A laptop computer is basically the smaller version of the desktop computer. It’s capable of doing pretty much anything a desktop computer is capable of, yet its lightweight and quite small in size. It’s also energy efficient, powered by a battery and most importantly, it’s portable, which is why most people buy one in the first place. Read best 14 inch gaming laptops 2018 >>
I know this is not so much of an insight, but I have seen so many people getting lost in all the tempting details of marketing campaigns (fancy features and whatnot) and forget why they wanted to buy a laptop in the first place, and end up with something that doesn’t actually address their needs. So remember, the golden rule to keep in mind when buying a laptop computer is – portability.
All the rest, the appearance, screen size, color etc are all secondary features. And if you don’t want a computer that is portable, then you probably don’t need to buy a laptop in the first place, although you still can benefit from some of its characteristics that I mentioned above, such as the power efficiency.
If you’re sure that you want a laptop however, then it’s a bit of a challenge to choose the right one, but I’m confident that I can lead you the way because I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in the past when purchasing laptops, and I’ve learned my lesson.
For instance, I’m writing this article on a laptop that I bought a little more than 4 years ago, and it’s easily capable of being my computer companion for another 2 years (at least). And I can teach you how you too can buy a laptop that’s going to last at least 4 to 6 years into the future in simple & easy to understand English.
Table of Contents
More than anything, it’s the actual weight of your laptop and the battery life that’s going to determine whether it’s going to be portable or not. Yes its true that other physical characteristics such as the overall size, thickness etc are important, but at the end of the day, it’s the weight and the battery life that matter, they’re the deal-breakers. So before thinking about anything else, you should first consider the weight and the battery life. And you should move on to the other features, only if these two conditions are met to your satisfaction, period.
Now, depending on various factors, laptops can weigh between 2 to 8 pounds. Some people think that lightweight laptops are less powerful and that the more it weighs the more powerful it is. Well, it’s a reasonably good observation, but unfortunately, it’s not an accurate one.
Because there are laptops that are light in weight but are quite powerful (& yes they’re pricey). Professional or Business laptops, usually fit into this category. There are also laptops that are quite heavy but very powerful (yes they too are pricey). Gaming laptops usually fall into this category.
If you travel a lot, then I recommend choosing a laptop that weighs about 2.3 kg (5 pounds) or less. If you’re looking for something to use in your home then you can go for something that weighs 2.8 kg or 3 kg (6.6 pounds), or probably even little higher if it’ll be sitting on top of a desk most of the time.
And remember, on all the product pages the weight is calculated by excluding the power code & the charger (or any other accessory it comes with by default).
Powerful gaming laptops (they too vary depending on the performance) usually weigh anywhere from 7 to 8+ pounds, there are however lightweight ones, but they cost a lot.
It matters little if your laptop is lightweight if the battery drains out quickly. So as mentioned earlier, as much as the weight, choosing a laptop with a long battery life (or at least one that meets your needs) is equally important.
The rule of the thumb is to always be skeptical of the battery life claims by the manufacturer. Usually they don’t clearly say under which conditions the battery lasts that long, for instance. Your best point of reference under such situations is to read an in-depth review (make sure to take a note of under which conditions they measured it) or read the actual user reviews of the product, which you can find on pretty much any major E-commerce website (take Amazon for example). Also make sure to stay away from laptops that have non-detachable batteries. They’re difficult and costly to replace or repair.
If you travel a lot or if you are a student looking want a laptop to take to school or to campus, make sure it has a battery life of at least 5 hours (average school hours usually vary from 6 to 7 hours). Anything above 6 hours is excellent. If you do your research well you should be able to find cheap laptops (under $300) that have 6-8 hours of battery life.
For a laptop to use primarily in your house you don’t have to worry too much about the battery life. Of course the longer the better, but if you can find something cheap that gives you about 2.5 hours or more, that’s more than adequate. It’ll save you a couple of bucks too (and some weight).
You can’t expect 8 hours of battery life (unless using it to do non-gaming or light-duty tasks) from a powerful gaming laptop. Under heavy load, even the best ones can barely survive the 3 hour mark (2.5 hours is more likely, even for a premium one).
Heat & Noise
User comfort is another key factor to consider when purchasing a laptop. This is another thing most people overlook and end up with something that is very uncomfortable to use. If you have never used a laptop before, then trust me, it’s better to end up with a laptop that’s heavy and short on battery life than to end up with one that heats a lot.
