Tips On Buying A Laptop

Thinking of buying a laptop as a gift for someone or yourself? Here are tips on what to think about.
Published: Oct 26, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows
Tucows Editorial Feature

Tips On Buying A Laptop

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder

The holiday season is a time when many people give or receive technology gifts. Things like PC, laptops, PDAs, MP3 players, and more. To help you with your holiday shopping we're providing some helpful tips on buying a wide range of technology products. Each week, beginning last week, and running through the end of 2006, we'll be giving buying tips on different products. Last week we covered:

Tips On Buying A DesktopPC

This week we're looking at laptop or notebook computers.While some considerations are the same as when buying a desktop, buying a laptop computer does have some special considerations. So, let's take a look.

Laptop Basics

Just as with a desktop, RAM is something you need to think about when you're buying a laptop. If your purchase is for a student or anyone who doesn't have demanding needs you can probably get by with 512megabytes of RAM. If you're getting something for a business traveler you'll probably want to get 1 gigabyte of RAM. Remember, RAM is what programs run so you don't want to get too little. There was a quote that went around in the 1980's that said, "You can never have too much RAM or too much disk space." For the most part I agree.

Here I'm going to repeat myself because I think it's important. I've said this before and I'll say it again. If cost is a real concern it's better to get more RAM and a slower processor, than to do the reverse. If you skimp on RAM it may not matter how fast your processor is.

Laptops also come configured with processors from Intel and AMD.Remember, if you're trying to save some money you can always go with one of the lower priced processors like the Celeron or Duron chips from Intel and AMD respectively. The Pentium M processor was designed for"mobile" computers because they were easier on battery life. The problem is that the M chips don't have built-in wireless.

If the laptop is for basic use you can look for a processor speed around2GHz. If your purchase is for someone who needs the power, you'll want to get a processor that's closer to 3GHz. I've found that the newdual-core processors tend to be running at slower clock speeds on laptops. For example, I did searches and didn't find any dual-core laptops available with 3GHz speed. At the same time, the dual-core processors offer more overall processing speed.

Laptop hard drives, in general, tend to be smaller than those offered on most desktops. Once again, make your decision based on the needs of the person the laptop is for. Someone who's doing email and surfing the Web can easily get by with 40 gigabytes of disk space. At the same time, someone who's really into music and pictures might need100 gigabytes of storage.


If you look around you'll see that laptop weights seem to run anywhere between about 3 and 9 pounds or so. Logically you can only make a laptop so light and still get all the features you want. The averagelaptop is between 6.5 and 7.5 pounds. Real "road warriors" will care more about features than weight. Remember, published laptop weights are for the laptop, not for all the extra stuff that comes with it. Extra batteries, extra drives, and even the case all add to the weight. Several companies make "heavy duty" laptops that are built to withstand heave usage. When push comes to shove, don't fret over a bit of weight difference. Better to get a laptop that does what is needed than one that's a tiny bit lighter.

Battery Life

For someone who travels a great deal battery life can be a key concern. If you're hopping between airports all day you may not have time to charge up. Some laptops will let you install two batteries and you can always buy extra batteries. Ahh, but that adds theweight. Things that impact batter life include:

  • Size of screen
  • Quality of graphics
  • Processor type
  • Power settings

So, if battery life is closer to the top of the priority list you may want to look at a Celeron processor and not look at a 17" super quality screen. If the laptop is going to be used by students or others who may be able to remain "plugged in" much of the time, battery life isn't your top concern.

Another factor are the settings you use on the actual laptop. If the laptop is lower on the battery life scale you may want to set the Power Settings to reflect that. Have the display and hard drives shut down sooner. You can also set the screen to dim quicker when there's a pause in the work.

Summing It Up!

Buying a laptop is similar to buying a desktop in many respects, but you need to consider the differences. Some people today are abandoning desktops and getting laptops that are really powerful. These machines have nearly all the features of a desktop. They can also cost almost twice as much as a comparably configured desktop. So, consider thekey factors - RAM, disk space, and processor type. In those considerations, however, you may need to consider weight, battery life,and how the other factors impact weight and battery life.

Consider who you're buying the laptop for. Once again I caution you about buying more machine than you really need. If it's a laptop for a student you don't need a 3GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and a 17"screen. That's a waste of money in my opinion. You'd do just as well with a 1.8GHz Celeron processor, a 15" screen, and 512MB of RAM.

My advice is to be realistic. If you're buying a gift keep in mind that many of the things we've talked about can be upgraded.The recipient can purchase extra RAM or even buy extra drives or batteries. Another source you can check is Consumer Reports ... I do.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

Digg This
Please login to add your comment
Leave A Comment