Specifications explained

When shopping for a laptop computer, you’ll encounter a lot of jargon related to specifications. Here’s what you need to know:

Processor (CPU)

Think of this as your engine. Historically, the rule of thumb was that the higher the GHz number, the faster your ability to open and run programs.

However, the introduction of dual and quad cores has made this less straightforward. Cores indicate multiple CPUs within the computer, running alongside each other and naturally resulting in faster performance.

Tip: Pay attention to both the GHz number and the number of cores.

Memory (RAM)

The more RAM you have, the more tasks your computer can handle simultaneously. While a weaker computer might crash with an internet browser, music player, and graphics program open simultaneously, one with more RAM can handle the workload better.

Tip: Most laptops can have more RAM added. Confirm this before making a purchase.

Hard drive

The hard drive stores all your information. Two aspects matter here: size and speed.

Hard drive size is measured in gigabytes (GB), like RAM. Sizes start around 160GB and go up from there. As a reference, a DVD movie is around 4-8GB, while a song might be 4 megabytes (0.0039GB). Unless you’re storing numerous videos or games, you’ll likely find it challenging to fill up all available space.

Tip: Ensure the drive you’re buying spins at 7200 revolutions per minute (rpm) or more. Anything less could lead to longer wait times for saving and retrieving files.

Graphics card / video card

The crucial detail is whether the computer comes with integrated or dedicated graphics.

Integrated (“onboard”) graphics use part of your RAM when needed. While this makes a computer cheaper, it also leads to poor performance for most graphics-intensive programs.

A dedicated graphics card always has a set amount of memory available, enabling it to handle more significant workloads. Card prices can vary significantly. For high-end gaming, expect to spend at least $400 on a graphics card. Otherwise, a cheaper mid-range dedicated card (around $200) can suffice. The key is having one.

Tip: Few laptops support graphics card upgrades. Purchase the best video card within your budget.

Disk drives

Most laptops feature 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 machines boast high-definition or Blu-ray drives. For proper display, the laptop screen should support 1920 x 1080 resolution.


There’s a trade-off between screen size and laptop portability. Ultra-compact laptops with screens under 11 inches are more portable than bulky 17-inch widescreen models. However, larger widescreen models excel in graphics, gaming, and DVD viewing. Most screens range from 14 to 15.5 inches.

Advertisements for laptops often state the screen size followed by abbreviations. Here’s what they mean:

Standard resolutions (4:3 aspect ratio)

  • VGA – LCD screen with 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 find XGA (1024 x 768) resolution sufficient—most websites and programs are designed for this resolution. However, higher resolutions offer greater versatility.