Now, most of the heat of your laptop computer is generated by the CPU (the ‘brain’ of the computer) and the GPU (the graphical processing unit), although to a lesser degree, the type of hard disk drive used is also important.
It’s up to the manufacturer to decide where to put these hardware items. But usually, except for the hard disk, you should be able to tell (roughly) where the CPU & the GPU are located (on most systems, they come in a single chip. The commonly used technical term for such a chip is APU – Accelerated Processing Unit) by looking at where the air vents are located. Vents for getting cooled air from the outside are usually located at the bottom of the laptop. And the vent (s) through which the CPU & the GPU push out the hot air is usually located around to the side of the upper left (closer to where your left hand touches the keyboard), upper right or at the back of the laptop as well. Again, these are the more popular locations and they can vary from one manufacturer to the other.
A laptop gets hot when the CPU & the GPU are under stress. This could be when you are watching a High-definition (HD) video or a Blue-ray movie, or when running multiple programs at once that need a lot of CPU & GPU power. But even when not under such stress, some laptops can be little uncomfortable to put on top of your naked lap. And where it gets hot is usually around where the air output vents are located.
On most cases, it’s the upper section of the laptop that will be affected by the heat and it can travel through the buttons of the keyboard towards your fingers or the palm rest area. On my laptop, the palm rest (both right and left) gets a little worm (my hard disk too gets a bit hot and it’s right below where my left palm rests).
I can’t give you exactly where to look, but take these locations as guidelines because the point is: even if your laptop gets a little hot, if the keyboard, the palm rest and the bottom (especially where it touches your lap) don’t get uncomfortably warm, then you’re good to go. And as far as the temperatures are concerned, any area of your laptop that goes above 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) will be uncomfortable to use.
For gaming laptops the heat of the underside is not an issue at all since they’re put on something like a table when playing games. And they usually get a lot hot. But you should still consider the heat coming out through areas such as the keyboard when purchasing a gaming laptop.
Most of the noise of a laptop is generated by the air vents and the fans inside them. And they only do that when the CPU & the GPU are under stress. These days however, when doing light duty tasks (such as browsing the web, sending an e-mail, creating a word document etc) most laptops stay quiet and it’s much less of a concern. And, by simply choosing the CPU (& GPU) that suits your needs you can avoid most of these annoying noise related issues. It still doesn’t hurt trying to find out some details about the noise levels though (again, if available, concentrate on the actual user feedback/reviews).
For a gaming laptop, when playing hardware intensive games the fans will get noisy (more or less depending on the build quality), but that’s just something you will have to accept, it’s an inevitable consequence you have to bear.
Screen Size & Resolution
What good is a fast car if the engine controls don’t work well?
The screen size and the keyboard (I’ll explain it after this one) are another very important things to keep in your mind when searching for a laptop. Why? Because those are the two main hardware interfaces you will be using to control (input data) the laptop. If you don’t get them right, well, you simply won’t enjoy working with it. So please pay close attention.
The size of a computer screen is measured by calculating the distance between the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the display (excluding the frame). And they’re indicated by inches. So a screen size of 13.3 inches means there is a distance of 13.3 inches from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of that screen.
The screen of a computer is made up of millions of tiny dots called Pixels. And the term ‘resolution’ in computers indicate how many of these pixels are actually included in a screen. They’re indicated by calculating the number of these dots there are on a horizontal line (from the bottom left to the bottom right corner of the display screen), & how many of these horizontal lines there are, vertically. So a resolution of 1366 x 768 means that there are 1366 of small dots (pixels) on a horizontal line of that screen and there are 768 of these lines vertically. Altogether there are approximately 1,049,088 dots (pixels) on that screen.
On a 13.3 inch display screen that has a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 (High Definition), roughly there are 165 pixels per inch (this is called Pixels Per Inch or more commonly known as the Pixel Density). To skip all the boring technical details, the more pixels there are per inch on a display, the sharper and clearer its displayed content (images, icons etc) will be.
While this is great for viewing high quality images & videos, or running certain applications that require high pixel densities, unfortunately, among many other file types, old applications and especially web browsers (since we mostly use a computer to use the Internet), have to be redesigned in order to take advantage of this pixel density.
