6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

intro8   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011Are you familiar with dying laptop syndrome? Is your mobile workstation showing signs of wear, tear, age and abuse? I know you’re both probably very attached to one another, but it might be time to let go…

Buying a new laptop computer can be both frustrating and expensive. Brand loyalty will only get you so far, and before long you’ll find yourself carefully studying specifications, reading countless reviews and examining every online shop you can find for the best price. Even if you’ve only got a modest budget in mind, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time with your new machine – so it pays to make the right decision in the long run.

Sandy Bridge

Intel’s second generation of Core-i “Sandy Bridge” processors landed in March, albeit a couple of months late thanks to a recall. The evidence of this is clear all over the web, manufacturers like Dell, Asus, Acer and Apple already have models sporting the speedier, more energy efficient chips.

sandybridge   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

You’ll also probably notice many of the first generation Core-i processors floating around in numerous deals, as retailers try to shift “old” stock. The last generation aren’t bad processors by any stretch of the imagination, though if you’re really looking to future-proof yourself then the newer chips are by far the better choice.

Sandy Bridge processors run on average 5-10% faster than the previous generation, operate at cooler temperatures, are more energy efficient and the on-board graphical processors (GPU) provide impressive performance for an integrated, non-dedicated solution.

USB 3.0

In 1996 USB 1.0 was standardised with a maximum transfer rate of 12 Megabits per second. By April 2000 USB 2.0 set the bar higher with maximum theoretical speeds of 480 Megabits per second (in real terms 60MB per second), and now USB 3.0 is here to change the game again.

usb   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

With realistic transfer speeds of 3.2 Gigabits per second (that’s a mighty 400MB of data every second) why wouldn’t you want USB 3.0 on your next laptop? Notebooks often require additional, external storage (especially for backup purposes) so buying into speedier technology early is bound to pay off once you’ve invested in some USB 3.0 devices.

Good Screen Resolution & Colour Reproduction

One thing that repeatedly lets down well-equipped laptops is a poor screen. If you intend on doing more than just word processing and web surfing; fancy playing games, watching videos or editing photos on your laptop then don’t forget a decent display.

Despite promising “HD resolution”, many notebooks still only carry a 720p compliant screen. For some serious visual real-estate, invest in a full HD model (1080p or better). If you’re concerned about accurate colour representation then look out for RGB LED backlighting (possibly as an upgrade, for example Dell’s latest XPS machines).

rgb   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

Unlike “white” LEDs which are blue with a coating of yellow phosphor to appear white, RGB LED backlighting provides a purer white and richer colours especially in the green and blue spectrums.

Chiclet Keyboard

Vaguely resembling Scrabble tiles, chiclet keyboards are (among some manufacturers, at least) all the rage at the moment. The keys certainly make for a refreshing look, but also offer the benefit of not having gaps between the keys.

chiclet   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

This means your keyboard should gather far less dust, fluff, crumbs and other desk-related paraphernalia over time. Reviews suggest that some of these keyboards are excellent, offering superior action and a much more comfortable typing experience over traditional keyboards.

For real wow-factor look for a backlit model and as always, read your reviews and if possible try it out before you buy – every manufacturer and model can differ.

Housing & Build Quality

As a Linux and occasionally Windows user even I’m aware that Apple have produced some wonderful laptops over the years. I’m not referring to the operating system, and I’m not referring to the hardware either – it’s the chassis that always impressed me.

hp envy 13   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

Finally, it seems, that “normal” laptop manufacturers have started to do the same. HP’s original Envy line took a well-executed metal leaf out of Apple’s (Mac)book, featuring a sleek aluminium chassis, flush screen and huge touchpad. It was the first laptop to dare try on an Apple dress in the Windows market, it looked great and it was built like a tank.

Build quality can make all the difference, especially if you’re prone to breaking things or expecting your purchase to last a while. It doesn’t have to be metal to be well-built (Toshiba’s business laptops are proof of that) but you’ll want to make sure you know what you’re in for before buying.

