What to Consider Before Purchasing a Laptop Computer
Portability – The main reason to have a laptop or notebook computer is portability – the need to take your entire computer from one place to another. If you don’t need portability, then you should probably buy a desktop.
Expense – Laptop computers cost almost twice as much as comparably equipped desktops. You can actually buy two comparably equipped desktops for the price of one laptop.
Speed – Laptops are 20-30% slower than a desktop with the same features (CPU, hard drive capacity, etc.). Slower CPUs, motherboards, hard drives, and video systems all contribute to the speed loss.
Upgradeability – Laptop computers are mostly non-upgradeable. Whatever CPU, video card (built into the motherboard), sound card (also built-in), and screen, that come with the laptop are the same parts the laptop will end with.
While it is possible to upgrade main memory, and removable drives, the upgrades can cost twice as much as a desktop’s. Upgrades using PC cards or docking stations are also very expensive.
Recommended Notebook Features
Memory, Memory, and more Memory – Most lower-priced notebooks are sold with 64-128 MB of system memory (RAM). That’s not enough for running applications efficiently under Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Me. If you use your notebook for occasional typing and web browsing you could get by with 128 MB of RAM but you would probably be much happier with 256 MB. Power users should try to get a notebook with at least 512 MB or more. It is very important that the memory is purchased when you buy the computer as many notebooks have only one or two memory expansion slots and you will wind up throwing away the old memory when you upgrade.
Batteries – Lithium batteries are superior to other kinds.
Hard Drives – 10 GB minimum. Of course, larger is better.
Hardware DVD/MPEG-2 – All DVD drives rely on MPEG graphics compression to display video. The current standard is known as MPEG-2. MPEG-2 compression can be provided by software (slow) or by hardware (fast).
It is generally agreed that a 500 MHz or faster Pentium III or Athlon is required to play software DVD effectively. Needless to say, hardware MPEG-2 is more desirable, and will provide smoother playback. Hardware MPEG-2 is a video chip function in notebooks.
Video Screens – There are basically two kinds: active matrix (TFT) and dual scan (STN)/passive matrix screens. Another type of passive matrix screen is called HPA (High Performance Addressing). HPA screens are generally brighter than plain dual scan screens.
Active matrix screens are faster, brighter, and cost about $200-$300 more than a dual scan/HPA screen. It’s best to view the screen before purchase to see if you like it.
Video Memory and Screen Resolution – The screen resolution of any notebook or desktop computer is a function of the graphics adapter, amount of Video RAM available, the size (pixel density) of the screen shown (e.g. 640×480), and the number of colors used. These screen features are loosely defined by the type of output the screen can produce e.g. VGA, SVGA, XGA, and SXGA as shown in the table below.
Video Memory and Screen Resolution Table
|Type of Output||Maximum Screen Size||Number of Colors||Video RAM Required|
|SVGA||800×600||256||1 – 2 MB|
|Super XGA||1400×1050||16M||8 MB|
|Ultra XGA||1600×1200||16M||8 MB|
Recommended Minimum Video Memory– Try to get 2MB or more. Less than 2MB and you may have difficulty running programs in Super VGA resolutions. To get true color (XGA – 16 million colors) on an external monitor, the graphics adapter needs 4MB of video memory (note: the notebook’s graphics adapter must also be capable of producing the desired amount of colors, make sure before you buy).
Infotech Recommends the following Notebook brands: