How to Pick a Notebook Computer

May 14th, 2007 | Notebooks

The popularity of notebook computers has increased rapidly over recent years. The good news is that there are more choice than ever. The bad news is that with the wide range it is often difficult to decide what to get.

What do you intend to use the notebook computer for?

The very concept of the notebook computer implies that it is intended to be transported easily and allow use anywhere. Chances are that you intend to use it for work. This is about all that most notebook computers can handle. Small sizes don’t allow for the fastest, and often hottest components that need “breathing” space. The notebook computer will spend lots of time away from an office, so long battery life is important. It will probably be used to connect to wireless networks so you can use the internet, so wireless connectivity is needed. The programs used on a notebook computer will probably consist of basic office software like the Microsoft Office suite or similar, and a few other programs. Small monitors and limited graphics ability will rule out serious gaming, so there is little need to get state of the art graphics cards that will likely just drive the price up for no particular reason.

Firstly you need to consider the size. There are a wide variety of sizes with notebook computers. After picking a size, or at least a size range you will narrow down the models you need to look at. The size is mostly proportional to the screen size, as it is the largest thing on the computer. Choices available go all the way past 15 inches, but notebook computers are usually smaller. A good option for small computers is a wider screen, WXGA and other wide screen formats give that little extra room on the small screens. These offer dimesions of 16:9 as opposed the standard 4:3, giving you around 34% extra width.

The next consideration for a notebook computer is, “What computer processor does it have?” Computer processors in notebook computers are often toned down versions of desktop models. By clocking them slower, that is make the processor run below its intended speed, they can greatly reduce how much power is used, which aids in lengthening the batteries life. For the the applications you will likely use, the speed of the processor will almost invariably be enough, power saving makes a much more practical difference. There are a range of different processors, but I would stick with Intel or AMD, they are well-known and also the most popular. Intel takes the majority of the market though.

After these major bits, the rest are all just extras, they can be negotiated for if the computer is being built for you, or often added to pre-assembled models.

Extras that are essential are USB ports, firewire ports, wireless networking capabilities, network port and modem port. USB is the standard for connecting peripherals to your notebook computer and is 100% essential. Firewire is a little less common that USB and is necessary, but not essential, it’s mostly needed for video transfer. Wireless networking is pretty essential for any notebook computer. A year or two ago I would not have said so, but with heavy reliance on the internet and an abundance of wireless hotspots to connect to, there are very few users who would not need this. Network ports are necessary for traditional network connections. These would usually be necessary in an office environment, where fixed networks are still common. Modem port is necessary if you connect to the internet via dial-up connection from your notebook computer.

A DVD drive for your notebook computer might have to be external kind (added on as an extra, not part of the main body of the computer), espacially if the computer is a very small model. DVD writers are fairly inexpensive and would be good if you don’t have a seperate home computer with one installed. The main use of a DVD is to watch movies, store data or transfer data. If you have a desktop computer, you can connect your notebook computer to it and transfer information to it, which makes a DVD writer less necessary.

Mouse pads need to be user-friendly, they need to be placed so your hands don’t contact it when you type and responsive to you movements when they are used. The keyboard needs to be laid out well, even if it is smaller than normal. The monitor needs to be able to performs in conditions where there is a fair amount of light, as lighting changes when the computer is used on the move.

Big brands might be preferrable if you are not sure exactly what you need, or don’t have someone to advise you. Choose from the likes of Dell, Sony, Gateway, Systemax, eMachines, HP, Toshiba, Thinkpad, Acer and Fujitsu.

3 Responses to “How to Pick a Notebook Computer”

  1. Randy Bestler Says:

    Tanks for the info. It was very easy to understand and much appreciated. Not sure how thorough it was. I’m new to computer buying and wondered about Apple and why it wasn’t mentioned as a possible brand to look at. My girlfriend says they are geared for very professional use…a little over the top for the average person. Oh yeah and I wondered about longevity or computer life 100,000 miles or 300,000 something for a guideline. Which brand lasts the longest? Thanks


  2. K. Gan Says:

    WXGA may seem like you’re getting 34% more screen but in fact, most software and websites are still optimised for the standard 4:3. All you’re getting is ugly blank space along the sides. However, it’s nearly impossible to find a 4:3 screen on a new notebook these days.

  3. Peter Says:

    Yes, most websites are still optimized for 1024×768 screen resolutions. Most monitors can go quite a bit beyond that. The advantage of the wider monitors is that with a slightly bigger monitor, and slightly higher resolution, two windows can fit on the screen at the same time. I love that ability as I rarely work in a single program at a time anymore.

    For example, if I am writing a web page, being able to reference the pages I am gathering information on, without having to switch away from my document is more akin to having a piece of paper in front of me on my desk, and a reference book to the side. Much more natural.

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