It seems that wherever you go these days, you find people with a laptop…be it a personal one or one from work. They are everywhere, and you want in on the trend, but where do you start? Like most things technological, one can easily get scared or even down right confused when making a decision. Between the Mega this, Giga that and Tera what, it’s no wonder people end up getting something they did not need or something they did not want in the first place. Now, before we go any further, I want to make this clear: I don’t want anyone to say, “oh well, a Mac can do that”, or, “just get a Mac”. This is an objective guide to allow you to pick something that not only meets your technical requirements, but also your budget. Unfortunately, with a starting price of $1150 CDN, a Mac just does not fit into everyone’s budget.
So how does one go about getting a laptop without getting completely confused? Well let me list some of the common terms and try to explain them in the simplest of ways to help you out.
The Central Processing Unit is the ‘brain’ of the computer and is often measured in Giga-Hertz (Ghz). One would think that having a higher Ghz number would automatically mean a more powerful machine. Not always the case. The fact is, with advancements in technology, you can have laptops with two or even four cores effectively catapulting the computing power.
*Intel Core 2 Duo is a better processor than an Intel Pentium. AMD processors are typically a hundred dollars cheaper than an Intel Chip.
Random Access Memory is like the front desk, it handles all the requests coming into the CPU, and prioritizes them so the CPU does not have to take on more than it can handle. The more RAM you have, the more buffer you are able to put in place without slowing the machine down. RAM comes in either DDR2 or DDR3 variation, and in this case, DDR3 is a more powerful RAM than the latter.
Hard Disk Drive is exactly what you would think it to be, the physical storage of your laptop and needless to say, the more you have the better.
netbooks, notebooks and laptops
Now that I have covered the absolute basic terms you need to know, let’s figure out what sort of laptop would be best for you as an individual. Laptops, like most things, are custom fit items. A laptop I may like and need does not mean someone else will like, even if mine is more powerful and feature loaded. So it’s important to figure out what is the absolute primary function you expect from your laptop before you go ahead and start looking. In today’s market, there are three types of laptops (in my opinion) that are available: Netbooks, Notebooks and Laptops.
Most suited for people on the go and looking for something ultra portable, while at the same time looking for a machine to supplement a more main stream machine. The reason these machines are called Netbooks is for the simple reason that when they were launched, they were intended for surfing the net and nothing more.
Pros: These are relatively new to the market and have become a very, very popular choice with people. Due primarily to their physical size, most net books do no exceed 12.1″ screens. They are extremely light, usually under 3lbs and tend to run on a 3-cell battery for approximately 3hrs and even longer on a 6-cell battery. They are capable of running Windows 7 extremely well without any sacrifice.
Cons: There is no CD-Rom of any kind on these machines, which means you will need to either pick up an external drive or an external hard drive with your programs to install from. The 97% size keyboard can take some getting used to, and if you are a person with large hands, it’s rather frustrating. The maximum RAM that can be installed is approximately 2GB, which is not a lot, even when looking at a laptop computer.
Typically ranging from 13″ to 15.6″ screens and weighing in at about 6.5lbs, these are probably the most common type of laptops people see around. They are a decent size and comes with a 100% size keyboard, as a result, they are easy to use. These machines are good all-around machines, they allow you to surf the web, do your word documents, watch videos and various other items.
Pros: Massive selection in the market, come with various configurations including ones with DVD Burners and decent video cards for video play back. Notebooks come with an average 3GB of Ram and upwards of 160GB of hard drive space. The price range is not all that bad either, you can get a basic notebook starting at about $400 CDN, up to $1000 for basically one with all the bells and whistles.
Cons: Come to think about it, I can’t think of any particular thing about a notebook that would be a negative. One could argue that the lower priced machines are neither here nor there when it comes to over all functionality, seeing as you would have to get into the $600 range to pick up a machine which ought to last you 2yrs.
You may be wondering why I have separated note books from laptops, and at the same time used the term interchangeably? The reason I do this is because you are able to carry a 12-15″ computer, much like you would a notebook, where as laptops tend to be 16″ up to 18.4″ and weighing in at a hefty 9lbs and would generally be best suited on your lap.
Pros: Laptops are massive machines and offer the best video experience than all the other machines listed. They tend to come with enormous hard drives: up to 1TB (Terabit) which is 1024GB … trust me it’s a lot of space. In addition, they come with a Blu-Ray player, considerably better video cards and great speakers which makes these laptops more of an entertainment machine than a ‘work’ machine.
Cons: Where do I start? Personally, why on earth would anyone want to buy a massive machine when the core behind a laptop is portability? Not only are they heavy and running a massive screen, but with all that heat being generated, that can’t be all that great for it’s battery performance. Then there is the price of having one of these ‘portable entertainment’ machines. They can reach in excess of $2000 CDN. For that kind of money, I would even be inclined to say get a desktop or a Mac. You’d probably be better off.
I hope I have not further confused you in making the correct choice when it comes to buying a portable PC. Just remember, you need to first identify what you want the machine to do for you, before you go looking. Otherwise, you may very well be swayed by the ‘glitter’ and ‘glamour’ of something that is not going to do what you require. I should also note that I did not cover the ‘gaming’ or desktop replacement machines. These are overly powerful and expensive laptops designed to be used more with an AC adapter connected than not, as they require tremendous amounts of power and generate a considerable amount of heat to run the massive video cards and other peripherals that makes them top of the range.
As always, feel free to leave comments or email me with questions.