Laptop Buyer’s Guide
Laptops and notebooks are portable PCs which offer the full functionality of a desktop PC. The term laptop and notebook is often interchangeable, however there is a slight difference in that laptops are generally larger than notebooks.
This expert guide aims to explain the important features to take into consideration when reviewing laptops, as well as provide guidance on the different types available within the various budget ranges.
Available types of laptops
There is a wide variety of laptops available on the market, making the selection process a potentially complicated task for the first time buyer. The first step is to decide on what you will be using the laptop for. There are four main categories to choose from.
- Lightweight laptops (also called Netbooks or Ultraportable)
These ultra light laptops are preferred by business travelers as they can easily be slipped into a briefcase. In order to keep these laptops compact and thin, manufacturers often don’t build CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMS into the unit, but external drives can be attached to the laptop via a cable. They also have a good battery life.
- Business laptops
These laptops are also light and compact like the lightweight laptops, however they offer a far better battery life. They also are better in performance.
- Gaming laptops
In order to run graphic intensive games, gamers need super fast processor performance and a dedicated high end mobile graphics chip. Until recently laptops haven’t been suitable for games but technological advancements in laptop processors and graphics cards have now made it possible to run these types of games on laptops.
- Desktop replacement laptops
These are laptops with the absolute best performance but they are also very expensive and not very portable. They intend to replace your normal desktop and often come with larger screens like 17 or 19 inches.
The following specifications are important to consider during your review of laptops and notebooks
The CPU, also referred to as the processor, acts like the brains of the laptop and is responsible for processing all the information in the computer. There are two primary providers of processors: Intel which provides the Celeron; Pentium and Core 2 processors and AMD which provides the Sempron and Athlon processors. The CPU is the most important feature of each laptop so be very careful when choosing. If you are looking for a cheaper laptop a Celeron or Sempron CPU will do fine but if you want to use your laptop for more advanced work or play, then you should choose a laptop with a multiple core CPU.
- RAM memory
Random Access Memory (RAM) is the dynamic memory within the laptop. High specification laptops generally come with large amounts of RAM, this improves the overall performance of the laptop as it doesn’t have to save as much temporary information to the hard drive. You need at least 1GB of RAM even for simpler applications, but we recommend you go with 2GB or more.
- Hard drive capacity
All information, including software applications and user files, is stored on the hard drive. If you intend storing large applications or files like photographs and documents, then it is best to get a laptop with a large hard drive storage capacity of 120GB or more.
- LAN, WLAN, Modem, 3G, BlueTooth
All new laptops should have built in networking connections to support LAN and WLAN (wireless LAN). Other connectivity features such as modem, 3G and BlueTooth is normally extra features but can be very useful.
- Optical Drive
If the laptop comes with an internet CD or DVD drive, take note of the types of disks that can be read and written to. Many new laptops use a DVD+-R/W drive which is compatible with most DVD formats. If you want a more advanced laptop then you should look for one with a blu-ray/DVD-writer combo drive.
Ensure that the laptop has a sufficient number of USB 2.0 ports to support your peripheral devices like scanners and printers. You may also need FireWire to connect a camcorder to the laptop.
Entry level budget
It is possible to find an entry level laptop for under $500. They may not have the best performance; the top graphics processing capabilities; the largest storage capacity or all the features found on higher specification laptops, but they are great for the casual user.
We recommend you have a look at netbooks like Asus EEE, Acer Aspire One etc. There are also entry level laptops below $500 which comes in more standard sizes. These laptops are often outfitted with screens with a smaller resolution, CPU of the Celeron and Sempron types and with not so much RAM. They can still however be good buys and there is always the possibility of adding extra RAM to give them a little power boost.
For a laptop that has a greater storage capacity; offers better performance; generally comes with an optical drive and has additional features, expect to spend $600 or more. You cannot expect to find any laptops with enough performance to run games in this segment. What you should look for in this segment is dual core CPUs, a lot of RAM and good connectivity. Many business users will find their laptops in this segment.
There are so many companies selling laptops in this segment and the scene is constantly changing so we will not give any specific model recommendations in this case.
Top of the range, or customized laptops can cost anywhere from $700 to more than $3,000. These are high spec laptops with lightening fast core processing; excellent graphics processing; large storage capacity and a host of other features.
In this segment you will find the gaming laptops and the desktop replacement laptops. Asus, MSI and Alienware do real nice high performance laptops but there are many others as well.
You should look for multiple core CPUs, latest RADEON or GeForce GFX cores, a lot of RAM, these are the most important features when talking about performance.
Start by deciding what you are going to use the laptop for and then set a budget. When you have decided on the size and prize you can compare different models by their CPUs, graphics chips, screen size and screen resolution, battery time and RAM memory.
Disclaimer: This guide was written in late 2008 and the specific product recommendations may be outdated. However the basic discussions in this buyer's guide may still be of great value.
Written by; TestSeek staff