Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Best laptops for bloggers and students

Best laptops for bloggers and students

Looking for great deals on the best laptops? Look no further!

So, you want the flexibility to work anywhere. You want something that will be reliable enough to handle a beating over the course of years. You want something that won't feel like a heap of junk after a couple years. And you don't want to spend $2000 on a high-end super-premium machine!

Well, you're in the right place!

Here, you'll find a recommendation for every taste! From low-budget values to gaming-capable laptops, I've curated the best of the best!

You'll notice a lot of computers with solid-state drives (commonly abbreviated SSD). In many computers, the mechanical hard drive is the slowest partand no computer is faster than its slowest part.

But SSDs, which work much like flash drives, are approximately three times faster than traditional mechanical hard drives, which is why I'm so enthusiastic about them! SSDs are also less prone to failure, and consume less power (enabling better battery life). The only drawback is that they're more expensive than their mechanical counterparts, but the price has been declining steadily over the past two years or so.

Why is a frugal person so bullish on the more expensive SSDs? Because I bought a laptop that came with a mechanical hard drive, and it wasn't too quick. I tore it apart myself and replaced the 500 GB hard drive with a 240 GB SSD that cost me $60.

That single upgrade turned what had been a sluggish, mediocre laptop into a machine that's nearly as speedy as a $1000 premium device! Fortunately for you, manufacturers are including SSDs in more and more laptopsand not just in the high-priced premium machines!

You'll also notice a lot of ASUS devices. Out of four laptops I've owned, three have been ASUS. They provide good value, and their computers are typically more reliable than those of many competitors (HP and Acer, in particular, usually rank near the bottom of various reliability rankings). Toshiba has announced that they're exiting the consumer market. Apple and Samsung often score well in reliability rankings, but they sell premium (read: expensive) devices. So, for both value and reliability, ASUS consistently hits home runs!

Without further ado, meet the Froogal Stoodent's recommended laptops!

Best all-around laptops:
ASUS X555DA-AS11; $460 (get the one with an SSD)

This powerful computer will give you just about everything you could ask for:
  • Fast processor and capable graphics? Check.
  • Plenty of RAM for multitasking? Check.
  • Speedy and reliable SSD storage? Check.
  • Nonreflective matte screen (good for use outdoors or in direct light)? Check.
  • Connectivity? With two USB 3.0 ports and a USB 2.0, an HDMI port, a VGA port, an SD card reader, and an optical drive for CDs and DVDs, there's not much that won't hook up to this machine!
The major weakness here is battery lifeAmazon reviewers cite a battery life of under 4 hours! This is due to the processor's relatively heavy maximum power draw of 35 watts (over twice the 15W max of many mainstream laptop processors). The advantage of such heavy power usage is that the processor is powerful enough to tackle virtually any task; the disadvantage is obviously that slurping power at such a prodigious rate harms battery life.

If you really want to improve battery life, don't just select "Battery saving" mode. See the bottom of this article for how to do better.

Specs: AMD A10-8700P; 8 GB RAM; 256 GB SSD; optical drive; 15.6" standard HD (1366 x 768) matte screen [non-touch]; ~4-hour battery life

ASUS F556UA; $550

Worried about the battery life in the X555 above? Get this one instead! The fast, 7th-generation i5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and speedy SSD combine to make this a great choice for the money!

It also comes equipped with a Full HD 15.6" matte screen
the matte finish will make the screen easy to read in direct light. It has full connectivity, with a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, a USB-C port, an SD card slot, an optical drive for CDs/DVDs, an HDMI port, and even a VGA port (which will be quite handy if you ever have to hook it up to one of those older, chunky projectors)!

As far as the looks go, many people seem to like the subtle gold color. Personally, I prefer darker colors, but light colors tend to be less susceptible to showing fingerprint smudges or other visual imperfections. And, for the price, the design makes this machine look more expensive than it is
just be aware that the computer is actually composed of hard plastic, not aluminum.

