We don’t have a traditional TV set at home. Instead, we watch TV programmes and DVDs on a 17in Dell Studio 17 laptop, which we plug into our Denon hi-fi system to get decent sound. My husband also uses the laptop for a desktop publishing project.
Unfortunately, our Dell is nearly 10 years old. It’s running Windows Vista, the internet is painfully slow, and the DVD player is starting to become unreliable.
We could get another 17in laptop to replace it, but my husband ends up crouched over the screen, so perhaps a desktop would be better. However, it would need to be one that can easily moved around the house, from his desk to our TV stand.
Ideally, we don’t really want to spend more than £500 on a new device if possible.
The Dell Studio 17 was a great machine in its day, but your version sounds as though it has come to the end of its natural life. In theory, you could prolong it by installing Windows 10, an SSD, some extra memory and a new DVD drive. (The SSD would go in the spare drive bay.)
However, hard drives become prone to failure after about five years, so you’d probably be better off investing in a new PC. Either way, make sure you have a good backup on DVD or an external hard drive.
Another problem is that Windows Vista reaches the end of its life on 11 April. After that, it won’t get any more security updates. Try to replace your laptop before then.
As you say, another 17in laptop would be the obvious replacement. However, the trend is towards smaller screens on thinner machines, and mainstream 17in laptops are now relatively rare. This size is dominated by gaming laptops that typically cost from £1,500 to £2,500.
For non-gamers, the leading contender is the HP 17-x013na, which has a 17.3in screen showing 1600 x 900 pixels. This model has an Intel Core i3-5005U processor, 8GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and a SuperMulti DVD burner for £449. If you get it from HP, you can buy three years of collect-and-return service for £29.
Argos has the same machine with a Core i3-6006U processor, which is one generation newer, for £479.99. The 6006U isn’t really any faster. It does have better integrated graphics, but you probably wouldn’t care unless you were a gamer.
HP also offers the same laptop with an AMD A8-7410 processor for less (£429), but this is much slower than a Core i3-5005. If you buy an HP17, make sure it’s a Core i3 not an AMD A-8. That is to say, an HP 17-x013na not an HP 17-y013na.
What about an all-in-one?
I strongly advocate using desktops rather than laptops for sustained work because they avoid hunched-over syndrome. You can also avoid it by putting the laptop on a riser and plugging in a good external keyboard. There are hundreds of alternative products, so shop around.
An all-in-one PC is another alternative. First, you could get a bigger screen for the same money. Second, an all-in-one would be much easier to move than a desktop PC, but roughly twice as heavy as a laptop. For example, an HP 24-g099na weighs 6.46kg, whereas an HP 17-x013na weighs only 2.65kg.
Spending a little extra on a wireless keyboard and mouse would make your all-in-one easier to move.
The HP 24-g099na all-in-one has a 24in screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (Full HD), a 2.3GHz Core i3-6100U processor, 8GB of memory, 2TB hard drive and read/write DVD for £498.98. The Core i3-6100U is a good step up from the 6006U, the screen resolution is better, and you get twice the hard drive space.
There are lots of cheaper all-in-ones with smaller screens and much slower processors. For example, the HP All-in-One 22-b000na with a 1920 x 1080-pixel 21.5in screen, Intel Celeron J3060 processor, 4GB of memory and 1TB hard drive costs £349. The same machine with a slightly faster J3710 and 8GB costs £399. The major drawback is that the J3710, an Atom-based design, is even slower than an AMD A8-7410.
You could also consider the Lenovo C20 all-in-one, which I’ve written about before. A C20 with a 19.5in 1366 x 768-pixel screen, Intel Celeron J3160 processor, 4GB of memory, 1TB hard drive and DVD would cost you £299.99 from John Lewis, with a two-year guarantee. The screen resolution is low, and the processor is pretty slow, but it would probably do what you need. The main attractions are the price and the weight: at 3.8kg, it’s the same weight as your Dell Studio 17.
Get a TV?
I agree that live television is a terrible time-sink and best avoided. However, if you buy a TV, you won’t have to lug a laptop or all-in-one PC around the house.
There are three reasons why this is worth considering. First, you now need a full UK TV licence to watch catchup programs on BBC iPlayer on a PC. Second, “smart” TVs can handle iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix and other services without a laptop, as well as offering dozens of Freeview channels. Even if you buy a dumb TV, you can make it smart by plugging in an Amazon Fire or Roku box, for example. Third, you may be able to use wifi to stream videos from the PC to your TV by using a Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV stick, Roku Streaming Stick or similar device.
You could buy an internet-capable JVC LT-24C655 TV with a 23.6in screen and a built-in DVD player for £179.99. The “smart” features include the main catchup TV services, an app store and internet browsing.
Movie buffs may reel in horror at the idea of watching a 23.6in screen, but it’s bigger than the 17.3in screen you’re using now. However, you could get the same TV with a 32in screen for £249.99 or a 40in screen for £329.
The point is that you can get both a PC and a TV for your £500, though you will have to debate how best to split the budget. For example, a low-end TV like the 24in Logik L24HED16 (£129.99) would leave £370 for a laptop or all-in-one PC. Going for the 32in JVC smart TV (£249.99) would leave £250 for a laptop.
There are plenty of new laptops with 15.6in screens, 4GB or 8GB of memory, 1TB hard drives and DVD writers. Just avoid the ones with 2GB of memory and 32GB of eMMC Flash chip storage. Those are OK for casual use but not for desktop-publishing projects.
You could also look for a certified refurbished ThinkPad of the sort that large corporations retire in volume. The T420 and X220 models, among others, tend to be good value. You can find lots on Amazon and eBay, but Tier1Online specialises in this kind of product. Laptops Direct and Morgan are also worth a look.
I prefer ThinkPads, but ex-corporate Dell Latitude laptops and HP Elitebooks are also worth considering. Aim for a Core i5-2xxx or i5-3xxx (second or third generation, or later) processor in a Grade A laptop, preferably with a six month or longer guarantee. Tier1Online guarantees some machines for up to three years at a very reasonable rate.