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How to choose the right laptop to suit your needs

laptops

Laptops have replaced desktop PCs as the computing solution of choice, and now provide all the functions of a PC with added portability. There are so many different brands, types and sizes of laptops, often with complicated specifications, that it can be confusing choosing which one to buy. Here are the key questions you need to ask before deciding on which laptop to purchase.

Laptop or Netbook: what is the difference?

Essentially, a laptop and a netbook are the same thing: a keyboard and a screen constituting a portable computer. However due to their smaller size, netbooks are generally less powerful and have fewer features such as a disk drive and connectivity ports. One of the main differences between a laptop and a netbook is the screen size, which is measured from one corner to the other in inches. Normally a netbook is much smaller and thinner than a laptop; however there are no defined classifications for netbooks and laptops, so sometimes it all depends on what the manufacturer wants to call their product. A new model may be renamed as a netbook because it is lighter and slightly smaller than its laptop predecessor.

Mac Vs PC

A long disputed question between computing enthusiasts, but one of the deciding factors for you might relate to your needs and your budget. A PC for example, is more ideal if you want to play games because they can support more powerful graphics cards. However Mac is known for its better design and ease of use, although with the MacBook Air starting at £849, the price tag also comes along with it.

Other key points to consider:

-A PC is much more customizable and upgradable than a Mac. However it is still possible to buy upgrades for some Mac models, though they are more expensive.

-The amount of software available for Mac is increasing, but it is still nothing in comparison to a PC. If you have a specific project in mind, check if the software is available first.

-A large majority of the world’s computers run off Microsoft Windows, so most virus attacks also target this system. Because of this, Macs are reputed as being more secure.

Hybrid or traditional?

Hybrid computers are able to double as a laptop and a tablet. If you want the best of both worlds, this may be the option for you. The screen on the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga twists around and folds back on the keyboard, whereas the HY EnvyX2 has a screen that completely clips off and turns into a lighter tablet!

Screen Size

There are many different screen sizes available so consider which size is best for you:

Laptop screen size

Display

Screen type: If you plan to use your laptop in the open air, whether you will be hiking up hillsides, lounging on the beach or sitting in the park, you will need to eliminate glare and reflection. Many laptops have a high-gloss display that is often unreadable in bright sunlight; so choose one with a matte screen. Many manufacturers offer models with an anti-glare screen, including the Dell Precision, HP ProBook and Lenovo ThinkPad Edge.

Pixels: The number of pixels means the number of dots or squares on the screen that make up the image you are seeing. For example 1366 x 768 pixels means that there are 1366 pixels along the bottom of the screen and 768 pixels going up the screen.

screen pixels

As pixels can be stretched, you will need to consider the screen size and the amount of pixels at the same time. For example a 15-inch laptop with 1366×768 pixels will have a sharper image than a 17-inch laptop with the same amount of pixels (because they have been stretched to fit the screen in the latter case).

Most laptops have 1366×768 pixels but larger versions include 1600×900 pixels. If you want to have HD resolution, you will need to have a screen with 1920×1080 pixels and a budget of around £1000.

RAM

RAM is short for random access memory, which can be described as the short term memory for your laptop. The more RAM you have the additional and heavier programs you can run at once.

Random access memory

Hard drive

The hard drive has nothing to do with the speed of your laptop, rather how much it can store on its long term memory. Generally 160-320 GB is sufficient for non-professional users as 250GB alone can store up to 30,000 average sized photos or songs. However if you plan on storing movies, you may need 500 GB and gamers will prefer as high as 1TB.

Battery life

Ask yourself where you will be using the laptop to determine how much battery life you really need.

People travelling may find it hard to find electrical outlets while on the go, so a laptop that needs charging every few hours is a bad idea. Choose one with a long battery life, such as the Apple MacBook Air which has a battery life of nearly 12 hours. Many laptops have the option to purchase extra battery power. The Lenovo ThinkPad X230 has a reasonable 7 hour battery life, but by adding a 9-cell battery and a sheet battery it will run for 20 hours without needing to be charged.

At home battery life is not such a vital factor, as you will have power sockets available around the house to recharge regularly. However you will still want to consider how often you will want to charge your laptop, so set your limit.

Graphics cards

The standard graphics cards provided in laptops are often more than satisfactory for everyday tasks and mainstream computer games, however if you plan on playing more demanding games such as Modern Warfare or Battlefield consider getting a graphics card from market leaders such as AMD or Nvidia for the ultimate gaming experience!

Connectivity

Make sure that the laptop you choose will support all the devices you may want to attach to it, such as digital cameras, iPods, mp3 players and mobile phones. It is a good idea to have at least two USB ports, an SC card slot and a Firewire port. These days, most laptops have built in wireless connectivity, but you may want to get a wireless network card as a backup, and Bluetooth capability is useful for sharing information.

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