Which Slate/Tablet PC should I buy for engineering school?

Discussion in 'What Tablet PC Should I Buy?' started by Kaelin, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. Kaelin

    Kaelin Pen Pal - Newbie

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    I'll be starting at the University of Texas at Tyler next fall to get my core courses out of the way, then plan on transferring to UT Austin after a year. I would like to get a Tablet PC either next fall or after my first year. I'll be using it to take notes containing technical drawings (formulas, diagrams, etc.) and possibly for typing documents on, although I do have a notebook for that. Basically, the tablet needs to have digitizer capabilities, and I prefer a full fledged OS, especially so I can load the Microsoft Home and Student Suite on it. Another thing I would like to be able to do on it is load AutoCAD/Inventor drawings on for purposes of presentation and reference, as well as possibly drawing some basic designs while in class.

    I've been looking at several tablets with Windows 7 (soon 8?):
    - Samsung Series 7 Slate
    - ASUS EP121
    - Lenovo X220

    Besides picking one of the above (or another if anyone suggests one), I also don't know whether to buy one now or wait until Windows 8 - and it's respective tablets - come out later this year and decide then. I do not plan on updating for 3 or 4 years, so I want to make sure I get something that will keep up with the new changes, such as Windows 8, that will come in the near future. Will I be making a mistake by buying one now? If not, what do you suggest based on my situation?
     
  2. Bronsky

    Bronsky Wait and Hope. Senior Member

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    I would add the HP 2760p to your current list. It's 16:10 ratio provides more tablet real estate in portrait orientation. Its outdoor viewable display has both multitouch and pen functions.

    That being said, I would not be buying anything yet. With Ivy Bridge, ultrabooks and W8 in the offing, I suspect there will be some really interesting designs, possibly an ultrabook convertible, released by the end of the year. A lot of us are waiting to see what the future will bring.
     
  3. Kaelin

    Kaelin Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Hm... I haven't looked into that Tablet PC yet. I'll definitely do that. Honestly, I am leaning a little more toward waiting, based on what I read. However, I really am a little uneducated on the tablet market and what's coming in the near future, as far as the new Windows 7 and (soon) Windows 8 tablet/slates coming up. ANY information will be helpful.

    Any more suggestions?
     
  4. Stan S.

    Stan S. Scribbler - Standard Member

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    If you are looking to be able to keep your unit for a number of years (and are not into the disposable personal electronics that smartphones and ipads have become) then a top-end processor is a must for you. As a parent of an upcoming senior AE student at GT, I know you'll be spending lots of time with Matlab creating animated graphics, and rendering 3D drawings in Inventor or some other software package can literally take days. My kid's X200T has physically held up very very well with lots of travel time off campus Even with it's now dated processor, every time I ask her or point her to sale on a new laptop she's not interested. She has Win7 ultimate, and we upgraded the unit's memory, and hard drive to the max.

    In every case you can't upgrade the CPU, but you can upgrade memory, storage if need be or even the network card. Inventor can take advantage of some of the GPU's on the market (go to the web site and see which ones).

    IMHO, the Lenovo is only one that is sturdy enough with it's magnesium alloy case, and can be had with a top-end CPU and as the new Intel motherboards are hitting the market soon, older versions should drop in price. Do plan on getting a desktop monitor, keyboard and/or an elevated stand for the unit (or other slate) as bending over the desk to view it's 12" screen 8-15hrs a day is a pain in the back, you'll regret. Please check with your school IT dept or bookstore for discounted 4 yr warranty included versions or go though Lenovo's school portal for a 10-15% discount (which doesn't mean you won't find it cheaper, but means that you'll most likely get the drop/spill warranty in the price).

    Convertibles are expensive however. You may find that most of your fellow students do without them, and simply use T420's or some other 14-15" laptop with a high-end processor and decent screen.
     
  5. pepper_john

    pepper_john Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Lenovo is offering a discount on the convertible X220t for students right now.
     
  6. Kaelin

    Kaelin Pen Pal - Newbie

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    @Stan S. - That was a very helpful post! You're right, I guess I can always upgrade the memory, HD, and such. I'll make sure I get the most top-end processor I can. It's good to know that the Lenovo X series stands well for using Matlab and Inventor.

