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Sunday, February 28, 2010

How To Choose A Laptop?

Im sure many of us want to know how to choose a suitable laptop before we buy it. First, ask a question . "What are we gonna be using the laptop for?" If the answer is simply like this "For some normal stuff, like surfing the web, a little word processing and spreadsheet work, maybe some minor photo touchup, emails, some multimedia and you know, all that sort of stuff.", so these are the answer. Its maybe long, but you better read it and i can assure when you finish read this article, you will get the idea to choose a good laptop.

Nowadays there are simply lots of different notebooks that can do all "that sort of stuff". So how do you go about narrowing down your choices? Off course, if you are going for a particular kind of looks and style then basically you have narrowed it down a lot.

But style aside, here is what I think you need to have in a modern notebook to do all "that kind of normal stuff":
  1. At least 2 USB ports: One to plug in your mouse and another for whatever other gadget you want to connect to like maybe a portable flash drive for example. I am not a touchpad or touchstick kind of person and I like a mouse for extended work and surfing the web. I don't want to need to unplug the mouse each time I need to access something on my flash drive.

  2. SD card reader: You want to get this built in, especially if you also have a digital camera and want to always download pictures from it. Make sure your reader reads the newer SDHC cards too. Off course you can get an external reader too - but having one built in is very convenient. No fun having to lug accessories around if you don't have to.

  3. A Large 160 gigabytes or more hard disk: You know what they say, your stuff will grow to accomodate the space you have. Better start with a large one to begin with. Soon you will be filling it up with your music, movies, photos and you will be wondering where all that space went.

  4. 2 Gigabytes of RAM minimum: This should be minimum these days, especially if you're going to run Windows Vista. Too little memory and your system will slow to a crawl. It also would be good to check if you could upgrade to more memory in the future without throwing away your old RAM. RAM and hard disk space - you will never get enough of either.

  5. Video RAM: These are memory used for displaying graphics on screen. Go for at least 256MB and make sure that these are dedicated video memory and not shared with the main notebook RAM. If you are into games and graphic intensive stuff, get one with more Video RAM. Good to check on the packages of the software and games that you intent to use and see their requirements on Video RAM.

  6. DVD9 capable DVD-Writer: You should also go for one which will read the latest blue-ray disk. DVDs are currently these are the most convenient way to archive away large amount of data. Make sure you get quality discs if your data is critical.

  7. LAN and Wifi Connectivity: These are the 2 methods you can hook up your computer to the internet. Try to get one with a 1G LAN if you can and as for WiFi get the 54Mbps variety at least (a/b/g standard) with backward compatibility to older 11Mbps standards. In my opinion, built in Wifi is a must have. Even if you don't travel, you probably want to do your computing around the house without worrying about a LAN port availability.

  8. Bluetooth: A must have these days as this allow you to connect wirelessly to your cameras, handphones, headsets and also mouse nowadays. Go for the Bluetooth 2.0 or later standards. A bluetooth hardware is only as good as it's software drivers. As a basic set, the software should include profiles for headsets,stereo headsets (AVRCP), Serial Port, File Transfer, Printer, Human Interface Device and Network Access. These 'profiles' are the software protocols that allows your bluetooth hardware to communicate with various class of devices.

  9. Modem with Voice: In a pinch you still want to be able to dial into the internet via the 'ole phone jack. Also it is convenient to be able to dial up your contacts with a click of a button. With the right software, this will allow you to send and receive faxes too - paperlessly.

  10. Firewire port: These are a little faster than USB and some select peripherals use them. Good to have in my opinion but not critical.

  11. PCMCIA cardbus slots: Must have at least one. That is the only way if in the future you need to add another 'built in' function to your notebook. Go for one with the ExpressCard standard

Usability and Ergonomics

Also important in your consideration, is the usability and ergonomics of the notebook that you are considering. Most people got too engrossed with the 'specs' and forgot about usability. When you are looking at the notebook that you are considering, think about:
  1. Size and weight of the notebook. Do you prefer the full size type or a lighter sub-notebook type would be more your style. Keep in mind that in general battery life won't be as good in a smaller notebook. In my opinion, unless you always want to be plugged into the wall all the time, your battery should last for at least 2 hours or more. Be careful when judging the size and weight of the notebook. Things then to get heavier if you carry them for a distance. Also if you plan to use the laptop on your lap, then the lighter the better.

  2. Type of LCD screen. There are two types in general - the clear glossy type or the normal matte type. The clear type is good if you watch a lot of movies and want to do presentation to a wider audience. But they can be glaring if ambient light is reflected off them. I prefer the normal type for working as they are easy on my eyes, but you probably want to look at both before deciding. Set the screen to it's brightest setting and see if that is bright enough for your liking. Good to check this in shops with bright lights. Also consider screen resolution and aspect ratio (widescreen or regular).

  3. Keyboard: This is the main input device of your system and you will be hitting on the keys a lot. You want to check out the keyboard's tactile and feel and see whether it suits your typing style. The keys shouldn't be too small if you intend to type for a long time. Make sure the key presses are not too 'hard' and all the keys pressed down with about the same pressure. It is irritating to type, for example, when the 'shift' keys are hard to press down.

  4. Wrist warmer syndrome: this is a definite no no in my book. Check if the keyboard and the wrist rest area (where you would typically put your wrist when typing) gets too warm after prolonged usage. One way to check for this to go to a shop where they have working displays of the model that you want to purchase. As a rough guideline, check the location of the hard disk drive of the notebook. If the hard disk is located near or beneath the wrist area, then you are more likely to get a 'wrist warmer' sympton.

  5. Speakers is next or particularly, how loud are the speakers. Some laptops tend to have low volume on speakers and if you are going to play some games or movies on it, this is going to be not fun. Bring some typical 'soft' mp3 files in a thumbdrive and play them in the notebook. Crank up the volume to the max and see if they are loud enough for you.

  6. External mic and headphones jacks. This is a must have. Also check their location on the notebook. I like them on the side nearer to me because it is then easier to plug in a headphone when needed instead of looking behind the notebook for the jack. External mic is required if you want more sensitive (or quality) recordings or if you intend to use VoIP telephony with a specialized headset.

  7. USB Sockets on the sides are better than at the back in my opinion. Easier to reach when you are plugging in your mouse, thumb drive and other stuff.

  8. 3 button touchpad. Applications now do make use of the middle button of the mouse now, like Firefox for example allows you to open a new browser tab with a click of the middle button. Check the feel of the touchpad make sure that your finger are comfortable to glide on them. If you are the type that sweats on your fingers, then maybe you want to put a protector on the pad or just use a mouse.

  9. Ventilation and heat: Nowadays notebooks are getting a wee bit hot for my liking. Look around the notebook and check out there the air intake and exhaust are. If you are planning on using your laptop on your lap, make sure that the position of the air intakes (usually at the bottom of the notebook) are not likely to be covered by your pants or skirt/blouse. However for long term use on uneven and soft surfaces (like bed or sofa for example) then getting one of those USB powered laptop coolers may be worth it.
In the final decision, you will have to come to terms with the budget at hand and the features that you really need and those that you can do without. Hopefully this guide will point you in the correct direction in coming to that decision.

All this may sound kinda daunting, but if you look at your purchases carefully from these angles, you are more likely to end up with a laptop that you'd actually enjoy using.

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