A Few Things to Consider When Purchasing a New Laptop

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While tablets get all the attention these days, many people still can only afford laptops and are more comfortable using laptops than tablets. But what do you consider when you go to buy a laptop? Do you simply consider the look of it, or is it because a friend has the same brand? In today’s article I will discuss a few things that you need to know or the questions you need to ask when you go and purchase a laptop. While this may not be the definitive guide, it provides at least some information to give you a head start in making a decision regarding the type of laptop you would like to invest in.

Many things come into play when you are about to purchase a laptop. Things such as screen size, brand, manufacturer, operating system, speed, screen resolution, warranty, antivirus definition, etc. There’s a wide variety of sizes, features and prices, which makes choosing the right laptop a challenge. That’s why you need to figure out what your needs are prior to purchasing a laptop. To help you make the right decision, read the following paragraphs.

Operating System (Windows 8): When purchasing a laptop you will need to know the type of operating system you need. Most folks in Liberia use Windows 7 but most new laptops come with Windows 8 installed. While I don’t recommend this, you have the choice to “retro” your operating system to one of your choosing (i.e. Windows XP or 7). If you are a Linux person like me, you can also have Ubuntu Linux installed at probably no cost. But I strongly recommend retaining the operating system that is currently installed on the laptop; which most likely is Windows 8.

Size: Laptops are usually categorized by their display sizes. The thinnest and lightest systems around have 11 to 12-inch screens and typically weigh 3 to 3.5 pounds. The 13 to 14-inch screens provide the best balance of portability and usability, and they usually weigh between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds.  The 15-inch screen is the most popular size, but is usually quite bulky and heavy at 5 to 6.5 pounds.  The 17 or 18-inch system could provide you with the kind of processing power you need to play high-end games or do workstation-level productivity.

Technical Specifications: What you need really depends on what you plan to do with your laptop. More intensive tasks such as 3D gaming and HD video-editing require more expensive components. Here are the main components you need to pay attention to: 

  • CPU (processor): The least expensive laptops on the market have AMD E Series or Intel Pentium CPUs, which will struggle to handle serious productivity or media tasks but can handle Web surfing. Don’t settle for less than an Intel Core i3 CPU or AMD A Series. Power users should settle for no less than Core i7 system, preferably a quad-core chip.
  • RAM: When it comes to memory, or RAM, even the cheapest laptops have 4GB these days so don’t settle for less. If you can get a system with 6 or 8GB, you should be fine.
  • Hard Drive: For most users, a fast drive is more important than a large one. If you have a choice, go for a 7,200-rpm hard drive over a 5,400-rpm unit. Even if you have several movies and photos on your hard drive, a 320GB should provide more than enough space, but 500GB or 750GB drives usually don’t cost much more.
  • Flash Cache: Any Ultrabook and some other laptops come with 8, 16 or 32GB flash caches you can use to increase performance. While not as fast as an SSD, a flash cache will help boost load and boot times while allowing you to store all your data on a large hard drive.
  • Solid State Drives (SSDs): These drives cost quite a bit more than traditional hard drives and come with less capacity (usually 128 to 256GB), but they dramatically improve performance. You’ll enjoy faster boot times, faster resume times, and faster application open times.
  • Display: The more pixels you have, the more content you can fit on-screen, and the sharper it will look. Most budget and mainstream laptops come with 1366 x 768-pixel resolutions. However, if you have the option, choose a laptop with a higher pixel count 1600 x 900 or 1920 x 1080 —always go for the highest resolution you can get.
  • Touch Screen: Windows 8 is simply exciting and immersive with touch screen capabilities, but if your laptop is not a hybrid with a bendable or rotatable screen, you can probably live without it.
  • Graphics Chip: For the most part, an integrated graphics chip will be fine for basic tasks, including surfing the Web, watching video and even playing some mainstream games. But a discrete graphics processor from AMD or Nvidia (which has dedicated video memory) will provide better performance when it comes to the most-demanding games. And, a good GPU can accelerate video playback on sites such as Youtube, as well as speed up video editing.
  • DVD/Blu-ray Drives. Fewer and fewer laptops these days come with optical drives. That’s because you can download most software and download or stream video from the Web. Unless you burn discs or want to watch Blu-ray movies, you don’t need one of these drives.
  • Battery life: Battery life matters, especially in Liberia where we have challenges with electricity. Also, nobody wants to be chained to a power outlet, even if there’s a socket within reach. If you’re buying a 15-inch notebook, look for at least 4 hours of endurance. Your actual battery life will vary depending on your screen brightness and what tasks you perform (video eats more juice than Web surfing).
  • Brand: So far according to the literature and from my personal experience, Lenovo and ASUS have done well. That does not mean they are the best of course. But your laptop is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Accurate and timely technical support is paramount. You also have to consider how the manufacturer stacks up to the competition in terms of design, value and selection, review performance, and other criteria.
  • Warranty: Make sure you get at least a 3-year warranty when your purchase your laptop. Engineers tell us that the Meantime Between Failure (MTBF) of a computer is 100,000 hours. But that’s not always the case. Some computers do come with factory defects which only warranty can cover.

Finally, the most impressive specifications in the world will not mean anything if the laptop you intend to purchase doesn’t have good ergonomics. Find out whether the keyboard has solid tactile feedback and enough space between the keys. Is the touchpad smooth to operate or jumpy? Do the mouse buttons have a satisfying click, or do they feel squishy? How well do multitouch gestures work? Get answers to these questions before you pay for your laptop.

That’s it for this week. Until next week,

Carpe diem!

 

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