    @pepper john - Thanks so much for noting that! I had looked at the prices for the X220's before, but I didn't think about looking under "Education" to see if they had student discounts. They are indeed offering great discounts for them right now!

    So, I'm looking into the X220's now and seriously considering them. Another question... Say I do like to play a couple high end games every now and then. :p Assuming I get the i7 processor and 8G of memory (an option when I went to customize one of the X220's), does anyone know if it would handle high end games well?
     
  7. Agent 9

    Agent 9 Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Things to do when configuring a computer: NEVER get it with more than the lowest amount of ram they offer it with (prices of ram from elsewhere [like Newegg] are always WAAAY cheaper, and besides you'd be able to upgrade to 16GB DDR3 for ~$160 and it will work great without issue; or just stick to 8GB for ~$40 or so for 2x 4GB); next, get the lowest end HDD and upgrade ityourself later (you can pick-up a Crucial M4 7mm SSD for good prices these days, they are fast reliable drives and last I checked you could get the 7mm 256GB drive for $300 on Newegg; only look at SSD's from Intel, Crucial, or Samsung; I guess you could go for a traditional HDD if you really wanted, but they are only just reaching the 500GB sizes in the 7mm height drives; the X220t does have the option to have a mPCI SSD in addition to a main drive, and you may want to consider that + a aftermarket SSD in the main bay to have plenty of solid state storage space); and buying the 'best' processor is not a very smart move because you get maybe 5-10% difference in synthetic benchmarks and in real use there would be essentially zero difference (get a low to mid i5 like the 2540M and you will be set, the 'i7' is a waste of money)

    For games the processor will not matter much at all, and the ram will matter almost not at all (as long as you have 'enough' for the system, around 4GB is the typical minimum these days), the GPU [Intel 3000] is where every game is going to be limited, and aside from doing a eGPU setup you are stuck with the Intel 3000 (a eGPU is not portable, and not that great, on top of being expensive)


    ... personally I wouldn't recommend the X220t because of the dumb 16:9 aspect ratio screen which really limits your usable real estate(vs the 16:10 aspect ratio of the other Tablet PC's), but to each their own I guess
     
  8. Bronsky

    Bronsky Wait and Hope. Senior Member

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    The HD 3000 igpu is not great running 3d games. You'll get really poor framerates and choppy performance in any modern games (except StarcraftII - or so I hear). I agree about the 16:10 display. I also agree about the I5-2540M. Matlab loves the last gen I5-540 arrandale in my Acer 3820TG, which I run oc'd a bit.:D

    If you really want some power though ... the 35 watt Ivy Bridge has made its appearance in HP's 14" Elitebook. It would be really interesting to have a 2760p with a quad I7 CPU and HD 4000 graphics.
    [​IMG]
    Does the 2760p have a PGA socket?
     
  9. Stan S.

    Stan S. Scribbler - Standard Member

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    "Real Use" -- in engineering real use will be full blast to render some of the stuff and run some of the processor intensive stuff they do without a GPU's assistance, small as 5-10% may be, it will be handy. Remember I'm also suggesting this for 4 years and the school work only gets harder each year and if they do research, etc. For normal stuff, I would certainly go with a i5.

    None of these units are gaming machines, unless the game is HTML5 based. Again, as I mentioned, most students don't go with a convertible but depending on philosophy, a decent laptop they can junk in two years or a more powerful laptop that's gaming capable that they can keep, such as T520's or W520 both of which are heavier to really heavy depending on options. Convertibles (IMHO) are only really good in school if you stick to and learn MS's OneNote (a great program).

    Just sign up for a continuous cloud backup service, make sure your Office is configured to backup your docs as you work every couple of minutes.
     
  10. Cads

    Cads Pen Pal - Newbie

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    The difference between a laptop and a tablet in a mathematics course is the difference between something that you use every day and something you use to check facebook. Besides onenote, having mip.exe is pretty fantastic too; with no training you can input equations about as quickly as someone who's really good at linear input can, and if you don't like mathML there's inlage to convert mip output to LaTeX.
     
