will be (math, engineering, astronomy)

    1) 13 inch Macbook
    Processor: 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
    Ram: 2GB
    Hard Drive:160GB 5400-rpm
    I'm considering getting a Macbook Pro though it costs around $1500 and thats around my upper limit, although its better so it might be worth it.

    2) Lenovo T500 (maybe T400 not really sure the difference)
    Processor: Processor1 Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P8600 2.26 or 2.4 GHz
    RAM: 2GB
    Hard Drive: 250GB

    3) Acer Aspire 3935
    Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GHz 5400RPM
    Ram: 3GB
    Hard Drive: 250GB

    I'm open to any suggestions, but my budgets around $1500 and I'll probably get it below that anyway. My feeling is that the Thinkpad is more reliable and might last longer, but I havent had any experience with Lenovo (my sister had an old Thinkpad from IBM). I like that Lenovo (and HP and Dell) allows me to customize, but I'm afraid I will forget something in the customization process.

    The Acer seems to be the cheapest and offers more RAM, but I've never heard of it until I started researching laptops and their warranty only goes to 2 years, and i would prefer at least 3 years (which apple and Lenovo give) or maybe 4.

    finally, although the Macbook seems slightly worse on paper for the specs, my feeling is that the Macbook is reliable and has what i need. Theres less viruses and malware on the Mac (no small problem),i could install windows (or from what I've heard Ubuntu too), and i also get an iTouch (which is pretty cool) However, Macs can be overpriced and i want to keep my mind open

    The important thing is what computer is best for Physics as I have to take on class on Computation for Physics on the "fundamentals of using UNIX/Linux to write computer programs for numerical algorithms using high-level compiler programming language such as Fortran 90 or C++" I get to use Stony Brook computer sites and the Macbook can run Windows programs, but I'm still worried about getting a computer that can best handle these calculations and my coursework in general. I'm also hoping that my computer will last me to the beginning of graduate school, though by that time it will probably be far outdated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2009 #2


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    Homework Helper

    If you know how to use Linux, don't bother with a Mac. (Don't get me wrong, I like Macs, but it sounds like you want the best raw computing power for a reasonable price and a Mac isn't a good fit for those priorities) Get a PC, install Linux on it when you get it so you can dual-boot it with Windows. Or use some sort of virtualization, if you want to run both OSs at the same time.

    Other than that, there's probably not that much of a difference. Probably anything you get will be good enough. I've gotten Dell computers in the past, but not for any particular reason except that I'm used to their process and I haven't had any bad experience with them (yet). I do know that their customization process makes it pretty much impossible to leave out anything essential. The one thing I would definitely recommend is getting extra RAM, since in my experience, as software gets more demanding in the future, the RAM is the first thing that starts to limit your computer's ability. If you're going to be running simulations on this computer (which will probably be the case at some point), getting the fastest available processor would also be useful.

    Here's a thought: would you consider getting a desktop rather than a laptop? Desktop computers are generally cheaper (sometimes a lot cheaper) for a given amount of computing power. But on the other hand, it's pretty useful to have a computer that you can carry around to classes, meetings, etc. Just something to think about.
  4. Jul 15, 2009 #3
    Why not get a ~$1000 desktop and a netbook? 13 inch will be heavy on the eyes.
  5. Jul 16, 2009 #4
    I own a T400 and it has been a great laptop so far. If you get a T400, get it w/ P9500 processor (less power consuming).

    Get an external monitor, mouse + keyboard, and you can dock your laptop while at home and use it like a desktop. You could probably do this for cheaper than the price of a macbook pro.

    Regardless of your decision, pretty much any computer you choose these days will have more than enough power to suit your needs. You aren't going to be running hard core numerical simulations that take hours upon hours to complete. If that situation ever occurs, you'd best be using some quad core+ workstation, not **any** laptop. Your laptop will get you through any programming classes you take and will run any piece of code you will come up with during those classes.

    Here's what I would look for in a laptop for school purposes:
    14" screen - not too big, not too small
    efficient processor
    32 bit system, no more than 4gb RAM; or if you go 64 bit, then no restriction on RAM
    external monitor for home
    long battery life
    integrated graphics (unless you're a gamer or have good reason for discrete)

    Good luck.
  6. Jul 16, 2009 #5
    In General:
    As Bright Wang said, get a desktop and a netbook.
    If you can`t stand tiny screens, get a notebook instead of netbook.
    Netbooks are cheaper.

    One thing that is worth knowing is that you don`t need a lot of processing power, if it`s all about programming on C++, you wouldn't really notice real world difference whether you get a 50$ CPU or a 1000$ CPU.
    So, Choose the CPU depending on your other needs.

    Concerning Notebooks:
    Lenovo is both affordable and solid, and doesn`t compromise price for performance.

    Concerning Desktops:
    Best price-for-performance CPUs are from AMD.

