Ever been in the situation where you’re out to get a laptop, and when you finally come across a selection of laptops with their configurations display you just didn’t know what to make out of them? Fear not, in this guide I will reveal a few simple things which will make understanding those scary specs a lot easier.
First of all, you have to ask yourself what the purpose of your soon to be laptop is. Is it an everyday use laptop, used to write papers and just carry it around to surf the web… something like a laptop a student would require? Will it be the business machine where you keep all your sensitive information such as client names and contact information? Perhaps you like computer games a lot and decide to buy a laptop configured to run these new high demanding games. Or, maybe you just want to own a new entertainment and media portable device to satisfy your daily multimedia desires.
Each of these types of laptops has different specs to them, but since you know what you’ll be using it for, here are a few basic steps to understanding what specifications work and where they are needed.
Central Processing Unit (a.k.a. CPU a.k.a. processor)
Perhaps one of the most important spec of all in a laptop is its CPU. This is the heart of the laptop where all the calculations are being done. There are several types of processors out there, in almost every price range you might think of. If you are new to hardware, you should look for something like 2 – 3 GHz in a laptop if it will be destined for everyday use (basic office tasks including Microsoft Office Suite, browsing the web, watching videos online or maybe chatting with friends). A decent single core CPU could probably handle such basic tasks flawlessly. If, however, you wish to multitask, and open up several applications to work with, then a single core processor might not handle such loads perfectly. Instead, look for the ones which say they’re dual core or even quad-core configuration laptops. A laptop with a quad core configuration can go pretty high regarding the price tag, so make sure you fully understand the use of your laptop beforehand.
Newer lines of processors have the Hyper Thread technology built into them, where a single core is seen as two cores by the operating system, capable of handling two tasks at the same time per core. These can be quite useful if you know you’re going to throw a heap of applications at it and expect the laptop to run perfectly. Such a configuration can be used in machines destined for graphic design, where usually 3-4 applications are being run simultaneously. It would also be handy when looking for the best gaming laptop or your new multimedia laptop if you want to experience the peak of performance and visual quality in your media crunching endeavors.
Random Access Memory (a.k.a. RAM or system RAM)
Along with the processor, the overall value of the system RAM is a very important parameter to watch for in your laptop. Think of it this way: RAM is your systems memory, the place where your operating system and all your installed applications are being run. It’s fast because every little bit of information can be addressed directly, unlike the hard drive which requires the disk head to run over a place on the disk where the information is stored. RAM is the canvas of your computer system, a place where you can get the full picture of what’s being run at the present time (using the same association, one could say that the hard drive is like a cassette, where if you want to hear a certain lyric, you have to fast forward to that location).
That’s about enough of the free association thing. Going back to the spec itself, system RAM is something you want to have plenty of. The more RAM in a computer, the better it will run. If you’re a newbie and just want a laptop that can do basic tasks, then about 1GB of RAM should be enough to run basic applications without any problems (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, music player and even watch movies). However, if you demand more from your laptop and intend to use it like a powerhouse, your minimum aim should start at about 2GB. Up to 4GB of RAM is a good start in any graphic design computer or even a decent gaming laptop. For business laptops which could use complex applications, a good start would be in the 2-3 GB range to ensure everything runs smooth.
Just remember never to neglect this spec, since it could mean your system will be running slow if there’s not enough RAM to it.
Hard Disk Drive (a.k.a. Hard Drive or Hard Disk or HDD)
The hard disk is where all your information is stored. Unlike the RAM, which gets wiped clean at each restart, the hard drive will keep all your information for later use. Now this is not such an important spec as the RAM is, but the more drive space you have, the more information you can store and take with you. If you’re a media junkie, then you probably like to store a lot of music and movies on your computer to watch at a later date. In this case, you should look for a laptop with a decent HDD configuration (250 – 500 GB). Some hard drives retrieve information pretty slow since they use spinning disks to read and write information. Standard rotation speeds for laptops HDD are at about 5400 rpm (rotations per minute). These drives are pretty much obsolete if you want a laptop with that’s capable of top performance. Instead of a 5400 rpm HDD, look for a better one with 7200 rpm.
A new line of hard drives has recently appeared, called the Solid State Disk or SSD. These drives don’t use spinning disks as a means to store information, are way faster, more durable and lighter than regular hard drives. They do come at a price though, and with a limited storage capacity. It can become pretty clear that if you want the fastest laptop today, you’ll opt in for such a storage device instead of a traditional HDD.
Video Card (a.k.a. Graphics Card)
The video card makes sure you get the image onto the screen. It can be considered an output component and it is very important to those who want serious lifelike graphics displayed onto their computer screens. With regular everyday use laptops, you can probably get away with an integrated graphics card (it’s integrated into the motherboard, mind you) which uses the available RAM to run. This can be a downside to laptops which have a low RAM spec to them, since the integrated graphics card takes its share of available RAM leaving the difference available to run applications. An integrated video card is not recommended if you rely heavily on system RAM for optimal performance. Such cases include the graphics design laptop, the gaming laptop and in some cases multimedia machine.
You do want to look for a dedicated (replaceable/removable) graphics card in your laptop if you’re a big gaming fan. Newer games tend to have very high system requirements, and since available RAM is not a thing you want to waste, a dedicated graphics card is the best solution to such a machine.
It should be noted that some of the newer processors that have just come out in the market do have an integrated GPU (graphics processing unit / graphics card) in them, along with the processor cores. This means you can get away with such a spec if you intend to purchase a laptop with specs designed for everyday use or ultra portability. Eliminating the dedicated graphics card from your system means your system will be lighter and you definitely want that regarding the portability issue.
Laptop Screen (a.k.a. Laptop Display)
The laptop screen is an essential part where you marvel at the rich media the computing world has to offer. There is not much to say about the display technology in this case but its size. The display size of your laptop is one essential specification you should not overlook if you really want a higher level of enjoyment when working with the thing. There is quite a variety to choose from when it comes to screen size, so you should know one thing beforehand: the larger the screen, the better the image quality will be, the lower the portability feature becomes…
If you want a highly portable machine which you’ll use just to jot down information quickly, then a tiny laptop with a small screen would be enough: these can range from a mere 7 inch diagonal size to about 13.3 inches. Average laptops will carry the average laptop screen size which is known to be 15.4 inches. This is quite sufficient to be able to visualize pretty much any type of media (web pages, documents, videos and movies). For a better experience, these sizes can go up to about 22 inches. These can be quite bulky and costly machines, since they pack quite a lot of tech in them along with the large screen, thus they make excellent gaming systems or portable multimedia players.
Connectivity (a.k.a. access to the internet)
Laptops are known for being portable machines, and along with their portability, wireless technologies have been made available to allow the users to connect to the internet pretty much anywhere these days. You want to make sure you’ll get access to Wi-Fi networks to stay connected everywhere you take your laptop with you. There are some new solutions which allow you to connect via cell phone networks and use the internet wherever there is mobile phone coverage.