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91. Laptop Computer Buyers Guide

By Andrew D. Wright

Claude Roch from East River, Nova Scotia gets a free mousepad for his letter asking what should a person look for when buying a new laptop computer?

When buying any new computer the things to look for are amount of RAM, amount of hard drive space, the video card and its memory and finally the processor.

You cannot have too much RAM. In new computers 512 MB is an okay start. Gamers and other power users should try for 1 or 2 GB. Too little RAM will make programs run slower.

Hard drive space is the same. It is always better to have too much space than not enough. Most new laptops ship with 60 GB to 120 GB hard drives as standard. This is fine for most users while power users will prefer more space.

The speed of the hard drive, expressed as RPM or revolutions per minute, will have a big influence on how fast programs will load and run. Disk access for a typical speed 5400 RPM laptop drive will be faster than for a 4200 RPM drive. Desktop computers and server hard drives are usually 7200 RPM and 10,000 RPM respectively.

Video cards for laptops have come a long way. Here look for dedicated video memory rather than slower shared memory for better performance. 128 MB of video RAM is a good amount that will cover playing most modern games and multimedia. Power users look for 256 MB dedicated video RAM.

Processor speed is not as critical as it once was and for most users any processor with a speed over 1.5 GHz will serve their needs. It is worth getting a 64 bit processor or even better, a dual core 64 bit processor if you intend to keep this computer a while and want the maximum compatibility with future software.

Laptop display screens come in different formats with different native resolutions. The native resolution is the size of the desktop that produces the sharpest video image the screen can display. You should be comfortable with reading the default print size at the native resolution.

Other important factors to look for in a laptop display are how easy and clear it is to read in different light conditions including direct sunlight and how well the screen can be viewed from different angles as well as head on. Gamers and power users should also check available refresh rates. It's a good idea to play back some video like a DVD and look for color smearing and blurring of the edges of objects in the video window.

A new laptop should come with a DVD writer/re-writable optical drive capable of writing to double layer DVDs that can hold 8.5 GB per disk. Look for slots for common flash memory sizes like SD for easy transfer of large files from other computers or digital devices like cameras and mp3 players.

Also check your new laptop supports 802.11g wireless, has a network card and a modem so you can connect to the internet multiple ways from any place.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 27 August 2006


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