You can still use them, but the adversity is that their elements such as fonts for instance (very common for websites), will look smaller and hard to read and consequently that’ll put a lot of stress on your eyes. Most newer operating systems (an operating system is the main software that controls the hardware of your computer) try to automatically zoom-in these legacy software applications to their proper size to ensure their readability, but this doesn’t always work correctly.
If the software technology used in the operating system for zooming things in is not quite efficient, and what’s being zoomed (a webpage, an application etc) isn’t aware that it’s being zoomed, then whatever that’s zoomed in, could be displayed blurred (more or less, depending on those two factors).
I’m talking from personal experience here because I once purchased a laptop (it’s actually a ‘netbook’ – these are the more smaller version of the laptop, and less capable) that had a pixel density of 138 (11.6 inch screen) which is not even close to the quality of the above example. But the point was, back then (this was 4 years ago) I had hard times while viewing and reading text content on most websites I visited, and Windows 7 (it’s an operating system, I’ve added an explanation further into the article) it came up with too was not designed well to handle the pixel density. Yes zooming in fixed things a bit, but it didn’t always work as expected. I just ended up quickly selling it.
The best example I can give you to easily understand what I’m saying here is to take a mobile phone as an example (it matters little if it’s newer or older). Have you noticed that despite the screen size (small or bigger), core elements of the phone such as the Phone book or the Dialer look bigger and easy to read (dial numbers, buttons etc)? Yet, if you visit a website, you might have to zoom it in to read its text. The reason is, as mentioned above, those core applications of the mobile phone are especially designed to work under that display size, resolution & the pixel density, but the websites (it’s mostly the web browser’s fault actually) are not. As simple as that.
Apple’s operating system (it’s called ‘Mac OS’) is extremely good at fixing this on its Retina display screens (Retina is a Trademark of Apple that has very high pixel densities) because Apple first introduced display screens with high pixel densities around 2010, the OS and the software applications had a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the new display technology standard. Thus in most occasions, Mac OS can zoom things in without blurring them. Microsoft Windows (both Windows 8.1 & 10) on the other hand, is still struggling with it, because its support for display screens with high pixel densities arrived a bit late.
That said, it’s easy to blame Microsoft or someone else for these complications, in truth, all these issues point to the fact that this is still a new technology, and not every aspect of computing has adapted to it fully yet. I would say within the next 4-5 years the transition should reach to an acceptable level of maturity.
Until then, and especially if you have a poor eyesight, to avoid being ending up with a laptop screen that strains your eyes, since I have a 13.3 inch laptop screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768 (117.85 pixels per inch) and I’m a 33 year old male who can read just fine almost anything under it, I’ll take it as a point of reference and would like to advice you that you’re probably better off with a laptop display screen (or a monitor) that has a pixel density of 120 or lower (don’t go below 100 though), despite its screen size & the resolution. And as long as you know the screen size and the resolution, you can calculate the PPI online by visiting this website.
Update: I’ve added an additional explanation of why this happens.
I actually can explain why this happens and what in a perfect world should happen, in easy to understand English. And even by having a basic understanding of this phenomenon should greatly improve your ability to choose a display screen that’s still stays sharp without compromising the readability of what’s being displayed on it.
Take a piece of paper, and without over thinking, just let your fingers to instinctively write down the word; ‘Which laptop should I buy’. If you do this correctly, then you should end up with couples of words with their letters not being too small or too large, just about the perfect size for your eyes to read them (when viewed from a certain distance of course). And even if you write it down on a paper that’s relatively small or large, if the goal was to write it down without compromising its optimum level of readability, then you still have to write it down in the same (fixed) size, correct? Right. And, without reducing the size of the texts, if we wanted, we could further enhance the readability of the letters by simply choosing a high quality pen, and a high quality paper medium. Correct? Right.
In the same way, what happens on the screen of a computer is actually quite similar. While what’s displayed on a computer screen can include images, buttons, icons etc, for the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on letters that are displayed on them.
So just like in the original example where the letters that we wrote on that paper had to have a fixed size to provide the maximum readability, and since the display screen here acts as the ‘paper’, no matter what the size or the quality of the screen (quality increases relative to the amount of pixels there are per inch) is, the original size of the each letter should not be changed when displayed on different display screens.