    Best Hard drives are SSDs. There are cheap yet really crap SSDs, so don`t think you got a good offer, cheap ones are really bad.
    So, If you got no enough money just get regular Hard Drives; otherwise, get an SSD, you`ll really like your computer if you got a good one.

    A 2-3Gbs 800MHz DDR2 RAM is a good choice. If you are more interested, look for lower latency, CL5 is decent.

    Hope I helped,
  7. Jul 16, 2009 #6
    This same question has already been asked 5 times in this forum, just do a search before this turns into a Mac vs. PC war.
  8. Jul 16, 2009 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Acer is a cheap brand, they aren't very good. Toshiba makes excellent laptops.
  9. Jul 16, 2009 #8
    lol, sorry. i saw the Mac vs sony thread and some other threads, but i havent found much on acers or macs vs thinkpads (I'm still new to the site).

    I liked that idea when i read about it, but unfortunately for now its kind of out of the question. At stony they put three kids in a room for two, which means there are only two desks, so i need a laptop so i can do work outside the dorm, in a study room, or something.

    I was thinking the benefit of the Mac would be able to run Ubuntu, windows, or OS X, but i don't actually know how to run Linux yet. As for the customization, i wasnt really worried i'd forget something, so much as I'd shortchange something i need in the future, so thanks for the advice on the RAM
  10. Jul 16, 2009 #9


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    Gold Member

    This is bad advice, in my opinion. I have many friends, and clients, that have made the switch without any issues whatsoever. All of them had little to no linux experience. If knowing linux was a prequisite for using a Mac, Mac sales would not be what they are.

    Consumer Reports (June '09 issue; pages 25-30) shows Macs at the top of almost every category* (Battery life being one of them) for laptops. Please do not buy into the negative propoganda regarding Macs. Most of the disdain towards them usually stems from ignorance, misinformation, or intractable mindsets.

    Should you decide to purchase a Mac, I can assure you that you will not regret your decision.

    *Apple MacBooks held the top 3 positions out of 6 total in the 13" category.


    Edit: Consumer Reports is the oldest and most respected source of product testing and rating in the U.S. They are strictly neutral and accept no money from any corporation — your subscription supports them. Their ratings are not off-the-cuff opinions — they buy the products in stores and use scientific testing methods to compare and rate them.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2009
  11. Jul 19, 2009 #10
    For what it's worth, I just purchased a Dell Studio 15 (1555) for $950 a week or so ago.

    Granted, that was with a $300 or so off a purchase of $1295 or more. Check the web for coupons.

    Computer's stats.

    2.4 ghz C2D
    4 gb RAM
    Dedicated Radeon graphics card (512 mb maybe?). I'm too lazy to look this up and I don't have the computer with me.
    250 gb 7200 rpm HD (replacing with ssd)
    1080p LCD (kind of too high of res in a 15" notebook, but I'm getting used to it)
    Bluetooth, Backlit KB, Vista 64 (W7 free upgrade)

    I'm probably forgetting something, but it wasn't a bad deal at all. Also, a nano mouse is very nice, as is a monitor at home. Multiple monitors are the greatest thing in the world.
  12. Jul 19, 2009 #11


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    The post you quote says "if you know linux, don't bother with a mac" not "if you don't know linux don't bother with a mac".
  13. Jul 20, 2009 #12


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    Gold Member

    Now that's embarrassing.

    Guess that's what I get for perusing PF instead of working. :blushing:

    Sorry guys.
  14. Jul 29, 2009 #13


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    Gold Member

    One spec you might look at is cache memory. I've caught Acer, in the past, shortchanging systems on cache. You can easily expect a minimum of 2Mb Layer 2 cache. On many newer processors, having less than that will make the system more sluggish.

    If you see a processor spec like this (from Dell's site):

    Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 (2.1GHz / 800MHz FSB / 2MB)

    that last number is the cache spec.
  15. Jul 30, 2009 #14
    thanks for all the help and advice, its all much appreciated. It looks like I'll be getting a Macbook with 4gb of RAM, a 2.13 GHz processor with a 3mb Layer 2 cache, 1066MHz frontside bus, 250gb hard drive (5400 RPM). It looks like the 2.13 processor is equivalent to the 2.4 ghz on Lenovo (based off the CNET tests), so that put some worries at ease

    Anyway thanks again, and it looks like I'll be coming back to this website often (both b/c of the help and just general perusing). this website is ridiculously interesting =)
  16. Aug 13, 2009 #15
    I also have a netbook and only use it for surfing the web, checking e-mails and working with Open Office when I am on the road. If you want to install a lot of software and need storage space I would recommend a desktop PC. Just depends on your needs - maybe you want to check this http://www.netbooklaptopreviews.com/netbook-reviews/" [Broken] and have a look at other models. Screen size, CPU and HDD are usually the most important specs for notebook buyers.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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