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I am going to buy "new" (it can be used) notebook for my work - mostly heavy surfing (I need more browsers with many tabs opened), programming and other office work.

I have no experience with this:

What would work faster (for the surfing, php programming, office work)? For example I see very good price for a notebook (Dell) with older CPU Core i5-560M, with 256 GB SSD. Or I can see for the same price many notebooks with i5 3210M with HDD (5400).

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Olli, Journeyman Geek, Ramhound, Bobby, Dave Feb 13 '14 at 14:44

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Don't forget the noise. I love SSDs because of the silence. – Thomas Weller Feb 13 '14 at 12:39
The processor is called i5 560M I can't edit your post, because the edit has to change more than 6 characters. – Feb 13 '14 at 14:35

In office you mostly work with files, so the disk operations are the most common. Moreover Core i5-560M CPU can handle all the operations performed in office and the delay is caused mainly by the disk operations anyway.

Summary is faster disk will boost whole system much more than faster CPU.

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Where does @Neon mention an i3? – Scotty.NET Feb 13 '14 at 15:03
My apology, I've misinterpreted it with other answer. – Andree Feb 13 '14 at 15:10
Cool, no problem. – Scotty.NET Feb 13 '14 at 15:13

I would pick the SSD system. For Office you don't need a fast i5. Here the i3 is also fine.

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Where does @Neon mention an i3? – Scotty.NET Feb 13 '14 at 14:57

Perhaps not the answer you're looking for, but in my experience RAM makes more difference than either.

SSDs have the biggest impact on start-up times. CPU makes a difference if you're doing CPU-intensive things - for me that's compiling, but most variants of PHP aren't compiled, so this may not apply.

Since most modern OSes use extensive disk caching, more RAM can give you some of the benefits of an SSD (fast reads and writes) on the cheap.

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If you would not have mentioned RAM, I would have written that as an answer. – Thomas Weller Feb 13 '14 at 12:38
Agree with ram, especially if the asker is serious about "lot's of browser tabs." I routinely hog ~1.5GB of ram with just my web browsers, more if I'm doing heavy cross-browser compatibility/comparisons. Another heavy ram user the asker might be running is an IDE - Netbeans I know would seriously climb in ram usage when I had to search our legacy PHP codebase. – Patrick M Feb 13 '14 at 14:28
The i5 560M can support up to 8GB RAM, should be more than enough. It would require a possible upgrade (depending on the base system) source. – Scotty.NET Feb 13 '14 at 14:54

Take the one with i5 3210M and sell the pre-installed hdd on ebay or put it in an external case and install a new ssd instead. A very good 250 GB SSD like the Samsung Evo 840 costs ~150$.

Don't take the laptop with the i5-560M CPU because of the following reasons:

  • the i5-560M is a first generation core-i processor, with a very slow graphics core and a much higher energy consumption than the third-generation i5-3210M
  • you will get way more battery life with the i5-3210M laptop, also the battery on the i5-560M laptop has to be about 3 years old (if it wasn't replaced)
  • the chipsets for the first generation core-i processors doesn't support SATA3, but the ones with the third-generation core-i will, that means twice as much disk transfer speed
  • Even if they have nearly the same clock speed, the performance of the third-generation core-i processor will be about ~20% better with much less energy consumption
  • i5-560M doesn't have USB 3.0



  • has ~20% more performance
  • fast integrated graphics
  • longer battery life
  • USB 3.0
  • supports SATA3 (makes SSD much more useful)
  • no SSD, but a new one won't cost that much


  • pre-installed SSD (not such a big plus, because i don't know which model it is)
  • more power hungry
  • less battery life
  • slow graphics
  • no SATA3
  • no USB 3.0

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+1 for doing some research – Scotty.NET Feb 13 '14 at 15:02
3210M has Intel® Anti-Theft, but the rest is only important if a gamer or graphic artist. A preinstalled SSD saves imaging time and if it breaks after 2 years, it might still be under warranty. – Cees Timmerman Feb 13 '14 at 15:07
@CeesTimmerman USB 3.0, SATA 3 and especially more battery life are also important for "normal" users. The pre-installed SSD will only have the warranty if the laptop is new and it's more likely that the one with the SSD is used. – Feb 13 '14 at 15:21
The only large office files i handle more than once a month as a programmer are a couple of 20 MB videos, and i haven't even touched a USB stick in months. Also the longer battery life is thanks to the slow HDD. – Cees Timmerman Feb 13 '14 at 15:40
@Cees Timmerman: In the beginning of my answer i wrote that he should buy the i5-3210M AND also a SSD for this laptop. The CPU has much more effect on the battery life than the harddrive. There are people that make backups on external drives, and trust me, if you have to make a disk image on an external USB 2.0 drive you would be thankful to have better transfer speeds, where USB 3.0 comes into play. Real programmers are making backups ;) – Feb 13 '14 at 15:45

SDD is the best for those kind of operations,

however I also know that Microsoft Word (latest 2014) uses a tad more CPU if you have a lot of fancy effects

i.e. Picture Colour correction, Flowery templates, big A1 sized pages with High res photos.

