Laptop Buying for Dummies

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Laptop Buying for Dummies

With the plethora of options available in the market, buying a laptop is nothing short of a daunting task. Thankfully, this guide on laptop buying will ease the thought process for most people.

The portability and convenience is what makes laptops preferable to desktop computers. Touted as a luxury at one point of time, competition has forced the prices of these machines down to as low as USD 200. (We are talking about affordable laptops, mind you; not the high-end monsters especially designed for gaming.) With the world slowly moving to a digital format, laptop has almost become a necessity.

Thankfully laptop manufactures have recognized this. There are lots of options available, should you want to buy a new laptop. Regardless of whether you want a new, refurbished, or a used machine, choices are many, and, to be honest, confusing. For the average user, who finds it difficult to make sense of technical terms like processor speed, RAM, etc., this is not just a nightmare, but an easy chance to get ripped off as well.

Points to Consider Before Buying a Laptop

This is the first thing you need to look for when buying a laptop. What is your laptop going to be used for? If you are just going to be using the Internet and a little multimedia, it doesn’t make sense to go for an expensive model, loaded with features you are not going to use. Decide what your requirement is before considering the options. Though it is natural that you might want the best, the price difference may change your mind. For everyday tasks like surfing the net, listening to music, watching movies, etc., a basic laptop should be sufficient.

The processor makes a big difference in computing. It is better to go in for a better processor at a slightly higher cost than risk saving money and ending up with an outdated processor a few months down the line. Intel is undoubtedly the leader in processors and going for an Intel processor is your best bet. You should know where to draw the line though, as processors can make your laptop pretty expensive.

You need to also consider the fact that you probably don’t need that much fire power. For basic use, an Intel core i3 is the best. It can be stretched to core i5, if you want something better. As for Intel’s core i7, you should only opt for it if you seriously need the extra power. Heavy gaming, serious multimedia or graphics work, etc., are some cases where you could justify going in for the core i7. For home use, the core i3 is the best and recommended.

Storage is another point that you must keep in mind before buying a laptop. Unlike desktops, there is no scope for expanding the storage in laptops. Replacing the HDD is a possibility, but that voids the warranty, in addition to loss of data, creating back-ups, etc. In short, though possible, it is not recommended. To save yourself from running out of space, buying a model with high storage is the best option. 500GB is not unreasonable, though a 320GB HDD will be good enough.

Again, it will depend on what you are using the laptop for. Tasks like video editing, graphic designing, video converting, etc., take up huge amounts of memory, and even 500 GB will not be enough. On the other hand, if you are just going to be surfing, downloading a few songs, some movies, pictures of your loved ones, etc., then a 320GB HDD is just fine. No recommendations here, as we firmly believe the more the better. Seagate is a good HDD option, as are Western Digital and Hitachi.

RAM ( Random Access Memory)
This is the most important part you need to look for in a laptop, as this is what the smooth running of your laptop depends on. As a rule, don’t buy anything with less than 2GB RAM. Prices are down, so 2GB is not only affordable, but standard as well. Again, most laptops come with only 2 RAM slots, so decide in advance how much memory you will need. More memory is always a better deal, as it never goes waste. 4GB is your best bet, and it is better to use 2 × 2 GB RAM sticks instead of a 1 × 4 GB RAM stick.

Going over 4GB is not recommended, unless you are using heavy editing applications. Also note that if you go over 4GB you will need a 64-bit operating system to make full use of it. Kingston and Transcend are two of the reliable RAM options available.

Expansion and I/O Ports
While this is not necessary, it is a good to have a few expansion ports on your laptop. Look for a laptop with a minimum of 3 USB ports … at least. Try not to consider less than 3 USB ports, unless you are getting a very good deal in terms of price or some other factor. We are stressing on 3 ports because almost all accessories nowadays are USB based. You don’t want to end up looking for a USB hub to solve your problems.

With the world going hi-fi, it is also advisable to have an HDMI out port on your laptop, should you want to watch your hi-definition films on a big screen. The IEEE port can be skipped, and if a HDMI port is present, the S-video port can also be skipped. Also look for a card reader option.

