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The Guide to Buying a Laptop

Laptops come in a wide variety of brands, models, specifications and prices. The stiff competition gives buyers more options but it also makes choosing the right laptop more difficult. Different types of users have distinct needs. Students, for instance, will need laptops that can be brought from one class to another while video editors require the best and fastest laptops money can buy. Determining the purpose and budget will make it easier for buyers to choose the right laptops for them.

What to Consider Before Your Purchase

Consumers are not limited to laptops when it comes to their computing needs. Desktops, mobile phones/PDAs and smartphones also perform the same functions as laptops but with particular differences. There are pros and cons to buying, owning and using a laptop. These factors can affect the price and overall experience for the consumer. Buyers are recommended to list what they are looking for in a laptop before heading to the nearest store to purchase one. This will entail more time but ensures a better fit with the laptop that they decide to buy.


*Portability – This is considered the main factor for choosing a laptop over a desktop. Individuals who are not planning to travel much can opt for a desktop instead. For lighter computing needs, a smartphone, mobile phone or PDA may do the job just as well and are easier to carry. The materials inside the laptop can make it heavier so it is important to stick to the basic parts (if applicable to your needs) to keep the laptop light and portable.

*Expense – Consumers should prepare to shell out cash as laptops cost two times more than a regular desktop. For the same price, a buyer can purchase two desktops and place them in two different locations. Individuals looking for a cheaper way to access the Internet or do their reports should stick to a desktop instead. Netbooks are cheaper than laptops but lack some features in order to be at a lower cost.

*Speed – Laptops and desktops contain the same types of parts to run but the similarity stops there. Parts cannot be interchanged between a desktop and a laptop. Parts built for the laptop are known to be slower than their desktop counterparts.

*Upgradeability – A laptop is a complete package. Consumers are buying a package which is almost always not upgradeable. Parts such as the screen and parts built into the motherboard such as the CPU, video card and sound card are not replaceable. If one of these parts becomes broken, finding a replacement is all the more difficult and that much more expensive.

 *Gaming – Gamers require the highest specifications money can buy to play the latest games. Buying the best laptop today may not be usable two years in the future. Serious gamers on a tighter budget should consider an upgradeable desktop instead as parts can be replaced for a smaller cost. On the brighter side, a gamer can choose to play wherever he/she chooses.

*Memory – Netbooks often come built in with 512MB to 1GB of RAM. This is good for basic computing tasks but may not be enough to run Vista and newer programs. More RAM is also needed to run several programs at the same time. As laptops often only come with one or two slots, it is recommended to get the highest RAM stick money can buy. This will give your laptop the highest running efficiency it is capable of doing.

*Battery Life – To use laptops while on the go, choose those with long lasting batteries. This is important for individuals that travel a lot or do not have access to electricity for long periods of time. Newer battery models can run between six to eight hours on a single charge. Older or basic models can only run for one to two hours.

*Hard Drives– Programs and files are saved on hard drives. Choose large hard drives to save more games, movies, music and other files. The smallest hard drive is 20GB while there are hard drives with capacities of 750GB or more. Consumers can choose hard drives that are built-in or external drives which can be connected via USB, eSATA or FireWire.

* Optical drives CD-RW/DVD-RW and Blu-ray – These allow owners to play VCDs, DVDs and Blu-ray movies. Optical drives also offer users the added benefit of burning their favorite files on discs for safekeeping or to free up space on their hard drives. A small number of the newer models of laptops do not have any of these devices. Models without these drives are lighter and require less power and resources to run.

*Networking Options – A local area network (LAN) port and wireless LAN port allow laptops to connect to computer networks. It also allows users to connect to the Internet. The newest laptops use wireless N technology. Some of the older models may have wireless B or G features.

*Types of Central Processing Unit (CPU) – CPUs help determine what kind of programs can be loaded and used. The type and model of CPU can also determine how many programs can be used at the same time. Intel and AMD are the main manufacturers of CPU chips. The newest models of Intel are currently the fastest on the market. For a cheaper alternative, choose AMD.

