Friday, March 26, 2010

Things to look for when buying a new Laptop

The need for computers have been changing ever since its inception as personal computer. Be it programming, gaming, surfing the net, watching movies or just listening to music, the personal computer has evolved and so have the demands.

In the current scenario, the demand for mobile computing has seen a huge surge in demand as against the decreasing market share of desktop computer.

A person must fully understand his needs before he can decide whether to buy a laptop, a netbook or may be a tablet pc. These days, with so many brands and their subsequent models, it has become difficult for the average user to decide on which type/configuration of laptop to buy.
Just give a visit to the Dell website and you will be bombarded with details like Sata, 7200x, HD5770, Level 2 or 3 Cache and other similar computer related jargon. This gets confusing for many average users wanting to buy a new laptop computer.

This quick reference guide will help one look through and understand the basics before they can make sense to all the information that is fed to them. The following are the few things can one must attend to before deciding on their choice.

Processor: There are several processors in the offering from the stables of AMD and Intel. Do not get fooled by the numbers or the names of these processors. Before deciding which one to buy, ask yourself what is your actual need. If it's just for casual entertainment and a little work here and there then consider buying yourself a Dual Core processor. If it's for gaming or other heavy work, consider going for quad core processors such as Intel i7 or AMD Phenom 2 X4 series processors. If your need is just for some office work and internet surfing with some occasional music and movies, then consider going for Atom family processors.

Remember getting the most powerful processor in the market is not always the good thing to do. If you are buying a laptop and are a frequent traveler, then getting a quad core based laptop wont suit you well as it will drain your battery very fast. Instead the Atom based processors will serve you better by offering much better battery backup. If you are interested only in internet surfing and applications then you may consider netbooks. They will do almost everything a laptop does but is little less powerful than the traditional laptops.

Screen size: choosing the correct screen size is important and should be done on the basis of one's needs. If you are buying a laptop as a replacement for desktops then consider having screen sizes larger than 15". They are good for gaming or watching movies. If portability is an issue then consider having a 14" screen that will not make the laptop too big nor too heavy to carry.

If you are a frequent traveler then consider the netbooks with typically 10-12" screens. They are smaller, lighter versions of laptops. And for ultra portability consider tablet pcs. Tablet pcs (such as iPad) are very small and thin and can fit easily into any small traveling bag. It is ideal for travelers and businessman alike.

Battery backup: battery backup won't be much of an issue if you plan to keep your laptop at home. But if you are a traveler and frequently on the go, then consider having a laptop with a good battery backup. These days, there are laptops giving users upto 6-8 hours of computing power. So grab one that fits your needs.

RAM: an important thing to be checked is the RAM. The RAM is the memory that your computer needs to run the operating system and the application running on it. Netbooks are typically coming with 512 MB to 1GB of RAM as it is sufficient for general office and internet related work.

Laptops come with usually 2GB of RAM which is more than sufficient for most casual work and gaming. If heavy gaming or similar heavy work is your concern, then consider 2GB of DDR3 or more.

Storage space: this is something one must evaluate on the basis of their intended use and generally, more the hard disk space, the better it is. If gaming, movies and/or music is your concern then consider getting the largest available hard disk that fits your budget (from a minimum of 300GB to a maximum of 2.5TB). For normal office and internet related work. 300GB would be more than enough.

For those who are going to use for business, may look at SSD's which is a new technology in data storage being used in computers. They are very costly at the moment but without any movable parts, they offer the best service in terms of performance and reliability. But large space SSD's are still sparse owing to their extremely high prices and thus lower demands. Market conditions are improving and SSDs will become a lot cheaper in a year or so.

External storage solutions are also an option in case one runs out of internal hard disk space. These can be added later as required.

CD/DVD drive: Laptops these days are generally built in with CD/DVD drives that can read and burn these discs. Costlier models may include Blu-Ray drives too. Additions could be slot-in types, dual layer burning capability, LightScribe features etc.

Remember that netbooks are made to be more portable than their laptop counterparts and therefore lack these CD/DVD drives.

Operating System: most laptop models come with preloaded OEM based Operating System(OS). Windows is the market leader in this case with many Linux distros seeing an increase in popularity year over year. You can choose to buy a model with a preloaded OS or you may add one later. Check the details before buying.

Software packages: most laptops come with trial versions of popular softwares. Most of these such as antivirus programs, MS Office suite etc come with a 60 day trial which needs to be bought after that trial period. Be sure to ask your retailer about these products and buy out full/registered versions of these when possible. 

Else use the open source alternatives that are usually as good as these paid ones and are free.
Other specifications: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, card readers etc are mostly available in all models these days as they have become a necessity rather than a specialty.

Warranty/Service Centres: this is a major issue but it gets the least attention. Laptops are delicate computers and usually more difficult to maintain than traditional desktop computers. Thus it is imperative that the buyer clarifies the terms and conditions of warranty and the location of service centres.

One can never predict when an electronic device may go wrong. Thus make sure that there is a service centre nearby your place. Some companies provide on-site warranty which means that they will come to your place and do the repairs that are required. Remember that while on-site solutions may sound better it is not always good. Because one may have to wait for several days before the technician comes and solves the problem.

Some extra homework: for people who are looking for 'value for money', look out in computer/tech related blogs/forums. Beware of paid reviews though. These people get paid to write good about the products. Look for sties such as MouthShut which offers free user reviews which according to me are very important before buying any item.

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