[How to] Buy a Laptop: Detailed Guide
Keeping in mind that Christmas is right around the corner, many of you must be looking for gifts or just to upgrade your old gear, whatever the situation, the decision of buying a new laptop can be a difficult to some people, but after figuring out what are you going to use your laptop for and how much are you willing to spend on it, you will see the pieces of this puzzle will fall into one.
Seeing that many of you had appreciated our Which Desktop PC to Buy article, we decided to shed some light on the difficult decision of buying a laptop. Depending on what type of work do you want your laptop to use, you can classify laptops in 3 major categories:
1. Entertainment Laptops
These laptops don’t need the most powerful components you can find, and for the majority of users, these will get the job done. However, if entertainment for you means Blu-Ray discs or Full HD ability, then you’ll have to pay some extra bucks for this pleasure.
2. Business Laptops
In this category fall the laptops that run special software and therefore, need more powerful components to bring the results you need. For some, business means software like AutoCAD while others need to have a lag-free laptop. Let’s say that business laptops are somewhere in the middle of the price and features range and can offer higher performance.
3. Gaming Laptops
Here are the most powerful laptops of all, gaming laptops require lots of resources to run games, and here you will find the most expensive ones. Many of you will think about Alienware laptops, but you should know that those are really pricey.
When you go on the web or in a store, under the picture of what you are looking for, you will see something like this:
- Intel Core i7 2860QM @2.5GHz
- 8 GB DDR3
- 500 Gb HDD
- 2GB GDDR5 nVidia GeForce GTX 580M,
- 17.3-inch Wide Full HD WLED display
- 1920×1080 resolution @120Hz
- 8 cell battery
- USB 3.0, 2Mpx WEB Cam, Card Reader, DVD-RW, Blu-Ray Drive
Now, to many of you, it looks like a random sequence of numbers and letters, but let’s take it step by step and see what everything means.
How to Buy a Laptop
1. Central Processing Unit
First of all, the processor, or CPU (Central Processing Unit). This little guy is the brain of any computer. For the laptop and the PC market the CPU manufactures are Intel and AMD, so you will probably see one of these names in the description. What processor do you need?
We’ll, take an Intel example: the main processors out from Intel (at the time of this writing) are the i3, i5 and i7. Each of these processors will do the job done, provided you know what you are going to use your laptop for. If you are just browsing the web, looking on your friends’ Facebook profile and occasionally watch a movie, then a Intel i3 CPU is more than enough for you.
If you have to use the laptop for work and need it to go faster and perform better, than the Intel i7 CPU is what you need. The Intel i5 CPU tries to bring some of the above together: it works faster than an i3, so it can be of help with your work, homework and such, but it lacks the ultra fast calculations times of the i7. If you are an hard-core gamer looking to play everywhere, well, you already know what you need.
2.Random Access Memory
Second in our list is the RAM (or Random Access Memory). RAM memory is a computer’s short term memory. Your computer stores information that it repetitively needs in the RAM memory, so it won’t search for it again and again, thus, working slow. So, the RAM needs to be as big as possible.
There are 2 types of memory available on the market: DDR2 and DDR3. No use of going in what each of these mean, what is important to know is that DDR3 is the new technology, and it’s better in every way than the DDR2. How much memory you need on your laptop, well, like with the processor it depends on what you need your laptop for. The minimum RAM memory you need is 3 GB DDR3 (equivalent to 4 GB DDR2) and it could go up to 32 GB (but that is way to much). As I said, the minimum is 3-4GB and for many users, it doesn’t need to be any more than that. If you, however, are using software that need lots of resources, then 8 GB will be enough for anything you could ever do.
3. Hard Drive
Moving on, the Hard Drive (HDD) is the next component you need to check out. If you were paying attention, earlier I said DDR is a computer’s short term memory, well, HDD is its long term one. On the HDD, a computer stores all the information it has: Operating System, files and folders and all your data like music, movies, photos that you should know how to safeguard and anything you have on your computer), so it stands out it has to be somewhat big.
Some usual sizes for HDD’s are 250 GB, 320 GB, 500 GB 750 GB, 1000 GB and so on. I would recommend a minimum of 320 GB – 500 GB (depending on your budget), but keep in mind bigger is better, when it comes to HDD’s and you will be surprised as to how quickly you will fill it up. You can always use the cloud to get extra storage, even up to 370 GB for free!