*Video Screens, Video Memory and Screen Resolution –Video resolution affects clarity and detail. A higher screen resolution produces more pixels and colors but also requires more RAM to function. Most laptops use shared RAM, which uses the CPUs RAM. This makes a cheaper, cooler laptop but can affect the overall speed of the laptop. When it comes to screens, larger video screens allow the user to see more detail. However, this also equates to a heavier laptop which drains battery quickly.

*Accessories – These are not offered with standard laptop packages but they can make the experience more enjoyable and convenient. There are several types of accessories to fill various consumer needs. Some of the more common types include laptop bags, external drives, docking stations and separate mouse and keyboard devices. Additional battery packs are recommended for heavy travelers. 


Which Laptops are Best for You?

Students

When it comes to picking laptops for students, the most important factors for them involve portability and price. Students need to quickly move from one class to another. A light laptop which can do basic functions for typing reports or accessing the Internet for research is essential. For a cheaper price, laptops may contain 2GB of RAM or less and a single core CPU, sufficient for basic computing needs. For students using CAD, video or photo editing tools will need more powerful CPU chips and more RAM. Hard drive space of 250GB or more is recommended.


Travelers


Businessmen on the go need a laptop that are portable but can do more than a student’s laptop. Meetings and presentations demand a laptop that does its functions quickly. A fast processor with about 4 GB of RAM is recommended. Large screens and dedicated video cards are not essential for presentations as the laptop can be connected to a projector instead. Laptops for business travelers are not eye-catching but have additional security features to protect important data. Battery life is crucial in case meetings become long.

Gamer

Gamers normally opt for desktops over laptops because these are easier and cheaper to upgrade. Newer games demand more in terms of CPU power, RAM, dedicated video graphics and screen size. Bigger screen and higher specs equate to a better playing experience. A Quad CPU, at least 4GB of RAM, 17 inch screen with at least a 512MB dedicated graphics card is recommended. Hard drives with a size of at least 320GB running at 7,200 rpm are also essential to open and access games quickly.


Photographer/Videographer

These two professions also require laptops that have the best specifications money can buy. Photographers and videographers work with high resolution photos and videos, requiring components that can produce the clearest and most detailed images. Laptops with at least 4GB of RAM, a dedicated graphics card and a large screen are ideal. Hard drives with large capacities are also essential in saving files while optical drives are recommended for burning files onto a disc.


The Home User


Laptops for the home cover variety of users, each with distinct needs. The laptop must be affordable yet flexible enough for different uses. Kids should be able to do their homework while also being powerful enough to watch home movies. A 15-inch laptop is right for the purpose although it is not uncommon to find larger sizes. Portability is less important as the laptop may typically be set in one room. A laptop with a 2GB RAM, at least 250GB of disk space and DVD-RW is recommended to play a wide variety of programs and files without bogging down the system.

Types of Laptops

There are four main laptop categories: ultra-portable, lightweight, mainstream and desktop replacements. Ultra-portable laptops are the smallest and lightest amongst the groups. Some features are removed to reduce the weight as much as possible. The screen and keyboard are also smaller to make them portable. This is a great laptop for heavy travelers but the models come with a hefty price tag. Lightweight models have larger screens and keyboards with more features compared to the ultra-portable types. An optical drive is built-in, allowing users more options for working. The price tag is heavier than mainstream or midsize laptops but allow users to work more productively with a greater level of comfort. Midsize or mainstream laptops have a variety of tools and features to fit a wider variety of users and needs. Users can write reports, watch movies and surf the web. Battery life is limited, making it unfit for moderate to heavy travelers. Last on the list is what is known as a desktop replacement. True to its name, this type of laptop is built to replace desktop computers. Desktop replacement laptops have large screens and keyboards with the best collection of features for use when playing games or doing video, photo or audio editing work.

Brands of Laptops

Consumers can choose from several companies for their laptop needs. Some of the more well-known brands include Apple, Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo, MSI, Sony, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Samsung among others. Each brand is suitable for a different type of user and need. For users looking for affordable brands choose Acer or Asus laptops. Apple laptops are renowned for their reliability, look and software choices. However, these come with a hefty price tag. Dell has a wide range of laptops for the basic user to the heavy gamer, providing users with choices for their budget. Another affordable brand is HP which is also known for their sleek design. Lenovo may not have as great a range as HP or Dell does but the sleek look, price and reliability makes it a strong choice.