Why SSD and not i7?: Apple iPads are acceptably fast aren't they? Same as Macbook air.

But think about it, Linux on a HDD is not as fast as OS X. Same thing for iTunes: fast on a Mac, dial-up in Windows. SSD has a much better impact on system performance than CPU in modern day tech (YAY!).

Sources: (Polite way to say, READ IT)

Good Luck! final note: When buying a laptop remember that the quality of the casing, buttons, keyboard, touch pad, battery life, Are all just as important as the specs. No Point in having a Laptop that drives you mad because the touch pad sucks.

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... Linux on a HDD is not as fast as OS X. This is absolutely not true. – Feb 13 '14 at 14:46

I'd say that CPU is more important. Load time might be higher, but you get faster compilation times, many opened tabs will work faster (as they will only use memory and CPU, not HDD).

Also, if you buy better CPU you can add SSD anytime you want, but if you buy SSD you cannot add better CPU so easily (wrong socket, memory type and so on)

But in your comparison, SSD would beat newer CPU, as the difference is not major (e.g. comparing i3 vs i5)

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What compilation times? The question says he'll be programming in PHP, which isn't compiled. – Mike Scott Feb 13 '14 at 11:29
Well, it gets compiled on the runtime, which is faster with better CPU... Anyway, if you multitask, CPU and RAM is most important factor, but if you use filesystem intensive tasks (such as developing on Symfony framework), SSD is much bigger improvement (as you can use something like ACP). – Valdas Feb 13 '14 at 11:32
"Also, if you buy better CPU you can add SSD anytime you want" - Since he specifically mentioned office work, assuming he meant work this could very well not be true. Budget for systems is a given on some interval, every 2-5 years maybe or when the system dies. Upgrades to existing systems are rarely budgeted. – AthomSfere Feb 13 '14 at 12:01

There's no single answer. There's no magic-bullet "this will always make it work faster" item.

You improve speed on a computer system by working out where the bottleneck(s) is, and then eliminating them. A faster processor, therefore, only helps if the processor is what is causing your delay.

More important than having one single absurdly well-specced component is having a reasonable well balanced system. So you might, for example, get better practical performance out of having a modest SSD upgrade and a modest RAM upgrade than you would from going all out in one category or the other. As you mention heavy web surfing with lots of tabs, a modern browser will cache a lot of stuff to disk and use a lot of memory, which is why I say having a balanced approach here might be most useful.

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In your case, I would say definitely go for the SSD version, because the processors are not that different.

i5 560M - 2.66Ghz (with up to 3.2Ghz Turbo Boost*)
i5 3210M - 2.5Ghz (with up to 3.1Ghz Turbo Boost)

As you can see, there is basically no difference. ~100Mhz on modern multi-core machines is unlikely to even be noticeable unless your primary workload is very processing-intensive (think - rendering, compilation of very large applications, etc.)

On the other hand, an SSD will be leaps and bounds faster than an HDD, practically removing I/O bottlenecks (when I switched to an SSD, I saw close to 100x the speed improvement in straightforward things such as copying speeds (which is major), as well as non-straightforward things - like the OS booting up in 2 or 3 of seconds vs. 15). Remember that in general, the biggest and most common bottleneck in most computer systems is I/O (not in all cases, but in general).

My advice to you would be to definitely go for the SSD system. If you were making a decision between a 2.5Ghz dual-core i5 and a 3.1Ghz quad-core i7, I'd say it would be worth some thought. But in this case, which is a difference of ~100Mhz, it's probably not even worth thinking about.

One thing you also did not mention is RAM sizes, which are also very important for web browsing. Are the machines equivalent in this regard?

*Turbo Boost is Intel's on demand self-overclocking technology.

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heavy surfing, programming and other office work.

These are three very different things.

Also "SSD" on its own does not tell a lot. All SSDs have in common that they make no noise and that they excel at access times for sequential (and slightly less so) random read access. There are huge differences when it comes to writing, in particular small writes.

An internet browser is something that even a very sub-par CPU on an underpowered device such as a typical Windows-Atom tablet can reliably deliver. No trouble.
→ Does not matter what you buy.

Office work usually (depending on what you do and what software you use) needs a moderate to high amount of memory, moderate CPU, and fast sequential and random access reads on your disk (SSDs, even cheap ones, are typically excellent at this). The most important "feature" of office programs is that they are ugly fat pigs which are already heavy on their own, and load a lot of small plugins, addons, templates, and whatnot all the time. Loading can literally take minutes if your disk drive can't cope. Write speed usually does not matter at all. You don't save once every two seconds, and it is usually a very quick process, too.
→ SSD model definitively preferrable.

Programming takes virtually no CPU/memory/disk resources for the editing part, but tasks like compilation require huge amounts of memory, huge amounts of CPU, and will usually completely max out your I/O capabilities.
In particular, the disk must be able to copy with many small random reads and small random writes. Not all SSDs are particular good at this task, a good mechanical harddisk can very well outperform a cheap SSD (both in performance and lifetime) if a lot of small writes are involved.
→ If you only want to do the editing part (PHP), it does not matter what you buy.
→ Otherwise, SSD model if it's the right kind of SSD, but not just any SSD.

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