Help Me, Laptop: I Need a Notebook to Write My Dissertation

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How much power is more than enough? Elisa, a student, is working on her dissertation, and is looking to upgrade from the netbook she was using previously. While she doesn't need graphics power, she does need a system that can handle having a lot of windows open at the same time. 

Elisa writes (in part), 

I don't play games beyond Free Cell, so I tend to disregard graphics performance; but it isn't always clear to me whether things I'm ignoring will also factor into my experience streaming video or loading web pages with animation. ...

While I can live with the keyboard pretty easily (I have small hands) and the 10" screen is okay (it would be nice, when writing, to be able to see more of a document at once), even the dual core Atom (N550) can't handle the tasks I need it to while running Windows 7 starter.

This is going to be the thing on which I write my dissertation, so it needs to be able to have open/running, simultaneously (easily, without hiccuping or giving me a "Not Responding" for several minutes every time I toggle between programs): 4-8 PDFs; 6-10 Word documents; 1-2 Excel documents (sometimes); and a web browser (I use Mozilla, but could be convinced to switch) with 10-12 tabs open.

I'd rather not switch to the Mac OS (and, most importantly, Apple's smug marketing really ruffles my feathers), but . . . at this point, I just want things to work and give me no problems, because I have other things to worry about. Like why no one wrote a sonnet in the eighteenth century.

 Click through to see our suggestions for Elisa--in sonnet form!

Dear Elisa, the answer is at hand

Several PCs will more than meet your end

You just have to choose your favorite brand

 And, of course, how much you then want to spend.


One we like is the HP dm4;

It's aluminum, but not all that large

a fingerprint reader makes it secure

and it lasts 7 hours on a charge


The Lenovo Edge E420s 

Has Core i5 and a soft-touch chassis

A spill-proof keyboard protects against mess

Business-minded, it's still somewhat sassy. 


For ultrabooks, right now there's none better

Than the Toshiba Z835

Just 2.4 pounds, and backlit letters

Not to mention its fast SSD drive.


You might not like Macs, but the Air astounds

Its 11-inch screen is bright as day,

A backlit keyboard and 2.4 pounds

But at $999, you'll have to pay. 


I hope these tips help you when you go shop.

If not, then write us at Help Me, Laptop!


If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at and we’ll respond to the most interesting questions in this section.


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  • MarcXW Says:

    The X220 is also a very good choice, especially when it comes to portability with its long battery life. It's also got a really good CPU, as well as the X1, althought the battery life does suffer on the X1.

  • marc Says:

    Low end x1? It has the best keyboard... ever.