  11. Hattori Hanzo

    Hattori Hanzo Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Depending on what you mean by "top end" that's either questionable or bunk.

    I agree that investing in a bit more than one of the most basic CPUs is worth it, but "top end" only makes sense when you need that last bit of performance now, in which case you would want to upgrade as fast as possible anyway or not get a tablet but something with a mobile quad core.
    A clock speed difference of 15% or less between otherwise identical systems is usually never noticed, even by people who think they are sensitive for that.

    That even holds true for systems beyond the 5 year mark. If you'd put a T7200 into my TC without telling me, I'm not sure how long I would need to sense a decrease in performance, but certainly not during "normal usage".
    I can tell you in an instant by just starting Outlook, PDF Revu or Eclipse whether I'm working on the TC with the slower or the faster harddisk, though.
    When that convertible was new, the price difference between the T7200 and the T7600 was higher than what I did pay for it used, in great condition.

    Currently even half a decade old upper mid end CPUs are more than enough for almost any common task. Hell, that T7600 is still twice as fast as the fastest desktop (!) Atom you can buy and easily five times as fast as a Z670.


    If you want a system to use some years without wasting your money, better be prepared to replace some peripherals and wearables. SSDs are going to improve still and after two to three years your battery might also show signs of age.
    If you want to spend more money, better do it on things that really matter and aren't easily replaceable. Like maybe better screen options with higher brightness or outdoor viewability.
     
  12. Stan S.

    Stan S. Scribbler - Standard Member

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    I guarantee that he will notice it when rendering in Inventor without a 'real' GPU and a full quad core CPU. My daughter just did some simulations in Matlab that took 40 hours as part of a research project for a major aerospace company- a newer laptop would have been much faster than the SL9400 she has installed. She might have saved 20-30% of the time with something newer and more powerful. I'm sorry that I didn't put a 9700 in there, now. And this is the real point, it is not now, today or next semester that the extra power would be handy, but two, three years from now when more intensive software is being run to do something even more exotic. I don't think that you're correct in your viewpoint, and when you have a laptop for more than two years, additional CPU headroom will keep you happy and be cost effective by letting you KEEP what you have. He's a engineering student, the demands increase with time, unless he wants to buy really cheap for a couple years' use (that he can pass to his family), and then something newer, faster better later that he might use for after school (assuming he gets out in 4) that will be more suited to 3rd, 4th year school requirements. But buying two units will certainly be more expensive than the top end cpu now or a middling unit that just makes it though the work.

    Certainly most everyone would probably be happy with a i3 in a unit with a fast drive and ram 95% of the time. Hell, I was away with my wife for a week and we (both IT people) were happy with smartphones and my $199 dual core HP Touchpad (with remote desktop software installed) instead of our usual dueling laptops and gadget bags.

    He's certainly welcome to save a couple hundred with a i5. But again, I'm not personally convinced by my visits to colleges (I have 5 nieces and nephews in college now, several in engineering) that tablets of whatever brand and style are the end-all for note takers over regular laptops and touch typing or even pencil and paper - unless the student is dedicated to OneNote - few are - and that they take the time to learn how to use it. [And there's always the issue of what MS is going to do with it as it moves to Office 15 and beyond.] Evernote is just not in the same class yet on it's own but with additional 3P integration and expansion stuff (LaTxt, People's Note, etc) it's getting there.
     
  13. e-schreiber

    e-schreiber ƒ(x) / fashion Senior Member

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    While I can't say which one is tougher (Lenovo ThinkPad X220t vs HP EliteBook 2760p), I believe both companies use magnesium alloy in the construction of their Business-grade Tablet PCs. Furthermore, both devices meet military standards, which means that both are pretty tough.

    HP EliteBook PC Testing
    HP EliteBook Quality System


    If, however, there's any consensus on which model is the toughest, I'd sincerely like to know.
     
  14. Bronsky

    Bronsky Wait and Hope. Senior Member

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    A toughbook is.:D
     
  15. e-schreiber

    e-schreiber ƒ(x) / fashion Senior Member

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    That's the only one that meets God's toughest standards to survive a Nuclear Holocaust, Meteor Impact or Sun Growth.
     
