How to Decide Which Laptop to Buy

If you’re in the market for a laptop (say for school or personal use), you’re most likely wondering how to go about selecting a laptop that suits your needs and your budget, especially given how much choice you have today.

Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision and find a laptop that best suits your needs –

    Note: This post isn't for hardcore techies, but for the rest of us, who could use some helpful, simple non-techie tips on how to decide which laptop to buy.

1. Begin by determining your budget

It’s usually best to start with your budget, because it can help eliminate a large number of choices from consideration –
  • Under $2000 – You have a world of choices, and could typically get any Windows based laptop, or reward yourself with a super-stylish, stable and cool Mac

  • Under $1000 – You can almost certainly rule out Apple’s Macs because they start at $999 (unless you’re up for an iPad), and so you’re really left to decide between a large selection of Windows based notebooks and net-books

  • Under $500 – You can rule out most high performance notebooks, and narrow down your choices to entry level notebooks and most net-books

  • Under $300 – You really only need to decide amongst entry-level notebooks or used laptops

2. Then factor in your personal preferences

Once you’ve figured out your budget, a good second choice is factor in your personal preferences or likings. For many people, a laptop purchase turns out to be driven more by emotional aesthetic preferences than driven by intended uses –

  • Mac or PC? – If your in the >$1000 range, you need to ask yourself if you’re a Mac person or a Windows person. If you’re an Apple fan, your choice is clear. If you’re a Windows person, you could either stick with a familiar more universal experience or consider enhancing your computing experience by using high-quality, well-designed Apple computers.

  • Notebook or Net-book? This is a hard one for many people, because it appears to be a tough choice, and in some cases it is, depending on personal preference and usage. If you’re primarily looking for a lightweight machine to browse the web, email, tweet, use Facebook, and listen to music, and can put up with a small screen size (and not miss a CD player) you’re better off enjoying the mobility of a lightweight Net-book,. If on other hand, you must have at least a 13” screen or need a CD player or be able to do some serious gaming, you should go with a notebook.

3. Next, decide amongst your narrowed down choices

Once you’ve factored in your budget and personal preferences, in all likelihood, you’ll have decided between a Mac/PC, and Notebook/Net-book only, the next decision will most likely involve choosing a brand, deciding between a slew of CPU, hard-disk and memory options. At this point, taking your primary uses into account could help you determine which technical options might be best for you –
  • MacBook or MacBook Pro? – If your considering a Mac, if you’re mostly just going to be online, write papers, enjoy music and videos, brows the Web, use Facebook, tweet, chat up with friends etc. you’d do just fine with the elegant MacBook. If, on the other hand, you have or anticipate having a need to do some serious number-crunching, music or video editing, intense gaming or the like, you should go with the Macbook Pro.

  • Deciding amongst Notebooks – If you’ve determined that you a need a Notebook, in all likelihood, your next consideration will be to select a brand. Between Dell, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic, Fujitsu, Sony, Acer and others, you really have so much choice. At this point, you can consider the pros and cons of each vendor to determine which one to go with best. For example, Dell usually offers the most affordable notebooks, whereas Sony usually offers the most stylish of notebooks, and HP typically offers an in-between balance of style and affordability. If you have a favorite vendor in mind, you could stick to it, or you could ask your friends and family how their experiences have been with a specific vendor, and perhaps factor that in to determine what might be best for you. For instance, in some cases, one vendor might offer better technical support than the others, and in other cases, a vendor might offer a more reliable product.

  • Deciding amongst Net-books – The plethora of choices available in Net-books is equally confusing, so the suggestions provided above for deciding between notebooks apply to making this decision as well.

4. Finally, decide on the technical specifics

So, you’ve finally figured out what laptop you want and from which vendor, and you proceed to place an order on their website. In most cases, you’ll find that you can custom-configure your laptop, and while that is a good thing, deciding between the numerous choices available for each little component can be confusing as well, so here are some helpful tips to help you select.

  • Processor – For notebooks, the most typical choices are between an Intel Dual Core and an Intel Core 2 Duo. If performance is not a huge issue, you could stick to the former and save some money, or if you like, you could upgrade one notch up to an Intel Core 2 Duo. For Net-books, you’re basically going to get an Intel Atom Processor, and might have a choice between a standard one or a little faster one for a few more bucks.

  • Memory – For notebooks, 3GB to 4GB RAM comes standard with most notebooks and should usually be sufficient, unless you’re into gaming or running many applications at the same time, or plan on doing some serious number-crunching.

  • Hard-Drive – For notebooks, these days base configurations typically start at 320 GB hard-drives, and for all practical purposes, that’s sufficient space, in that you can easily store up to 70,000 photos or 40 hours of HD video on a 320 GB hard-disk. If you’ve lots of music you wish to load onto your laptop, or plan on taking and storing lots of videos and pictures, you could choose to go with a larger drive for a 50 ought more bucks. For Net-books, you will typically have a choice between 160GB and 250GB hard-drives and the same considerations (as mentioned above) apply.

  • Battery – In most cases, you’re better off selecting the primary option for your battery, as it’s usually sufficient, and compact. Larger batteries can tend to be bigger and a tad heavier and could jut out as well making it a little inconvenient to carry or use in your lap for extended periods of time.

  • Graphics Card – Most entry-level laptops do not offer a dedicated graphics card, but rather offer an integrated graphics card, which relies on using memory from your computer’s RAM. If you plan on doing just the usual stuff (surfing the Web, tweeting, music, Facebook) etc, you should be just fine without a dedicated card. If however you’re into gaming or plan on running graphic intensive apps, you may want to get a dedicated graphics card.

  • Webcam – Most laptops do come standard with a Webcam, and many offer an upgrade that includes some sort of facial recognition software. For most people, passwords work just fine, but if you’re into cutting edge security, you could upgrade to the facial recognition option.

  • Wireless Card – Again, most computers come with a wireless card, so there’s not much to decide in this regard. One thing to look out for is that in some cases, Bluetooth isn’t standard so you may want to add that option as it can come in hand to connect Bluetooth based devices to your laptop.

  • DVD Burner – Virtually every notebook comes with a CD/DVD player, and in many cases a 6x/8x DVD burner may be included in the price. If your base configuration does not have a DVD burner, it’s usually a good idea to consider getting one as it can be quite helpful in archiving your photos and videos, or to create your own DVDs and the like.

  • Sound Card – Most laptops comes with a decent sound-card that should meet most needs, and virtually every vendor offers additional options as well, ranging from hi-def sound (based on software) to dedicated sound cards (hardware) for richer sound. In most cases, you should be fine with the base option.

That's it!

So, there you have it. Hopefully you’ve been able to narrow down your choices and figure out the laptop that best suits you needs for you. Enjoy your new laptop!

Thanks, and happy computing!

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