Laptop PC Buying Guide
Laptops are an extension of the personal computer, and if one may say so, have become a part of our lifestyle. This is mainly because computers are already indispensable for us, and laptops seem to have that ‘access anywhere’ factor attached with them. Considering the multitude of choices the buyer has, there are many points that need to be taken care of before taking the final call.
Although not everyone is essentially a brand conscious buyer, in case of laptops, it is important to be one. Traditionally in the laptop industry, some companies that used to manufacture laptops for established brands have now come up with their own retail models.
Even as the quality of these products is the same, the difference comes in after sales support, since the big brands always have a bigger and better network of dealerships and support centers for you to take assistance of, should there be any problem in your laptop.
So, even though buying a laptop from such companies, also known as original design manufacturers, might be cheaper in the initial stages, it sure costs significantly more in the longer run.
Processor and RAM
The processor and RAM (Random Access Memory) are the heart and soul of your laptop. The better the processor and the higher the RAM, the more efficient and fast your computer would be.
The current Dual Core and Core 2 Duo processors from Intel are market leaders, although AMD has also come forward with some exciting offerings, some of which are only marginally behind Pentium chips in terms of performance, but cost much lesser.
As far as the RAM is concerned, it helps in maintaining the processor’s efficiency even if multiple applications are open. Thus, you will observe that laptops having a lower RAM tend to slow down while you are accessing more than 2-3 applications, while those with a higher RAM have negligible or no effect.
Your processor and RAM configuration depends primarily on your requirements.
- If you are using your laptop for gaming and other high-end purposes like animation, you need to have a strong processor, preferably in the range of 3GHz or more, along with a 2 or 4 GB RAM, in order to ensure proper functioning.
- If your work is only limited to internet browsing, emailing and accessing MS Office and similar applications, even a basic laptop with a 2 GHz processor and a 2 GB RAM is more than enough.
Your installed Operating System also sometimes needs a higher configuration. Windows Vista, for instance, works best with at least 3 GB RAM.
Physical Dimensions and screen size
Laptops come is a number of sizes depending on the screen. Zeroing in on the size of your laptop is important since it will be the deciding factor towards its portability, as bigger laptops are heavier.
Traditionally, laptop screen sizes vary between the 12-17 inch length (measured diagonally), although there are some that come with a 19-inch screen as well, besides smaller ones having an 8-10 inch screen. As a rule of thumb, in case you only want to use the laptop for regular purposes, a 15-inch screen is enough, since it also easily fits into regular backpacks and laptop bags. If you have a bigger screen, however, the same is very bulky, and difficult to carry.
Coming to the weight part,
- Laptops with an 8-10 inch screen weigh around 4-5 pounds
- A 14-15 inch screen laptop usually weigh around 6-8 pounds
- Bigger, 17-19 inch screen laptops weigh more than 10 pounds.
A point to remember here is that the size and weight also depends on the configuration, as laptops with a higher configuration weigh more than those with a basic one.
There is also variation in the shape, with some manufacturers giving an aspect ratio of 16:10 (traditional aspect ratio was 4:3), which means that sometimes a laptop is longer in length and having a smaller width. The thickness also varies from less than half an inch to 1 inch or more.
Another factor to be considered is the screen’s performance outdoors, like in a coffee shop or in broad daylight, since this is what a laptop’s primary purpose is, to help you work anywhere, anytime. Therefore, it is essential that you check how the screen looks in different lighting conditions before taking the call.
A laptop’s battery life is of prime importance, since it is the criteria that decides how long your laptop can go without a recharge. As an industry standard, laptops generally have a battery life of 3-4 hours, but this also depends on the processor, as some processors, coupled with the right amount of RAM (Random Access Memory), can significantly lower energy consumption, and help the laptop last longer on the same battery charge.
You can also purchase an additional battery, if you need so, to ensure that you don’t have any interruptions, but that would mean more weight for you to carry around.
Hard drive and other components
Laptops these days generally come with a hard drive of 160 GB or more, so there isn’t exactly a problem of storage space, but in case you require additional space for your work, make sure you take a laptop that has more hard drive space.
And as far as CD drives are concerned, laptops usually have a combo drive, i.e., one that can play and burn CDs and DVDs, but some lower end models might have only selective options, so it is important to assess your requirements with respect to the same.
Other in-built accessories include :
- Card reader, for reading memory cards and storing/retrieving data.
- USB ports and PC card slots, that allow you to connect cell phones, external hard drives and many other gadgets to your laptop for various purposes (make sure that your laptop has USB version 2.0, which is faster that the 1 or 1.1 versions).
- Video out port, which comes in two versions, a digital video out (in higher end laptops) and a TV out (in middle to lower end laptops).
- Firewire, which is required in case you want to import videos from a video camera, or use Firewire supported devices. Its main advantage over a USB port is that it is faster.
Look and Feel
To get a better idea of the overall look of the laptop and its touchpad, keyboard, etc., it is important to have a look at the same first-hand. Although this might look like a very trivial point, laptops that function extremely well might look rather ordinary, while another option with a marginally lower configuration might look great as well as serve the purpose. Hence, it is important that you take a look at the laptop and try operating it before purchasing.
Everything mentioned above simply boils down to what you can afford to pay for your laptop. Make sure you have a look at all the options with your desired configuration and ease-of-use, so that you can get the best possible option.
In a nutshell, a laptop must combine portability, great performance & functioning, and the right configuration to be worth the money you are spending on it. The bottom line is to set your priorities right and choose a laptop that suits the purpose for which you are taking it, since it is a significant investment, and must be done wisely.