A new type of Hard Drives is now available, and that is SSD (Solid State Drive), and we recently reviewed one. That is a smaller (physically slimmer) and much more fast than an HDD, but the downside is the price, at the moment: SSD are way more expensive then HDD’s. It now depends on you, if you can afford a SSD, it would be fine, but for anything you will do with your computer, a HDD works just as well.
4. Graphics Card
The Video Card (Graphics card or GPU – graphical processing unit) may be something you’ll need to look at when buying a laptop. Video cards are used for rendering graphics (for games mostly) and provide a video stream to your display. Most laptops have an integrated video card on their motherboard (Intel has the GMA series and AMD has the HD series) and if you are not into games, these will do just fine. If, however, you are the occasional gamer, you might want to look for a laptop with an nVidia graphics card, but not older than a 200M series.
5. Screen Resolution and Dimension
Screen Resolution and Dimension is another very important aspect of a laptop. It mostly has to do with the physical dimensions of the screen, which are usually 15.4”, 17.3” or 19”. This is up to you, and how big do you want your laptop to be. But you might also want to look at the technology your screen has: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), LED backlight, OLED or WLED. We won’t go into the specifics of each screen, because it would very much to explain, just know that the usual screens are LCD of LED backlight, if you have to option, go with a LED screen (OLED, WLED, LED backlight, anything that has LED in the name will do).
If you can afford a glasses-free 3D one, then it’s even better! As for the screen resolution, it means the amount of pixels/inch (ppi) and the most popular screen resolutions are 1920×1080 for Full HD, 1366×768 HD, any lower than these ones, I don’t recommend. And you can always get a wonderful projector to see movies or play games on your wall!
Another important component of any laptop is its battery. These come in standard sizes, measured in cells: 6 cells, 9 cells, 12 cells etc. Basically, the battery is made up of 6,9,12 etc smaller batteries. Here, once again, bigger is better, the most cells your battery has, the longer it will last. Something to remember is that producers usually mention what the battery life of their products is, but keep in mind those values where tested under ideal conditions, so don’t expect your battery to perform like it says on the box.
7. Additional Components
- USB 3.0
Other things you might want from your laptop are USB 3.0, this is the latest USB technology, and soon it will become standard, so look for laptops with USB 3.0 ports.
- Optical Drive
Every laptop comes with a Optical Drive, usually a DVD writer (DVD-RW), this allows you to burn CD’s and DVD’s. Some laptops come with Blu-Ray drives, and if you don’t know what Blu-Ray is by know, think of Ultra High Resolution or IMAX theatres. Blu-Ray is the latest technology, but it does come at a price, in my opinion, a Blu-Ray on a laptop is really not that necessary, just keep with a DVD-RW, nothing more.
- Web Camera
Some other additional components are found on a laptop, such as WEB Camera or card readers, both of which are great gadgets to have, so it would be plus if the laptop you found had one of them at least. These can also be bought separately from a laptop and used via USB cable. Some laptops come with built in WEB Cameras, this is most likely up to you, if you know you’ll chat a lot and make video calls, then you’ll have to look towards at a minimum of 2 Mpx and up to 5 Mpx, the bigger, the better quality of your video.
- Card Reader
The Card Reader allows you to read memory cards, such as the one in your digital camera or phone and it’s pretty handy if you don’t have the device’s data cable around.
- Operating System
And last, but not least, you will need an Operating System (or OS) to make it all work. OS’s usually depend on everyone’s preferences, so depending on what you are used to, you may want to install Windows 7 (you can use the God Mode on it) or a Linux distribution (Mint or Ubuntu are the most commonly used) or buy an Apple product. Or, if you are “crazy” enough, you can try and install Android on your laptop or PC!
These are all the major components of any laptop, and before you go out to buy one, remember to know what are you going to use it for: home entertainment, work or gaming. All of these categories have different components. And how much are you willing to spend on a laptop? If you have the means to buy the absolute best, then good for you, but if are on a tight budget, try to orient yourself for practical and what you need at the lowest price possible.
The Brand, Important Aspect when Buying a New Laptop
Another thing you might want to take a look at is the brand of the laptop, some are better than others. Here is a list of my personal favorites:
If you don’t want to hustle with all of these notions, and are prepared to pay a little extra, then you might consider an Apple laptop. The Apple MacBooks are a special breed of laptops, that come with pre-installed OS. They look good, but lack the customization of a regular laptop and they cost way too much. But, hey, it’s Apple, right?