Laptops are geared toward multimedia, gaming, business and average home users. You can spend $500, or more than $5,000!Identify your laptop needs
So, how will you use your laptop? Do you travel? You'll need something light with a long battery life. Are you looking for a desktop replacement? Then you'll want heavy processing power.
A student's laptop can be a problem. Most school work entails word processing and Web research. Neither demands power. But your student may want to play the latest games. For that, you could justify a top-end machine. You and your student will have to hash out those economics.
So, a low-end machine will run you $500 or less. Most people will want something with more power. A nice laptop will set you back $1,000 to $1,500. A gaming laptop can easily exceed $3,000.
Once you identify your needs, look at the following categories:
1. Processor. The Intel Pentium M, Mobile AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Turion 64 Mobile are high-powered processors that extend battery life. If you travel, this will be important.
All of these chips run around 2 gigahertz. But they aren't slow. Most can compete with their desktop brethren.
You'll also find some desktop processors, such as the Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon 64, in laptops. They're okay if you're always plugged into a power source. But if you're on the go a lot, avoid them. They require more power and drain your laptop's battery.
Don't get too caught up in the numbers game. Unless you are doing serious computing, stick with a mid-range processor. You'll get more bang for the buck.
Apple's latest laptop, the MacBook Pro, uses an Intel-based processor. This is the fastest Mac-based laptop yet. But you'll pay for the elegance and speed. Prices range from $2,000 to $2,800.
2. Display. This is the one category most consumers ignore. Don't make that mistake.
Laptops have screen sizes ranging from 12 to 19 inches. A smaller screen is OK if you won't be using the laptop extensively. However, you'll appreciate a larger (read: more expensive) screen if you use the laptop regularly.
Compare screens in the store. Your eyes will thank you later.
3. Memory and Video. Look for models with 1 gigabyte of RAM. Upgrading RAM on some laptops is a hassle.
Unless you are using your computer solely for business, get a dedicated video card. A card with 128MB is usually sufficient. Serious gamers should double that.
4. Drives and weight. Laptop hard drives come in different speeds and sizes. Most rotate at 5,400- or 7,200-revolutions per minute. A faster hard drive is better, but it also drains the battery. Lighter, thinner laptops use slower hard drives.
A 60GB hard drive should be fine for most uses. However, a student who will be storing video, photos and music may want 100GB or more.
Weight is important. Will you be carrying the laptop to work everyday? It may not sound like a lot, but a 10-pound notebook with an additional 10-pounds of accessories can be a literal pain in the neck.
However, you'll pay more for a light laptop. It's not cheap cramming a lot of power into a tiny machine.