Choosing the Right Laptop For You

The days of a bulky desktop hovering over your workspace is, while not entirely gone, more and more becoming a thing of the past. The reason of course is simple: desktops are being replaced by their smaller, more convenient and just as powerful cousin — the laptop. While desktops were a revolution in and of themselves (bringing the power of a computer to your home and office), the next generation still wants more. More portability, more convenience and more performance. Which is what we’re now all offered.

Nonetheless, not all laptops were created equal, and not all of them are designed to do the same things either. For example, the ideal laptop for a world traveler will look and perform quite differently than the ideal laptop of a video editor, and so on. All that to say, to find the perfect laptop that best suits your interests is going to take some work. The good news though is that there’s help. (For one, this article — hopefully.) So let’s now go over the laptop purchasing basics, that is what you need to consider ahead of time to make sure the laptop you get is the laptop you need and can afford.

First up, the heart of the laptop: it’s processor. If you’re unfamiliar, the processor is measured in gigahertz (GHz) and it’s what powers everything. It’s the difference between a slow, will-this-program-ever-load machine and a fast, I-can-do-anything-this-is-awesome machine. That said, it all depends on what you’re using your laptop for. If you’re just doing the bare basics (browsing the web, sending emails, creating word documents), for example, then you’re not going to need all that much processor power — the default 1.5 to 2.0 GHz processor should do you just fine. (If you’re buying new, just about every laptop on the market now comes with a good-to-decent processor.) If you’re going to use it for a little bit more though (think: iTunes, video, some video games, etc.) then aim for, at least 2.0 GHz. However, if you want to play the newest video games or to edit images, video or audio on your computer, you’re going to need (or at least want) a fully-juiced machine. 2.5 GHz at the minimum. (Note: processor speed affects price quite a bit, so if you need a machine with a powerful processor, expect to pay more.)

Next you’ll want to consider your laptop’s body: it’s size and weight. For instance, if you’re going to be traveling with your laptop a lot (e.g. a student or a business traveler) you probably will want to consider a lighter, more-compact laptop. That way it’s convenient, easy to pack and doesn’t weigh down on your shoulders.

Keep in mind though, unless you’re willing to doll out quite a bit of cash, the smaller a laptop is (typically), the less powerful it will be. Still, unless you need to do video editing on the go, most smaller laptops should still have plenty of power.

When deciding what size laptop to get, you’ll also want to consider the screen size. For the most part, you’ll be looking at screens that are in the 9″ to 17″ range, with the average screen size coming in around 14″. Again, it will come down to your preferences and what you want. Is a large screen what you want, or is something more compact what you’re looking for? You’ll also want to consider the aspect ratio of your screen. Do you want a default 3:4 aspect ratio (similar to a TV or most computers) or do you want a 16:9 aspect ratio (think: widescreen). A wider screen of course looks nicer (especially when watching movies) and gives you more screen space when working on projects, but again it’s going to make your laptop, overall, bigger, heavier and more expensive.

I’d suggest looking at the Memory (RAM) next as it’s also very important. In a sentence: the more RAM you have, the more applications you can have running at the same time. So if you’re working on a PowerPoint project and you have two Excel files and three browser tabs open, iTunes playing and something downloading in the background, unless you have sufficient RAM, your laptop is going to slow down to a crawl. Which isn’t very fun. So if you’re a multitasker, be sure you have enough RAM. These days 1GB of RAM seems like the lowest you’d want to go, but really at least 2GB is what you’d want with 4GB being ideal. It’s also important to keep in mind that RAM isn’t always easy (or possible) to add to a machine, so it’s best to get a laptop with plenty of RAM to begin with.

Up next: Hard drive space. In a nutshell, your hard drive is where you store all your stuff. So you’ll want to make sure it’s big enough to fit everything (word documents, songs, programs, video, etc.) you’ll need. Nonetheless, it’s not the be-all, end-all it sometimes is touted to be. For one, all new computers come with plenty of hard drive space as it is (160-250 GB is the current range). For two, though, external hard drives are very cheap and easy to attach. So if you run out of hard drive space, just purchase an external drive, and you’re problems are solved.

It’s also important to consider the laptop battery. In general, a laptop’s battery life sits somewhere between two and three hours on average, which is usually just fine. However, if you need more battery life — let’s say you travel a lot (and for long stretches of time) or you’re a student in class a lot (and outlets are hard to come by) — it’s worth looking around for a laptop with a longer lasting battery. That said, you’re not going to find anything lasting longer than five to seven hours. Also, keep in mind that longer-lasting batteries are typically bigger and thus heavier.

In the end, while it’s important to do your homework and research a.) what you really need in a laptop and b.) which laptops offer that for a good price, it’s also good to try out a laptop before pulling the trigger and purchasing it. So once you’ve found that perfect laptop (or three) with everything you might want or need, I’d recommend stopping at your local computer store and spending some time playing around on one. Pick it up, play around on it and see if you like it.