Laptop PC Buyer's Guide

Tips on What to Look at When Considering Buying a Laptop

A couple looking at a laptop in a park
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Laptop systems have grown in popularity due to their increasing performance and portability. For many people, they offer more than enough performance and features that they have completely replaced the need for a desktop computer. This guide will help you to look at some of the key items you want to look at before you purchase your next PC laptop system.

Size and Weight

Obviously, the size and weight of a laptop is important. Ultrathin laptops such as Ultrabooks may be extremely portable but often lack a few features. Desktop replacements have equivalent power to desktop systems but they are heavy and bulky making them difficult to carry around. When shopping for a laptop (especially if you're looking to get your hands on a lightweight one), make sure to pick up the systems and verify its something you are willing to carry. Don't forget to also consider the weight of accessories such as AC adapter when carrying around the laptop.

Processors (CPU)

Mobile processors typically were slower than desktop CPUs but they still are fast enough for what most people need. Dual-core processors are typical now with quad-core models available for those looking for better multitasking. The type of processors found in the laptop will vary based on the size and purpose of the laptop. They have a direct impact on performance as well as battery life so a comparison can be difficult. It should be noted that most ultrabooks use a lower speed processor to try and conserve power which can impact those looking to do more demanding tasks.

Memory (RAM)

Laptops are generally more restricted in the amount of memory they can have compared to desktops. When looking at computers you want to make sure to check out the maximum memory the system can handle as well as the amount that is installed on the computer. It is also useful to find out if a memory upgrade can be done yourself or if it has to be done by a technician. Many newer laptops don't have the ability to have the memory upgraded at all. Four gigabytes should really be the minimum amount of memory to consider with 8GB for improved performance.

Displays and Video

The video on a laptop computer is comprised of the display and the video processor. The display is defined by the screen size and the native resolution. The larger the display, the higher the resolution will typically be but it also will impact how portable the system is. Of course, there are now extremely high-resolution displays which offer extreme detail but can also be difficult to read the text of certain applications. The graphics processor will determine the performance of the computer in things such as 3D gaming or for accelerating non-3D applications.

Data Storage

How much storage space will you need? Hard drives are fairly straightforward in terms of the size and the performance may be impacted by the rotational speed. More and more laptops are opting to use the faster and more durable solid state drives even if they offer less overall capacity or a compromise in performance and capacity with a hybrid drive. Optical drives are becoming less important for laptop computers such that many do not even have them. Blu-ray is available for viewing high definition video but is still fairly uncommon.


The ability to connect to the net is integral to most laptops today. Pretty much every laptop comes with some form of Wi-Fi built in with the 802.11b/g/n being the most common. Wired networking is still available on many with Gigabit Ethernet being the most typical speed supported. Bluetooth is useful for wireless peripherals and for those that need connectivity in remote locations, a built-in modem or a cellular (WWAN) card are also options.

Battery Life

How good is a portable computer going to be if you are only able to get a couple of hours computing time on a single charge? Some systems may advertise all day computing which really translates into almost eight hours which is the typical length of a working day but most are much lower. Try to find the manufacturer's listed battery life for the standard battery. Look to get a system with at least three to four hours of battery life under normal conditions for higher performance. More portable ultrabook systems should have at least six hours. If you need extended time unplugged, look for laptops with media bays that can double as extra battery slots or have extended life batteries that can be purchased.

Warranty Plans

Laptops take a lot of abuse and are more prone to breakdowns due to their portability. When buying a system, make sure to get at least a one year warranty from the manufacturer. If you will be using the system heavily, a system that comes with a two or three-year warranty might be a better choice but it will cost more. Third-party extended plans are not a good choice unless service is done through the manufacturer.