When you’re shopping around for a laptop computer, you’ll be confronted with a lot of jargon about specifications.
Here’s what you need to know.
This is your engine. It’s always been a case of the gruntier the better: the higher the GHz number, the faster you’re able to open and run programs.
However, the introduction of dual and quad cores makes this less straightforward. The cores mean the computer has multiple CPUs sitting side by side and so it naturally runs faster.
Tip: Check both the GHz number and the number of cores.
The more RAM you have, the more tasks your computer can do at once. Having an internet browser, music player, and graphics program simultaneously open might crash a weaker computer whereas one with more RAM will be able to handle the workload better.
Tip: Most laptops can have more RAM added. But check this out before you buy.
This stores all your information. Two things matter here size and speed.
The size of a hard drive is measured in gigabytes (GB), just like RAM. Numbers start around 160GB and go right up from there. As a guide, a DVD movie is around 4-8GB while a song might be 4 megabytes (0.0039GB). Unless you’re storing a lot of videos or games on your system, you’ll probably find it hard to fill up all the available space.
Tip: Make sure the drive you’re buying spins at 7200 revolutions per minute (rpm) or more. Anything less and you could be waiting a long time to save and retrieve files.
Graphics card / video card
The main thing you need to know is whether the computer comes with integrated or dedicated graphics.
Integrated (“œonboard”) graphics just steal part of your RAM when necessary. While this makes a computer cheaper, it also means poor performance for most graphic-intensive programs.
A dedicated graphics card always has a set amount of memory available so it can handle a much bigger workload. Card prices can vary remarkably. If you’re into high-end gaming, expect to spend at least $400 for a graphics card. Otherwise, you can get away with a cheaper mid-range dedicated card (around $200). The important thing is that it’s there.
Tip: Few laptops can have their cards upgraded. Buy the best video card you can afford.
Most laptops have DVD multi-drives capable of playing and recording both CDs and DVDs. Many also have dual-layer DVD writers capable of recording up to 8.5GB on a dual-layer DVD.
The latest and greatest machines have high definition or Blu-ray drives. The laptop’s screen should be capable of 1920 x 1080 resolution to display this correctly.
There’s a trade-off between the screen-size and portability of a laptop. Ultra-compact laptops with a screen less than 11 inches in size are far more portable than bulky 17 inch widescreen models. But big, widescreen models are better for graphics, gaming and DVD viewing. Most screens are between 14 and 15.5 inches.
Many advertisements for laptops will state the screen size followed by some abbreviations. Here’s what they mean:
Standard resolutions (4:3 aspect ratio)
- VGA – an LCD screen with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels
- SVGA – 800 x 600 pixels
- XGA – 1024 x 768 pixels (standard laptop size)
- SXGA – 1280 x 1024 pixels
- SXGA+ – 1400 x 1050 pixels
- UXGA – 1600 x 1200 pixels
Widescreen resolutions (16:9 aspect ratio)
- W-XGA -1366 x 768 pixels (standard widescreen laptop size)
- WSXGA+ – 1680 x 1050 pixels
- 1080p – 1920 x 1080
- W-UXGA – 1920 x 1200 pixels
Most people are content with the resolution of an XGA (1024 x 768) screen – most websites and programs are designed to run this resolution – although anything above this gives you more versatility.