Just like we used our muscle memory (or instinct) to write down the letter(s) in the same fixed size despite what the size of the paper was, computer software too use a mechanism so that no matter what the size of the screen is, the text appear in the same size on each display. Since everything on a computer display screen is drawn by using pixels and since the size of the output text (or icon or whatever element it is) shouldn’t change, all the software application(s) need to know is the actual physical size of a tiny pixel so that it can figure out how many of these pixels should be used to display the text (or the element) without changing its size on a new display, because what’s get changed (decreased) when increasing the pixel density is the size of a pixel.
Let me give you a simple practical example, and I assure you that you shall be able to grasp the concept quite easily afterwards. Let’s assume that there are two different display screens that differentiate in size, the amount of pixels, and various other technical characteristics. Our goal however, is simple. All we need is to draw the letter ‘l’ with a height of 1 inch, in these two different screens. For the sake of simplicity, let’s also assume the letter ‘l’ doesn’t have a width, or that it’s not important. And let’s also assume that we are aware of the size of a pixel, on each screen.
Let’s say the size of a pixel on the first screen is approximately 0.01 inches (or hundredths of an inch = 1/100 inches). And remember, pixels are squares (they’re precisely aligned both vertically & horizontally, in respect to each other). So a pixel size of 0.01 inches means it has a width of 0.01 inches horizontally, and also a height of 0.01 inches vertically.
Let’s say the size of a pixel on the second screen is approximately 0.005 inches (or two hundreds of an inch = 1/200 inches). In other words, a pixel on the second display screen is two times smaller, compared to the size of a pixel on the first display screen.
So, if we were to draw the letter ‘l’ with a height of 1 inch on the first display screen, what’s the key information we need to know? Well, since it’s pixels that draw things on a computer screen and we already know the size of a pixel of the first screen, we can just go ahead & calculate how many of those pixels make up for 1 inch, on the first display screen, horizontally. As soon as we know that, we can tell the computer to light up those specific number of pixels, and, well, that’s it! With me so for? Excellent.
Concerning the first screen, since we know the size of a pixel in it, we just have to divide the height of the letter ‘l’ by the height of one pixel, to know how many pixels would be required to ‘fill’ 1 inch on that screen. Right? Of course. So if we do that here (1/0.01), we should end up with the number 100. In other words, on the first screen, to draw the letter ‘l’ with a height of 1 inch, we need 100 pixels, approximately.
What if we were to do the same thing on the second screen? Well, the logic is still the same. We should still divide the height of the letter ‘l’ (which again to remind you that has a fixed size of 1 inch) by the height of a pixel on the second screen. If we do that (1/0.005) then we end up with the number 200. In other words, on the second screen, to draw the letter ‘l’ with a height of 1 inch, we need 200 pixels, approximately.
So in summary, to make something appear in the exact same size in which it’s most readable, in all sorts of different display screens, all we need to know is the actual size of an individual pixel, under each display screen. Their other characteristics such as the size or the type of technology used while manufacturing etc have nothing to do with it.
The technical term for the size of a pixel is called the ‘Pixel pitch’ or ‘Dot pitch’, of that screen. The smaller the Pixel pitch or the Dot pitch, in a screen, mean the pixel are very small which ultimately means there are more pixels per inch on a screen. And the more pixels there are per inch on a screen, the readability of the things that it displays, can be greatly enhanced, without changing their original (fixed) size. This is very similar to what we said we would be able to achieve in the original paper example where by merely using a quality pen & a quality paper, we should have been able to enhance the readability of the text, without changing the size.
So there you have it. That’s how software applications figure out, just like we would with our muscle memory, how to display things on computer screens of various sizes and features, without compromising the original readability of what’s being displayed.
So why is it then on some of these newer display screens, texts or other elements of applications, appear small? Or too large even?
This should mostly happen with old applications. And the reason is, most old applications were not designed to re-calculate the amount of pixels required to draw its content on a screen without breaking the original size. Because back then, display screens mostly came with the same amount of pixels per inch (despite their size or other technical characteristics), therefore the size of each pixel was a constant across all the screens. Thus, no re-calculation was necessary to maintain the fixed size of letters, buttons, icons etc.
But nowadays, pixel density varies a lot. Therefore, with these applications that are unaware that with each display the pixel size can change, and when they’re run on screens with high pixel densities, they appear very small because they’re not aware that in order for them to be displayed on the same size on that high density screen, they have to call upon on more pixels. On such occasions the operating system can correct this by simply doing the re-calculation for them, and then adding the necessary changes. But this doesn’t always work as expected, thus elements of these applications might sometimes appear too small or blurred (this mostly happens if the size of a pixel in a display screen is not an exact multiplication of the size of pixel that the application was originally made to run). And to make it even worse, some applications interrupt the operating system when it’s trying to make these adjustments and that could make some of their elements appear correctly, while some appear to be small or even too large. The whole situation is a little complicated, but the end result is, the user ends up with these undesired side-effects.
