Shopping for Different Types of Laptops
When you first decide to get a laptop, you should consider the kinds of tasks that you'll frequently perform on the computer. Then you are ready to find out what laptop, components and peripherals you need to make that happen.
This guide will cover laptops in the following categories:
- Business laptops
- Gaming laptops
- Multimedia laptops
- Basic laptops for email and internet
For more information on what features to look for when buying a laptop, see the Laptop Buying Guide.
If you are looking for a business model laptop you may find that the basic models are quite adequate. You will want to make sure that the laptop you buy is capable of handling all your business needs.
What to Consider
|Processor Speed||For business class laptops you should have a processor that is fast and capable of multitasking. This would include the current Intel dual core processors; the Core 2 Duo, Pentium D and Celeron D. It also includes the AMD AM2 processors. Speed is not as relevant as it used to be, especially for the business class. The processing power of current processors is determined by much more than just how many cycles per second it sends and receives data.|
|Memory||With today's power hungry operating systems and programs, the more memory you have the better. Suggested minimum memory would be 1GB with 2GB being strongly recommended.|
|Screen Size and Resolution||Business class laptops usually have 15-17 inch screens but if you need to use the laptop for presentations you may want to go with 17 inch or larger. Be aware that this will also increase the weight considerably. Another option would be to connect an external projector for presentations so you can keep the laptop small and easy to transport.|
|Storage||A good business class laptop should have a hard drive big enough to store all your word documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as any other pertinent information you need to store. The size depends on how much you need to store but a good starting point would be between 60 and 80GB.|
You also want to have the capability of backing up your data so you would want to make sure to have a DVD or CD burner. It is also a good idea to have a built-in memory card reader for quick backups to SD or Compact Flash memory. Memory cards are easy to transport because they are small but they are easy to lose and don't have very good security.
|Connectivity and Networking||Business laptops should at least have onboard Ethernet and wireless networking capabilities. It is also a good idea to have Bluetooth and maybe infrared as well for connecting to wireless devices.|
|Peripherals||Depending on the work you do with your laptop you may want external devices such as a portable printer or a handheld scanner. You may also feel more comfortable working with a real mouse instead of the touchpad. One thing many people find that they need with a business class laptop is an extra battery for extended time out of the office.|
|PC or Mac||This is really a preference call for the user. Both PC and Mac laptops are formidable business machines. If your company uses the PC format it would be best to follow suit and the same with the Mac.|
|Weight||You also need to consider the weight of the laptop because if you're going to be lugging this machine around all day, you want it to be as light as possible. The real trick is to find the lightest laptop with the longest battery life and not lack on the features you need for business.|
|Battery Life||One of the most important features of a good business class laptop is battery life. The laptop should have a battery capable of running four hours or more without being plugged into an outlet. The longer the battery life, the longer you can work on the road.|
Gamers are most concerned with performance, graphics and sound. The ideal gamer's laptop is fast and powerful with a large high resolution screen. It must have a powerful graphics processor and good sound. Gaming laptops are usually more expensive than others because they are the most powerful and, as far as hardware is concerned, fully loaded.
What to Consider
|Processor Speed||Gaming is one of the most processor intensive tasks for your laptop so the more powerful the processor the better it is for gaming. Gamers know that there is no substitute for a beefy desktop gaming system; but when you are not at home it is nice to have a system that can handle the games you love to play. For a business laptop any dual core processor over 1.6 GHz will suffice for everything you need in daily work environments. For gaming or video processing you may want to start looking at about 2.2 GHz or more.|
|Memory||Gaming laptops should have no less than 2GB of memory. If you are running a 64-bit operating system I would recommend 4GB. The more memory you have the better your laptop will run games and multitask.|
|Screen Size and Resolution||Gamers usually like large screens on a laptop; the bigger the screen and the higher the resolution, the better for gaming. This will make for a heavier laptop but most gamers are more concerned with the video experience than the weight of the computer.|
|Storage||Any laptop these days should have no less than 80GB and that is a fair amount for installing games. However, if you want to do other things with the laptop (like download music, movies and photos) you may want a larger hard drive to store these things. I would recommend no less than 160GB.|
|Connectivity and Networking||Gaming laptops usually need built-in Ethernet (RJ45) and/or wireless networking to connect to other computers and the Internet for multiplayer games. You can also connect to one other computer using FireWire (1394A) with a cable run between the two computers.|
|Peripherals||A good gaming system must have a decent game pad and a flight stick for flying games. Most first person shooters are played with the keyboard and mouse but other games may be easier to play with a game pad.|
Other peripherals you may need to consider are; a wireless router for connecting everyone to play, an access point for connecting wireless to a wired network, a CD case for carrying game CDs and DVDs. It also doesn't hurt to carry around a couple extra Ethernet cables as well.
|PC or Mac||For gaming there is no comparison, the PC wins hands down. There are more games, more choices of hardware and more compatible gaming hardware available for the PC than there is for the Mac.|
With that said, a high end Mac laptop can handle gaming just as well as any high end PC and there are game pads and joystick flight controllers available for the Mac, so if you really like Mac there is no reason you can't play games with one.
|Weight||Most gamers are not concerned with the weight of the laptop as long as it pulls its weight during a frag session. Most gaming laptops are larger by design and weigh much more than a business class laptop. Graphics and display are the most important so a large screen usually translates to a big and heavy laptop.|
|Video Card||A good gaming laptop should have no less than a good graphics chip with at least 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 texture memory. Low cost laptops share the RAM with the graphics chip and most of them cannot play high end 3D games. Two good graphics chips for gaming to look for are the GeForce 8600m GT from NVidia and the Mobility Radeon X1400 from ATI.|
If you are looking for a laptop to perform multimedia tasks like record TV, play movies, organize and play music, etc� then you may also want to check for the proper connectivity for the devices you will be using with it. For example, if you want to plug your laptop into your 52" high definition TV, make sure you have an HDMI port on the laptop, or a composite video out.