Specs: Intel i5-7200U; 8 GB RAM; 256 GB solid-state drive; 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) matte screen; optical [CD/DVD] drive; 6-8 hour battery life

Toshiba Satellite Fusion 15 L55W-C5257; $530

If you're looking for a little extra pizzazz and flexibility, this Toshiba is a good choice! 

You'll sacrifice storage space compared to the ASUS computers listed above (this one has only 128 GB instead of 256 GB), but you'll still have the advantages of an SSD (speed, better battery life, and reliability), so you can get a leave-in flash drive or an external hard drive to store your files.

This laptop hits all the right notes in my book, with a Full HD (1080p) display, solid battery life, and good overall performance. A good value on a computer by a reliable brand!

Specs: Intel i3-5015U; 6 GB RAM; 128 GB SSD; 360-degree hinge; 15.6" Full HD touchscreen; ~6 hour battery life

Best ultrabooks:
ASUS Zenbook Flip UX360CA; $720

Want something even nicer? This new laptop is a bestseller for a good reason: it's a great value on a light, capable, and attractive device! ASUS maintains a reputation for quality and value, and they've outdone themselves here! This stylish convertible laptop has plenty of power for most needseven more than its predecessor, the Zenbook UX305FA listed below!

This laptop features a Full-HD IPS touchscreen, a USB Type-C port to go along with two regular USB 3.0 ports, a generous 512 GB of storage, and battery life of over 9 hours during constant web browsing, according to the test performed in this reviewwhich means that you'll likely see even longer battery life in everyday office usage!

But the real star of this show is a 360-degree hinge that allows you to use it in a variety of modes like laptop, stand, tent, tablet, similar to devices like the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro [NOT recommended; read customer reviews] or ASUS' own TransformerBook Flip series.

The lone serious drawback is that the screen is glossy rather than matte; it is therefore suboptimal for use outdoors or in direct light. ASUS apparently applied an anti-glare coating, but that fix is less than ideal. This machine also lacks a backlit keyboard, if such things matter to you.

Otherwise, this is a near-perfect compromise between capability, portability, battery life, and price!

Specs: Intel Core m3-6Y30; 8 GB RAM; 512 GB SSD; 13.3" Full HD touchscreen; over 9-hour battery life

Dell XPS 13; $900


Dell's XPS 13 took the tech world by storm when it was released at the Computer and Electronics Show (CES) in January 2015. It was thin, fast, and promised outstanding battery life, but the real show-stopper was the most obvious partthe thin bezel around the screen.

As it turned out, the battery life was a vast overpromise: 10-11 hours of real-world usage is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the 15-hour claim would be (if it were true). 

Dell has experienced a great deal of critical success with this laptop! However, newer versions (with Windows 10) have experienced some driver/BIOS compatibility issues. Until these are fixed, I'd recommend sticking with older models that are equipped with Windows 8.1. Older machines, even when new rather than used, sell for a lower price than their most up-to-date counterparts. 

Cheaper and less prone to exhibit unsolved problems?! Score one for the older model!

Specs: Intel i5-5200U; 4 GB RAM; 128 GB SSD; 13.3" Full HD (non-touch) screen; over 10 hours battery life

ASUS Zenbook UX305FA; $600

I've recommended this multiple times before! Though it's an old model, a new Zenbook UX305 is just as capable as it was a year ago! You don't need the latest, most heavily-advertised machinejust one that will get the job done well.

Specs: Intel Core m-5Y10; 8 GB RAM; 256 GB SSD; 13.3" Full HD [1920 x 1080p] matte screen [non-touch]; 7-8 hour battery life

Best bargains:

Update 2/27/17: ASUS F556-AB32; $350 
Update 10/13/17: Now that it's selling for a ridiculous $650, don't you dare buy it! It's good deal at $350; a mediocre deal at $420. Don't pay $600+ for a computer with an i3!

