I saw a post somewhere the other day about people wanting to know what to look for in a laptop before they buy one. This inspired me to write a short guide on what you should pay attention to when looking for a laptop.
The problem with such guides is that they never remain relevant for very long considering how fast the field evolves. So I tagged the date in Bold. If it has been more than 6 months after this tag date, consider this article semi irrelevant. If it’s been more than a year from the tag date, completely ignore it!
Anyways here goes. Laptops are more and more common nowadays. People usually prefer laptops to desktops because of their mobility and in-built battery. This means you can have a portable computer and an in-built UPS at the same time. In the past, the price was quite prohibitive, and well, performance was not one of the best. Nowadays, you can even find gaming-grade laptops, but these are not usually sold for less than $1000. So here’s a set of questions you need to ask when buying your lappy!
1. Will I be on the move?
Do you require mobility? Or will you simply and usually use your laptop as a desktop-replacement at home? There is one rule of thumb in laptops. “If you require mobility, you usually sacrifice performance“. If you will be on the move, go for a thin and light laptop, or one of those “ultra mobiles” as they are called. If you want the best mobility, think MacBook Air. The Vaio Series from Sony also has quite a range of very mobile laptops, with thickness of around 3-4 cm and weight less than 3KG. These are considered “very mobile”.
Remember, according to your requirement, weight and size will matter! For portability, avoid anything more than 3KG. If you will be using it as a desktop-replacement, you can go as high as 7KG. That’d be the price of a high-end 17-incher.
2. What are my requirements?
Am I a gamer? Or am I an office workaholic? This will determine what configuration you need. If you will use your laptop for simple day-to-day tasks such as wordprocessing and casual browsing, you can go for a setup as below:
Normal day-to-day tasks config:
Processor: Core 2 Duo 2.0 (to make your laptop just a tad future-proof)
RAM: 1GB (should be sufficient to make most programs you will use run smoothly)
Hard Disk: 80GB or more. (the norm today. I doubt you can find less)
Graphics: Anything! (Well.. You will hardly require a powerful chip here. Those Intel GMA965 are very capable for day-to-day task. Forget gaming though.)
Screen: 15″ or lower
In-built stuff: WiFi (at least 802.11g capable. Look for 802.11n if possible), Bluetooth (if you like using that feature on your mobile), finger-print reader (if you can find it, it offers more security for your documents and stuff), webcam (useful for conferences)
You can find a laptop that matches that category for around $600 as a minimum. The weight would usually be less than 3 KG, making it portable enough to carry it around easily.
If you are a power-user or gamer that will make heavy use of the laptop’s features, do video editing or similar, graphics design, gaming (real gaming!) and similar, then look for a config as below:
Processor: Min. Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz. (get more if you can afford!)
RAM: Min. 2GB (go as high as you can. You will never have enough of RAM)
Hard Disk: 200GB (considering your usage and games, that should be the min.)
Graphics: Dedicated (look for a dedicated card. Like those dedicated GeForce 8400GS. Forget the Intel GMA series. These are not games-capable, despite what is being said.)
Screen: 17″ at least
In-Built: Same as for the basic config above. Though you might want to have ALL of them in-built.
Remember that the higher config you have, the more quickly the battery will drain. For basic usage, your battery might last around 3 hours or so. For the gaming config, your battery will often drain under 2 hours, and under 1 hour if you are putting it under heavy load.
When you buy your laptop, the seller might offer some bundle packages for an additional cost. Often, your OS will already be installed. Whenever you buy your laptop, ask or even demand that you get your recovery DVD/CD or if possible, the OS disk. These are kinda rare nowadays since the recovery is already in-built as a partition. But it doesn’t hurt to ask for recovery disks. These will greatly help you in case of problems. Personally, as soon as I got my laptop, I scrapped the software already installed (all the junkware and commercial apps) and did a clean-install of my OS and dual-booted Linux. This way, I’m sure of what I have on my laptop, and reduces the clutter. If you are a power-user, you might consider this too, or you could have your tech-guy/gal do it for you.
A word of advice. Before you leave your place to go buy your laptop, extensively research the model online. Read specs sheet. Find user opinions. Amazon is a good source of user opinions. Ask friends who have similar models. Try posting on specialist laptop forums. Refer to specialist laptop sites like Notebook Review, CNet and Reg Hardware. Ask tech specialists. You need to make sure that there are no problems like exploding batteries with your particular model.