Laptop Buying Guide

  • By David Maloney
  • 09 Dec, 2016

(updated 8-18-2010)

Brands :
» Top tier laptop brands: Lenovo (formerly IBM), HP (but not their Pavilion line), Dell
      Sony makes very good quality laptops, but I personally am not a big fan because of the huge

      amount of custom software that they pre-load on their laptops.
» Second tier laptop brands: Toshiba, Acer, Gateway

Processors (CPUs):
Laptops with Intel processors are generally more expensive, but have better performance, machines with AMD processors have slightly lower performance, and lower prices. Each of those companies, though, have their high-performance CPUs, and lower-performing CPUs. Of course, the better-performing ones cost more.

Good CPUs:

  • AMD: Athlon II, Phenom II
  • Intel: Core 2 Duo, Intel Core i5, Core i7
Not good CPUs (avoid these):
  • AMD: Turion
  • Intel: Celeron, Pentium, Intel i3, any CPU with a model number starting with U or SU (These are ultra low-voltage CPUs that are very under-powered.)

Operating System :
Windows 7 : Windows 7 is the latest operating system from Microsoft. It is basically a streamlined version of Vista, with all the rough edges sanded off. Unlike Vista, I can recommend 7. If you will be using your new laptop at home, or in any environment without a Windows Server, you will be fine with Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. If you will be using your laptop with a Windows Server, you definitely need Windows 7 Professional. If you get Windows 7 Ultimate, you can't go wrong either way.

Windows XP : Laptops for business use can still be ordered from distributors with XP as of August, 2010. All laptops come with Windows 7, but some can be "downgraded" and will have XP installed on them. That is because Microsoft has required all vendors who sell their operating systems to include a copy of Vista or Windows 7 with every machine they sell. There is no longer any reason to buy a machine with XP on it, unless you have some program that absolutely will not work properly with Windows 7.

Memory (RAM):

  • If you get a system running Windows XP, 1 GB of RAM will do just fine, and even 512 MB is okay.
  • If you get a system running Windows 7, you need at least 3 GB of RAM, and more is better. 4 or 6 GB is strongly recommended.

Hard drive size :
Most laptops will have at least 250 GB hard drives, and many will have 320 GB or 500 GB. Unless you plan on working with video, or installing lots of games, the size of the hard drive is totally unimportant.

Graphics chips :
This isn't much of an issue for general business use, but you may see some systems boasting that they have "discrete graphics," while most systems have integrated graphics. In a nutshell, discrete graphics have vastly better performance than integrated graphics, but unless you are playing a game, or doing video or extremely high-resolution photo editing on the machine, you will never notice the difference.

Screen :
The displays are important, since that is what the user will be looking at all the time. Pretty much all laptops these days have widescreen displays. Personally, I prefer the old square aspect ration screens, but those are no longer available.

The only real options are to get a screen that is bright but subject to glare and reflections vs. a screen that is less bright with a matte finish and anti-glare. Pretty much all the "home" systems have extremely bright coatings on their screens. It makes them look great when playing a DVD movie in a dark room, but in bright conditions, such as using the laptop with a bright window behind you, you can get some extreme reflections off the screen. Unfortunately, most laptops of any sort have gone with the bright type of screen coating - even many laptops intended for business use. It's not too bad, just something you have to live with. If this is a big deal, though, I can track down models with a matte/anti-glare and anti-reflective screen.

Docking options :
Less expensive laptops have no docking port, which means they can never be attached to a dock. Docks are really great if you want to travel frequently with the laptop, but it is also your main system. A dock lets you plug the laptop into one connection, and from that have an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, network, and power all connected. I like docks a lot, as they can be super-convenient. Docks usually cost between $50 and $150.

Battery life :
Pay attention to the number of cells in the battery. Cheaper batteries have lower number of cells, such as 3 or 4, more expensive batteries and laptops have much higher numbers, like 6, 8 or 9. The more cells, the longer the battery will last.

Laptop bags :
If you're looking for a nice laptop bag, I recommend . You can use their  laptop bag finder  - just put in the dimensions of the laptop, and it will show you all the bags that it will fit into.

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