The newer F556 is similar to the F555 listed below. This newer one has a newer and more power-efficient processor, and newer/faster DDR4 RAM. Considering that the F555 is currently selling on Amazon for more money than this updated version, I'd get the F556 instead.

My comment that you should consider replacing the hard drive with a PNY  CS1311 (240 GB) or SanDisk SSD Plus (240 GB) still stands—an SSD will vastly improve the performance in several aspects! There are helpful guides on how to make the swap, like this article or this video.

Specs: Intel i3-6100U; 4 GB DDR4L RAM; 1 TB 5400 rpm hard drive; 15.6" Full-HD screen; optical drive; up to 5-hour battery life

ASUS F555LA-AB32; $360

This laptop represents a very good value at $360! 

Don't expect top-notch materials (it's all plastic, as you'd expect for a machine at this price), but it's solidly built and pretty quick. My dad bought a version of this computer, and I helped him set it up...so I can testify from personal experience that this is a good laptop! 

With a Full HD screen, surprisingly quick hard drive, and smart power management, this is a good option for all but the most demanding users!

I'll recommend the PNY  CS1311 (240 GB) or the SanDisk SSD Plus (240 GB) [not the newer one]either of which will turn a solid cheap computer into a real burner, while also improving durability and slightly extending the battery life! There are helpful guides on how to make the swap, like this article or this video.

Specs: Intel i3-6100U; 4 GB RAM; 1 TB 5400 rpm hard drive; 15.6" Full HD screen; optical drive; 5-hour battery life

ASUS X540LA; $330


If you're looking for a bargain-basement laptop, this is a good pick. It's generally well-reviewed, with good specs for an entry-level computer. Its silver chassis also looks nice, for what that's worth.

Again, it's worth recommending the PNY  CS1311 (240 GB) or the SanDisk SSD Plus (240 GB) [not the newer version], to improve speed, reliability, and battery life! This article or this video can help you install the SSD simply and with minimal fuss.

Specs: Intel i3-5020U; 4 GB RAM; 1 TB 5400 rpm hard drive; optical drive, 15.6" standard HD screen; 3-4 hour battery life

Lenovo ThinkPad X220T [refurbished]; $290

2016 Lenovo IBM ThinkPad X220T Convertible Business Laptop, 12.5" HD Touchscreen, Intel Core i5 up to 3.2GHz, 4GB DDR3, 160GB SSD, RJ45, Windows 7 Professional (Certified Refurbished)

Usually I encourage people to avoid refurbished electronics, but this one has been revamped with a solid-state drive. I'm guessing the people who refurbished this therefore knew what they were doing. 

The advantages of an SSD, which I've been talking about for a couple of years (and knowledgeable computer people have been talking about for at least 7 years!), are fairly well-known by this point. It would have been cheaper (and hence more profitable) for the refurbisher to use a mechanical hard drive, but instead, they took the high-performance approach and used an SSD instead. I therefore assume that the refurbishers value qualityand probably therefore did a good job on the refurb. 

Really adventurous DIY-ers may also consider dual-booting a Linux-based OS, which will be more stable and secure than Windows, and much faster than either Windows or OS X (and much more capable than Chromebooks!). I'm particularly intrigued by Zorin OS 9 and Linux Mint 18.

Specs: Intel i5-2520M; 4 GB RAM; 160 GB; 12.5" standard HD screen; battery 

Lenovo Z50; $410

A solid value-priced option. Again, battery life is less-than-stellar, but 5 hours is decent (especially for a low-cost laptop). For the price, though, the 8 GB of RAM and FX processor are plenty, and the 1 TB of storage is quite generous. 

As above, replacing the hard drive with PNY  CS1311 (240 GB) or SanDisk SSD Plus (240 GB) would give this computer premium-level performance for a decidedly non-premium price. If you need a guide on how to make the swap, check out this article or this video.

