Shopping for a Laptop?

By Joe Callison
19 December, 2016

Tips for what I look for in a laptop:

I look for at least a 6th generation i3 processor. i5 is better but will cost a little more. I7 will be the most powerful, most expensive, and will run the battery down faster. It is essential for running the latest video games that the youngsters play.
AMD, Atom, Celeron, Pentium processors are too slow in most cases and I would avoid them unless maximizing battery life is your primary concern and you can live with a sluggish computer.  
There are some old 5th-generation i3, i5, and i7 laptops still being sold, but I don’t see any point in buying them unless you are looking for rock-bottom prices. They use a lot more power than 6th generation, so will have less battery life, generate more heat, may have noisy fans, and they also have lower performance.
The latest 7th generation i3, i5, and i7 processors are out now in some laptops and will soon be available in desktops. Their main benefit is the ability to stream ultra-high-definition video (4K) without reducing battery life.
Otherwise, their performance is only marginally (less than 10%) better than the 6th-generation processors. They are helping to push prices down on computers with 6th generation processors, which is one reason we are seeing bargains right now.

At least 4 GB RAM memory is pretty standard these days and is enough for most users unless you like to leave many programs (more than half a dozen or so) open at one time. Some have 6 GB or 8 GB of memory, which will add a little to the cost. Some of the newest laptops have 4 GB of memory built into the main board (motherboard) that can’t be removed or replaced and only one slot for additional memory, usually 8 GB maximum additional allowed.

Most new laptops that have hard disk drives are 1 TB (1000 GB) in size, but you may find smaller capacities in the cheapest models, still typically at least 500 GB, which is plenty for most users.
Some of the newest laptops have solid-state drives, either 128 GB or 256 GB in size (for cost reasons). These are super fast compared to hard disk drives and I would not be too concerned with the smaller capacities compared with hard disk drives. You can use either an SD card (flash memory like a digital camera uses) for extra storage or an external USB-connected hard drive to hold your user-created files and let the solid-state drive hold your operating system and program files. You will be amazed at the improvement in performance, especially in the time it takes to boot up or shut down. Besides the performance, they will not have the risk of self-destruction like a hard disk drive if you happen to drop or bump your laptop sharply while it is accessing the drive.

Most of the lower-priced laptops these days have 1366 x 768 video resolution. I personally prefer to pay a little more to get one with 1920 x 1080 video resolution. It can display so much sharper images. If you want to settle for the lower resolution, I would recommend trying it out in a store first to make sure you are going to be satisfied with it. Some are better than others. Look for how much you can adjust the screen brightness and what angles you can view the image clearly. For screen size, most people our age will want 15.6 inch for a lot less eye strain than something smaller. 17 inches is a really nice size for visibility, but bulkier and heavier for travel. If you use the laptop primarily at home as a replacement for a desktop, then you may be a lot happier with the larger screen. Touchscreen makes sense for a tablet or 2 in 1 convertible laptop but is not necessary or even very useful for a traditional clam-shell type laptop and adds about $100 to the price. I find that in laptop mode with a keyboard and touchpad or mouse, I almost never use the touchscreen except for occasionally swiping to change pages (when I remember that I can do that).

Try out the feel of the keyboard and touchpad. Again, some are a lot better than others. If you are reasonably good at touch typing, you want the keys to feel natural, with the right amount of firmness and key travel to not slow you down. If you hunt and peck, it probably doesn’t make much difference to you.
If you like to listen to music on your laptop and want good sound quality and volume, look for a laptop with some form of premium sound system and front-facing speakers.

Don’t believe the advertised battery life, it is usually considerably shorter than the “best case” number they quote in the specs. If they advertise 4 or 5 hours, you will probably get around 3 in your normal use. They only get worse with time, so make sure to allow for about a 50% drop in operating time compared to new when deciding how much you really need. That will be the point that you would probably consider buying a new battery, which will typically be around $50.

Most of the lower-priced laptops are made of plastic, sometimes imitating metal or carbon fiber in appearance. They tend to bend more easily and can crack or break over time. The better ones have a carbon fiber construction which is stronger than plastic. The best have metal, typically aluminum, construction. If you plan to travel a lot with your laptop, the stronger construction may be worth it, or be sure to buy a well-padded laptop bag.

For a lot more information on laptops, check out the articles in this link:

Posted by Joe Callison

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