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Home > Laptops > How to Choose the Right Laptop for You

How to Choose the Right Laptop for You

You want a new laptop. Everyone does. But with new laptops arriving literally every day, it's hard to clear the fog and find the one machine that does everything you need it to do.

What operating system do I need? What is the difference between RAM and ROM? What is a GHz? Celeron, Opteron, Centrino... unless you know what it is, it sounds like something out of an episode of Star Trek. There are a lot of specifications that make selecting the perfect machine difficult and not all notebook computers are created equal.

We've compiled all of the info you need to select a laptop that will suit your needs and your budget. Here is a brief overview of what's available to you:

Below is an illustrated example of Centrino technology, using Intel's most powerful processor option, the Core Duo:

Budget Laptops
Budget laptops are usually under $1000 but are capable of handling the core computing functions. They aren't great for gaming or serious software, but handle e-mail and surfing the web just fine.

Typical User: First time laptop buyers or students looking for a computing solution that won't break the bank.

Price Range: Under $1000

Weight: Usually 5 to 7 lbs.

Key Features to Look For:
  • Core Duo or Celeron M Processor
  • At least 256 MB RAM
  • At least 40 GB Hard Drive
  • 12" display or larger
  • CD-RW Drive

Multimedia Laptops
Multimedia laptops have all the bells and whistles that allow for a complete multimedia experience. DVD burners, integrated speakers and TV tuners make these laptops ideal for a media enthusiast. Prices range from $1500 to $2500 as these are considered high end consumer laptops.

Typical User: Movie buffs, audiophiles and those of us with more gadgets than pockets will find these the best fit. Typically, long battery life and increased functionality results in a much heavier machine.

Price Range: $1,500 to $3,500

Weight: On the heavier side. 8 to 10 lbs.

Key Features to Look For:
  • Core 2 Duo Processor
  • At least 1 GB of RAM
  • 15" display or larger (usually 17")
  • Advanced graphics accelerator with at least 128 MB of dedicated memory
  • Large (at least 100GB) and fast (at least 7200 rpm) hard drive
  • CD-RW/DVD-RW combo drive
  • Multimedia connectors (S Video, FireWire, S/PDIF)
  • Windows Media Center 2005 or Apple Mac OS X
Home Laptops
Home laptops have the broadest appeal and typically cost $1,000 to $1,500. They are not spectacular as far as performance goes, but they easily allow you to surf the web, send e-mail and manage your digital media library.

Typical User: Home laptops appeal to a broad range of users. Generally, these users want a solid system capable of handling multiple functions, but don't need all of the bells and whistles that come with higher performance models.

Price Range: $1,000 to $1,500

Weight: Not as light as the thin and light laptops discussed later, nor as heavy as serious desktop replacements. Usually 6 to 8 lbs.

Key Features to Look For:
  • Core Duo or Mobile Celeron Processor
  • At least 256 MB of memory
  • At least 40 GB of hard drive space
  • 14" display or larger
  • Wired / Wireless Networking
  • Windows XP Home Edition

Gaming/Graphics Laptops
Laptops in this category rival desktop performance and appeal to serious computer users. Gamers, developers, programmers and creative professionals benefit from the powerful processing speed and graphics performance.

Typical User: Serious computer users who need fast processing speed and superior graphics performance. A screen with a high resolution and a fast response time makes for quick work of that creative brief or the latest first person shooter game.

Price Range: $1,800 to $4,500

Weight: Heavier than most. 8 to 12 lbs.

Key Features to Look For:
  • Core 2 Duo Processor
  • At least 1 GB of RAM
  • 15" display or larger
  • Advanced graphics accelerator with at least 256 MB of dedicated memory
  • CD/DVD-RW combo drive
  • Windows XP Professional or Apple Mac OS X
Business Laptops
Business laptops typically appeal to users who require fast processing and increased mobility. Prices range from $1,400 to $2,000. Most manufacturers produce a line that is geared exclusively towards business users. Mobility, processing speed and security are the features most important to these users.

Typical User: Daily commuters who require long battery life and multiple wireless connection options. (WiFi, Bluetooth) They also need a laptop that quickly handles basic office functions like word processing, spreadsheets and e-mail.

Price Range: $1,500 to $3,000

Weight: Lighter than a home laptop (much lighter for ultraportable, or "thin and light" laptop) to accommodate frequent fliers or daily commuters. Usually 3 to 6 lbs.

Key Features to Look For:
  • Core Duo or Core 2 Duo Processor
  • At least 512 MB of RAM
  • 12" display or larger
  • 8" - 12" display for ultraportable
  • Wired / Wireless Networking
  • Long Battery Life
  • CD-RW / DVD Drive, Internal or External
  • Windows XP Professional
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