Laptops and Netbooks
When youre looking to buy a laptop, theres a lot more to consider than simply picking one you like the look of and hoping for the best there are hundreds of models out there and one size does not fit all.
The first thing you need to consider is the laptops purpose. If youre only going to be using your laptop as a quick, handy alternative to your main desktop computer, or to do a few simple tasks such as working up a spreadsheet or checking your email on the go, then a state-of-the art, high-specification machine will be a needless expense there are plenty of surprisingly functional basic models on the market to suit those needs. But if your laptop is going to serve as your sole computer or if youre keen on making use of its multimedia features, then its worth spending a little more.
Technology is constantly evolving, so its worth taking your time to make sure your chosen machine has the specifications to suit your needs for the next few years. As a rule of thumb, a laptop should last at least three years, so take this into consideration when youre considering a budget.
The CPU (central processing unit) is the core of the computer and handles all the data processing its sometimes described as the "brain" of the machine. Processors have different "speeds" - measured in GhZ (gigahertz) which typically range from around 1.2GhZ to around 3GhZ. If you want a fast computer, you need a fast CPU.
Memory is also important when it comes to performance. A laptops random access memory (RAM) stores information as you work or play, and it has a big impact on how many applications you can use at the same time. More RAM means you can undertake more tasks at the same time. It also helps your computers speed (alongside a decent CPU). Less RAM means slower speeds and less multi-tasking capability. 2GB of RAM should provide good performance for a few years, but less than that should be fine if your needs are more modest.
If RAM is the machines "current account", then the hard disk drive (HDD) is the "savings account" a larger hard drive gives greater capacity to store files. If you have lots of digital music and photos, particularly if they are high resolution, then youll need a hard disk of at least 250GB. You could buy an external hard drive to increase capacity, but it pays to have a good amount of storage space to begin with. About 100GB could be considered a minimum requirement.
Laptops, by their very nature, are portable, but the range of weights varies from the ultra-light to the rather cumbersome. If youre using your machine as a desktop replacement and youll be doing little more than move it from room to room, then weight will matter less than if youre permanently on the go. A large, powerful laptop with lots of features can weigh up to 3kg, but you can get super-light models which weigh much less. However, youll probably have to sacrifice memory, speed and other features if you want a very light model.
For a home-based laptop, a standard 15-inch screen will be fine. A 13- or 14-inch screen should be considered if you want to increase portability but still want a decent amount of features. Ultra-light, super-portable laptops can have screens as small as 12 inches, but again, the features they offer will not be as extensive.
Aspect ratio is also something to consider the 16:9 widescreen format has almost completely replaced the old standard 4:3 screens (just like with televisions). Widescreen is a good option if you plan to watch DVDs on your laptop.
Laptops are designed to be used on the move so a decent battery life is a must. Batteries are usually based around lithium polymer (LiP) or lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology.
Machines with lots of processing power drain batteries quickly. Thats fine for a home-based machine but can be a real pain when youre on-the-go. Modern-day laptop batteries typically give up to seven hours use though editing a spreadsheet will use up less power than watching DVDs, Flash videos or gaming. It may be worth choosing a slower machine if a long lasting battery really matters to you. Look out for "mobile-optimised" CPUs or, if its a Pentium/Celeron processor, the letter M theyre signs the processor is designed with mobile battery life in mind.
Every battery has a limited life-span, so you may find yourself having to replace it after a few years as it will eventually lose its ability to recharge to optimum levels. It can also be worth having a spare battery if you know youre going to be away from a power source from a period of time, but that would mean more weight to carry around.
Graphics cards can be integrated or dedicated. Integrated graphics cards are common in more affordable models and are generally fine for basic graphics. But if you want to play games on your laptop or need something more high-end, then youll need a dedicated graphics card for optimal performance. A 32MB graphics card is required for games or presentation work, but the most powerful can be 64MB or more. Some computer games require graphics cards with specific 3D functionality.
Optical disc drives
Most laptops come with a CD or a DVD drive enabling you to read documents from a disc and play music and videos. Most also have a CD-rewriting drive (CD/DVD-RW) enabling you to burn copies of your pictures, music and documents onto discs. Some now feature Blu-ray drives and the most advanced feature Blu-ray writers, so you can share your HD (or even 3D) home movies.
Most laptops have several USB ports check yours has enough to cater for all the things youre likely to want to plug into it, especially if you want optional extras such as a plug-in external mouse. All will feature an Ethernet socket to connect to a wired network, such as a broadband network, as well as a socket to connect your laptop to an ordinary phone line if you want to use dial-up. Some laptops will feature VGA output to connect to a projector, monitor or screen and other come with a fast FireWire (IEEE 1394) socket to connect to devices such as digital camcorders.
Connecting to the internet
Nearly all modern laptops have in-built Wi-Fi, but check the specification before you buy. Some older models have 802.11g wireless, but for super-fast speeds look for the more modern 802.11n wireless protocol. Many laptops also have in-built Bluetooth connectivity allowing you to connect to other Bluetooth enabled devices wire-free.
Theres been a debate raging for years about Apple Macs versus PCs, but it really boils down to what youre using it for and which you prefer. Microsoft PCs have the edge for business applications and are considered more flexible whereas Macs are considered to be better for design, music and video. Each type is likely to come with some pre-installed operating systems and software PCs almost exclusively run on Microsoft Windows and often come with packages such as Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, while Macs run on Apples OS systems and come with programs such as the Safari web browser. On a PC, you might find one of several different versions of Windows the latest is Windows 7 but Windows XP and Vista can still be found on some new machines.