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

You’ve decided that you need a mobile computing. How do you decide what to buy? There are many reviews of actual laptops available, but before even going there, you need to examine the basics so as to determine the most appropriate solution for your needs.

 

 

 

 

 

The mobile computing industry has matured to the point that it is similar to the auto industry. Much as you would need to determine what type of vehicle you need, so too you should when purchasing a portable computer. Another point to keep in mind is of course our budget. Remember, though, that one generally gets what one pays for. Features and Warranty are also key.

Types of Mobile Devices

Do you need a pick-up truck with the largest bed possible and crew cab, or do you need a Ferrary? The first step is to identify how much mobility you need and what type of use you require. There are desktop replacement laptops and general use laptops (sometimes also called notebook PCs) , netbooks, tablet PCs, and tablet devices. By the way, Acer, one of the manufacturers, used to have a model called the Ferrary, complete with red case, styling, and a boot-up sound of a Ferrarry racing by.

Desktop Replacement: If you need to carry your office PC with you, then the desktop replacement laptop is your best choice. These are the equivalent of the pick-up truck mentioned above. They generally have larger screens up to 17”, large hard drives, large amounts of memory, full size keyboard that may include a numeric keypad, optional docking station, and a good warranty (3 year international). They are designed for the professional that needs all of the computing power of a powerful desktop computer, but purchases a single portable PC only. These laptops also tend to be heavier. The average price point is about $1,200 to $3,500.

General Use: The general use laptops are usually smaller and less powerful. They will typically have a smaller hard drive, less powerful video adapter, smaller screen (14” to 15.5”), and may have less memory expandability. The average price point ranges from about $650 to $1250.

Notebook PCs: Notebok PCs are scaled down versions of the general use laptops. They will have smaller hard drives, less memoryNetbook PC expandability, and smaller screen (average of 10”). Physically, they are smaller (about 1” thick, 10” wide by 8” deep and weighing about 3 Lbs). Their price point is in the range of $300 to $400. These laptops are generally suitable for light use only! I have seem many a time when people purchase these notebook devices and are then disappointed with the performance. Remember that you get what you pay for!

Tablet PCs: Tablet PCs are notebook PCs that either have a keyboard part that folds away, or may not have a keyboard at all. Their screen is normally used as a touch screen with either a finger or pointing device fashioned in the shape of a pen. One moves the mouse around the screen, then taps or presses on the screen to make a selection. These devices normally run a tablet-pc optimized version of Windows and are typically used for specific purposes that require a fully mobile computer for field work. Their price range is usually $1,200 to $1,600.

Tablet PC

Tablet Devices: Tablet devices are a bit of a confusing market segment at the moment. They are selling by the millions, but their use is targeted more for the home and multimedia / entertainment applications. Despite being technically full fledged computers, they offer limited functionality because of the underlying software that runs them. They are also generally smaller than even the netbooks, although the price point is higher in the $400 to $900. Their typical use includes music, picture taking and display, making phone calls, browsing the web, reading digital books, playing games, and taking notes. For now, they are more of a personal productivity device.

 

 



 

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.


 

Conclusion

In conclusion, then, when buying a portable device, do some homework before making your purchase. There are some basic steps to follow. Technology changes very quickly, so the basic principles have to be employed. The actual CPU model and speed that you see today will be dwarfed in 6 months, so don’t fret over it. Buy today for your needs. Here is the fundamental list:

  1. First decide on the type of device that you will need: a desktop replacement laptop, a general use or multimedia laptop, a netbook, a tablet PC, or tablet device.
  2. Determine your budget.
  3. Establish your list of critical features and how you will be using the machine.
  4. Determine the type of Operating System you will need (typically based on the applications you will need to use).
  5. Go to a store with your list and ask to see and try a few models that conform to your list. Try them out and see how hot they run.
  6. Double-check the warranty and what it covers.
  7. Buy and enjoy your machine.  Don't let a store salesman sell you something you do not need.

 

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