Quick Guide for Buying a Laptop: What’s Right for You?

Written By: Kim Hong - Jul• 13•12

What you need to know when buying a laptop. Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With a wide variety of products and features to choose from, buying a laptop can be a daunting and overwhelming experience, which is why it’s important to know what you will be doing on your new laptop.

Do you plan on traveling with your laptop or will it act as your primary computer at home – or perhaps both? Will you be sending emails, uploading photos, checking Facebook, playing games, watching videos, or maybe even Skyping with friends and family?

Here are a few things you need to consider when shopping for a laptop:

Determine which laptop category are you interested in buying.

Netbook: lightweight and good for simple Web browsing or word processing, but struggles with streaming video, photo editing, or running multiple applications simultaneously. Netbooks are perfect for emails, surfing the Web, online banking, and writing documents on the go.

Ultra-portable: a step up from netbooks (and approximately a pound heavier), these systems are ideal for users who need a fuller PC experience, i.e. powerful processor = faster and better performance, more memory, and often a larger screen (around 11 inches to 14 inches).

All-purpose laptop: a system with a screen from 14 to 16 inches, weighing anywhere between 4.5 to 8 pounds, and powerful enough to serve as your everyday computer while small enough to take along on trips to the coffee shop or Bahamas (hopefully, this won’t be the case for you). Just keep in mind that larger screens and powerful processors also means shorter battery life. Playing games and connecting to Wi-Fi will drain the battery life of your laptop.

Desktop replacement laptop: a larger laptop ideal for people who need the performance and display size of a desktop computer but want to be able to move the laptop from room to room easily. Since these laptops weigh from 8 to 12 pounds with screen sizes from 16 inches to 18.4 inches, you probably won’t be traveling with these super laptops, unless you want your back to give out.  This category is ideal for hardcore gamers and professionals who use software programs for video editing, photography, and computer engineering.

How much speed do you really need?

The CPU (central processing unit) is responsible for running the operating system and every application you use. A speedier CPU means faster-running programs, but it also means lower battery life and a pricier laptop. Any CPU over 2.0GHz is fast enough to handle all the basic stuff, like playing music, surfing the Web and playing Web games, displaying online video, and managing e-mail.

Memory, where size does matter.

You will get the biggest performance bang for your buck if you purchase the size of your memory wisely. The higher the number, the faster the RAM (Random Access Memory), but spend the money to get to 4GB first, and then worry about speed. For example, if you have to choose between 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory or 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 memory, go with the 4GB of slightly slower RAM – it will pay off in the long run.

Storage capacity: hard drive space

If you plan on storing lots of applications, data, photos, music files, and presentations on your laptop, make sure you have plenty of hard drive space. It’s tough to predict how much hard drive space someone will use because what may seem sufficient today, e.g. 250GB, could easily change to 750GB in a few months, depending on the user’s behavior.  Luckily, you can always purchase external hard drives or opt to store data on the Internet (a Cloud drive) and access it from there.

Each person has different uses for laptops, which means the specifications will vary across the board. As technology and social media continues to advance at such a rapid rate, our standards and performance expectations will continue to evolve.

For more detailed information regarding pricing, hardware and user reviews, I highly recommend visiting Consumer Reports, CNet and PC Magazine – these are all good places to start your research.

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