Written by Daniel Fletcher Category: Laptops
Published on 16 August 2011
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Features

There is a plethora of features to chose from. To make it worse, not all manufacturers have the same feature set. It becomes impossible to compare two laptops from different manufacturers unless one makes an approximation. We’ll cover the more important features.

OS: The first “feature” is of course the operating system that you will need. Do they use Apple PCs at work or school, Linux, or Windows? Generally you should go with a platform that you are most comfortable with and is used by your peers and runs the applications you need. If you are planning on running Linux, make sure that the manufacturer specifically supports it on that device. If you go with Windows, be sure that all of your peripheral devices are supported and that the applications you need will run on the version that comes with the device. You may have an option of a 32 bit or 64 bit version of Windows. The 64 bit version will be able to access memory beyond 3 GB of RAM, but may cause incompatibility problems with some applications. Further, many laptops come with the “Home” flavour of Windows. Avoid these if you need to connect this machine to your office network.

Memory: How much memory? Windows 7 generally requires 2 GB (Giga Bytes) of RAM. You may find this restrictive and feel the machine running slowly. Generally, 3 to 4 GB of RAM are needed for the average user that may have a few office productivity applications open.

Storage: Many laptops now come with 250 GB or more of disk space. As a rule of thumb that has held true in over 20 years of observation, no matter how much disk space you have, you will always run out. Your needs will depend on your use of the device and cleaning up unneeded things. For general use, 250 GB is a phenomenal amount of space. However, if you will use the machine for storing movies, lots of pictures, and music, you may find that it runs out faster. The average song is about 3.5 Mega Bytes. Using this average, you could store over 28,000 songs on 100 GB of space.  Look as well for memory slot readers if you have a need to frequently transfer pictures from digital cameras.

Screen: Screen size is also important. For use of a few hours or more regularly, you should get as a minimum, the larger 15.5 “ screen. Additionally, the type of screen makes a big difference. Be sure to try it yourself. Some manufacturers put a glossy film over their screens. While they claim that it gives better colours, many users find that it also produces an excessive amount of glare that makes it distracting. Generally, machines that have separate graphic engines have higher performance and leave more useable memory for the Operating System.

Connectivity: Connectivity options have become standardized over the last few years. Most laptops offer a wireless network access (WiFi b/g/n) as well as wired network ports and several USB ports. One feature that has been dropped in a built-in modem for faxing. Built-in Bluetooth may be useful for certain applications, such as using a headphone for making ip calls and connecting with some printers.

Security: Security can be an important consideration. Some laptops have a built-in security chip that can be activated. This chip can the encrypt all data stored on the device’s hard disk drive on the fly. If your laptop is stolen or lost, all data is secure. Do not rely on power-on or operating system passwords alone to protect your data. They can be bypassed in 10 minutes or less.

CPU: The processor employed is also an important consideration. You will see two brands of processors: Intel and AMD. Based on my experience, I recommend Intel processors, although “equivalent” AMD processors are generally a little less expensive. Most laptops with Intel processors now come with an Intel i5 or i7 processor. Be sure to look for the M version of the processor. These are specifically designed for mobile applications and include many power management functions and low power consumption. The i7 processors are faster, but more expensive. The more cores, the faster the machine.

Heat: Heat management is critical on a laptop and I have seen examples of them overheating to the point of melting or warping the case, and another example needing to go 3 times to the factory for heat-related repairs before the owner pawned it off. Pick up a machine that has been running for 15 minutes or longer and feel it along the bottom. If it feels quite hot, pass it by.

Warranty: Warranty is extremely important. A number of years back, manufacturers used to offer a 1 year warranty only. They then started to offer international coverage, then competition lead them to offer a 3 year warranty on most machines. The current practice has dropped down to only a 1 year depot warranty. If you buy a machine for regular use in a business environment, it is advisable to either buy a model that already has a 3 year warranty, or that can be upgraded by the manufacturer. Mobile devices take a lot of beating. Lenovo offers many models that have outstanding durability conforming to military standards.

Manufacturer: Chose a top manufacturer. Do not buy a no-name laptop. Much of the technology that goes into a laptop is specialized and built specifically for that model or series. By buying from a top manufacturer, you will be able to get replacement parts and ongoing updates for drivers for your machine. A partial list of Tier 1 manufacturers include Apple, Lenovo (formerly a division of IBM), hp, Toshiba, Dell, Acer, while Tier 2 manufacturers include ASUS and Sony.

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