Computer and Laptop buying guide
Posted by Seb T in blog on
(Updated 22nd June)
By popular request our guide to parents, teachers and students looking to buy laptops during the COVID pandemic. Over the coming weeks this guide will be expanded and refined so do check back occasionally.
So which laptop is the best buy? Read on...
Lenovo Thinkpad T-series
The best kept secret of computing professionals and the best second hand PC laptop purchase bar none.
If you want a high quality, excellent all-round laptop, look no further than the Lenovo T-series. These machines are expertly designed for professional and general computing, have top-drawer build quality and are very serviceable. Thanks to their popularity with offices and executives, there's a bouyant 2nd hand market with plenty available on eBay. Best of all, 2-3 year old models can be snapped up for £200-£300, with older models often cheaper still.
Modern T-series thinkpads have 3 digits in the model code, sometimes with a letter afterwards, eg. T450, T430s. The first digit is the screen size, usually a '4' signifying a 14.1" screen. There are 15" models (eg. T530) but these are much harder to find at a bargain since offices usually buy the 14" models.
The second digit is the generation, higher being newer. So T410 is oldest and T490 is the newest. The machine generation doesn't necessarily mean a better specification but newer generation of the consituent parts. So for example the T420 has Intel HD3000 graphics system built in, whereas the T430 has Intel HD4000. In this example the difference is worth having - HD4000 plays HD video perfectly, where HD3000 struggles a little with 1080p HD. That's one reason we recommend the T430 as a minimum, but the T410/T420 are still a great choice on a budget.
The letter at the end (if present) is 'p' for portable workstation or 's' for slimline. 'p' models tend to be physically larger but usually have extra capabilities (eg. dual hard drive storage), where 's' models are slimmer / more lightweight and may have some extra features also. Both 's' and 'p' models are considered top of the generation's range.
Minimum recommended specifications
We recommend T430, T450 and T460 (or newer). Avoid T440. Newer models tend to use more power-efficient components and therefore make less noise, have better battery life and longevity.
|Processor||i5-5300u (or higher)||i5-2320m (or higher)|
|Memory*||8G or higher|
|Screen Resolution||1600x900 or 1920x1080. Avoid 1366x768|
|Hard Drive / SSD*||SSD preferable, 120-250G (larger = better).
Hard disks will have more space and are cheaper but slower and less reliable.
|CD/DVD drive||Usually fitted, sometimes not, in which case upgradeable||These machines have a slimmer design so do not have a CD/DVD option|
|Backlit keyboard||Rare. Grey Backlight symbol on spacebar usually means light projected on to keyboard (aka 'thinklight'), a white symbol indicates backlight feature||Common. Backlight symbol on spacebar means the keyboard has backlight feature|
|Condition||Often machines are sold on ebay buy office clearance or "refurb" companies. Sometimes they are sold by individuals. Machines sold as refurbished are usually graded; ensure grading is at least 2/B out of 4 (A-D) or 3/C out of 5 (A-E). If in doubt, ask the seller.|
|Age||Around 5 years||Around 3 years|
|New Price||£1000-£1800, around £1300 for our recommended spec.|
(for recommended spec)
|£140 - £200 (all inc)||£230 - £290 (all inc)|
* indicates low cost/straightforward upgrade path. Other components can be upgraded also but will require specialist skills/knowledge.
The easiest way to buy 2nd hand Thinkpads is eBay. Use the search and carefully inspect the product detail pages. If you're interested in a T450, search for both T450 and T450s; some sellers will list as one or the other.
Ask, ask, ask!
If any specification items aren't mentioned, ask the seller; a good seller will respond to questions and that helps build confidence. A seller is helpful, communicative and should respond in a timely manner: within 24 hours but ideally within 12. Go over the listing with a fine toothcomb and make a list of questions before firing off your contact request, and make sure the seller addresses each of your questions.
Check the seller's feedbacks. Apart from wanting to see generally positive feedback, you'll also want to see that the seller is routinely selling electronics equipment of loosely the same type and/or value. 1000 positive feedbacks for keyrings isn't much use when buying a £300 laptop. Finally ensure the seller has been on eBay for a while; at least 6 months if not longer.
That's it for now but there's more to come. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or tweet us!