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Laptop Computers

Laptop computers, once a toy reserved only for wealthy businesspeople on the go, have become major players on the computer market. Laptops are especially popular with students, but many people value them for the freedom they grant from the desk  and working indoors. Laptops are much more powerful than they were just a few years ago; for many people, a laptop is the only computer necessary at home. Although the constraints of the physical space of a laptop can limit the amount you can customize it, there are still plenty of different combinations to choose between.

The latest notebooks are sleek, light and powerful machines that offer high performance on par with desktop computers. Newer laptops are marketed as desktop replacements. Built-in Wi-Fi offers greater mobility and allows you to fully experience the joys of owning a portable, self-contained system. Set up a home wireless network  and your laptop stays connected to the Internet as you move from the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom. Shop for clothes on-line from the comfort of your couch, bring the digital photo album into the dining room after a big family dinner, or talk to your sister on a video conference while you prepare supper -- the possibilities are endless!

Featured Laptop

Minibook Ultra-Portable Laptop
Minibook Ultra-Portable Laptop

The Minibook Ultra-Portable Laptop  boasts durability, mobility, and enhanced functionality at an unmatchable price!

Get the Best

The best approach is to concentrate on your needs and not get bogged down by the details. Make a list of features that are critical to your everyday needs and any foreseeable future needs.

  • General Productivity -- Email, Web, Word Processing
    • Look for budget models.
    • Get something small and lightweight that you can bring with you wherever you feel like using the computer.
  • Students -- Web, Email, Word Processing, Photos, Music, Film, Games
    • You need a well-rounded machine that can offer a little bit of everything.
    • Look for a big hard drive to store all your music and photos.
    • Find something small enough to bring with you to class or to tote to the library. A 17" screen might be gorgeous but will it fit in your backpack?
    • Wi-Fi is a must-have. University campuses are setting up wireless networks at a furious pace -- you don't want to be the only one still tethered to your desk by a cord!
  • Business Use -- Web, Microsoft Office, Email Suite
    • Wireless networking is essential.
    • Portability is key, so look for a notebook with a good battery life and lightweight design.
    • Don't worry about extra programs and applications. You want the basics and something with speed. Just make sure you have all the business tools you'll need.
    • Look for a flicker-free, high quality LCD screen to reduce eye strain.
  • Multimedia Use -- Photos, Music, Film
    • You should find the biggest hard drive possible.
    • Look for a larger sized screen.
    • Invest in some great external speakers to improve the experience.
    • If a home media centre is your goal, you would probably be better off with a dedicated, non-mobile computer as the primary machine. A media system requires a lot of wires and hard disk space; why tote so much extra weight? If DVDs on the go are the only important features, consider a portable DVD player  as well.
  • Gaming -- Games, Games, Games
    • You want speed, speed, and more speed.
    • Pay attention to processors and RAM.
    • Top-notch graphics cards are key.

Mac or PC?

The first major decision to make when purchasing a laptop is what type of computer is best for you; a Mac or PC.  If you are unsure which would be a better fit for you, consult the table below.  Keep in mind that productivity software, like Microsoft Office , is available for both platforms.


Macintosh Laptop

PC (Windows-Based) Laptop
  • Superior media processing (graphic design, video editing.. etc.)
  • Intuitive for first-time computer owners
  • Superior display (screen) technology
  • Stream content to external devices easily
  • Designed for maximum portability
  • Proprietary accessories
  • Less susceptible to viruses
  • Easy to trouble-shoot
  • iPod friendly
  • Repairs/service made by Apple only
  • Better speed/cost ratio
  • Gaming console integration (Xbox360)
  • More stable under heavy tasking (running multiple programs)
  • Faster systems are more cumbersome when considering mobility
  • Third party input device support
  • More software/driver support
  • Advanced configuration options/settings
  • Better battery life
  • More repair resources

Features to Consider

Weight and Portability

Some level of portability is important to you if you are considering getting a laptop, but ask yourself: does your laptop really need to tag along with you everywhere? If you are a road warrior, you want something lightweight and slim, but if you only carry it around occasionally, look for a laptop that works as hard as a desktop, since performance might be more worthwhile to you than portability.

  • SIZE -- The size of a laptop is given as the length of the diagonal of the screen. Laptop displays range from 8" to 17".
    • 8"-12" laptops are better suited for travelling.
    • 14"-17" is a good size for a desktop replacement.
  • WEIGHT -- Generally, a smaller display correlates with a lighter weight, but this isn't always the case. Check the specs of the specific model to be sure.
    • 2 lbs - 4 lbs. -- ideal weight for the travelling laptop.
    • 4 lbs - 9 lbs. -- majority of the desktop replacement notebooks weigh more since they pack the performance punch of faster chipsets, larger hard drives and super sized RAM.
    • Keep in mind that the weight of the laptop itself is not the only weight you carry. Power cords, travel mice, extra batteries and external drives can weigh down even the most svelte notebook computer.

Hard Drive Size

  • Music, video games, videos, and photos take up lots of space. If you want to be able to tote all your photos and music invest in a larger internal hard drive.
  • If you only need to travel with essential documents then you can get a slimmer computer with a smaller drive and keep a large external drive at home for extra storage and backup.
  • Even the smallest laptops ship with a minimum of around 40 to 60 GB of memory, which can accommodate most of the media on your computer.

RAM

RAM (along with the CPU) is where the true speed of your computer lies.  Although large hard drives will allow you to store whatever you may stumble across, more RAM will allow your computer to run as fast as possible when you access media or perform disk maintenance.

