Laptop key features and their parameters

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The following table gives in a nutshell the key features, their relative importance and some pertinent remarks about each feature that would help in the buying decision.

Feature Importance Remarks

Processor

Important

Buyers would do well to do some additional research before committing themselves to a particular processor in a notebook. Because once a processor is selected not much can be done by way of an upgrade and are consigned to live with their selection. However the following set of guidelines would help one to start with the selection:

  1. Intel
    • Intel Pentium processors are superior in performance to Celeron processors within Intel™s family of CPUs.
    • Even within Intel, Core 2 Quad CPUs, offers better performance than Core 2 Duo CPUs which are followed by Core Duo. Core 2 Solo being the slowest in Intel processors.It pays well to note that not all dual core CPUs are the same.
    • You may want to visit this site to compare features and specifications for laptop processors from Intel
  2. AMD
    • For a given clock speed, Turion processors offers superior performance compared to Athlon processors which are in turn better than Sempron processors within AMD family of CPUs.
    • To help you decide which AMD processor would suit you, you may want to visit this page from AMD

General:

  • Quad core, offers superior performance than Dual core which are in turn better than single core processors in a laptop.
  • In dual core processor technology, in terms of performance currently Intel CPUs are having an edge over AMD CPUs, though the notebooks with the latter CPUs may come cheaper.
  • Battery life: Since notebooks are expected to be used untethered from a power source for a sufficiently long duration and hence are expected to come with a longer battery life. While battery life is dependant on applications, Core 2 Duo processors have an edge over Core Duo or Dual core processors be it business applications, Reading, DVD Playback, Wireless Web Browsing. Other things remaining the same, look for CPU with low power consumption rating to prolong battery life.
Feature Importance Remarks

Sytsem Memory

Important

Windows Vista needs lots of memory to run and if more applications are run simultaneously more is the need for memory. Higher the amount of memory in the system, and faster it is, better is the performance. Bare minimum is 512MB, 1GB is adequate and anything higher is better. It will be helpful to have empty memory slots for future expansion. For example, while the amount of memory in 2 sticks of 512MB memory module is equal to a single stick of 1GB memory module, it is preferable to buy a laptop, with the latter configuration as it leaves room for expansion.

In terms of speed, if two laptops come with the same amount of memory say 1GB, but one is running at 667Mhz while the other at 1066Mhz, it is preferable to buy the latter.

Screen Size

Important

Bigger the screen size, better it is. A bigger screen helps to see more of the details of a document or image on the screen. Higher the resolution, better it is. If a given screen size say 15.4″ is offered in two resolutions 1280 x 800 or 1680 x 1050, it is better to choose the latter. It helps to see the document / image crisply.

Communication Ports

Important

By its very nature(mobility) a laptop is expected to connect effortlessly to the available network. At a minimum it should have built-in wireless that supports 802.11 B/G standard. It is even better, if it supports the newer 802.11 N standard, as it makes for faster data transfer and covers a wider range for wireless connection. It is not a big deal if it supports the less popular 802.11 A apart from B/G. Support for 10/100 integrated Ethernet LAN, V.92 56K Data/Fax Modem is a must and comes with all the laptops. Some models come with 10/100/1000 integrated Ethernet LAN support which is better, as it helps to transfer data at gigabit rate.

An integrated webcam is very helpful for those business customers interested in teleconferencing, or for those casual customers interested in chatting over the internet with their friends and families. It does away with unnecessary cables which look clumsy if one decides to plug-in external web camera at a later day not to mention carrying additional equipments from place to place.

An integrated microphone for Internet chat is a definite convenience for the above needs and reasons.

Support for Bluetooth is welcome but not essential. If one decides to have it, it better to go with the latest version (V2.0).

Hard Drive Size

Less Important

  1. Mechanical HDD:
    • Bigger the size of the hard drive, more data can be stored. Those who store huge databases, photos and videos locally on their hard drive need a bigger hard drive. However a notebook with a given hard drive can always be replaced by another with a higher capacity at a later date should a need arise. It is more important to pay attention to the type of hard drive interface viz. SATA or IDE that the laptop supports. In terms of performance SATA hard drives are better than IDE hard drives.
    • For a given hard drive, it is better to go with the one with fastest rotational speed that the notebook can support. For example, a 120GB with a speed of 7200RPM is better than a 120GB with a speed of 5400RPM which is again better than the one with a 4200RPM.
    • Faster rotational speed improves performance by faster read/write access.
  2. Solid State Drive:
    • Lately these drives with newer Solid State technology come with some laptops, which offers superior read/write data performance
    • Since there are no mechanical movements in them, they offer reliability, longer life, lower power consumption (hence laptops can run longer on batteries) compared to the mechanical HDDs.
    • However for a given storage size, laptops with SSDs are very expensive compared to those with mechanical HDDs.

Optical Drive

Less Important

Laptop configurations with DVDRW are preferred over DVD Rom/ CDRW combo. Buyers interested in watching high definition video, are advised to check if the notebook supports Blu-Ray format drives.

Other ports

Less Important

A minimum of 2 USB2.0 ports are essential in a laptop, anything greater is better. Most of the peripherals (printers, camera, scanners) support USB2.0 standard. PC card slots are helpful in many ways, like inserting a serial port (which is a phased out standard but is finding newer applications like connecting to a satellite receiver) or a IEEE 1394 Firewire port (for firewire devices like a video camera) or an adapter with USB2.0 ports(should you need more)

Newer laptops come with an additional express card slot apart from the PC card slots.The major benefit of an express card slot is the increased bandwidth for data transfer that they offer vs. PC card or USB2.0 interface. Express card can transfer data at 2.50Gbits/sec vs. 1.04Gbits/sec for PC Card and 480Mbits/sec for USB2.0.

It is absolutely convenient to have slots for memory cards / flash cards that support as many formats as possible.

Warranty Support

Less Important

Some models come with 1 year parts & labor, while some come with 2 year parts and labor, while some high end models come with 3 years part and labor warranties. Here there is a tradeoff between cost and peace of mind (to know that the laptop is covered for so many years). In my experience, lately laptops are prone to failure, especially the low end laptops and those that compete on price. So my recommendation is to go for as many years of warranty coverage as one’s budjet can afford.

Also it is preferable to go for those notebooks that are covered under international warranties. Should one expects to travel often and is away from the home country from which they are bought, this will come in handy.

Bundled Software

Not so important

Barring the Operating System software that comes with the Laptop, other software are not so important. This is because either they are trial versions of popular software which lasts only 2 to 3 months from the date of purchase (after which period one needs to pay for the full version) or they are some utilities that the manufacturer provides anyway.

Price

Less Important

By now you are convinced that price is not that important a factor in the buying decision. You will agree with me that what matters most is the specifications of the laptop, its reliability, its ease of use, warranty support etc. In short whether they will meet your needs. However it is wise to shop around and look for the best deal for a notebook that you have selected after careful consideration. Also it is helpful to have a Plan B( an alternate model from the same brand with almost similar specs or alternate brand with the exact specs) if your chosen model is out of stock or phased out.



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