Home' LAPTOP Magazine : February 2012 Contents Laptop | February 2012
1 What Size Do You Need?
If you’ll be using your laptop primarily at home and won’t
be moving it much from room to room or using it on your
lap, get a laptop with a 15-inch display (generally 6 pounds
and up). This is the most popular screen size.
However, for the best balance of mobility,
performance, and battery life, consider a laptop
with a 13- to 14-inch display (3.5 to 5.5 pounds).
If you want to travel really light, get an ultraport-
able laptop with an 11.6 - to 12-inch screen (3
to 4 pounds).
Opt for a 17-inch or 18-inch notebook if
you plan on moving your machine rarely or
not at all. Having a bigger screen is better
for watching movies and working with
multiple windows open at once. But we
onlyrecommend stepping up to a large
display if you get a resolution higher
than 1366 x 768 pixels. Otherwise, it’s
a waste of extra space.
Netbooks (10 inches) have pretty much fallen
out of favor because of tablets, but they’re still available.
If possible, get a model with a resolution of 1366 x 768.
2 How Much Can You Get for Your Money?
These days, you can easily find an all-purpose
laptop with good performance for about $500.
We’re talking about a speedy dual-core Intel Core
i3 or an AMD A6 processor, 3 to 4GB of RAM,
and at least 320GB of hard drive space. That’s
good enough for most consumers looking to surf
the web, go on Facebook, check email, and play
As you get above $600, you’ll start to see more
premium designs, such as metal finishes. Manu-
facturers also start to add in other features as you
climb the price ladder, including better audio and
backlit keyboards. Look for a second-generation
Core i5 processor in this range, as well as 6GB of
RAM and a 500 to 640GB hard drive.
If you’re willing to spend $700 or more, expect
laptops with faster processors (such as Intel’s
quad-core Core i7) and/or dedicated graphics
cards from AMD or Nvidia for gaming. Adding a
Blu-ray drive will cost at least $75 more.
If you have $800 or more to spend, you’ll mostly
be looking at laptops that focus on multimedia
and gaming, as well as highly durable and secure
business machines. Higher-resolution screens are
All of Apple’s laptops also fall in this price range,
as the company focuses on premium designs and
higher-end features, such as solid state drives
in the MacBook Air. MacBooks start at $999. So-
called Ultrabooks, which compete directly with
the MacBook Air in terms of thinness, start as low
as $799 but go up to and beyond $1,499.
3 Will It Be Comfortable to Use?
The most impressive specs in the world don’t mean diddly
if the laptop you’re shopping for doesn’t have good ergo-
nomics. Does the keyboard have solid tactile feedback and
enough space between the keys? Is the touchpad smooth
to operate or jumpy? Do the mouse buttons have a satisfy-
ing click, or do they feel mushy? How well do multitouch
gestures work? You should be able to zoom in and out with
ease, as well as select text with the touchpad without the
cursor skipping around.
In general, Apple and Lenovo offer the best keyboards and
touchpads. Toshiba is generally pretty reliable in this category,
as is Sony. Acer and ASUS don’t offer the most ergonomic
designs, so you'll want to try before you buy.
4 What Specs Do You Need?
Notebook specs such as CPU, hard drive, R A M, and graph-
ics chip can confuse even notebook aficionados, so don’t feel
bad if spec sheets look like alphabet soup to you. What you
need really depends on what you plan to do with your laptop.
More intensive tasks such as 3D gaming and HD video-editing
require more expensive components.
Here are the main components to keep an eye on.
Bargain hunters will find AMD's E Series proces-
sor in machines that cost less than $400, which
offers better performance than a netbook but not
very good multitasking chops. Similarly, Intel's
Pentium CPUs can get the job done, but you can
do better if you spend a little bit more. (Intel Atom
processors are only for netbooks, a category that’s
on the decline.)
For mainstream performance, we recommend
Intel’s Core i3 processors. AMD’s A Series proces-
sors aren’t as fast as their Intel counterparts, but
they offer better graphics performance.
Power users and gamers should consider
higher-end Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs.
When it comes to memory, or RAM, opt for a
minimum of 3GB (4GB is better) to run Windows
7 Premium. Those who demand more perfor-
mance will want to spring for 6GB or even 8GB
For most users, a fast drive is more important
than a large one. If you have a choice, go for a
7,200-rpm hard drive over a 5,400-rpm unit. Even
if you have several movies and games on your
hard drive, a 320GB should provide more than
enough space, but 500GB drives usually don’t
cost much more.
These drives cost quite a bit more than traditional
hard drives and come with less capacity (usually
128 to 256GB), but they dramatically improve
performance. You’ll enjoy faster boot times, faster
resume times, a nd faster application open times.
Plus, because SSDs don’t have moving parts
such as mechanical drives, failure is much less
of an issue.
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