Laptop buying guide helps you to decide what you want from your new machine. Are you goint o use it for simple web browsing or more.
Windows or Mac: It doesn’t matter.
Despite what you might have heard in the latest TV commercials from Microsoft and Apple, the old argument of “Mac vs. PC” is pointless; either choice will provide essentially the same functionality. The biggest difference between a PC running Windows 7 and a Mac running OS X Lion will be the user experience … and even that will be largely similar between these two.
The main reason that it doesn’t matter whether you buy a Windows 7 PC or an Apple MacBook is that the web browsers and most popular software work very similarly on both. Yes, there are differences to the user interface, but the majority of consumers looking for a new home computer won’t have a drastically different experience … particularly if all they do is browse the web or check email.
4GB of RAM is probably enough.
You’ll still find some bargain-priced PCs with less than 4GB of RAM, but even 3GB will likely be more than enough if you just want to browse websites, check email and edit the occasional photo or movie. “Serious” photo or video editing will be faster if you have more than 4GB of RAM, but extra memory is largely a waste of money for typical laptop users.
In fact, more RAM will not only cost you money, it will cost you battery life. All the RAM in your PC is powered on when your PC is on. Even if your applications are only using 2.5GB worth of memory. If you’re running your laptop of battery power, then that battery is going to run down faster on a notebook with 8GB compared to a notebook with 3GB. Sure, we’re probably only talking about a difference of a few minutes of real world battery life, but if you’re on the road then chances are you want your battery to last as long as possible.
If you happen to be a serious photo/video editor or a gamer who wants lots of fast RAM then make sure you buy a PC with a 64-bit processor and Windows 7 64-bit. Without getting too technical, the 32-bit version of Windows can’t use more than 4GB of system memory (actually less, thanks to graphics) so you need a 64-bit system if you plan to buy more than 4GB of system memory.
It’s not all about amount of storage … it’s the speed.
Most users want a big hard drive to store all the photos, downloaded songs, movies and games they plan to buy over the life of their machine. However, if you want your new PC to be “really” fast, then you need to buy fast storage.
The majority of bargain-priced laptops come with slow hard drives rated at 5400 revolutions per minute (rpm). A 5400rpm hard drive is cheap, but it’ also slow and it makes your new PC startup slow, launch applications slow, wakeup from sleep slow, shutdown slow … you get the picture. A 7200rpm hard drive is faster and will make your new laptop run faster (usually at a slightly higher cost).
If money is no object and you want the fastest storage available then consider buying a laptop with either a solid state drive (SSD) or a “hybrid” drive. These drives cost more than a typical 7200rpm hard drive, but a SSD or hybrid drive will allow Windows 7 to startup in a fraction of the time it takes a laptop with a 5400rpm hard drive. SSDs also have better resistance to shock and vibration, so if you’re rough on your laptop then a SSD will probably keep your important data safer than a hard drive.
Pentium processors aren’t that good.
Gone are the days when the Intel Pentium processors were the best processors that money can buy. Our regular readers and discussion forum members are probably saying, “DUH” right about now, but there is a reason that Intel keeps using the Pentium brand: Many consumers don’t know better.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to processors since the 1990s, Intel now uses the Pentium brand name to label its low-cost, low-performance chips. A modern Pentium-branded processor is certainly better than the original Pentium chips of the 90s, but if you want the best consumer processors that Intel has to offer then you want a second generation Intel Core series processor: Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7.
Touchpads and keyboards are important.
Although things like processors, RAM and hard drives make a big difference in the performance of a laptop, two of the commonly overlooked components that are essential to a good laptop are the keyboard and the touchpad.
These two input devices are the two things you’re going to be using most on your new laptop. Trust us, two months after you buy your new computer you won’t care if the processor is a little slow but you’ll be driven insane if the keyboard makes typing unpleasant or the touchpad doesn’t work the way it should. On that note, here are a few things to watch out for when trying to find the right laptop.
The best laptop keyboards are the ones with firm support underneath the entire keyboard structure. Some laptops have loose keyboards that flex or “bounce” under the pressure of your fingertips while you type. This flex not only feels unpleasant but it often causes typos and severe keyboard flex can even result in failure of the keyboard over time. If you’re planning to use your laptop during your next flight or if you want to type in a dimly lit room then you might also want to get a laptop with a LED-backlit keyboard. These help you see what keys you’re typing but laptops with LED-backlit keyboards are usually more expensive than a laptops with standard keyboards … and some cheap LED keyboards suffer from severe flex.
The best touchpads have excellent sensitivity and minimal lag so the cursor on the screen moves precisely along with your fingertip on the touchpad. Larger touchpads are generally a good thing (particularly if you plan on using multi-touch gestures on the touchpad surface). Touchpad buttons are just as important. Most people want soft, cushioned buttons that don’t make a loud “click” every time you press the buttons. Many modern notebooks have “buttonless” touchpads with either physical buttons located beneath the bottom edge of the touchpad or the buttons are “electronic” and activated only when you tap the bottom corners of the touchpad. With the exception of the touchpad on the Apple MacBook Pro, most buttonless touchpads don’t work as well as touchpads with traditional buttons.
Glossy screens suck.
The overwhelming majority of modern laptops come with one of two types of displays: annoyingly glossy or VERY annoyingly glossy.
The root cause of the problem dates back to the early days of laptops in the 1990s and early 2000s. The first laptops with color displays usually came with matte screens that made it easy to see what was on the screen under bright indoor lights or even direct sunlight, but color saturation on these old matte displays was pretty weak and the contrast was downright horrible; everything looked “washed out” compared to an old CRT or quality desktop LCD monitor.
Laptop manufacturers realized that they could improve color saturation and contrast on cheap LCD panels if they used a glossy screen surface instead of a matte screen. This indeed made the screens look nicer … at the cost of usability. Glossy screens reflect light. Room lights located behind you or above you in rooms with low ceilings cause annoying bright spots on the screen that block your view. Take a laptop with a glossy screen outside during a day when the sun isn’t hiding behind clouds and you’ll find it very difficult to see anything on the screen. If you turn off a laptop with a glossy screen you can even use the screen as a mirror.
If you search our discussion forums or search Facebook and Twitter, you’ll find many, MANY laptop owners who found out too late that glossy screens make life difficult. If you want to buy a new notebook with a matte screen then you’ll probably have to buy a custom-built laptop online or visit multiple local stores before you find a pre-built laptop with a matte screen.