Before You Buy a Laptop or Notebook Computer

Essential Buying Tips

Before You Buy a Laptop or Notebook Computer
••• Before You Buy a Laptop or Notebook Computer. Image (c) Amazon

Laptop/notebook computers can be the ideal office solution for mobile business people, as you no longer need to sacrifice functionality for portability. In recent years laptop/notebooks have become powerful enough (and inexpensive enough) to have replaced desktop computers for many business people. But before you buy a laptop or notebook computer, consider these essential buying tips. 

What is the Difference Between Laptop and Notebook Computers?

Nowadays the mobile computing market is more confusing than ever as buyers can choose between a range of devices variously described as laptops, notebooks, netbooks, ultrabooks (smaller, thinner notebooks), tablets, Chromebooks (which is any laptop or notebook which runs the Google Chrome Operating System), MacBooks, iPads, and Android devices. Some may decide that they can handle most mobile computing chores on a smartphone.

The difference between laptops and notebooks is somewhat blurry. However, a device referred to as a "notebook" is generally lighter (3 lbs. or less) and more portable (small enough to be carried in a backpack or briefcase, which means a screen size of 15" or less).

Netbooks are typically even smaller and are inexpensive devices meant for basic computing tasks such as word processing, email, and web browsing.

Tablets have an enormous range of price and capability. More expensive hybrid models such as the Microsoft Surface come with larger screens and detachable keyboards, putting them on a par with notebooks and laptops for capability.

Weight and Portability

An extra pound of weight in a laptop or notebook may not sound like much but after balancing the device on your lap for several hours or packing it around in a briefcase you may come to appreciate the difference. When it comes to size and weight with mobile devices, less is usually better. Unfortunately weight is often inversely proportional to price.

On the other hand, if display size is a concern (as described below) you may want to sacrifice weight and portability for larger size. Smaller notebooks also have more cramped keyboards which can be uncomfortable for some users.

Price

Laptop/notebook computers tend to be more expensive compared to desktop computers. You pay a premium for being able to pack your office around with you.

And unlike PC desktop computers, laptops and notebooks are not easily upgradeable with interchangeable components. If you buy a laptop/notebook computer, it is best to choose one that has exactly all the features that you want, and extra features come with a price.

Additional memory (RAM), more disk space, longer battery life, high-end graphic capabilities (for gaming and High Definition video), and more connectivity options can greatly increase the price.

    Battery Life

    While laptop/notebook computers promise mobility, it's not unrestricted mobility. If you plan to use your laptop/notebook computer "unplugged" frequently, pay close attention to the device's battery average run time.

    More efficient processors, SSD disk drives, and improved battery technology have increased average run times to 14 hours or more for some models, but there is still a large variation, so if you intend to use your laptop/notebook for long overseas flights or in other situations where charging is not readily available make sure you choose a model with sufficient battery life. 

    Keep in mind that manufacturers tend to exaggerate notebook battery run times or quote them under ideal conditions. Battery run time is heavily dependent on usage. Watching HD video, for instance, takes more battery power than basic web surfing. Check third-party reviews for real-world statistics on battery life. Also keep in mind that run times decrease as the battery ages.

      Display Size and Resolution

      If you intend to use your laptop/notebook for watching or editing HD video, playing games, or need to have multiple visible windows open on the screen at the same time, you will need a higher resolution display and the largest screen size possible (keeping in mind that larger screen size means more weight and less portability).

      Budget laptop/notebooks typically come with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, but if you intend to watch high definition (HD) video 1920 x 1080 (known as 1080p), or higher is preferable. If you want to watch 4k video or are a hard-core gamer the most expensive laptops now come with 3840x2160 resolution.

      Connectivity

      • Wired - Aside from the ubiquitous Wi-fi connectivity, if you prefer to use a faster wired connection while in the office you will need an ethernet port (which are becoming more of a rarity these days as laptops/notebooks become thinner and lighter).
      • DVD Drives - most notebooks/laptops come without a DVD drive, as most software, music, video, etc. is now delivered via the internet. Inexpensive USB sticks have much higher capacity, reliability, and portability than DVD drives. If you do need to use DVDs select a model that comes equipped with one.
      • HDMI Ports - If you intend to connect to a TV or larger HDMI display (for business presentations or watching video on a big screen) you will need an HDMI port.
      • USB Ports - If you need to connect more than one USB device to the laptop/notebook make sure it is equipped as such. Most (but not all) notebooks come with two USB ports.

      Performance

      A laptop/notebook's speed, power, and price, like any desktop computer's, is determined by:

      • Processor (CPU) - pricier models have higher processor speeds, which means better performance with CPU intensive tasks. If your tasks mainly involve word processing and web surfing a faster processor is not needed.
      • Graphics (GPU) - if you plan to run graphic-intensive gaming or virtual reality (VR) applications a high-end graphics processor is essential. 
      • Amount of memory (RAM) - a typical inexpensive notebook comes with 8GB of RAM which is sufficient for light duties. If you intend to run multiple applications simultaneously more is preferable. For power users or gamers 16GB or more might be required.
      • Disk speed - solid state drives (SSDs) can give a huge performance boost over the traditional mechanical hard drives (HDDs).  SSDs are more expensive than HDDs but are rapidly declining in price. SSD drives also have much less capacity than HDD drives.

      Keyboarding

      Notebook/tablet buyers should consider a detachable keyboard if one of the primary uses of the device will be word processing. On-screen keyboards take up screen space and are awkward to use, making them no substitute for a regular keyboard.

      Operating Systems

      Laptop/notebook buyers have a choice of several operating systems:

      • Microsoft Windows (in various versions) is the dominant operating system with approximately 90% of the desktop/laptop market.
      • Mac OS is supplied with the Apple MacBook line of laptop/notebook computers.
      • Google Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system that is sold with notebooks referred to as Chromebooks. Chromebooks were originally very inexpensive, barebones, net-surfing appliances but now come in full-featured (and more expensive) versions.
      • Google Android is a popular tablet/smartphone operating system. Whether Google will continue to support both Chrome OS and Android or merge the two into a single OS is unclear.

        For most buyers the choice will be between Windows and Mac OS which comes down to preference. If you are an Apple fan and have other Apple products you may prefer the Mac OS.

        Those accustomed to using Windows (or working in business environments where Windows dominates) will likely prefer to use a Windows-based laptop/notebook.