Specs: AMD FX-7500; 8 GB RAM; 1 TB mechanical hard drive; 15.6" standard HD screen; ~5-hour battery life

ASUS F402BA-EB91; $400
A brand-new 14" machine from ASUS. 

My first laptop had a 14" screen, and I really liked the size and portability (though the computer itself was slow and dropped the wi-fi every half hour...). If you never use a number pad, you might like this $400 computer, which only weighs about 3 and a half pounds! 

The A9 processor isn't going to be a world-beater, but for the price, it should deliver solid performance in everyday tasks, and should even yield good graphics performance for playing games and videos. The 8 GB of RAM is a plus, though the 1 TB hard drive should be replaced by an SSD, preferably a PNY  CS1311 (240 GB) or the SanDisk SSD Plus (240 GB).

Specs: AMD A9-9420; 8 GB RAM; 1 TB mechanical hard drive; 14" standard [1366 x 768] display

Best detachable:
ASUS TransformerBook Chi; $450

Looking for a convertible laptop/tablet hybrid? I've recommended this before, but at a much higher price! 

Depreciation has hit this device hard, but it's just as competent now as when it was a brand-new product selling for $700! Who needs a Surface Pro, when this capable alternative costs much, much less? (On this device, the keyboard is included, by the way...)

Specs: Intel Core M 5Y-10; 8 GB RAM; 128 GB SSD; Full HD touchscreen; detachable hybrid; 8-hour battery life

Best graphics-intensive/gaming laptops:
ASUS K501UX; $750

This has just about everything computer geeks look for. If I weren't a grad student on a limited budget, this is what I'd get! I'm not sure how ASUS could pack a powerful processor, plenty of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, a Full HD matte screen, and discrete graphics into an $800 laptop...

Specs: Intel i7-6500U; 8 GB RAM; 256 GB SSD; 15.6" Full HD matte screen; Nvidia GTX 950M; backlit keyboard; 7-hour battery life

Razer Blade Stealth; $899


This gaming-focused laptop costs less than 13.3" MacBook Air, but comes with a higher-res screen (and a touchscreen, at that!), a more powerful processor and twice the RAM, and customizable backlighting on the keyboard! Crazy what $1k will get you when you're not paying the 'Apple Tax'...

Specs: Intel i7-7500U; 8 GB RAM; 128 GB SSD; 12.5" 2560 x 1440 Quad HD touchscreen; backlit keyboard with customizable settings; claimed ~9-hour battery life

ASUS ROG GL552VW-DH71; $850

I like the design on the lid, I like the specs, I like the size, and I like the price!

This machine has good specs all-around, in a package that's not too big or too small, and the 5-hour battery life isn't bad for a gaming machine. This is ideal for a student or other gamer, who may have to travel with their laptop, instead of leaving it deskbound.

You can get a version with a 128 GB SSD and the 1 TB hard drive, but unfortunately, this [along with extra vRAM] adds a premium of over $200 more than the base version that I recommend here. This is too high a price for the extras, in my estimation.

What more can I say? If you are looking for a gaming notebook that won't break the bank, a grand will get you this do-it-all machine that provides great bang for the buck!

Specs: i7-6700HQ; 16 GB DDR4 RAM; 1 TB 7200 rpm hard drive; Nvidia GTX 960M with 2 GB DDR5 vRAM; 15.6" matte IPS 1080p display; 5-hour battery life

Best Cloudbook:
ASUS E200HA; $200

This is all about the small size and long battery life, and definitely not about speed. It's better-suited for travel than as a workhorse. 

But hey, it's really cheap! For $200, this provides a portable PC with over 13 hours of battery life. And I think this would be ideal for an experimental Linux machine, though there's not really enough storage to save many files. 

Despite the lack of speed and the lack of storage space, a device like this certainly has its uses! It's not meant for everyone, but some will find it a perfect fit for their needs.