  16. Kaelin

    Kaelin Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Hmm... This is a lot to take in and consider. :/ I am of course contemplating whether or not to just stick with pen and paper, but... My parents are asking me to pick out a graduation gift, and they say that if I get a tablet now and end up needing a new laptop later, they'll get it for me. So that's not really a big problem.

    As for using OneNote, I am willing to learn how to use it. I understand that these are expensive devices, and my main purpose in buying one is not simply for recreation. Rather, I'm considering getting one because I believe that these types of devices are the future in designing and notetaking in business and educational environments. Not to mention, I certainly think that when I get used to taking notes on a tablet that I will find it much more convenient than carrying several notebooks, pens, and pencils. One thing I like about the HP EliteBook 2760p and the Lenovo X220t is that because the keyboard is attached, I can type notes as the professor speaks/writes on the board... Then when he begins to draw a diagram or equation, I can flip the screen down and draw it next to my typed notes. This would be extremely efficient in my eyes, especially considering I can't write very fast while I can type around 100 words a minute.

    So... A few questions based on the above posts...

    1. How does the Samsung Series 7 compare with tablets like the HP EliteBook 2760p and the Lenovo X220t? I know its keyboard isn't built in, but I just love the look of it. :p

    2. So... Just making sure here... I should buy the highest end processor (if I want to) and get the least amount of ram and the smallest HD and buy those things later on NewEgg and install them myself? ...seeing as this would be cheaper.

    3. I'm STILL unsure of what to do as far as buying one now or waiting a year until Windows 8 and a new set of tablets come out. Are they going to be that different? Will it not be much different than just getting one now and upgrade to Windows 8 when it comes out?

    - Thanks so much for helping me guys. I also apologize for not using the "form" on here. I didn't notice that post until a day after I posted this. I'm totally new to this forum.
     
  17. Hattori Hanzo

    Hattori Hanzo Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Well, yes, if you take an almost entirely CPU bound task and a low voltage CPU three generations behind you sense a lot of difference. If it takes 40 hours with an SL9400 and you assume a linear increase, an SL9600 (9700 afaik does not exist) would have taken 30 hours. That's entirely different of course.
    And for the price difference 4 years ago you could have just bought some used desktop with a quad core and have done it there in 6 hours :D
    The problem with your example is that it is more of an example of "when not to use a portable device sacrificing power for portability and runtime".
    Idk what the premium would have been back then, but for lesss than $400 you can get a complete laptop now that features a low end i3 that beats every mobile core 2 by a margin and the SL9600 easily by a factor of 2.

    That's right. The lowest end Sandy Bridge i3 (2310M) easily beats the fastest Core 2 (T9900). The same goes for low voltage variants etc.
    How many years are between those?
    Pretty much 2 years, less if you figure in exact release dates.

    So you wanna tell someone that the additional several hundred dollar premium is going to be an investment in the future, when in just 2 years you can't even buy a CPU of the same class that's not faster by a margin?

    To get back to your example:
    If you would have topped out the CPU back then, you would now still have a system that's crippling slow compared to every common low end budget laptop.


    Your example of an engineering student is similarly flawed. If you buy a high end laptop now, when can you expect it to be used for complex rendering and CAD tasks?
    Here the first semesters in engineering cover basics that are quite far from running complex simulations. That stuff usually is not relevant before the fourth semester, when that high end laptop will have become as powerful as your usual entry level machine. And then you still want to keep it for another 2 years for demanding tasks, when it will be just as powerful as a netbook is today?


    There's two simple rules for processing power and price that has held true for more than a decade:
    Everything you can buy now is slow in 2 years.
    The last 20% of performance cost 50% more.
    So if you don't have money to waste or an immediate need for that power, you're going to buy a tiny piece of headroom for a huge price.


    And in addition to that there's currently no Tablet PC available that really is well designed for computationally heavy tasks. Even the only one with a discrete GPU has a pretty slow one and there's not one available with a quad core.


    @ Kaelin
    2. I'd say see how expensive CPU upgrades are and when they start getting overpriced and get something around 2/3 of what's possible. That's usually the sweet spot between price, performance and future proof.
    And totally yes to memory and harddisk. They're easy to upgrade and OEMs charge not rarely a multitude of what those parts cost separately.

