These days, there’s a bewildering array of laptops available. At first glance, finding the one that’s right for you might seem daunting. However, it’s easier than you think if you forget the sales-speak, the gimmicks and the fads and concentrate on what that laptop can do for you.
What Sort of User Are You?
Laptop users fall into six general types. Once you identify which category you belong to, it’s just a matter of taking into account what applications you are going to be running, how powerful your machine needs to be and what connections you’ll need for your peripherals.
A typical home user will use their laptop for a wide range of purposes, from surfing and messaging to storing home photos and playing music. You might even be running VOIP applications, so the best machine will be a mid-range multi-purpose laptop. If the laptop is to be shared with other members of your household, portability may also be a factor in your decision.
Suggestion: Pentium Dual Core or Celeron processor by Intel with 2GB RAM, (try to stretch to 3GB). These days you’ll want a hard drive with a minimum capacity of 100GB. 250GB would be better, especially if you’re sharing with other users.
Business users will need something that can run typical office applications such as word processing and spreadsheets, so, again, a mid-range machine should suffice. Portability could be important, especially if the user is commuting with the laptop, or your job involves a lot of travel. Ideally, a business user will be looking for a sturdy machine that is capable of running any applications specific to their company’s business.
Suggestion: Core2Duo with a minimum processor speed of 2Ghz; more, if your company is using power-hungry applications. 3GB of DDR2 memory should do the job, along with a hard drive of at least 100GB capacity. Choose a machine with 802.11g wireless and a good battery life for working on the move.
Gaming laptops might be used primarily for fun, but these are serious machines with state-of-the-art CPUs and high-end video cards – essential for running the latest PC games.
High performance means advanced cooling systems and many professional gamers believe only a desktop PC can deliver the goods when it comes to gaming. Powerful video cards tend to be bulky and games played on a laptop generally won’t have the resolutions of games played on desktops. Laptops do offer a next-best-thing solution for those who travel to participate in gaming events.
Suggestion: Get the highest spec machine you can afford. Look out for a high end video card with a minimum of 4GB of super-fast RAM. Serious gamers will have no choice but to go for a high performance desktop.
To run design and music recording applications, you are going to need a high-end machine. More specifically, for music recording applications, you’ll be looking for a top-of-the-range sound card, perhaps with a break-out box for interfacing with instruments. Designers working with applications such as Photoshop will be looking for a powerful CPU and a high end video card. Both design and music applications require big hard drives for storage, masses of memory and a powerful CPU.
Suggestion: Many users believe that Apple’s range of laptops, such as the MacBook Pro are tailor-made for design and sound applications.
Laptops have come a long way in the last five years, both in power and aesthetically, which begs the question: why bother with a desktop PC at all? Generally, they take up much more space and involve unsightly wiring. Many of today’s laptops come with the same specification as mid-range desktops, so many users are replacing bulky, unsightly desktop computers with stylish high performance laptops. These machines tend to be a lot bigger than traditional laptops and obviously aren’t as portable. Large tiltable screens (sometimes with touchscreen functionality) of 20 inches or more are the norm, very often in widescreen format for watching movies.
Suggestion: Models, such as Sony’s Vaio series offer high processing speeds, Blu-ray optical drives and the power to run high-definition video. These are the sort of features you should be looking for if you are looking for a laptop to replace your home desktop PC.
The ideal laptop for a student user will largely depend on the subjects being studied. Design, music and gaming applications will obviously demand a higher end specification. Most students, however, will want to combine portability along with economy, so if the machine is just for study, surfing and word processing applications, the best option here may be an ultra-portable Netbook. These are generally low power systems with a small CPU – but big battery life.
Suggestion: Small, portable and sturdy is important here if the machine is going to be commuting to college daily. A Netbook with a built in webcam would be ideal. For something with more power, something similar in spec to the business user’s model will be able to handle the most arduous student tasks.
Power to the people.
So now you know what type of user you are, what should you be looking for next? CPU processing speeds range greatly. Traditionally, laptops didn’t have the power of desktops, but all that has changed with Intel’s Dual Core CPUs. Consider a quad core processor for high-end use. But, whatever laptop you opt for always ensure a reputable brand of CPU, such as Intel or AMD Sempron.
Nowadays hard drives are capable of holding massive amounts of data. One terabyte drives have become common. How much storage space you need will depend on what you use it for. If you keep most of your information backed up on a primary PC or back-up drive, then a smaller drive will do.
Don’t forget your memory.
2GBs of Ram should be enough for student users. However, business and home users should be looking at between 2GB and 4GB. Gamers and high end application users will be looking for anything up to 8GB, basically the maximum their motherboard will support.
The more portable your laptop needs to be, then the more screen size you will have to sacrifice. Most Netbook screens are no larger than 11 inches, but if you’re replacing a desktop or using your laptop for watching movies, then the bigger, the better. Many laptop screens now come in widescreen formats for this purpose.
Fit for Purpose.
Always take into account the primary uses for your laptop. If you’re mainly going to be watching movies, make sure you get a widescreen laptop with HD capability. If you’re going to be on the move a lot, you’ll want a sturdy machine that’s easily portable.
Many laptops come with integrated card readers. Get one that’s compatible with your needs. For example, you might need a card reader that’s compatible with the memory card from your phone. Finally, check you have all the right connectors for your peripheral devices and enough USB ports for your needs.
Don’t forget wireless connectivity. Most laptops come with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi these days. Ensure you have the options you need to connect with your peripherals.
So you know what specification you’re looking for and you’re ready to hand over your hard-earned cash for the laptop of your dreams? What should you be looking out for?
Even if you’re looking to save money by buying online, it makes sense to go to the High Street and experience the machines first hand. When it comes to buying a laptop, it can really pay to buy quality branded components, such as the CPU and hard drive. Always buy a brand you know and trust.
Don’t forget to try out the keyboard. Does it feel comfortable for you?
When it comes to costing your package, take into account add-ons such as the operating systems and basic software, such as security or word processing applications.
Different Brands for Different People.
- Apple laptops are popular with designers and musicians.
- Dell builds good all-round machines for home use. High end Dell machines can make a good choice for gamers.
- Lenovo‘s newest machines have excellent battery life – a good choice if you are a business user or student.
- Toshiba are now making very good all-purpose laptops that are positioned at challenging the rule of the family desktop. Toshiba machines also have a reputation for being reliable.
- Fujitsu laptops are renowned for low power consumption, durability and silent operation.
- Sony’s Vaio range is powerful, yet lightweight, making them good high performance portables.
- Asus are best known for their range of EEE PC Netbooks – perfect for lightweight student use.
- Samsung are gaining a reputation for building stylish laptops with good all-round specification.
- Hewlett Packard’s Compaq range comes with security functionality built-in. These have been purpose-built for the business market.
Future-proof your Purchase
Unlike desktops, laptops don’t last forever, so always think ahead. Laptops can become out-of-date very quickly. Check what components can be upgraded and what can’t, taking into account how you expect to use the machine in the future. With luck, you can expect a realistic lifetime for your laptop of about five years.