Buying a Laptop

Category: Laptops

Laptops are a great option for people who need to compute on the move. In the past, laptops were bulky, heavy and slow. But today, laptop technology has advanced and today's models are fast, light and offer nearly the same performance as their desktop counterparts. If you're in the market for a laptop computer, then it makes good sense to learn a few basic facts about important laptop features, as well whether brand makes a difference in the performance and quality of the laptop or not, before you spend any time or money shopping for one.

Dell Inspiron Laptop

How to Buy a Laptop

What do you need to know before you shell out the bucks for a shiny new laptop? That depends on the features you need, and how you're going to use it. Here's a list of important laptop features that you should consider in your laptop decision making process.

  1. CPU - The first laptop feature that most people look at when shopping for a laptop computer is its processor type and speed. The most popular processors on the market today include the AMD Turion 64 X2 and the Intel Core 2. Both of these processors deliver comparable speed performance, and with available processor speeds between 1.6GHz and 3.5 GHz, just about any processor is going to deliver the speed that you need for normal computer performance. On the other hand, if you run multi-media programs such as photo/video editing or gaming on your computer, you may benefit from selecting a higher speed processor.
  2. SCREEN - The next feature that you will want to look at is screen size. Laptop screen sizes vary from 12 inches to 17+ inches. When shopping for your laptop make sure that you select a screen size that makes sense for the type of activities that you perform on your laptop. If you work with multi-media software, or if you have vision challenges, then you may want to invest in a larger screen size. On the other hand, if you simply use your laptop computer for word processing a 14-inch computer screen is probably adequate.
  3. SIZE - The size and weight are other features of a laptop that you need to take into consideration. The thickness of a laptop when folded up will generally range between 1 and 2 inches. The slimline models are typically around an inch and weight between 3 and 4 pounds. The slimline models are a great option for people who work on the go and you'll definitely notice the extra 5 or 6 pounds when you're lugging a heavier model through the airport. The drawback of the lightweight models is that typically they have smaller screens, and sometimes requires external CD/DVD drives.
  4. MEMORY - The amount of installed memory (RAM) is another key feature that you will want to consider when buying a laptop computer. The horsepower of your computer depends almost as much on RAM as it does on the CPU. RAM (random access memory) is the temporary memory that your computer uses to load programs and data that you're working on. (Don't confuse RAM with hard drive storage, which we'll discuss next.) The more RAM your computer has the faster it is will run, and the more programs and files you will be able to run at once. A lack of RAM will cause your computer to swap chunks of memory to and from the hard drive, and is a major slowdown factor. You should have a minimum of 512 MB (megabytes) of RAM, but 1 or 2 GB (gigabytes) will provide much better performance.
  5. HARD DRIVE - Next, let's look at the size of the hard drive. Your hard drive is the main file storage device for your computer. The larger your hard drive, expressed in terms of GB, the more data you will be able to store and run on your computer. Many entry level laptops come with 80 GB of hard drive storage, but if you're going to be storing photos or video clips, you should consider doubling that figure.
  6. OPTIONS - Finally, there are several optional features that are typically associated with higher end laptop modes. A touch screen allows you to make selections simply by touching your monitor screen. Tablet input features allow you to use a light pen to make notes, highlight items or create designs. This is an option that is popular with artists and designers because it allows them to directly translate their artistic or creative visions to a digital format. A swivel screen, firewire ports, extended-life batteries, Blu-Ray capability, Bluetooth wireless, integrated camera, and biometric fingerprint readers are other options you may consider.

Are Brand Name Laptops Better?

The cost of brand name laptop computers has reduced significantly over the last 5 years. Because of this, there really isn't a good reason to buy a no-name generic computer. If you are going to invest in a laptop computer, you want to know that what you are buying is going to deliver the performance that you need, that it will come with the software that you need to operate it and that it will be compatible with all of the add-on devices that you are interested in.

While there is generally more risk associated with buying a generic or bargain-brand laptop computer, not all of them are lemons. However, they typically offer you lesser screen quality, slower processors, little to no supporting software, sometimes no operating system, and fewer upgrade options.

Some of the most popular brand name laptops currently available are Dell's Inspiron and XPS models, the Lenovo ThinkPad, the Sony VAIO, HP's Pavilion, the Toshiba Satellite and Apple's MacBook Pro. Before you buy, check out the specs on the manufacturer's websites, read reviews at CNET, get consumer opinions at Epinions or ask a friend who owns one. A low-end laptop will cost about $600-$800 but you can pay $2000 or more, depending on the features you choose.

I also recommend that you get up close and personal with a laptop before you make a decision. Go to a computer store or try a friend's laptop to see if the keyboard feels good. Check the brightness of the screen, the weight and try out the features. You can always go home and order online if there's a better deal.

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Most recent comments on "Buying a Laptop"

Posted by:

03 Oct 2007

Great advice Bob. And make sure it has lots of USB ports. Thats how many of your extras like the important external backup drive, desktop setup, printers, and so forth will connect. Sure, you can get a USB hub. And thats a great way to add in desktop peripherals - 1 plug brings you the office. But for portability, do you really want yet another device?

Posted by:

Al Cosh
03 Oct 2007

Hey Bob - You didn't mention Acer in either your laptop or cheap system columns. I have been recommending them for a number of years and I support about 15 Acer laptops right now. The oldest is 6 years old and still chugging along. I've only had one machine go bad after 3 years (power problem). The other nice thing is that they have a world wide warranty which can be useful for travelers. Oh BTW they also just bought Gateway and it's subsidiary companies to give them better access to the US market I think.

Posted by:

03 Oct 2007

Here is a link is to a current PCMagazine survey taken by over 20,000 readers on rating various criteria for makers of desktops, LAPTOPS and printers. I thought this info would help your readers after reading your article.,1895,2182856,00.asp

Posted by:

David W
03 Oct 2007

One issue with screen size you don't mention in relation to vision challenges, is resolution. With many brands you can get a 14" or a 15" display. Yes the 15" display is bigger, but the 15" displays are often a higher resolution - 1400x1050 on the 15" versus the 1280x1024 on the 14".

Yes that means you can see a lot more on the screen, but it also means the default text size on the 15" display is *much* smaller and potentially *much* harder to read. I recommended the 1280x1024 14" screen to my father for this very reason.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Even with a larger screen, you can still set the resolution to 1024x780 or even 800x600 if you like. In fact, lower resolution on a larger screen is the best solution for vision challenges.

Posted by:

05 Oct 2007

Good article. For people with limited funds, an older laptop is a good option, ebay etc.

Perhaps, Bob, you could write an article about some of the better second hand laptops to buy, which are great for browsing, email, photos etc while on holidays and when doing special projects.

Posted by:

darlyn aresgado
01 Jun 2008

I want to comment here that this article is very helpful to someone like me who doesn't know much about computers. I was asking a lot of my friends and surfing the net for days just to get an idea on what necessary info I need to know before buying a laptop and after reading Mr.Rankin's article I believe I have what I need. I appreciate that he didn't use computer terms that would easily confuse people like me. Thank you so much! =)

Posted by:

11 Mar 2009

I was very confused because i want to buy a laptop. But after reading this i am little satisfied. And now i can buy my new laptop because all this information mentioned here will help me a lot.

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