    3. If you're going to just start studying, maybe try to find out what you're going to do the first semesters and if you really need a powerful laptop. Chances are you'll be doing a lot of math by hand and need to write and draw a lot. In that case you should consider getting a cheaper, used Tablet PC. Even really old ones handle that absolutely fine.
    This way you can save your money and get something new and more powerful when you really need it instead of blowing your money now and having to live with something that has become too slow before you could really use it.

    And waiting, well, given how fast computers evolve you are always saving money if you wait. The next generation will likely be like all the ones before, no dramatical change but a step forward. So if you can, wait and either get what you could have now a bit cheaper or get something better for the same money.
     
  18. Cads

    Cads Pen Pal - Newbie

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    The form isn't very useful anymore, don't sweat it.

    Onenote doesn't really have much of a barrier to entry. It has a hierarchical page organization structure; you create notebooks that hold sections, sections that hold pages, and pages that can hold subpages. Each page is sort of an infinite canvas that you can type or write anywhere on. You can insert any kind of file as an attachment, and any printable document can be inserted onto a page as an image. The pen has different settings for colour thickness and highlighter options, and the handwriting and image text is automatically indexed so as to be searchable with typical ctrl-F type commands. It's fairly intuitive.

    The samsung seems to use low voltage versions of sandy bridge core processors whereas lenovo and HP convertibles use full voltage ones. The x220 and elitebook still get better battery life however, due to their larger battery options. The series 7 is also pretty expensive so in every concievable way the current gen business convertibles are better except for the fact that they're not slates.

    Yes you should pretty much never buy RAM and hard drives from the manufacturer. However there's not much value in the upgrade from an i5 to an i7. There definitely is from an i3 to an i5 however.

    Not sure what to tell you about waiting for windows 8. Microsoft seems to be pushing for high standards of resolution and touch/pen sensitivity in the next generation of tablet hardware, which is a relief since, honestly, touch performance is weak on most windows 7 tablets not just because of the inappropriate UI, but because the hardware is just not as good as in your average cellphone or media tablet. Since windows 8 will use lots of gestures at the edge of the screen, this is one way this generation of hardware will let you down. Windows 8 tablets will have accellerometres as standard gear, and while the x220 for example already has one as a hard drive protection feature, it's unknown whether windows 8 will recognize these features. Ivy bridge will also feature much improved graphics performance and power efficiency and this trend is expected to continue. So those are some reasons to wait.

    Reasons not to wait include that current generation tablet PCs will all run windows 8 anyway. Besides that, well, mobile devices are in the process of getting streamlined but not faster. It's not really the case that increased clock speeds will give you more capabilities like it used to, which is why for example so many people buy used tablet PCs for their note taking. So while the slates are getting thinner and more powerful and getting longer lasting batteries, the full sized convertibles about maxed out their power as tablets a couple of years ago during the core 2 duo era, as in, they boot quickly, they have beautiful bright screens, they run digital art software and onenote without a hitch, and they last 5 or 6 hours on a charge. What more do you want? This will be as true when windows 8 arrives as it is today.
     
  19. Liberty

    Liberty Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Here is what they sell at Va Tech

    Fujitsu and sometimes Hp when they can get it.

    Virginia Tech Bookstore - Convertible Tablets

    Here is there policy for students.

    Virginia Tech Bookstore - Need To Know
     
  20. Stan S.

    Stan S. Scribbler - Standard Member

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    My daughter did rendering her first year. As for the rest of it, if you're not getting a huge discount like when I post the $1200 off periods, and are paying $2800 for the unit with upgraded networking, 3x3 mobile ready - even if you only get a 2x2 wifi card,-built-in camera, bluetooth, fingerprint reader and the $200 dock for cable management/optical/storage, the $200 more that the i7 cpu currently costs extra over a i5 is not significant. If you're discussing the $1700 base i3 unit going to the i7 and the $400 difference, then that's significant.

    IMO, spending $2K or more for one of these units and NOT using it for 4 years is a real waste of money when they come with processors that can be had in units for 1/4-1/2 the price.
     
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