New software that’s ‘aware’ of the diverse nature of the pixel size (nowadays most are developed to be aware of this phenomenon) will automatically make the necessary calculations so that it’s content is displayed without compromising the readability.
So in essence, before purchasing a display screen with high pixel density (= small Pixel size, ‘Pixel pitch’ or ‘Dot pitch’) if you think you will be using a lot of these old applications that are known to give troubles, then by making sure the pixel pitch of the display screen is about 0.2 mm (or not greatly less than it), you can almost always be able to avoid those undesired side-effects. The reason is because this is very close to the size of a pixel that these applications were originally designed to utilize for displaying readable elements (text, buttons, icons etc), thus there’s no need to re-calculate anything.
As long as you know the display size and the resolution, you can easily calculate the size of a pixel from the web-page that I mentioned before this content section. This can also be done using pixel density rather than using the pixel size (because they’re both related), which is exactly what I’ve done in that last paragraph before this content.
Anyhow, I’ve actually skipped a lot of technical details when writing this because I just wanted to give someone a decent understanding without the boring technical details of what actually happens in these high pixel density displays etc. My only hope is that the explanation was simple and easy to understand.
That’s it, now you can continue reading the rest of the article.
When not sure, the best thing to do is to forget about purchasing it online, and go to a store and use the display of that laptop to browse websites that you think you mostly be visiting (such as Facebook, Twitter etc), and if you have old applications that you’ll be using a lot, it’s advisable to run them too, to see how well they’ll look as well.
If you will be doing things like professional video editing or graphics designing or any other similar task, then make sure to read their system requirements before choosing a screen because some have a specific minimum resolution threshold. Otherwise, if the resolution (pixel density to be precise) is too low, you’ll have to scroll up & down in the application window in order to see all its elements which can be very frustrating.
Glossy or Matte?
If you will be using your laptop outside a lot (say on your campus), then you should buy one that comes with a matte screen because a matte screen greatly reduces glares (cars, trees, people, sunlight etc) of your surrounding. The downside of a matte screen is that its color accuracy is a little low, the screen is also a little less bright.
If you will be using your laptop indoors a lot, or if you will be doing things like graphic designing, video editing, gaming, watching movies (they’re also great for watching a movie in a dark environment) or anything that requires you to have a screen with high color accuracy (& a bit more brightness), purchase a laptop that has a glossy screen instead.
You should also pay close attention when choosing a keyboard because this is the most important piece of hardware you’ll be using to input data into the laptop. A well designed keyboard lets you type faster & efficiently, it also reduces the risk of developing typing related symptoms as well. A good keyboard should have the following characteristics.
The keys should travel deep (it’s how far the keys go down when you push them), they should have a good snap threshold (the amount of force you have to put before a key begins to go down) and lastly a user should be able to discover keys easily (keys should have slightly curved surfaces and a reasonable amount of space between each other, both horizontally and vertically). Laptops don’t always come with great keyboards due to the size & weight restrictions etc, and well designed desktop keyboards are almost always dominate the market, but finding one that has at least a reasonably good keyboard is a must (the laptop brand Lenovo is known for manufacturing outstanding laptop keyboards).
The more leaner the laptop is the less the keys will go down. If they go down more than 2 millimeters that’s pretty good, but most laptop keys travel below 2 millimeters (keys on my Dell laptop travel just above 2 millimeters. It’s not the best in the world, but I like it). Unfortunately, one cannot give an accurate number for the snap threshold. It’s something you’ll have to feel (or try to find what the users say online if you physically can’t use it). A good key should require a little force (not too much though as it would slow down your typing speed. The snap threshold of my keyboard is actually a little too much) before beginning its downward journey. This clearly indicates the user that his/her key has been registered (although it’s much of a lesser concern for a touch typing), and thus improves the efficiency & accuracy at the same time.
