When I go and buy a laptop, my mind draws blanks as to what I want. So this blog will be some suggestions of what to look for in a laptop.
In a broader sense, this blog aims to educate consumers on what is important in a laptop, so the choice that would be made is practical and really considers all possible needs of you, the consumer.
The shortcut I understand is to buy the most expensive laptop that money can afford or buy a Mac. This way the designers of the laptops have thought of everything for you.
A quick and dirty way of identifying what you want is to describe to yourself what you like about the most expensive laptop or Mac, then consider your options that are less expensive.
1. Processing power and RAM
First is processing power and RAM. I feel that ever since the invention of Core i3/5/7 series of processors, processing power is ample for running internet, simple flash games, and playing 360p-and-under video. For the most basic word processing, internet, and average quality video, a more fruitful pursuit is to have a slower processor but upgrade yourself with more RAM.
If one runs video editing applications, programs, watched high quality video, then get as much processor as you can get, with as much RAM that is within your budget.
As a side note, video editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, drawing programs I’ve heard run more smoothly on Macs, so Macs are another option for people who regularly use such programs.
2. Storage space
I’m pretty ambivalent to storage space these days because storage space is cheap and generally fast enough. There are three options, SSD (solid state drives), HDD (hard disk drive), and a mix of the two called SSHD (solid state hybrid drive). Don’t listen to the sales pitch that SSD will improve your startup time (significantly). All options are plenty fast for whatever use you have planned for your laptop. If you ever run out of space (which is unlikely unless you torrent files all the time, store 100s of movies), external hard drives offer plenty of storage at a relatively cheap cost, compared to if you were to expand your storage space from the manufacturer directly (i.e. upgrade storage for your laptop configuration).
If there is one option that is not so fast it is internal hard disk drives with 5400 rpm (rounds per minute). Avoid those at all cost as you will notice the speed difference between a 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm hard disk drive.
If you move your files from one hard drive to another quite a lot, only then would I consider a solid state drive for its significant read and write speeds.
3. Video card
With the advent of Intel’s series of graphics chipsets, only buy a video card if you plan on playing video games. An extra video card uses more battery and creates more noise; because the fan has to compensate for the heat of the video card.
Watching videos and basic video editing is fine on Intel 3000/4000 etc. chipsets. They use less power which means more battery life.
Some laptops come with speakers made by reputable manufacturers of speakers, such as Onkyo or Harman Kardon. If physical space is an issue and you watch videos, I would suggest looking for such features on a laptop. That being said, there are many very good two-speaker systems that would perform better than onboard laptop speakers, because of the little space for the laptop speaker vs. bigger space for two-speaker systems.
All in all, speakers are not a big issue when it comes to buying a laptop, because for the times we do watch videos – headphones or speakers are at arm’s reach – and work usually does not require stellar speakers. If work did require that, you’d probably have an amazing set of speakers at your workplace and home.
5. Connectivity (USB ports, LAN ports, headphone jacks, microphone jacks, HDMI ports, VGA/DVI ports, WiFi)
Most people only need a USB port for external hard drives and mouses, and all laptops will have a headphone jack. I like to use wired Internet connection so a LAN (internet) port is important to me. Ask yourself what is important to you (do you need a microphone jack, will you hook up your laptop to an external monitor frequently, will you use many USB ports).
If you use many USB ports, there are USB dongles you can buy for cheap to split one USB port into two, three, four, and more such ports.
WiFi comes with every laptop nowadays, and Bluetooth too. I don’t use Bluetooth so it’s not required for me.
6. Battery Life
Battery life is important if you are a student or worker that works on their laptop frequently in class or business meetings, respectively. If you plan on using your laptop mostly at home, battery life is not an issue because you will hook your laptop up to its AC adaptor.
What’s the longest time you will be without an AC plug to plug in your laptop? That basically decides how long you need your battery life to be.
This to me is an important aspect. The hinge on the screen monitor of a laptop must be sturdy, which in my experience only is if
a) you buy an expensive, 1000 USD up laptop, or
b) you buy “Made in Japan.”
8. Screen Size and Quality
This is to your preference and needs (like if you were a graphic designer you would require 15″ up screen size). Most screens are okay, but be prepared to pay a premium for a higher quality screen, the cost of which is only spared on the more expensive models with more performance.
To see if the laptop meets your requirements of speed, performance, etc., try out these suggestions when you’re looking at a display model:
1. browse the Internet and observe how long the browser takes to open, how quickly each website loads
2. play a video to judge the quality of the screen, the speakers, how smooth the video is, how quickly the program boots up
3. open up Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint, how long does it take to boot up? Are you satisfied with the speed? Perform basic tasks on the respective programs, e.g. copy and paste a picture from the internet onto Word/Powerpoint, write a basic formula on Excel processing a little bit of data. Heck, you may even bring a Word/Excel/Powerpoint file to load onto the display model, just to see how much of your work the laptop can take.
Basically, do a short version of 90% of what you usually do on a laptop. Watch videos, process data, browse the Internet with many tabs and windows.
This is written in order of what you would find on a datasheet presenting the various laptop configurations and prices. Buying a laptop should not be a hassle – it is as simple as identifying your needs and comparing and matching your needs to your prospective laptop. Enjoy!