How to Buy a Laptop

Doc talks about some considerations when looking to purchase a laptop computer.
Published: Nov 21, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question submitted by Rick Wilson, Nancy Wyatt, James Doolan, Wendy Crabtree, Evan Wendicott and numerous others

In last weeks article we talked about some of the things you should consider when you go to buy a desktop computer. Since that article appeared I've received lots of e-mails asking me, "What about buying laptop computers?" There are some other things you might want to consider when looking for a laptop. So, this week I'll try to cover some of those considerations. I hope you'll find this useful.

You may recall that last week I listed a few things you might want to consider when buying a desktop. Some of these same factors come into play when you're looking for a laptop, so I'll list them again, here. The most common things I get asked about include:

  • Type of processor
  • Speed of processor
  • Amount of RAM
  • Size of hard disk
  • Brand
  • Support

I'll try to briefly address these issues from the standpoint of a laptop and not a desktop computer. Once again, someone like me is not going to approach this issue in the same way as a new user. Just as with a desktop, a newer user might want to put a little more money into support. I seldom, if ever, use any kind of technical support so for me it's a waste of money. For a newer user, however, support might be a life saver. Something to think about. It's like fire insurance, you may not have a fire, but if you do you want to be covered.

Type Of Processor

Just as with desktops we're primarily talking about either Intel or AMD processors. I have to say that in laptops, up to this point, I've only ever had Intel chips. That's primarily because that's what was offered and I expect that might change in the near future. When it comes to desktops I've had both AMD and Intel processors. You start looking at processors and you find there are a number available. The Celeron processor is cheaper, but that's because it's less efficient. Doesn't mean it's not perfectly fine for many every day tasks. The new M chips are just a different classification and most manufacturers tell you what the speed of the M chip is. And I think dual core and the new 64-bit processors are a bit expensive! when you're talking about a laptop, at least right now. Basic thing to remember is to do some research, pick the brand you want, and try to understand the basic terminology. Celeron does not mean "accelerate".

Speed of Processor

As I said in my article on desktops, speed is an area where people can be a little bit crazy. Think about what you're going to be using your laptop for. The one I'm writing this article on is a Toshiba A75-series. It is meant to be a replacement for my desktop. I bought this one because my oldest daughter, Melaina, and her husband are having twins. So, when I go out there to help out I can take this laptop along and do everything I do on the desktop in my office. So, this Toshiba has a 3.33GHz Intel Pentium IV processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM. No, I didn't get dual core because I don't think it's worth it at this point. But, I did get enough power so I can work from this computer. If you just take your laptop to the library to do homework and write term papers, you might save yourself some money by getting a slower processor, or a Celeron processor. You have to look honestly at what you use your laptop for, and then decide based on that. Anything close to 2.0 GHz is fast. Take it from there.

Amount of RAM

Opinion: "Never skimp on RAM, and if you have to, add some later!" Remember what I said about desktops - RAM is more important than processor speed. All of my laptops have at least 512MB, this one has 1 GB. If you have a 2.2GHz procesr with a gigabyte of RAM you can do more than if you have a 3.4GHz processor with 256MB of RAM. If finances are a problem, get as much RAM as you can and add more later. Think about what to spend your computing dollars on. Support? RAM? Processor speed? and so on. There was an anonymous quote that floated around in the early 1980's that's still true today. "You can never have too much RAM or too much disk space!" Makes sense to me.

Size of Hard Disk

To me this is really a matter of personal preference and need. If you store a lot of stuff on your computer, then get a big hard disk on your laptop. A lot of laptops are coming with 80, 120 and ever 160 gigabyte hard disks. To me, if it doesn't cost you too much extra, it's better to go with more disk space. Disk space is very cheap. I just bought a 300GB Maxtor One Touch external hard drive for only $219. That is cheap! Again, think about how you'll use your laptop and then make your decision. And, just as with RAM, if money is an issue you can always add another drive later.

Brand and Support

There are lots of brand-name laptops like Toshiba, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq. Yes, you may pay more for a name-brand, but then you'll also get better quality and service. Remember, the price of a laptop, like the price of most things, depends on the quality of the parts that went into it. You can find laptops for $500 that might serve you well and last quite awhile. Again, analyze your needs and your budget and get what's going to work best for you!

This is also where support is going to come into the picture. With brand names like Toshiba, Dell, Gateway and others you can get really excellent support. With a laptop you pickup at a discount store, you probably won't get good support. If you need the support you need to buy from a company that can provide it, plain and simple.

Summing It Up

When you're looking for a laptop, just as when you're looking for a desktop, you have to take an honest look at a number of factors. Finances, obviously, are one. You also need to look at how you'll use your laptop. As a desktop replacement or as a convenience at home or at school. Don't skimp on RAM, don't get carried away with processor speed, and consider how much support you might need. And lastly, buy from a company you can trust. I hope these tips will help you out!

I'd like to thank Rick Wilson, Nancy Wyatt, James Doolan, Wendy Crabtree, Evan Wendicott and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via e-mail by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

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.

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