Laptop Buyer's Guide
Things to consider when purchasing a new/used laptop.Published Nov 22, 2006 by lobo235
Last updated on Jul 3, 2007
There are many things to consider when deciding which laptop to buy. There are many kinds of laptops with a myriad of options for the consumer to choose from. In this short laptop buyer's guide you will be armed with the information you need to purchase the laptop computer that is right for you.
Buying a laptop that does everything you want it to do should be the driving factor in making your decision. If you would like to be able to play games or perform other graphics-intensive tasks you are going to need a laptop that has a graphics card that is capable of such tasks. If you want to be able to store a backup of all your digital photos or MP3s then you need a hard drive that will suffice. Here are a few laptop specifications that are important to consider when buying a new laptop. Also included are the reasons why each is important:
- Screen size and resolution
- It is important to get a laptop that has a screen that you will be able to read. Some people buy the screen with the highest resolution available not realizing that higher resolutions mean smaller text on icons, web pages, and everywhere else. It is possible to increase the size of these fonts but it is a pain to do. If you have good eyes, work with graphics, or need extra desktop space then get the higher resolution. The size of the screen is important because as a rule-of-thumb, the larger the screen is the heavier the laptop will be. If you are going to watch DVDs on the laptop or use it to play games then you will appreciate a larger screen.
- As mentioned above, laptops with large screens are typically heavy and would be a pain to travel with. If you are going to travel frequently with your laptop you should consider getting the smallest/lightest laptop that you can find. If your laptop is too heavy you will find that it gets left at home whenever possible.
- Battery Life
- Battery life can be very important to some consumers and less important to others. If you will be using your laptop during long meetings or if you travel around to multiple locations during the day you will need increased battery life so that it will last a while. If your battery dies quickly then it will be very inconvenient to keep plugging it in to charge for a bit at each location. However, if you mainly use your laptop at home and at work then it will be easier to plug the laptop in and use it while it charges. Battery life will be much less important if your laptop functions more like a portable desktop computer for you because you set it up in one place and use it there for multiple hours. Keep in mind that if the battery life is not very long then you might not be able to watch a whole DVD without having to plug in. Also, all the components in the laptop have an effect on battery life. For example, a larger screen will use more power as will a faster processor. Hard drives that rotate at higher RPMs will perform better but will also draw more power. Many laptop manufacturers offer an extended life battery that will last a bit longer than the standard battery but it will cost more.
- Wireless networking capabilities
- Make sure that the laptop has the networking capabilities that you need. Most laptops have an Ethernet jack so you probably won't need to worry much about that but you should make sure that if you are going to use the laptop on a wi-fi connection that it has the capability built-in. If it is not built-in then you will end up having to get a PCMCIA wi-fi card that will stick out from the side of your laptop. The same goes for bluetooth, if it's not built-in then you will have to purchase a device that will more than likely stick out from the side (or back) of the laptop. External devices like this are a pain to swap out constantly and are more prone to being damaged if the laptop is set down on an uneven surface such as a bed or if they are bumped into. Keep in mind that certain users may not even need wireless networking capabilities in a laptop, especially bluetooth. Bluetooth is a technology used to connect peripheral components together wirelessly. There are mice, headsets, PDAs, cell phones, and other devices that can connect to your computer wirelessly using bluetooth. If you do not have any of these devices and you don't plan to purchase any in the near future then you probably won't need a laptop that has bluetooth built-in. Another item of note is that wireless devices consume battery life so having the ability to turn them off can be nice.
- Hard drive size
- Get a hard drive that is sufficient for your needs. If you are going to use your laptop to store a lot of media files such as digital photos, MP3s, or movies you need a big drive. Laptop hard disks are more expensive than desktop drives so make sure you make the right choice initially to avoid a costly upgrade. As mention before, drives that have higher RPMs will use more power and decrease battery life somewhat but will offer better performance. Currently, the biggest laptop hard drives are about 120GB which is considerably less than the sizes available for desktops. Laptop hard drives are more expensive than desktop hard drives too. Consider purchasing an external USB 2.0 hard drive if you need more disk space at a cheaper cost.
- Graphics card
- If you want to play games on your laptop (specifically 3D games) you will need a good graphics card. The Intel cards that come standard in most laptops do not have the power to keep up with today's graphics-intensive games. Also, most built-in graphics cards don't have their own memory but instead share your system's memory which can be slower and it also takes away from the amount of memory available to applications such as games. If you are going to be doing CAD work you will also need a good graphics card. If you are just going to use your laptop for sending email, surfing the web, watching DVDs, or word processing you will be fine with the cheap card. Graphics cards for laptops are usually not upgradeable so you will probably be stuck with what comes in the laptop when you buy it unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer.
- CD/DVD Drive
- CD and DVD drives for laptops are more expensive than their desktop counterparts. Make sure that if you want to burn CDs or DVDs that you get the appropriate drive for the task. Upgrading later is costly and depending on the laptop it might be too hard for the average laptop user to do on their own.
- Amount of RAM
- For Windows XP machines 512MB of RAM is usually sufficient. If you do any gaming, video editing, image editing, or other memory intensive task you will be better off with 1GB or more of RAM. With Windows Vista it is recommended to have at least 1GB of RAM because Windows Vista has a lot of new features and it will run a lot better with the extra memory.
- Processor Speed
- Make sure that the laptop has the processing power that you require. For games or other processor intensive applications make sure you get a top-of-the-line processor. For the average user who uses their laptop to surf the web or watch movies you will not need the extra processing power so save your money.
Choosing between different laptop brands may or may not be important to you. The biggest decision is whether to get an Apple laptop or the more standard PC. While Apple laptops are gaining in popularity they are quite different from PCs. Apples are considered to be easier to use for novice computer users who just want to be able to surf the web and do things with photos, music, and videos but the standard applications for performing these tasks may lack advanced options for experienced users. The applications that offer the more advanced features are very costly but this is also true for high-end PC applications. If you use applications on the PC the same application may or may not exist for the Mac. Usually there are alternative applications that will do the same thing as the PC application you are used to but as with all new software there will be a learning curve before you feel comfortable using it.
If you get a PC laptop you will need to decide which brand to get as they are offered by many companies such as Dell, HP, Sony, etc. Some laptops are built better than others and some are cheaper that others. Look for a laptop that is somewhat rugged because accidents happen. Also, if looks are important to you get a laptop that looks nice but keep in mind that you may pay extra for a lighted keyboard or the ability to use interchangeable faceplates.
Different laptop brands come with different warranties. Get a brand that has a warranty that suits your needs. If you will travel a lot with your laptop you might need the longer warranty because your laptop is more prone to damage when you travel. Also, if you are not a very experienced computer user make sure the brand you purchase has good support options such as on-site repair or diagnosis.
Always look for a good deal. Sometimes you can find a refurbished laptop that meets your needs and this will be cheaper than getting a brand new one. You can also save money by purchasing a used laptop on eBay or craigslist. Also, look for coupon codes on the bargain-finder sites like Ben's Bargains.
Now you are armed with more information to make your laptop buying experience easier. This laptop buyer's guide was created as a resource for anyone looking to buy a laptop. Share the laptop buyer's guide with a friend or family member that is considering purchasing a laptop so they can make the best decision possible.
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