Buying a laptop can get complicated quickly, but not if you know the basics and understand how you plan to use the laptop. Once you know your priorities you can decide what trade-offs you are re willing to make and what features are essential to have.
This is an investment that is made on average every three years and the decision can impact your life in profound ways that are not always obvious when you first embark on the process. This device is not only a technology product, but contains data that are critical to how you function and run your life. As important a decision as it is, there is no need to over analyze, just lay out the facts.
It all starts with you – before shopping for a laptop, do some soul searching. Get a sheet of paper and make a chart to track what is important to you so that you have a benchmark for comparison. Make headings based on the questions below. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine the laptop most appropriate for your use:
1) What category of laptop user are you? This can be determined by assessing the primary purpose and use of the laptop. There are many categories of laptop users, however they can be divided into three main groups: 1. Basic – web surfing, email, and word processing; 2. Moderate – all of the above, plus multiple programs, video downloads, some graphic work; 3. Road Warrior/Hard Core Gamer – all of the above, plus graphic intensive, heavy duty spreadsheets. Keep in mind that your use may evolve over time as new technologies come to the fore so leave some room to grow. Meaning if you have to choose between getting more memory and speed, try to get more instead of less (more on this later). Now you have an idea of how you plan to use your laptop, we can look at features that matter to you personally.
2) What functions are most important to you: 1. Weight - How lightweight do you need the laptop to be? 2. Size – this depends in large part on your eyesight and the type of work you are doing. Size mainly refers to the laptop LCD screen size, which is measured diagonally. This can be a point of confusion for many as a laptop that measures 12” width may have a screen size of 14” which is the diagonal measurement, not the actual width of the screen. 3. Portability – Will you be traveling a lot with your laptop, the weight and size becomes more of a factor. In a perfect world, we would have the most powerful laptop that weighed a pound or less. However, oftentimes the thinner the device, usually the less power and the more devices to attach, such as a CD drive. There are streamlined powerhouses, but they tend to make up for it in density, weight. A useful to tip to keep in mind is that if you are trying to decide between a smaller device and a larger one, there are certain attachments that are worth attaching and can offer an economical solution. For example an extension to the USB ports. If the machine comes with one or two USB ports, you can insert an extension that will add several more ports.
3) What is your personal style and preference? 1. Color - Do you want a pink, red, or blue laptop? 2. Design – Do you want the laptop sleek and slim, or does it not really matter that much to you? 3. Sound – Speaker quality can be a big deal if you plan to use your laptop as a media center, which is more the norm than not.
4) What can you afford? Last but certainly not least is the consideration of price and value. This is based on your budget and how much of an investment you may need to make to achieve the functionality you seek. If you need a more powerful laptop but your budget does not allow it, then it might be prudent to wait and save enough to get the right laptop for you. If you are able to make certain trade-offs, then you will be able to find a laptop to fit almost any budget. My mother always says, “the cheapest becomes the dearest”, when it comes to a laptop, it is better to spend a little more to get what you need. But do not spend more than you have to for what you won’t need.
Once you have identified the functional and design aspects you require from your laptop, it is time to understand the technology that will enable your laptop to perform to your desired levels.
Speed and Memory determine your laptop’s abilities. These are also the two most important factors in the price you pay for your laptop. There is a strong correlation between, faster speed, more memory, and a higher price. So consider what it will be worth to you not only today, but one, two, or three years from now.
The processor is what gives the laptop speed measured in gigaherz (GHz). This is important because the more speed your laptop has the more quickly it can load programs and the more efficient you can be. Who wants to spend time waiting for a computer to load all day? Speed is to a laptop what horse power is to a car. Obviously the more horse power the better, but if you do not need it, then it can be overkill. Conversely, if you don’t have enough then you will be too slow. For example, I would classify myself as a moderate user bordering on road warrior. So I have a 2.4 GHz Duo core processor, which provides me with more than adequate speed for anything I could hope to do in the near future (three years). Since technology moves so fast, it is better to give yourself some room to grow with your laptop. Processor speeds can range from less than 1GHz up to 3GHz+.
Memory is what determines how much data and how many programs your laptop can run effectively. There are three types of memory: 1) ROM – Random Operating Memory, this is the amount of data and program storage that your laptop will allow. ROM represents the permanent memory (permanent does not mean cannot be erased) or hard drive disc space to store the programs you need to operate your laptop, the operating system, and the files that you store. This is one feature that you can upgrade later on if you find you need more memory, but better to get enough upfront. Memory is measured in Gigabites (GB), 1GB = 1000 Megabites (MB). ROM can range from around 80GB to over 300 GB. Again which ROM you need depends on your use. As you narrow down your laptop selection, it will become clearer what numbers you need. 2) RAM – Random Access Memory, this is the amount of memory that your laptop stores temporarily, e.g., cached files. The range for RAM can be any where from 512MB to 8GB+. It would be advisable to have at least 1GB of RAM. 3) VRAM - Video Random Access Memory – usually ranges between 128MB to 4GB+. This is more of a factor for heavy gaming and intensive interactive video use.
Now that you have the basics and understand the jargon used in referring to laptops, you are ready to make a more informed decision on the laptop that is right for you. Once you choose a laptop, you will need to select a laptop bag, which can also be a challenge. It won't be a challenge for long once you read how to pick a laptop bag that is right for you.