Laptop computers are the larger variety of portable computers, they offer a little more power, faster processors and larger monitors. They are pretty good replacements for desktop computers but their size makes them harder to transport. If you are looking for smaller, more portable models then you should have a look at our guide on how to pick a notebook computer.
Although there are a huge number of laptops to choose from, always remember to get what you need and don’t get wrapped up in the latest technology unless you really need, which most likely, you won’t.
Laptops aren’t as customizable as desktops, which means you choice of internal parts is limited to those the manufacturer chooses. Sticking with well-known brands will help ensure the parts inside are decent.
As they are difficult to change, a brand will be split into models by the processor speed and extras. All through the range there are often options for increasing the amount of memory or certain other parts. Pick your processor first, then monitor size. They will match the video card and monitor, so you don’t need to think about this much.
Intel processors seem to be the best overall when it comes to laptops, unlike desktops where the competition is close, Intel is my choice here. Here’s how much you can expect to pay for them.
- $600 and up – Celeron M laptop
- $800 and up – Pentium M laptop
- $1000 and up – Core Duo / Core Solo laptop
- $1200 and up – Core 2 Duo laptop
The monitor should be a size you like, it basically determines the size of your computer. 15 inch is about the smallest for a desktop replacement as anything smaller will be a strain. Otherwise look at our notebook computer guide.
I recommend 2GB of memory for running Windows Vista, at least 1GB for running Windows XP. I used to recommend less, but after some discussion in the comments of this post (thanks Steffan) and my choices when getting my wife her laptop recently, I’ve raised these requirements. Memory has come down in price dramatically since this article was first published so getting more is a very cost-effective investment.
A hard drive should be able to store all your data. If you’re not sure how much space you need just consider the following. Day-to-day storage will not take up much space and a hard drive of 40GB should be fine. A full CD will take 0.7GB, a full DVD movie takes from 6GB to 8GB usually. If you do store DVDs on your computer, then you could consider getting a much bigger drive. I would stick to a drive around 80GB which is flexible. Backup unneeded data to DVDs with a DVD burner.
I recommend a DVD burner because of only slightly more cost, but tons of convenience. Make sure it is built-in.
A laptop needs lots of built-in extras and there are some essential ones.
- USB ports, 2 or 4 at the back are essential, some at the sides or front make for easy connecting.
- Â The DVD burner mentioned above.
- Network port
- Modem port
- Bluetooth (might be an option)
Choosing a laptop computer has become better, but in many ways harder as their popularity has increased. With a wide range of laptop computers on the market, they are extremely customizable to fit your every need.
There are a few reasons you would get a laptop computer as opposed to a desktop computer, and you have to be clear on what you intend to use the laptop computer for in order to get the right one.
Many people want a laptop computer for it’s portability, as that is only the first very logical reason. If you want a super portable computer you might be better off with a notebook computer, which would offer smaller size for those who really need something ultra-portable.
If you are still intent on getting a laptop you will need to spend upwards of $600. This is at the very lowest possible end of the scale and around $1000 would be much more resonable for a good laptop computer.
Let’s consider what you are going to use your laptop computer for.
Programs like Microsoft Office don’t require a huge amount of power to run and will run fine on nearly any laptop computer. You might want a larger monitor if you want to use the laptop computer at home as a desktop replacement. Extras like a DVD writer can be a great investment for a computer that serves as the primary computer at home or at the office. A good graphics card will be necessary if you will use the laptop computer for games of high-quality image editing. Wireless capabilities will be necessary for a computer on the move.
Size does matter, but it only really refers to the size of the monitor. You can get very high performance laptop computers that have 17 inch screens, but these will set you back over $2000. More reasonable is a monitor that is around 15 inches, maybe a little smaller or bigger.
The processor makes more of a difference if you intend to do use programs like video editing software or new games on your laptop computer. For more general tasks, most of what’s available should be fine for your needs. Newer models from both Intel and AMD will improve the performance quite a lot with their dual-core processors. This new bread of computer cpus boost performance without a huge increase in the power consumption of the processor.
Wireless networking should be standard, as it is so common. A few USB ports are essential. A network port for wired networking, which is still very commmon. Firewire is optional, but a good extra. A PC card slot is the only way to add extra cards to a laptop computer, so make sure it has one or even better, two of these. Note that sometimes one is already in use when you get the computer so it might not even be available if you need to upgrade.