Touch typing is also all about muscle memory and muscle memory is all about being able (intuitively) to discover the keys easily. To do that your fingers need to ‘know’ exactly where they are and how much they should travel. That’s where the size comes into play. To accommodate most users, a keyboard should have a length of 18 mm – 19 mm distance between the center of each key horizontally, and 18 mm – 21 mm vertically. And for your fingers to be able to distinguish between each key there should be enough space between the border of each key (old laptop keyboards achieved this differently, but most laptop keyboards these days have actual spaces ranging from 2 mm – 4.5 mm). Rather than being totally flat, the keys should slightly be curved because the curve ‘guides’ (drifts) your fingers towards the middle of the key, which is precisely where they should land.
There should also be a fair amount of space on the palm rest area. And it could also help if the surface is comfortable, but don’t kill yourself over that because you won’t find a lot of laptops that feature a comfortable palm rest.
Most laptop keyboard also don’t include a standard number pad. If you require their presence, and want the keyboard to be comfortable to use, then you’ll have to look for a laptop with a larger screen (15.6 inch or bigger). Don’t buy laptops with small keyboards even if they include a number pad because they’re very uncomfortable to use. If there are keys that you’ll be using a lot (take Page Up/Down, End, Delete keys for instance which are heavily used by computer programmers) then make sure they’re easily accessible and are not too small (use some common sense). Some laptop keyboards come with back-lit keys which are useful (especially if you’re a hunt & peek typist) when typing on dark environments, so keep that in mind too.
Gaming laptop keyboards too are not so much different from the generic keyboards. Sure some come with programmable buttons and few other fancy features, but all I laid out above is true for purchasing a gaming laptop as well. Some gaming laptop keyboards come with subtle (but handy) features such as steel pillars under the WASD keys since they’re the most commonly and heavily ‘hit’ keys on a gaming keyboard. It’s not a deal-breaker, but if you were able to find one it’ll be an added advantage.
I mostly use my laptop with a mouse so touchpad is not a huge concern for me. However, if you’re going to travel a lot or going to take it with you to your school or university, then choosing a good touchpad is very beneficial. Basically you should consider four things when choosing: size, location, surface material & button style.
An over sized touch pad will be counter productive because whenever you type something, chances are your palms will be touching its surface here & there making the pointer travel or accidentally click on something. If the touch pad is too small then you’ll struggle when moving the cursor. I can’t give you an exact size, but mine is about 3.5 inches (width) x 2.5 inches (height), and it’s just a little to the left & the surface is a non grippy smooth one (avoid those glossy surfaces). It’s a good touchpad.
Touchpad buttons come in two different styles mainly. The two (separate) button & the ‘rocker-style’ single button. With the rocker style you get a single button that acts as both the left & the right click. Basically it works like a seesaw.
Compared to the two separate button design, the rocker-style is usually difficult to use. A lot of newer laptops come with the rocker-style button, yes they’re not terrible, but when can, try to avoid them. A touchpad which comes with two separate buttons that only require a gentle push & travel a little deep (just like the keys on your keyboard) is in my experience the best of its kind.
Some touchpads come with a dedicated scroll area for scrolling (without the need for special software to be installed). But even those that don’t have a dedicated area let you add the scrolling feature through the software that it comes with, most of the time. If other features such as multi-gestures are important to you (they let you do things like zoom in/out, rotate, scroll etc by using multiple fingers), make sure the touchpad supports them.
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of your computer. They’re also quite expensive. Therefore, you should only buy a powerful CPU if you’ll be doing a lot of CPU intensive tasks such as professional video editing, graphic designing, music production, audio & video encoding or heavy gaming. On such instances, you should consider something like an Intel Core i5 or an i7.
If you’re going to be doing non CPU intensive tasks such as web browsing, watching a video, listening to some music, sending an e-mail, creating a Word document etc, then you don’t need to buy a high end CPU. And that alone should save you a lot of money. Also, low or mid powerful CPUs will enhance the battery life as they consume less power, and they don’t heat a lot either.
A good example for a low end CPU is Intel’s new Celeron N CPU series.
Nvidia GPU (this is made for desktop computers)…
The GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) is responsible for creating visual content on your screen. And even if you, as mentioned above, will be doing high CPU intensive tasks, you should only consider buying a high end GPU if you’ll be doing heavy video editing or gaming. These days, basically two major companies produce such GPUs: AMD (previously known as ATI) and Nvidia. Yes they’re expensive.
