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CostHelper.com > Consumer Electronics > Laptops > How to Choose a Laptop

How to Choose a Laptop


Other Products:

Netbooks

11" to 13" Laptops

14" to 16" Laptops

17" to 18" Laptops



See Also:

How to Get the Best Deal on a Laptop

Whether a college student or a business professional, consumers have a variety of choices when selecting a laptop.

Types of Laptops

Laptops come in a variety of shapes and sizes:

  • Check out prices and features on Netbooks, which are the lightest and smallest of laptops. Their capabilities are on par with tablets.
  • Check out prices and features on 11" to 13" laptops, which are often the choice models for students and traveling professionals who enjoy the portability of 3-pound models.
  • Check out prices and features on 14" to 16" laptops, which bridge the gap between portability and high functionaly.
  • Check out prices and features on 17" to 18" laptops, which can serve as replacements for desktop computers.

Processor

Computers use a processor to complete tasks -- the faster the processor, the faster it completes those tasks. Most laptops use Intel chips: Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7, with the higher numbers signifying faster, more powerful chips. Typically, i3 and i5 chips are in laptops that can perform basic tasks such as checking email and surfing the Web. The Core i7 chip is more suited to intensive tasks such as editing photos or video.

Memory

Measured in RAM (random-access memory), memory is the amount of space a computer uses to run programs simultaneously. Most laptops have at least 4GB of RAM, which is plenty for running an Internet browser, a music player and an email provider. To also run programs for photo and video editing, 8GB of RAM or higher is recommended.

Storage Capacity

Current models of laptops either have a traditional hard drive (with many moving parts) or a solid-state drive (or flash memory). Traditional hard drives typically have more storage space -- 320GB and up, while solid state drives typically have less space. Solid-state drives often cost more than the traditional hard drive counterparts. For consumers who do video and photo editing, larger drives provide more space for larger files. A solid-state drive has no moving parts, unlike traditional drives which users can hear spinning. The lack of moving parts makes the drives more durable. In addition, the solid-state drives can perform faster.

Size and Weight

Laptops come in a wide range of sizes. Smaller laptops, such as netbooks, are very light and portable, but are restricted to 10" screens. Students and travelling professionals often like 11" to 13" laptops, which can weigh less than 3 pounds and still perform tasks of a desktop computer. Laptop models in the 14" to 16" range are some of the most popular sizes, bridging the gap between portability and having a screen large enough to enjoy streaming videos. Models that are 17" to 18" are heavier and typically stay in one spot. The larger models are often used as a replacement for a desktop PC.

Resolution

The display resolution on the screen can be vitally important to computer users who do video and photo editing. Most laptops have at least a 1366x768 resolution, which is the lowest quality resolution that is still high-definition. Many laptops have 1600x900 resolution, which offers a clearer, brighter picture. Apple now offers MacBook Pro models with Retina Display that have super high-definition resolution.

Operating System

Most computers run using a version of Microsoft Windows, which is the most common operating system found on PCs. Consumers can choose between models with Windows 7 and models with the newly released Windows 8, which adds tablet-like touch-screen capabilities to the operating system. Apple's Mac laptops use OS X Mountain Lion, which was released in early 2012. In addition, a new operating system is emerging in Google products: Chrome OS is a system that shares characteristics with both the Chrome browser and the Android operating system.

Ports and Slots

Connectivity options are vital on laptops and most come with several means of sharing information. Many laptops offer HDMI ports for mirroring images on larger screens such as HDTVs. Other video connections include VGA, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt ports. Typically, the ports require an additional adapter to make connections. Also, laptops should have at least two, if not more, USB connections which can be used for connecting everything from an optical mouse to an external keyboard to a portable drive. USB 3.0 ports can transfer data 10 times faster than USB 2.0 ports. Consumers should also look for card readers, which can be used to expand the storage capacity of a laptop.

Security Features

Some laptops, including the Lenovo ThinkPad, have security features such as fingerprint scanners to identify users. Some laptops also come with pre-installed security software.

Battery Life

Most laptops last at least six hours on a single charge, but some can last more than eight hours, according to the manufacturers. Business professionals may prefer a computer than can provide a full eight-hour day of battery life. Consumers should note that the estimated battery life posted on manufacturer's websites might not match the battery life in real-life use, as certain tasks such as streaming video use more energy than writing emails.

Optical Drive

Optical drives are for reading and writing CDs and DVDs. Most smaller laptops, such as netbooks and ultrabooks, typically don't have optical drives, although some costlier models offer them. For example, MacBook Air models do not have optical drives, but the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 does offer the option of an internal optical drive. Larger laptops -- those with display screens larger than 14", generally do have optical drives. External optical drives typically cost $50-$80.