Specs: Intel Atom x5-Z8350; 4 GB RAM; 32 GB SSD; 11.6" standard HD screen; over 13-hour battery life

If I can't turn you away from Apple: 
MacBook Air (2014); $900

The 13" version is my recommendation; it gets better battery life, and the larger screen is easier to see. This older model costs less than $900 for a 128 GB version, and should work just as well as a newer model! 

Don't be fooled into paying Apple an extra $200 for more storage. You can get the same 128 GB for $70 with the JetDrive Lite, which fits into the SD card slotIf you're willing to permanently take up one of the two USB ports, a 128 GB SanDisk UltraFit USB 3.0 (which I use in my own laptop) will run about $30. 

You'll get better performance for less money from a laptop running Windows. The ASUS F556 above would run circles around this, and includes more storage, and has more connectivity optionsall for several hundred dollars less! Just one more reason why I'm not a fan of Apple... 

Specs: Intel i5-4260U; 4 GB RAM; 128 GB SSD; 13.3" 1440 x 900 screen (glossy; non-touch); 11-hour battery life


Nothing here meets your needs? Check out my other recent lists of premium laptops and value laptops.

Want to work in peace? My favorite headphones won't bust your budget, but will allow you to shut out the world.

How to adjust your power settings to get the best battery life 
(in Windows):
  • Navigate to the Start Menu (the Windows logo in the bottom-left corner of the screen), and type in "Power Options." Open the "show additional plans" option. Click "Change Plan Settings" next to My Custom Plan 1.
  • You can set the "Turn off the display" and "Put the computer to sleep" options at however long you'd like; I use 10 mins and 15 mins, respectively.
Click on "Change advanced power settings." You'll see this:

  • Under Desktop background settings -> Slide show -> On battery:
    Select "Paused."
  • Under Wireless adapter settings -> Power saving mode -> On battery:
    Select either Maximum Performance or Low Power Savings. The more battery-friendly you set this, the less range and speed you'll get on the wireless card. This is generally undesirable.
  • Under Processor power management -> Maximum processor state -> On battery:
    You can type in a value between 0 and 100. This will probably be set at 100% by default. You can change this to a value that suits you.

    The lower this number, the more battery life you'll get...but the more sluggish your computer will be. If this is too low, you'll likely be too frustrated to use your computer on battery power. You can change this to different values, to determine the impact on both performance and battery life. If you're very patient, you can go as low as 50-60%, though that's usually a bit extreme.

    I recommend setting this between 80 and 90%. If you're using the ASUS X555DA listed above, however, I'd recommend something like 65-70% to aggressively save battery life. While your machine may run noticeably slower on battery than when it's plugged in, it should still be fast enough for basic use like web browsing or editing documents.
  • Under Display -> Display brightness -> On battery:
    Set "adjust plan brightness" somewhere around 50%. The lower the setting, the better your battery life will be. Since this is a matte, nonreflective screen, you'll probably be okay at 50-60% brightness. Again, adjust to where you're comfortable. If you find that you need further adjustments, you can also use Fn + F5 to decrease brightness and Fn + F6 to increase brightness [or whatever the shortcut is on your particular keyboard], without using the Power Options menu.

    Under Dimmed display brightness -> On battery, set that even lower. I use 20%; again you can adjust this as you wish. It should be lower than the previous setting; otherwise, you won't notice before your computer is about to go into sleep mode.
  • Under Multimedia -> When playing video -> On battery:
    Select "Optimize power savings." AMD processors in particular are very good at handling multimedia, such as video or even games. Watching videos (and especially playing computer games) tends to drain battery power much faster than most other tasks, so you might as well keep the screen dim and optimize power savings so that you can enjoy what you're doing for as long as possible!
  • Under Battery:
    You can adjust the point at which you get the annoying "Low battery" notification if you want. This will have no effect on your battery life, though.
Click "Apply," and enjoy your improved battery life!