Otherwise, all Intel CPUs come with a GPU of its own. Sure they’re nowhere powerful as the premium ones, but for the light duty tasks that I mentioned above, they’re more than enough. You can even play some lightweight games on them too. And yes they’re perfectly capable of playing (streaming or otherwise) HD or Blu-ray videos.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory and these days it’s measured in Gigabytes (1 Gigabyte is roughly equals to 1.5, 80 min audio CD). It’s extremely fast (and expensive) when compared to your hard disk drive or any other storage media, but unlike those storage devices, RAM is volatile. In other words, you can’t store anything permanently on RAM. Whenever you turn OFF or reboot the computer, all the data on RAM gets erased.
Even though all your data is on the hard disk drive, before you can see anything on your display screen (whether it’s a video, audio playback, word document etc), it has to be first copied to the RAM. Your CPU or the GPU can’t access anything directly from any other storage media. They can only read them once they’re copied into the RAM. So if you buy a laptop without enough RAM capacity to meet your needs, that will slow things down (your programs will open slower, especially when opening multiple applications). Yes the more RAM there is the better, but as mentioned above, it’s expensive. And the good thing about RAM is that most laptops let you insert a new one if you ever wanted to increase its size after purchasing. Some laptops come with non-removable RAM, in most cases you should stay away from those.
If you’ll be doing those heavy duty tasks I mentioned earlier, then you should make sure it comes with at least 8 GB of RAM. For those light duty tasks, about 4 GB will do.
As mentioned earlier, all your data should first be copied to RAM before they can be accessed by the CPU & GPU. Thus, the more faster your main storage is, the more quickly your applications will open (provided that you’ve chosen an ample amount of RAM). The traditional main storage of a computer is called a hard disk drive. There’s basically a spinning platter (sometimes more than one) inside its cover, and data is written to and read from it using a small magnet. The more faster the platter spins the faster data can be written to or read from it. The most common speed for a platter is 5400 revolutions per minute (rpm), although 7200 rpm drives are also available. Faster drives consume more power and produce more noises (& more ‘hum’ when put on hard surface) & heat.
I said ‘traditional’ because things are changing a bit nowadays, but a spinning hard disk drive is still the main storage unit most laptops come with because compared to other more faster & newer alternatives (such as SSD which I’ll explain in a minute) they’re cheap and bigger in capacity. There is also a much faster storage unit that’s replacing the traditional hard disk drives which are called SSDs. SSD stands for Solid State Disk. Unlike hard disk drives, they don’t have rotating disks, instead, they use electronic memory chips which are few times faster than hard disk drives. They’re also more power efficient, don’t create any noises and produce very little heat and because they don’t have moving mechanical parts, they’re more secure against shocks too.
The downside of a SSD however is that it’s much more expensive compared to a hard disk drive, although the price gap is now reducing. To counteract this, there are now hybrid storage units (also called SSHD – Solid State Hybrid Drive) which consists of a faster but capacity-wise a smaller SSD (it usually occupies around 1.5% – 0.7% of the total capacity) to keep your frequently used data, and a relatively slower but larger hard disk drive to store all the other data.
If you’ll be doing heavy duty work as mentioned earlier, then you should buy a hard disk drive that has a size of at least a 1 Terabyte (1024 Gigabytes), although given the disk space requirements of modern games and premium video editing software and such like, nowadays, 2 Terabytes is more like it. For optimal performance, also make sure it’s a 7200 rpm drive. If you have the money, then you should go for a SSD which will significantly improve things up for you, or else consider a hybrid drive as they too can deliver impressive performance improvements (on certain conditions, their performance levels can be quite closer to SSDs), especially compared to a traditional hard disk drive.
For those of you who will be doing the light duty tasks (such as web browsing, video watching etc), you should settle with a traditional hard disk drive. And as far as the storage capacity is concerned, I would say 320 GB should be the minimum threshold. If you’ll be saving a lot of movies, high quality images etc, then consider a 500 GB drive. At this capacity range, 5400 rpm is the most common which is good enough for your needs, but if you can find a 7200 rpm drive, even though it’ll cost just a bit more, go for it, the extra performance is worth it (they can be as far as 50% more faster).
Optical Drive (CD/DVD/Blu-ray Disc Reader)
Nowadays optical discs are being replaced by USB Thumb drives, external hard drives (these are hard disk drives that are portable. You just plug them into a computer through the USB port) and Internet based storage & video streaming services. And unlike in the past, you no longer need to have an optical disc reader in order to install an operating system either. They have not however run out of their usefulness as they’re still handy for backing up important files (images, edited video clips etc) on your hard disk, or as a cheap medium for sharing data with with others.
