The price of laptops has come down a lot in the last few years, and with the advent of mini-notebooks (also known as netbooks) a notebook computer has never been more affordable. Unfortunately, many people who do not know a lot about computers still end up paying more than they need to for a laptop, or else pay good money for a notebook that will not satisfy their needs.
When purchasing a laptop there are a few things you should consider to make sure you get the optimal bang for your buck.
Know what your needs are
This might be the hardest part for some people, but it is also the most important. You need to know what youre going to be using the laptop for and if you find you cant answer the question, you probably shouldnt be getting a laptop at all. Do you need something portable, or will something more stationary do? Do you want to play games on it? Do you want to watch movies on it? Do you only want it for simple tasks like word processing or checking your email?
Answering these and other questions will help you make sure you get a laptop thats right for you, minimizing frustration down the road.
Focus on a form factor
Form factor is a fancy term for size, and it is a key component determining the usability and just as importantly, the price of a notebook. Laptops with large screens and heavy weights are considered desktop replacements. On the other extreme, laptops with moderate-sized screens and minimal weights are considered ultra-thin or thin and light. Then there are the netbooks, with small screens, light weights, and low prices, and also standard laptops, with moderate marks all around.
Based on your assessments of your needs, determine which form factor is right for you. This will narrow down your search and help you focus on picking the perfect fit within the size category.
Choose an operating system
The operating system, or OS, is the interface which greets you as you run your computer every day, and is also extremely important in determining both usability and price. There are three major OSs and each has its pros and cons. The most expensive is Mac OSX, the most recent version of which is called Leopard.
OSX has been praised for its intuitive interface and has many fans, but youll only find it on Apple notebooks and it is invariably more expensive than an equivalent machine with a different OS. On the other extreme is Linux, which is free, and you may have heard of the popular version called Ubuntu. Linux has a very simple interface but sometimes it can be hard to navigate if youre not savvy with Linux or computers in general.
Spanning the gap is Microsoft, makers of Windows XP and Windows Vista. Windows is the most common OS on the planet, and its usability as well as price falls somewhere in between OSX and Linux.
All of these OSs work and will run your laptop just fine, but determining which OS suits your style and capabilities (and budget) is important. If youre buying at a store, be sure to ask someone if you can try out a computer with each OS if youre not familiar with the differences.
Decide what hardware you really need
Now that youve got a form factor and your OS, its time to get into the nitty gritty of the laptop, which is the hardware. Hardware is a physical component that makes your computer run, such as the processor or the memory. Different hardware can result in vastly different computer performance, so its important to purchase hardware that will meet your needs.
If battery life is important, spring for the more expensive but more energy efficient processor. If graphical performance is important, make sure you have a dedicated graphics card and plenty of RAM. If youre planning on storing a lot of files, make sure you have a large enough hard drive.
Alternatively, if something isnt important to you, make sure youre not paying for hardware that isnt necessary to do the things youre going to be doing. For example, dont shell out for that Blu-ray drive if you only plan to own DVDs. Choosing the right hardware means youre only paying for the power that you specifically need, maximizing the cost effectiveness of your notebook.
Make sure youre not paying for software you dont want
Many laptops will come bundled with software packages, advertised at large discounts off their retail price. Sometimes this will be the perfect combination of software for you, but most of the time you end up paying for things you will either uninstall or simply forget about as they bog down your computer in the background. Take care to make sure youre not paying an extra couple hundred dollars for software that you never asked for.
Its also important to understand that much of the discounted software can be matched for free via open source solutions, as long as you are willing to take the time to download and install them yourself. One example is Open Office, which performs the same tasks as Microsoft Office but can be downloaded for free online. If you understand your own needs from the get-go, you wont be fooled by a salesman into buying a package you dont need.
Shop around, including online
Where you buy your laptop is important, and in many cases deals can be found online that are a better value than the deals at a retail store. Its important to look around in as many places as you can to make sure you get the best deal that matches your needs. If youre not comfortable buying from an unknown source online or are simply lost without a salesman to help you, try going to the store first and talking to someone. Once youre convinced which laptop is for you, return home and look at other sources.
Often there are online only deals for the brick and mortar store you were just shopping at, and you can find a better deal just buy going home and buying it there instead. Some stores also offer to match any competitors price, meaning that if you find a deal online but would prefer to deal with people you can see, you can still get your price. Shopping around makes sure youre not paying more for your laptop than you have to.
Get something upgradeable
Upgrading a laptop is a cheap and effective way to add years onto your laptops life. Initially laptops were nearly impossible to upgrade, but now many notebooks come with extra slots for additional RAM or convenient access to the hard drive, allowing you to replace it with a larger drive down the road. While certain components are still difficult to upgrade, changing just these components can convert a notebook from obsolete to something quite usable again.
If you plan on using your laptop for a long time, make sure you buy one that is convenient to upgrade and that you understand how to do it.
There is a lot that goes into a computer, and most people end up spending at least some time in front of their computer every day. And although prices have come down over the years, it is still an expensive investment. When buying a laptop, it is important to consider as many aspects as possible to ensure that you meet all your needs while still getting bang for your buck. If you dont you may end up frustrated trying to play games on a netbook, or wasting money when you idly surf the web on your top-of-the-line gaming notebook. Understanding your own needs and how they relate to the above categories will help you get just the laptop youre looking for.
Daniel Shain reviews laptops for LaptopLogic.com, an established laptop resource with an extensive library of laptop reviews, news and articles for both beginners and experts.