Laptop Selection Guide – What Counts in Choosing a Laptop
The Street expert will tell you to get high RAM in choosing a laptop. But how much RAM do you really need? Besides, is it just about the RAM? What about the processor or the hard drive? The truth is that several specs of the laptop matter. Read this guide to know what really counts.
A laptop is a major asset and, for many, a critical work tool. For others, it’s also a powerful entertainment gadget. For most users, a dependable laptop is not just a priority, it’s practically the hub of their work and life. It’s a crazy situation, for many, to be without their laptop for a while, because all their work and even play is hinged on that notebook.
As important as the laptop can prove in one’s work life, so does it take a chunk of money to acquire. Buying a laptop is a major investment, even for the relatively cheaper ones. Laptops remain fairly expensive, meaning that it could significantly eat into your pocket.
Against that backdrop of critical requirement and significant cost, buying a good laptop for your purpose is imperative. That’s why choosing a laptop to buy requires some good level of understanding of what makes a laptop tick. You don’t want to begin to fiddle with repairs and upgrades too early. Striving to select a laptop that offers the right performance for your level of usage will pay you good dividend. You want to spend just what is necessary and you also want to get the right performance.
As it is, not everybody is an expert in computers or laptops. You probably need some handholding to choose a laptop that’s right for your requirement. If that’s the case, this laptop buying guide is a good starting point. It may actually be all that you need, because it covers most of what you need to know. It is designed to help you decide what level of laptop to buy. So, enjoy.
The Key Factors in Choosing Your Laptop PC
You are concerned about the processing power, storage capacity, functionality, convenience and durability you’ll get from your laptop. Below are the key factors that determine these laptop performance metrics.
The Laptop Processor
The processor is the central processing unit (CPU) of the laptop and is really the ‘engine’ of your laptop. A faster processor in your laptop means more power and processing speed. The faster your processor can ‘think’ and work, the faster the processes in your laptop can work. Higher processor clock rate would also translate to higher cost, which is why you only need just enough to meet your work requirement.
Intel processors are the leading name, with AMD processors also well rated. Intel’s lineup, as at today, includes the Celeron, Pentium and Core processors (core i3, Core i5 and Core i7). AMD, on its part, offers Athlon, Sempron and Turion processors. Reviews generally give Intel processors a performance edge over their AMD equivalents, but AMD processors come at better pricing. To start with, your laptop should be coming with a good Intel or AMD processor, with your budget playing a role in your final choice.
What processor then should you aim for? For advanced work, a high-end processor, like the range of Intel Core i5 to Core i7 and AMD equivalent, would be ideal. Lower end users will have a good enough experience using a dual core Intel Celeron level processor and equivalent. Users in the middle should aim for an Intel Dual Core Pentium processor or better still, up to Core i3 or their equivalent in AMD.
Processor speeds are ever hitting higher levels as manufacturers push for more performance. Today, however, a clock rate of 3 GHz is top speed. Most users will do with far less. Speeds of 1.6 GHz - 2 GHz will deliver satisfactory performance, for the average user. Those with more demanding work or gaming will find need for higher processor speeds. Note, however, that the introduction of multi-core processors has resulted in better processor performance even at lower clockrate. If your workload isn’t much, the extra cost of a high-end processor would seem unjustified.
Laptop System Memory (RAM)
RAM stands for random access memory. The RAM is another important metric for laptop performance. The installed memory is critical when you run various system applications in your notebook. Without enough RAM, the capacity of your notebook to perform efficiently will be limited.
So, how much RAM do you need? It depends. Once upon a time, 1GB was enough system memory. Today, more applications are run in most laptops than earlier than now. If your budget permits, shoot for a laptop with up to 4GB of RAM. For higher-end computing, go for more. Yet, you can still work well with a 2GB laptop, if that’s all that you can afford.
The Laptop Hard Drive
Though less critical than the first two with regard to laptop performance, the system hard drive is still important. Today’s laptops take a lot of storage of software, files, apps and all, and hold massive volumes of stored music, graphics and other digital resources. You need the storage capacity, though external hard drives can help, too. The hard drive is the main drive of your laptop, the permanent storage device within your system.
The drive size you'll require is a function of the work you intend to store on your hard drive. Graphics will take more space, meaning that if they are a major part of your data, you need extra capacity for that. Similarly, a large MP3 music library or plenty of digital video on your laptop will make a huge demand on your hard drive. Basic laptops, today, boast as much as 500GB HDD, which is enough for most users. If you think you’ll need more storage, say, 1TB, try to include that in your requirements. And if you can afford a solid state drive (SSD), that is a more reliable hard drive.
The Laptop Screen Size
Wider screen size means more comfort for your eyes, but it also implies more bulk which will impair portability. You need to resolve that seeming conflict, depending on how you want to mostly use your laptop. Largely mobile users will prefer smaller, more portable laptops. Wider laptop screens also would mean more battery power consumption and you should consider that as well.
The screen sizes you see are the diagonal width of the laptop screen. It could be as low as 10.1' for light netbooks. Widescreen laptop as wide as 17.3' are also available. Ultra light, ultra portable machines for high mobility come with the smaller screens (10.1', 12.1'). For virtually desktop use, a large screen-size (15' - 17.1') will not hurt. 14.1' is a mid-range and will serve well even if you're often on the move.
The Laptop Key Board
How easily you work with your laptop can be affected by the layout of the key board. An ultra-compact laptop’s keyboard may be too crammed for a good work-rate. Cumulatively, this could be a substantial cost in productive time. Before you buy, be sure that the layout of the laptop’s keyboard is comfortable for use or that you will eventually get comfortable with it.
The Laptop Battery
You’ll need extended battery life, especially when you're largely mobile. You won’t always have a power source to plug into. Some processors support better battery performance and you need one that achieves longer battery life, depending how long you could work off your battery. Ensure that a laptop you are considering will deliver the battery performance target you have.
The Laptop’s Operating System
Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Mac are the main options. Windows systems are more common here and the choice comes down now to Windows 10 or Windows 8. Ideally, you should go with the latest version of the OS you want. Another consideration is to see that you are buying a laptop with a licensed OS. Your best bet here is to buy from recognized authorized resale partners of the product manufacturer.
The Laptop’s Optical Drive
Consider what multimedia drive you require. User requirements may range from just playing CDs to as far as burning DVDs. What are your needs? Choices include low-end CD and CD-RW drives, mid-range combo DVD and CD-RW drive, and high-end rewritable DVD+RW, DVD-RW and DVD±RW drives. Related is the audio capability. Your system should be multimedia for good sound quality.
Many laptops today offer wireless connectivity, enabling mobile internet access. If you need a laptop with wireless connection to provide the flexibility you may need, be sure to check this out before you buy. Ask the vendor to confirm this capability.
Laptop Computer Ports
You will need to plug things at some point and you need the ports. If you have gadgets that require special connections (digital video camcorder with FireWire connection or projector with HDMI), you need a notebook that provides that. You also need enough USB ports on your equipment. A Card reader will also be found handy.
More Laptop Extras
What else is important to you? Some want in-built webcams so they can be seen while chatting online. Some are interested in Bluetooth facility. Or some other bells and whistles of the product. You decide what’s important to you and look for a laptop that offers them.
Decide Before You Buy a Laptop
You don’t want any regrets after spending a lot of money, so make your decisions before hand. Now you have a chart to guide you. There are many brands of laptops in the market and different manufacturers have earned a name. HP, Dell, HP Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, Acer, etc, are all of long-standing in the laptops market. You may have your brand preferences. What you have here helps you decide what the laptop you need should come with. Happy computing.