From the Kenosha News on 3-25-07

Understand ads to get the right laptop

     If you’re in the market for a new laptop, take some time to read and understand the advertisements to make an informed decision.  To select the right laptop for you, consider the following items in addition to price and any brand preferences you might have: 

  • Processor type and speed
  • Screen resolution and size
  • Amount of RAM and hard drive space
  • Type of optical drive
  • Wireless options
  • Battery
  • Operating system
  • Warranty, size and weight

     Currently, the most common processors are from Intel and AMD; I have no specific preference but lean toward Intel.  For a helpful comparison of the Intel options, check out http://kb.wisc.edu/showroom/page.php?id=4927.  Both the Intel Centrino and AMD Turion are specifically designed for laptops and consume less power.   The most cutting edge are the Dual Core processors which facilitate multi-tasking (running multiple programs at once.)  Note that common speeds for laptop processors are 1.6 GHz to 2 GHz, whereas desktop processors more often clock in around 3 GHz.  If you’re concerned about speed, putting your money toward additional RAM will be more beneficial than getting a faster processor.

     Many newer laptops sport “wide screen” displays – with the same 16:9 aspect ratio as wide screen TVs.  If you’ll be watching DVDs or just want a little wider screen, this is a good option.  Screen resolutions are denoted with abbreviations like XGA, SXGA, and WXGA.  This web site will help you decode them: http://www.gen-x-pc.com/lcd3.htm.  The higher the numbers, the higher the resolution, and the sharper the image on the screen.

     The amount of RAM needed will largely depend on the operating system you run, what programs you use, etc.  If you’re getting a machine with Windows Vista, get at least 1GB of RAM.  If you plan to use media applications, like video or digital photo editing, get at least 2GB.  Hard drive space should be less of an issue unless you plan to store video or tons of audio files or digital pictures.  Typical laptop drive sizes run from 60GB to 120GB.  If you’re getting Vista, consider at least 100GB.  For optical drives, a DVD/RW is highly recommended; you may not be creating movies, but you may want to save data to a DVD, which holds 4.2GB whereas a CD only holds 700MB.  I also strongly recommend integrated WiFi capability; get Bluetooth if you don’t need to pay much extra for it.  The more cells in a battery, the longer it will run before needing to be charged, but a bigger battery is also heavier. 

     Getting Windows Vista is a good idea so you don’t have to upgrade later.  However, if you have software you NEED to run, check if it’s compatible.  For example, there is no version of Print Shop that runs on Vista.  Also check your printer compatibility.  The Microsoft web site http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/editions/ compares the different versions of Vista.  Home Premium is probably the best choice for most home users.

     Look for a 3-year warranty.  If the standard warranty is one year, ask if the manufacturer offers an upgrade; I do not recommend re-seller extended warranties.

     Finally, consider the weight and size of the laptop.  If you travel, consider a lighter unit that sits neatly on your airline tray table.

by Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 3-25-07