  • Large amounts of RAM are also important if you use a number of applications simultaneously.
    • Windows Vista , the latest operating system shipped on new PC's, should have 1GB of RAM at its disposal.
      • The minimum requirements specify 512MB of RAM, but many find this inadequate.
    • Many internet security suites are notorious for using large amounts of RAM, which if not accounted for can seriously slow down your computer.
  • RAM in a laptop can be upgraded after purchase if you have the know-how, but many manufacturers offer RAM upgrades that are installed prior to shipping.

Chip Speed (CPU)

  • This is the measure of how quickly the CPU (central processing unit, aka the microprocessor) runs; sometimes referred to as clocking speed. Measured in Gigahertz (GHz).
    • The speed of the CPU is how fast the CPU can access and process information, which translates to how fast you can work on your computer.
  • The CPU is like the brain of the computer. If you want the machine to think quickly, you need to have a fast processor / clocking speed.

Number of Ports


USB Hub

  • Your needs really depend on how many external devices you will be running of your laptop.
  • Devices that will need ports are printers ,digital cameras ,MP3 Players ,scanners ,PDAs ,mice ,keyboards  and monitors .
  • Useful ports include: USB, FireWire, serial, PS/2, a headphone/speaker jack, a PC slot (especially if you plan to use a wireless Internet card) and Ethernet jack.
  • Certain types of ports, such as USB, can be expanded by the use of a hub.
    • A USB hub can support up to 127 devices. You probably will not need that many USB ports.
  • Also keep in mind that you may not need to run all of your devices at once; you might not need to connect to your printer, your camera, your mp3 player and your scanner all at the same time!

WiFi/Bluetooth

  • Wi-Fi hotspots are multiplying rapidly across the United States. To improve the life cycle and value of your laptop it makes sense to invest in a notebook that comes with built in Wi-Fi capabilities.
  • If your notebook does not have a built-in wireless card, make sure it has the correct PC card slot to support an external wireless card. This will give you the option to add a wireless card in the future if you opt not to get one right away.
  • Especially handy for students and travellers -- many campuses, airports, and hotels are adding wireless Internet access to common areas.
  • Bluetooth  is a great feature to have built in to your laptop. It is becoming more and more common these days as Bluetooth devices are flooding the market.
    • Wireless devices with Bluetooth can easily be paired to transfer data or pictures between devices.
    • Many wireless mice and keyboards are now Bluetooth enabled allowing a direct connection with your computer without the use of a port.
    • Bluetooth headphones are becoming more popular for listening to music with no wire constraints.

CD/DVD Drive

  • Increasingly the traditional CD-ROM drives are being replaced by CD/DVD-R/RW drives, which give you the ability to burn CDs and DVDs, as well as read/play them.
  • The most important thing to think about is the drive speed, which is measured as 8x, 16x, 32x, etc. The higher it is the faster it will transfer your files from your computer to blank media or transfer files from media to your computer.
    • Divide the playing time by the drive speed for an approximation of the time it takes to burn a disc.
    • A 24x drive can burn an 80 minute music CD in a little over three minutes -- it takes a 4x drive about 20 minutes to do the same.
  • You probably won't need a floppy drive, since almost no one uses them any more.
    • If you need to transport small files, you might want to look into a flash drive  instead.
  • Some ultra-light notebooks only have external CD drives to keep their weight down. This option is not for everyone.
    • If you think you will frequently need a disc drive, say for watching movies on the go, you are better off with an internal drive rather than having to lug more equipment.
    • In the long run, an external drive will be less convenient and weigh more than you think.
  • Drives that mention dual-layer or double-layer ability have the capacity to access two separate layers on the DVD, which doubles the storage capacity of the disk to about 8.5 GB.
  • Drives that can play and record DVDs are more expensive than drives that can only read and burn CDs.

Battery Life

  • The majority of the laptop battery is used by the processor, the screen, wireless networking cards, drives such as the hard drive, CD-ROM and DVD-ROM, and other peripherals.
  • Most models claim to provide up to 6 hours of wireless productivity.
    • Realize that most provide around half that time or less as the battery begins to age.
    • If you seldom unplug your laptop for battery use, remove the battery. Laptop batteries, like cell phone batteries decrease in performance if constantly placed on charge.
      • This will significantly improve the battery life of your laptop. (Don't forget to put the battery back in when you bring the laptop on-the-go!)
    • Most laptop batteries are lithium-ion cell (aka. Li-ion), which holds roughly twice the capacity of the older nickel-cadmium battery.
  • If you know that you'll be on the go without an electrical outlet, look for a model that has excellent battery life and lots of power-saving options.
    • Keep in mind that certain activities, like watching a DVD, eat up a lot of battery life.
  • Many companies sell spare batteries for their laptops. If you travel a lot or plan to watch a lot of personal in-flight movies, you should buy one.

Warranty

  • Laptop warranties can be tricky. Always read and re-read the fine print. Understand before you buy what kind of repair services you are entitled to under the warranty.
  • The majority of laptop warranties cover hardware problems, such as defective keyboards, monitor problems and issues with internal components not resulting from owner misuse.
  • The laptop warranty generally covers the parts and labor for repairs.
  • Be careful, as opening the case or breaking a seal can lead to void a warranty. Also, the warranty doesn't cover theft, damage or breakage caused by the owner.
  • Most warranties have 1 year terms with the option to extend available for additional fees. It is always a good idea to purchase an extended warranty at the time of purchase from the vendor.

Major Manufacturers

Related Products

Travel Mouse 

Wireless Cards 

Laptop Bags and Cases 

Laptop Batteries 

Headphones