Buying a laptop

Tips & Hints

Posted 26 September 2005

Not so long ago a laptop was a status symbol. Today they are a cost effective alternative to a bulky and noisy desktop computer. They are still a pricey item though, so it’s worthwhile doing your homework before buying one.

Do you need a laptop?
There are all sorts of reasons why you need a laptop. The obvious is that you need a portable computer for work, study or travel. But many people choose one to free up space or because they find normal PCs too noisy.

Some people buy a laptop just because it's cute or they can use salary sacrifice. In our view, buying one because it looks cute or because of some tax savings is a mistake. Computers are tools, and you should choose the right tool for the job.

What are you using the laptop for?
If you are buying one to replace your desktop then size and weight may not be an issue, while size and weight are important if you will be carrying it around. A desktop replacement may weigh as much as 5kg with an ultra light sub notebook under 1.5kg. That 3˝ kilo difference doesn’t sound much but it’s a lot when you are carting it between airport terminals or lecture halls.

What you use your laptop for also determines what you should buy. If you are connecting to a mobile phone you need the correct connections. A business users has different needs to a home user, in turn an architecture student has different needs to a post-grad MBA.

Once you’ve determined what you’ll use it for, you can choose the right specifications. If you are after a portable computer, then a Centrino based system is the way to go. If weight isn’t a problem then the heavier and hotter Pentium IV, Celeron and Athlon XP systems are adequate.

Memory is always important, too little memory and your system will crawl. All computers, desktop and laptops, should have a minimum of 512Mb RAM. If your budget will stretch to it, get 1 or 2Gb.

Monitor size and video memory are good, but the bigger the monitor the more video memory you’ll need. The more you add, the more your system will cost and weigh.

An important thing to note with laptops is that many don’t have parallel or serial ports. This is a big problem if you want to use an older printer, mobile or PDA. If you have something that connects this way, then make sure your laptop comes with the right ports.

USB Ports are essential for any modern computer users. You simply cannot have enough spare USB capacity. Don’t buy a laptop with less than three ports.

There are no shortage accessories available for a computer. The number of printers, mice, flash drives and all manner of peripherals is why it’s important to have plenty of USB ports. If your computer hasn’t come with a floppy drive or DVD burner, you can plug an external USB drive into the system.

When buying a laptop it’s important to check exactly is built into the system. One of the tricks manufacturers play is to keep weight down by making floppy, CD and DVD drives external. This is a nuisance and you shouldn’t encourage it unless the price is right.

Battery Life
The constant bane of laptop owners is battery life. This is another area where some manufacturers try to put one over the consumer. Expect to get about half the claimed life.

Some manufacturers have even stooped to not including the battery in the laptop weight. Thankfully, most have stopped this practice, but it’s still worth checking. If you want an extended life battery then factor in the additional weight to your system.

Communication options
Getting your laptop to talk to the outside world is important. All laptops come with network adaptors and modems. Centrino systems have wireless built in and some have Bluetooth or infrared.

Again, what you choose should reflect your needs. If you intend to connect to mobile, then you should get the appropriate connection, serial, Bluetooth or Infrared. Similarly, if you intend to use wireless networks you’ll need that function.

Laptops prices have tumbled in recent years but they are still big ticket items. It pays to spend some time thinking about the purchase. Choosing the right system can be the difference between a happy and a frustrated computer user.
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 36 082 635 765
ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2008