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Laptop Buying Guide
By Elena Price 

Note from Hints and Things - this article was published some time ago and, such is the pace of technology, many of the specifications mentioned may now be outdated.  I have, however, decided to leave it in situ as the basics remain much the same.

There's a fantastic range of laptop computers available to buy online, with a variety of features to suit different needs and uses. Here are some useful hints and tips about things to consider when choosing a laptop. 

How to Choose a Laptop


Laptop computers - also known as notebooks - offer the same features and specifications as desktop computers but in a portable form. A laptop's portability makes it much more flexible to use than a desktop computer, and the long lasting, rechargeable batteries offer freedom and convenience. 

A laptop computer consists of one unit, usually with a keyboard and hardware in one section, and a screen section connected to it, so the laptop can be opened and closed in a 'clam style' fashion. Most laptops will fit into specially designed bags and cases for added protection when you're on the move. 

One of the first things to do before you start looking for a laptop computer is to decide what you want to do with it. Will you need it for studying, running a small business, for entertainment, or a combination of activities? 

man using laptop

Looking for a cheap laptop?

Use a price comparison site to search hundreds of online shops to find a cheap laptop. Check different models and compare prices of the latest models of laptops and notebook computers.

Features to Look for When You Buy a Laptop:

laptop It's important to remember that a laptop's uses will be largely governed by its specifications. Those specifications differ widely between the models of laptop computer available to buy online or in the shops. 

Here are the features and specifications that will make a difference on your laptop: 

Operating system: This is the basic software that makes use of the laptop's processing system. There are two main types of operating system - Windows, from Microsoft, and OS X, from Apple Macintosh. Both systems perform well and run most common software applications, including Microsoft Office, media players and internet browsers. Windows is the largest selling operating system in the world, but while most laptops come with Windows, OS X is popular for its graphics and publishing capabilities.

Processor: Processors are composed of chips that drive and control the laptop's functions. Intel and AMD manufacture the main types of processor. Your laptop will usually come with a powerful processor, though it's worth comparing the different types.

RAM: This is Random Access Memory, which is used to run software. Most laptops will come with at least 512 - 1024 megabytes of RAM, which is adequate for most users. Consider buying more memory if you want to run several large software programs at the same time.

John O'Regan has kindly pointed out that these days "in anything other than very low end machines, this would be 4, 8 or even 16 Gigabytes"

Hard disc drive: This is where all your files, software applications and other data are stored. While desktop computers usually have larger hard drives, most laptop hard drives are up to 80 gigabytes in size. If you are planning to store large amounts of music, video or other data on your laptop, consider buying extra hard drive storage space

Optical drive: This is usually a combined CD and DVD drive, and is used for both playing and recording onto CD and DVD, though some laptops will be cheaper if the DVD option only plays. If you are planning on recording movies or storing large amounts of data then consider a DVD recorder drive.

Many laptops now come without optical drives because they are so rarely used.  J.O.

Wi-Fi: Wireless Fidelity enables your laptop to connect to the internet without using wires. Wi-Fi 'hot spots' exist in many towns, so you can access the internet while you're on the move. You can buy wireless routers for your house too, so you can move around with your laptop and still remain online.

Ports: For printing, music amplification, and connecting to other devices, laptops use ports as well as wireless connections. USB ports are the most versatile, so the more of these the better. Firewire ports are ideal for camcorders, and Ethernet ports are great for high-speed internet access.

Battery: The battery life between charges determines how much usage you can get from your laptop while away from mains power. Battery life is usually up to about 10 hours, but it does vary between laptop models and depends on whether you run powerful software applications.

Screen: Screen display sizes on laptops vary from 10 inches to over 17 inches. Usually the bigger the display, the more you will pay for your laptop. open laptop

Accessories: Laptops can come with a range of accessories, or they may be available to buy separately. 

Accessories include: carry bags and cases - essential for protecting the laptop when on the move; speakers - to improve sound amplification; and web cams - unless your laptop has a built-in web cam, you will need to buy one if you want to use your laptop for video conferencing.

Do I Need to Buy an Extended Laptop Warranty?

Once you've decided on the specifications you require, try to keep within a set budget, and don't be distracted by features and specifications that you don't need. 

Look out for laptops that include the types of software that will suit your needs. Apple Macintosh computers come with a range of useful software already installed, but can be more expensive than Windows laptops. 

Before choosing your laptop, find out what type of warranty is offered with it. A warranty will cover the cost of repairs or replacements under certain conditions for at least a year. Sometimes it's worth paying extra for an extended warranty, especially if you are buying a more expensive laptop. 

Online retailers hold regular sales and discounts on laptops, so by taking advantage of these offers and comparing laptop prices between different retailers, you might end up with a better model of laptop for your money. 

Mr. O'Regan has also  brought the following omissions to my attention.  Unfortunately, I don't have the knowledge required to provide reliable information but they are all things that should be considered before purchasing a laptop. I am sure there are many sites on the internet  providing more in depth help on these matters.

Hard drive - you should mention the impact that having a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a conventional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) would have on start-up timers and general performance.

You don't mention screen resolution. People should be told about basic VGA, full HD and even higher resolutions; screen size is an important consideration, too.

Is it worth mentioning that a conventional mouse is easier to use than the touchpad? This can be wireless as, indeed, can a better, separate keyboard. 

If you are going to buy a new games console or iPod you may like to take a look at our useful guides explaining all the different things to bear in mind before making your final choice.






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