If you think you’ll be using an optical drive quite often then make sure the laptop has one in built (a DVD writer is what you should be looking for. It will allow you to both read & write data into CDs and DVDs. Laptops with Blu-ray writers are available, but they’re very expensive and you won’t find one in a mid-priced laptop anyway. You can put a lot of data into a Blu-ray disc, though). If you think you’ll be needing one occasionally, then it’s advisable to purchase an external one. That’ll take away some of that weight off your laptop, and laptops without optical discs are usually thinner & look better as well.
The most common way laptop users connect to a network, such as the Internet, is through the wireless adapter (commonly known as the Wi-Fi adapter). Every modern laptop comes with a Wi-Fi adapter so there’s nothing much you have to worry here (but just make sure it’s displayed under the specifications, just to be sure).
Some networks only allow wired network access through a Network Card, although they’re much less common nowadays. Unless in thinner and more premium laptops, most laptops include a network card as well. If this becomes a deal-breaker for you, in the sense that after considering all these features, after hours of research, if you’ve found the ‘perfect’ laptop for your needs, and the only thing missing is the network card and you’re about to abandon it and look for another, all over again, then buy that laptop instead and consider purchasing an external network card (they’re cheap & small. You just plug it in through the USB port).
Most cheap laptops don’t include 3G or 4G connectivity, but if you want that too, then your best option is to purchase an external adapter (which is what most users do).
Security & Privacy
If you’ll be using your laptop outdoors a lot such as on coffee shops or on a desk in your classroom etc, then it’s best if the laptop has built in support for a physical locking mechanism because whether knowingly or unknowingly, there comes times where you have to leave it unattended (say when going to the bathroom for instance). Now the laptop doesn’t come with a lock, it only includes a port to which you attach the lock that you need to purchase separately. If it has a locking port, it should be noted under the Specifications section of the product page usually.
Most laptop screen can be easily read by others around you. If privacy is important to you in such circumstances, then consider purchasing a privacy screen protector that will limit (or completely disable) the ability to view the content on your display screen from angles. A screen protector reduces the brightness a little too.
Don’t waste your time and focus too much on them, because laptops speakers usually suck. I’m sure there are few exceptions, but even those won’t come close to being as good as the audio output of even a reasonably good headphone or a sub-woofer.
Software (Operating System)
Software is what controls the hardware devices of your laptop (or on any electronic device for that matter). They are the medium through which you’ll ‘communicate’ with your computer. While there are many types of software applications, the main one that’s behind this communication is called the Operating System.
You have a couple of choices while choosing an operating system, but I recommend that you go with Microsoft Windows (latest version is called ‘Windows 10’). It’s the most popular operating system on Earth and pretty much all the applications support it (games, office suits… you name it).
However, some professional graphic designers or video editors seem to be quite fond of the Apple’s operating system (it’s called ‘Mac OS X’). Compared to Windows, it’s actually more intuitive. If you’re going to buy an Apple laptop computer then that’s the only operating system they provide anyway, and Apple computers are not exactly known for the affordability, although they’re carefully crafted machines that’re built to perform & last.
There are few other things to consider when purchasing a laptop, but most of them are less important. Although I don’t want to sound contradicting, let’s take durability for instance. Yes it’s an important factor, but most cheap to mid-priced laptops come with plastic shells. Only premium ones include aluminium. The point is, whatever the material that is used to build it, you should use a laptop with care (don’t drop it from higher places or don’t spill liquids on the keyboard and such). But one thing you should consider however is the strength of the shell. Make sure it doesn’t flex too much or made out of very cheap plastics (especially if it’s a lean laptop), because when you’ll be holding it with one hand (with the screen open) if it flexes too much and if the weight distribution is not good, then it could damage internal hardware such as an internal fan (I came pretty close to doing that once). This is much less of a concern for a reasonably thick laptop, though.
So anyway, all good things must come to an end, and I think I’m done here. The article got a little long, but what should be said, has been said (oh well, to the best of my knowledge anyway). The article may not be perfect, but I feel pretty good about it, and I’ll be updating the content from time to time whenever I find something new, or something that needs to be enhanced. Until then, happy buying, and thank you for reading. I wish you luck!.