Buying Guide: Laptops
Laptops, also known as notebooks, are versatile, portable, come in a range of sizes and boast different levels of features. So, how do you find the laptop that's right for your needs? Just follow our buying guide on notebook computers.
Consider The Size Of Your Laptop
How often are you likely to be carrying your laptop? Are you after a notebook to play games and run graphics-intensive programs like photo editing software? Generally speaking, laptops with more features are less portable.
- Lightweight and ultra-portable notebooks are a great option for people who need to carry them everywhere — such as students – as they range from under 2kg up to 4kg.
- Midsize and desktop-replacement laptops offer more features and are better suited to gaming and graphics-intensive programs like video and photo editing. They range from around 3kg to 5kg.
Brain Speed – The Faster, The Better
Processors are often referred to as the "brains" of a laptop because they determine how fast your computer functions. The speed of the processor is measured in GHz (gigahertz). It's always safest to go with the fastest you can afford.
RAM (Random Access Memory) helps your processor perform tasks by acting as a temporary storage point. In short, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can keep open at once, and the faster your computer will go. Look for at least 2GB of RAM if you want to play games.
A graphics (or video) card acts as a separate processor for rendering the images on the screen. Graphics cards draw on their own RAM, so the computer's performance is not impeded. This is important for graphics-intensive programs, such as games and movies.
Store It In The Hard Drive
The hard drive is where your computer stores your files. Storage capacity is measured in gigabytes (GB). The more GB, the more files you can fit. If you want to store large files like high-quality photos, movies or music you should aim for upwards of 250GB. A laptop used solely for Internet, email and minimal image storage should get away with 80GB.
How Long Does The Battery Last?
Typical laptop battery life is between three to five hours. If you're travelling and away from a power source for extended periods of time, then consider laptop computers with a battery life of over five hours.
Connecting Your Laptop To Other Devices
Consider the devices that you want to connect your laptop to. Multiple USB ports are necessities for iPods, digital cameras and external hard drives; also look for FireWire ports.
- For connecting to monitors and projectors, look for a VGA connection at minimum. Aim for a DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort as well.
- Integrated wireless networking (Wi-Fi) will allow you to connect to a range of different networks without needing any wires or cords.
Consider These "Usability" Factors
Laptops usually come with a pointing stick or a touch pad instead of a mouse. Make sure that you're comfortable using them. Also check that the layout and size of the keyboard is easy to use, and that the screen size suits your needs.
If you're planning on working outside, check that there is a matte screen option to reduce glare.
If you are switching from PC to Apple, or vice versa, it's important to note that Apple products, such as the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, have different shortcuts and a different look and feel to using them. However, making the switch either way is quite easy.
Match Your Lifestyle
Home and Business: Surf the net, work on multiple documents, watch movies, and manage your family photos and music.
- Size: Look for a portable laptop under 4kg.
- Memory: Aim for the most memory you can, upwards of 250GB.
- Connectivity: Multiple USB ports, Wi-Fi, Firewire and a DVI or HDMI.
Students and Travellers: Store your photos, music and videos, surf the Net and work on graphics-intensive programs, like photo editing.
- Size: Choose an ultra-portable notebook under 2kg.
- Grunt: Look for a processor of at least 2GHz and 2GB RAM.
- Screen: Look for a matte screen to reduce glare when outdoors.
Gamers: You'll need a fast, powerful machine to play your favourite games wherever you are in the world.
- Size: Choose a larger screen, like a 15.6-inch one.
- Graphics: Add a separate graphics card with at least 1GB RAM.
- Connectivity: HDMI, multiple USB, eSATA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Simple Laptop Choices
Size: Smaller laptops are easier to carry around. Do you need a big screen?
Battery life: How long will you and your notebook be away from a power source?
Storage: Notebooks with bigger hard drives can store more files, including photos and video.
Connect it: What devices (cameras etc) do you want to connect?
How many ports will you need to connect them all at once?
Graphics cards: A must-do upgrade for gamers and those editing photos.