THE march of computers - laptops in particular - gives a clear indication of what a marvel technology can be.
Whether you are looking for a replacement for a desk computer, a high-end powerhouse for gaming or a cheap and capable laptop, the choices are varied and can be confusing so make sure you do your homework before you walk into a store.
Consider your needs, think about memory, battery life and screen size. Think about performance and price, whether you want a hybrid or a touchscreen and how important portability is to you.
You also need to consider the following specifics:
Ultraportables (28-36cm) like the MacBook Air and Intel's ultrabooks usually cost between $700 and $3000 and are good for everyday tasks. They have genuine portability, good performance and a reasonable battery life.
Mid-size laptops (from 40cm) can include budget options less than $1000 or powerful gaming variants which can cost four times that much.
They usually have a number of ports, a built-in DVD or Blu-ray drive and a dedicated graphics card.
Desktop replacement laptops (40.6cm-47cm) are not really portable. They can weigh as much as 6kg and tend to have a shortish battery life. They start about $1400 and have the power and punch for a variety of applications.
Hybrids are new on the scene and are laptops which transform into touchscreen tablets by removing, rotating or folding back the screen. Some even have two screens.
Here, your choice is often between a twisted nematic screen and one with in-plane switching.
The latter offers better colour and viewing angles.
Also look at resolution - what's good for a 28cm laptop is not necessarily the best choice for a 40cm one.
Apple's Retina displays are the best in the business.
If you are buying a Windows 8 laptop you will have to opt for a touchscreen to get the best out of your machine.
It makes sense to invest in enough RAM to suit your needs or you risk getting frustrated by your system's poor performance.
Of course you will need significantly more RAM if you intend gaming or doing video editing.
It is best to buy more RAM than you need because, while it can be added after purchase of the laptop, the memory sockets may not be easily accessible.
Generally you should buy the fastest CPU you can afford.
A dual-core processor is entry level and is sufficient for everyday use.
Those of you into gaming or making use of 3D applications and video-encoding applications would do better with triple-core and quad-core processors.
Test these out before you buy to make sure the one you choose is the right fit for your fingers.
The smaller the laptop the smaller the keyboard so pay particular attention to where the keys are and how far they depress when you type.
Also make sure you test the touchpad for responsiveness.
You want at least two USB ports although the more the better.
Laptops that are very thin usually drop the Ethernet port, which means you will be totally dependent on wi-fi.
If you need reliable fast speed make sure your laptop has an Ethernet port.
The whole point of a laptop is that they are portable, so there is no sense in wasting money on a device that cannot be without mains power for any length of time.
Remember that while your computer may have a two- or three-year warranty, the battery is generally covered for just 12 months.
Batteries have a mAh rating between 2000mAh and 4000mAh and the higher the better.
Don't look at drives less than 256GB, and if you intend using your machine to store photos, videos and songs you will need one a lot bigger than that.
You also have the option of a Solid State Drive or a mechanical Hard Disc Drive.
The former is smaller, quieter and uses less energy but comes in lower capacities.
The drives also have no moving parts and are more likely to survive a fall. HDDs are all about capacity.
Look for a rotational speed of 7200rpm instead of 5400rpm.
How much memory is enough?
- 512MB-1GB: generally fine if you're running a Linux variant on something small like a netbook, but really, this is far too little for today's uses. Web browsing will likely suffer, as will modern apps and operating systems.
- 2GB: absolute entry level. This will be fine for office work and basic internet browsing, but you may find things occasionally slow down.
- 4GB: where everybody should start, and is a nice balance for 3D gaming, graphics work and video editing.
- 8GB or more: Recommended! This should ensure that you'll tackle all tasks just fine.
Keep in mind that for 4GB RAM or more, you'll need to run a 64-bit operating system to take advantage of all the memory - a 32-bit one won't be able to access it all.
Since Windows comes as separate 32- and 64-bit editions, make sure you're getting the right one if you intend to run Microsoft's operating system.
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