If you want to record live TV, make sure the laptop has a video in ports so you can connect the TV signal. Multimedia machines do not always offer these features on lower priced models so make sure to check. Multimedia laptops also need to have a decent amount of memory in them; I would recommend no less than 1GB. Multimedia computers usually have a DVD burner and a good high definition widescreen display as well for watching movies and videos.
What to Consider
|Processor Speed||Multimedia laptops also require a powerful processor for decoding compressed video and audio. Recording also requires a hefty processor. You should probably consider dual core processors over 2.0GHz.|
|Memory||Memory is another important part of a multimedia machine and as with any computer; more is better. I would recommend at least 1.5GB or more of RAM for a solid multimedia laptop.|
|Screen Size and Resolution||It not as much fun to watch video on a 14 inch screen as it is on a 17 inch. The screen size is a preference call of the user, but most multimedia enthusiasts like larger screens. Just keep in mind that a larger screen increases the size and weight of the whole laptop.|
|Storage||Storing music and movies takes a lot of space so having a large hard drive would be a very good idea. I would recommend at least 200GB for a multimedia laptop.|
You also may want a built-in card reader so you can play music and video from memory cards as well as import photos from digital cameras.
|Connectivity and Networking||You need to have Internet access so you should have Ethernet (RJ45) and wireless networking so you can connect at home and abroad. You may also want to have FireWire (1394a) for downloading video from you camcorder and USB 2.0 for flash drives and external peripherals.|
Optionally, if you want to send the laptop video out to an HDTV you will need one with HDMI out or DVI out and a DVI to HDMI adapter to connect it to the TV.
|Peripherals||Multimedia means many types of media so you may have to get an external card reader to read the many types of memory cards available. USB flash drives are also a popular peripheral, especially for toting around media files.|
|PC or Mac||Again, this is totally a preference call of the user. Both systems make excellent media machines and most types of media files are compatible with both systems. Either one is a fine choice. However, if you are into video editing and movie making you may be more interested in the Mac for its award winning software in this department.|
|Weight||Most people who want a multimedia laptop are looking to have their music and movies on the go. They also like to watch their movies on a large screen. The problem is; with a large screen comes size and weight. As long as you keep that in mind, you can get the screen size you want and keep the weight down to a manageable amount.|
|Battery Life||A large battery in a good gaming or multimedia laptop should allow for 4 to 6 hours of continuous play. Most gamers will use their laptop in a place where it will be running off AC power but movies and music are usually played more away from home on a laptop so the extra life battery is a must.|
Basic Laptops for Email and Internet
If you just need a laptop to read email and surf the web you may be perfectly happy with a basic model laptop. All laptops can be used to browse the web and send or receive email, but keep in mind that it's harder to upgrade a laptop and some things like video card and screen cannot be upgraded.
Unlike desktop computers, laptops have most of their components (like video and sound processors) soldered directly to the motherboard and they can only be upgraded by certified repair technicians without voiding any warranty. Some components can be upgraded, such as memory and hard drive, but even these can be difficult upgrades on a laptop depending on the design of the computer.
What to Consider
|Processor Speed||If your sole purpose in getting a laptop is to browse the web and send email, you do not need a powerhouse processor. In fact, you can get the lowest priced and slowest processor available and the computer will still be plenty fast enough for these tasks.|
However, I would recommend that you plan for the future in case you decide to do more with the laptop later on. I would recommend no less than a 1.4GHz processor for any modern laptop.
|Memory||You can easily make do with 512MB with Windows XP or just about any Mac but for Windows Vista I would recommend at least 1GB or memory.|
|Screen Size and Resolution||Screen size is only as important as the user's preference. Larger screens make it easier to read email and browse web pages but if you prefer a small screen it is of no consequence.|
|Storage||Basic laptops have just enough storage for you to save your documents and maybe a small amount of photos and music. The hard drive in a low end model laptop is usually between 30 and 60GB. If you think you may need more storage you should make sure to get a CD or DVD burner to store files off of the hard drive. A USB flash drive would be a good idea also.|
|Connectivity and Networking||Basic connectivity for Internet and networking can be expected such as a simple modem (RJ11), Ethernet port (RJ45) and possibly wireless networking.|
|Peripherals||Base model laptops often need more than they come with especially if the user decides later to do more than just read email and browse the web. Many peripherals may be needed as the user grows with the laptop. External drives, external USB hub, external card reader, external mouse, external speakers are all possible needed peripherals for a base model laptop.|
|PC or Mac||Again, this is a preference call of the user. Either type of laptop will make an excellent Internet computer.|
|Weight||Base model laptops are usually pretty light and that is to be expected with smaller screens and less hardware inside. A base model Internet laptop will weigh in the neighborhood of about 6 lbs. That is, with the exception of the MacBook Air which weighs in at an astonishing 3 lbs.|
|Battery Life||The average battery life in base model laptop is going to be 2-4 hours depending on what you do with the laptop. Playing DVDs or CDs will drain the battery faster but you can usually order a larger battery from the manufacturer.|