As it becomes very difficult and expensive to upgrade a laptop after buying, it is advisable to include a graphic card in your configuration. For those who are into heavy gaming or editing, a high-end graphic card with 1GB DDR5 memory will be ideal. For normal everyday use, a 512MB graphic card will be more than sufficient. Though most, or in fact nearly all laptops come with on board graphics, it is best to include a dedicated graphics card instead.

Graphic cards can be expensive, so choose wisely before you purchase one. Recommendations would include the NVIDA and ATI lineup. Any card with 512 MB RAM is fine. This can be dropped if your budget does not cover it, but is not advised.

Connectivity Options
Choose a laptop that has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity options built in. Both are necessary as they will allow you to use the Internet with the various Wi-Fi spots available in your vicinity. Both technologies have become affordable, so you don’t even have to contemplate the idea of opting for a laptop without these connectivity options due to budget constraints.

If budget is a problem, and you have to choose between these two, then you can opt for the Bluetooth option. Never consider a laptop without Wi-Fi, unless the exact things you are looking for are in a model without Wi-Fi. Even then it is not advisable. Infrared is outdated and can be safely skipped.

Size makes a difference when it comes to the price and portability factors. Laptops models with 12- – 13-inch screen (diagonal) are usually more expensive than the 14- – 15-inch models. Laptops with heavy customizations are not only more expensive, but will also be a bit bigger and heavier. To stay in the affordable price range, a 15-inch model is the best.

A matt screen is also recommended. Matt screens cut out on the reflection and glare, making it possible to use the laptop in various settings. Glossy screens have lots of reflection and glare, but are more vibrant than matt screens.

Also keep in mind that being a laptop, the weight should not be too much to cut out on the portability factor. Do test the laptop for weight and decide whether it is comfortable before buying one.

Additional Tips
Other than these main points, there are some other things you need to keep in mind when it comes to laptop buying.

Battery Backup: One of the most important things is the battery backup. Depending on your configuration, the laptop battery life will change, but you should go in for a laptop that has at least a 2 hour battery back up, regardless of the configuration. Considering that very few people go in for the best of everything, this is a reasonable estimate, and even if you max out all the above options, something close to the 2 hour mark is advised.

Durability: The other thing you need to check for is the durability, the laptop should not be too delicate with flimsy casing or parts. For rugged users, magnesium alloy casing is an option, but it will add to the price.

Warranty: Warranty is another aspect that you should keep in mind, try and subscribe to the longer warranty plans if available. There are laptops that offer 2 years warranty; these are better than the rest.

Laptop Guide for Dummies
Average User Advanced User Gaming/ Editing Users
Intel core i3 Intel core i5 Intel core i7
250 GB HDD 320 GB HDD 1 TB HDD
512 MB DDR5 1GB DDR5 2×1GB DDR5 (in SLI)
15 inch 13 inch 17 inch
I/O Ports
3 USB, DVD Writer, Memory Card Reader 3 USB, Blu-ray Reader, DVD Writer, Memory Card Reader, HDMI out 4 USB, Blu-ray reader wirter, HDMI out, Memory card Reader
WIndows 7 Basic WIndows 7 Home Premium WIndows 7 Ultimate (64-bit*)

(*64-bit operating systems are needed to utilize more than 4GB RAM)
In the end, it all depends on how much you can afford to spend. Those with a deep pocket, who are not worried where the next buck is coming from, can opt for the best there is. For others, it is important to choose a model based on what it is going to be used for. Take help from the pointers above so you don’t end up being ripped off, or worse, end up with an obsolete machine just a few months later. All the best.

Note: The configurations mentioned in this article are what the author would like to see in a real world scenario. This does not, by any means, indicate that there are laptops with similar configurations available at the time of writing this piece. Opinions and recommendations in this article, too, are the author’s personal views, and should not be taken as hard and fast rules when it comes to buying a laptop.

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