If you aren’t tech-savvy, it can be difficult to find and purchase a laptop that fits your specific needs. A video editor is going to have different laptop requirements than someone who uses their laptop to watch YouTube and update their Facebook status. Both of these users will have different needs than someone who is into playing the latest-and-greatest video games. My hope is that this basic computer primer is helpful for those of you who aren’t familiar with the components of laptops. I’ll be discussing the different components, what they do, and what you should be looking for to address your particular needs.
One of the most important components of your laptop is the CPU (central processing unit). You can think of the CPU as the brain of your computer. The two major CPU providers are Intel and AMD, with Intel by far having the greater market share. You’ll find AMD processors in a number of budget laptops. CPUs are a component that comes out in generations. Intel Core Duo processors came out in 2006, followed by Core 2 Duo processors. If you haven’t purchased a computer in the last year then chances are you have one of these processors in your computer. In 2010, Intel came out with its i3/i5/i7 series of processors. In 2011 Intel improved these processors. The new processors are referred to as second generation i3/i5/i7 or Sandy Bridge. The new Sandy Bridge processors should be your target no matter which computer you’re looking to buy. At a minimum, you should be getting one of the i processors (i3/i5/i7). Sandy Bridge processors are going to offer you phenomenal performance enhancements over your current processor if your computer is more than a year old.
RAM is the memory of your computer. If you often run many programs at once you’ll want more RAM. Dollar-for-dollar, its often considered the best upgrade for your money. The minimum you’d ever want in a computer these days is 4GB, although technically you can crawl through on less. If you skimp on the RAM, be prepared for your computer to be sluggish. So when looking for a laptop, make sure you get at least 4GB of memory, with 6GB being preferred.
Most people understand that the hard drive is the storage for their computer. Anything on your computer, such as pictures, documents, and photos, are stored on the hard drive. When selecting a hard drive you should make sure that you don’t make the mistake of just looking at capacity. You need to also look at the speed of the hard drive. Some computer manufacturers will opt for a slower 5400 rpm hard drive because they know that many people just look at the capacity of the drive and assume that bigger is better. I’d much rather have a 250GB hard drive that runs at 7200 rpm than a lower 5400 rpm hard drive with 750GB of space. I think that a laptop with more than 250GB of capacity is sufficient for just about anyone. If you want to store a lot of movies or something, you should look at purchasing an external hard drive that plugs into your computer by USB.
There are two major classes of displays: matte and glossy. Glossy screens are often more vibrant, but they can pick up on way too many reflections. Glossy screens are absolutely horrid for outdoors computing. In general, I think you’re going to be much happier with a matte screen. The next thing to look at is resolution. For their screens, most people want a crisp image that isn’t too small. The higher the resolution, the smaller everything on your computer will seem. I recommend the following resolutions for laptops:
13-14″: 1366 x 768
15″: 1600 x900
17″: 1920 x 1080
I think that these resolutions provide the sweet spot between being crisp, but not making everything too small. However, you’ll quickly find that you’re only going to get a better display on laptops where you’re paying for it. Very few consumer laptops under $1k are going to carry a 1600×900 display on a 15″ laptop.
There are typically two distinct options when it comes to video cards. You can use a video card that’s integrated with the processor, or you can use a stand-alone (discrete) video card. Integrated graphics used to be horrid, but they’ve come a long way with the new Sandy Bridge processors. If you aren’t doing any HD video rendering or playing top-of-the-line video games, then you’ll be fine with integrated graphics. If you like the play video games or want to watch a lot of HD videos, I’d opt for getting a stand-alone video card.
I think that pretty much covers the basic components of laptops. Of course you have batteries, backlit keywords, optical drives and wireless cards, but the above described components are the ones you’ll care most about when deciding which new laptop to buy.