If you are in the market for a laptop, the choices are better, but more confusing than ever. Here’s how to shop for the best model to suit your needs.
Ask yourself a few questions. Before delving into the hardware, assess how you will use your new laptop. The more demands you place on it, the more robust the device capabilities need to be. Make a list of the tasks you’ll require of your new machine. Most people browse online, use office applications and stream movies, so they don’t need unusual amounts of memory or the fastest processor speed. But if you will be doing graphics production, video editing and serious gaming, it’s best to raise the capabilities.
Another important consideration is portability. Will you be taking the laptop back and forth to the office, or traveling? If so, smaller, thinner and lighter is better.
Data storage. Hard disk drives, or HDDs, made of a spinning disk, are being eclipsed by solid state drives or SSDs that have no moving parts. SSDs are quieter, faster, make for a thinner laptop, with no moving parts and less prone to failure. They are more expensive than the disk versions, and have limitations on how much data they can hold, although for the average person they should be enough. With either type, 500 gigabytes of storage should be plenty unless you video edit or play games, in which case one terabyte should be your threshold.
Memory. Random Access Memory, or RAM, is data temporarily stored on chips in the computer for performing tasks. RAM comes in gigabytes starting as low as 2 GB and going up to 32 GB. The sweet spot for most users is 8 GB.
Processing speed. Processing chips determine how fast the computer works. Whereas data storage and usage deal in quantities measured in bytes, processing deals in time measured by hertz. The number of chips in a computer is referred to as “core.” A dual core processor, two chips, suffices for most people’s internet browsing and office work, while an eight core processor is needed for video editing. For average users, anything more than dual or quad core is a waste, like a race horse giving pony rides.
Display. The main things to look for in the screen are size and resolution. A screen of 13.5 to 16 diagonal inches is considered small and easily carried. Anything bigger is more cumbersome, especially when traveling. A higher resolution screen means more pixels used with more detailed and vivid images. For output to a television or home movie screen, an HDMI port is essential.
Choices in laptops. Breakthrough technology has expanded laptop choices. The world generally still falls into two major camps: Windows-based computers such as Dell and Lenovo; and Apple. The difference is in the operating systems and applications. Windows software for productive programs is compatible across computer brands. Apple has improved the ability to share with Windows applications, but still has intentional limitations. Apple is known for very user friendly software, vivid displays and sleek design such as the MacBook Air.
Apple machines cost more than Windows-based models, starting at $1,100 for the Air and $1,500 for a MacBook Pro. Many Windows based laptops start as low as $250 for base-level models.
A third laptop choice, the Chromebook, uses Google’s Chrome operating system and is meant mostly for online browsing. File storage of pictures, documents and such is uploaded to the cloud, not on the device.
Finally, you can buy one of the tablets that can be connected to a separate keyboard for productive work. The screen can be swiveled and folded flat or detached from the keyboard completely. The best example would be the Microsoft Surface. These devices are small and weigh in at about a pound. Tablets like these also have touch screens, including a digital stylus for drawing on the screen.