When it comes to laptop computers, the products available run the gamut from adequate and inexpensive, to powerful and rather pricey. Ask yourself what it’s going to be used for, and then specify accordingly, getting the most bang for the buck. Here’s mine.


I’ve been asked by several people lately which laptop I would recommend right now. Of course, the answer should probably be, it depends. How it’s being used and by whom would determine what’s best for them, but in my case, the people who asked me were all buying it for the same reason — for a college-bound student.

With high school behind him and four years of college on the horizon, it seemed that the perfect graduation gift for my son would be a new laptop computer. When asked for a recommendation from people, I would stop short of actually recommending it, but rather say that this is the one that I bought and why.

Determing factors:

– I wanted one that would actually be functional for the next four years and still be useful when he graduates from college.

– I wanted one powerful enough to not only meet but exceed the minimum requirements as outlined by the Engineering department he’ll be attending.

– I wanted one that was fast enough to run videos without being choppy.

– We wanted one with a larger display.

– We wanted one with a a Blu-ray player.

– We wanted a TV tuner.

– We wanted adequate external ports: USB, fire wire, eSATA, audio, etc.

– We wanted one with good speakers.

– It had to run Microsoft Vista (Sorry Mac people — college requirement due to the engineering applications)

And here’s the one I selected:

Sony Vaio VGN-AW290 Premium

I upgraded as follows:

An upgrade to the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P8700 (2.53GHz) from the 2.4GHZ seemed well worth the extra $50. An upgrade to the 2.66 GHz for $150 more, or to the 2.93 GHz for $450 more didn’t seem worth the cost.

It came standard with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, which is quite adequate, so the $150 upgrade to Vista Ultimate didn’t seem worth it.

An upgrade from the standard 2GB of RAM to 4GB DDR2-SDRAM (DDR2-800, 2GBx2) was a no-brainer for an extra $100. Since 4GB is necessary for a lot of the engineering applications right now, this might have to be upgraded further in the future, but to do so now would be too pricey. An upgrade to 8GB, for example, would add $600 to the cost, and I’m guessing that either the 4GB will be adequate for the next four years or the price for this RAM will come down significantly in a couple of years.

The hard drive options were as follows: 320GB SATA (7200 rpm) Hard Disk Drive as standard, 400GB (5400 rpm) SATA Hard Disk Drive added $20.00, 640GB (7200 rpm) SATA Hard Disk Drive would add $170.00, 1TB (4200 rpm) would add $320.00, and 756GB (128 GB x 2 SATA Solid State Drives + 500 GB x 1 SATA Hard Disk Drive (4200 rpm) would add $1,420.00.

I’ve researched the difference between 7200 RPM drives and 5400 RPM in the past, and I decided that I definitely wanted to go with a 7200 RPM drive. I almost upgraded to the 640GB, but my son reminded me that his current 500GB external hard drive with a USB connector would provide all the disk space he’d need for any videos and a lot of his music, and he’d rather apply the upgrade cost to something else. In hindsight, I still wish I would have upgraded to the 640GB drive, but just like the RAM, if the need arises, we can upgrade it later. So I stayed with the standard 320GB at no additional cost.

We paid the extra $100 to upgrade to the Blu-ray Disc Read Only Drive.

I upgraded to the two-year full warranty instead of the standard one year, which was an extra $125, but I did it only because I was offered a $100 discount on the computer if I did it. Another no-brainer, I suppose. An extra year of warranty for $25.

I also paid an extra $89 for overnight shipping in exchange for another $100 discount. Go figure.

So there’s my selection for a laptop. The price, with applicable taxes, shipping, and applied discounts, came in at around $2,400. Not exactly the $599 special you might see on the shelf of a lot of stores, but bang for the buck, I think he’ll be pretty happy with this one for the next four years.

What’s your choice for the best laptop out there right now, and why?