Different people look for different features when purchasing a laptop computer. Some may be interested in a multimedia powerhouse with a great graphics card. Others may need a lightning-fast Internet connection. Still others may only require the basics (word processing, e-mail, Internet, etc.) to hold them over while away from their desktop. Whatever the purpose your laptop will serve, knowing how to compare the specifications prior to purchasing is vital to getting the machine that is right for you. Much of the information is available to you right on the store displays and Internet listings you will be searching. It is simply a matter of knowing what to look for.
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Compare the processors. Also known as the CPU, this chip is the most important part of your laptop computer, making it function and essentially acting as the "brain" of the machine. You can find information online as to the different types. You will want to look at performance, cost and battery life in making your decision. The Intel Core 2 Extreme has the best performance per CNET.com, but it is also the highest priced and has the lowest battery life. This makes it a good buy if you need a high-performance machine and money is not an object, but a bad choice if you only need basic word processing functions and will be away from an outlet for extended periods of time. An AMD Turion, on the other hand, sacrifices a bit in the performance area, but costs less and has a much longer battery life.
Check the memory. This is also known as RAM (or random-access memory). The more RAM you have, the more programs you will be able to run at once. Again, if you are looking for just basic functionality, you do not require as much RAM as someone running multiple programs at once. According to CNET, you want to look for between 1 and 2 gigabytes of RAM for Windows Vista or Mac OS X and higher and 512 megabytes of RAM for all other Windows and MAC operating systems. If you plan on having the laptop for a long time, you also want to look at one with easy-to-access memory slots so that you can upgrade if you need to.
Compare hard drives. Every laptop comes with a hard drive. The standard size is between 60GB and 80GB, but there are much larger drives available (and necessary) if you plan on storing a lot of multimedia files (video, music, etc.). You also want to look at the rotational speed (rpm) of the hard drive. The faster the rotational speed, the better the laptop performs. For example, a 60GB hard drive at 7200rpm will perform better than an 80GB hard drive at 5400rpm, even though the 80GB can store more data.
Choose either a CD or DVD drive. These allow you to burn data, music and video onto CDs or DVDs. DVD drives are more expensive, but allow you to play videos and music through your DVD player for display on your television. If you just want to store data and burn an occasional music CD, the more economical CD drive may be a better choice.
Compare network connection options. Most people purchasing a laptop will want some sort of Internet connection, and laptops offer several different options. There is the somewhat antiquated 56kbps modem that can be connected through a phone line, Ethernet connectivity and wireless networking. If you will be moving around a lot, wireless will be the way to go. If you regularly end up in locations where Wi-Fi availability is suspect, you may want to invest in a notebook with a WWAN card. It is a bit more expensive, but it allows you to tap into your cellular provider's network, ensuring that you will be able to connect to the Internet as long as you have phone service.
Determine which accessories, if any, you want to invest in. These vary based on need, but some options include an external keyboard and mouse (handy if you have problems with the laptop's touchpad), a laptop bag (for transport) or an extra battery so you don't find your laptop dying at an inopportune time.
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