Solid State Storage

Traditional hard drives are electromechanical (keep strong magnets well away) and contain spinning disks to store an arm to access data. They are fairly susceptible to shock, have a tendency to die when you least expect and are on the way out in favour of solid state storage.

ssd   6 Things To Look For When Buying A Laptop In 2011

Okay, so traditional hard drives are here to stay for a while yet (especially considering the constant reduction in price) but SSDs offer some great benefits, if you’ve got the spare cash. Not only are they faster, with no spin-up time and lower latency but also hardier (with absolutely no moving parts) and silent. We’ve recently published a guide here at MakeUseOf all about SSDs, so make sure you give it a read if you’re interested.

Conclusion

You’re probably not going to opt for a laptop that has all of the above, and if you do be prepared to pay top dollar. Always do your research before buying a laptop computer, either by reading reviews or asking owners. Users of forums like NotebookForums or NotebookReview can offer valuable insight into potential purchases such as Linux performance and heat output. Good luck in your quest for the perfect laptop!

Have you recently bought a new laptop? Are you considering one? Any killer selling points? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credits: Shutterstock, Chiclet Keyboard: Stephen Bolen, RGB LED: flakeparadigm

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36 Comments -

0 votes

Sbjaved

I’ve ordered an Dell XPS 15 L502x which checks a lot of the boxes mentioned in the article. Though I don’t know about the build quality.

One thing I would definitely look for in a laptop is the battery. Most machines ship with a 6-cell 59WHr or less battery which will be useless if you plan to do any serious work without being plugged in. HP Envy series has a HUGE problem with this. So I always look for a 9-cell 90Whr + battery so that I don’t run out of juice in the middle of something.

0 votes

Anonymous

Xps 15 has a 9 cell battery option..
Am planning to buy the same lappy next week :-)

0 votes

Yisroel

Except for the “Housing & Build Quality”.
Iv’e been through 2 laptops from dell in the past 3 years.
I treat them with royalty. Should brake since I need to open the lid too many times.

0 votes

Yisroel

* Shouldn’t

0 votes

Dan

I bought an HP dm1z “netbook” last month. It does not meet any of the criteria you posted above but I am still happy with my purchase. I am really impressed with AMD’s new APU chip, the E350. It’s noticeably faster than any Intel Atom chip I’ve used and almost offers a mainstream laptop experience. The graphics capability is also impressive for a netbook. 320GB hard drive is more than enough space IMO.

0 votes

Hugh Isaacs II

#7. Backlit keyboard.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

I mentioned that one in my section about chiclet keyboards, though I don’t think backlighting really makes a huge difference, apart from looking awesome.

0 votes

Hugh Isaacs II

You don’t work in the dark much.

0 votes

Marie Fitzgibbons

Exactly my thought! I have a Dell Vostro and love it, but my next laptop will have a backlit keyboard … not because they look cool (though they do!) but because I tend to work later at night and without a laptop light I can’t see my damn keys! I SO look forward to not having to tote the damn thing everywhere with me or look for it after the cat has decided to play “swipe & hide” with it.

0 votes

Randeep

Agree ! Backlit keyboards are a bliss, in dark of course !

0 votes

JKivlighan

 I agree, if you work in a dimly lighted area, a back lighted keyboard is the only way to go. Once you have a back-lighted keyboard on your notebook, you will never go back to a standard keyboard. Apple set a standard.
 

0 votes

Anonymous

I’m currently looking at notebooks for a friend and this checklist is very helpful. Thank you!

Later on, I’ll be looking to upgrade but have to admit that the feature set of today’s notebooks lack one very valuable tweak – the ability of the monitor to physically turn 90 degrees from Landscape (often 16:9) to Portrait.

I’m not sure if this is a feature anyone but me is looking forward to… I really think it would be a valuable new feature on a device that is currently locking itself into a video display unit (because of the 16:9 aspect ratio) but suffers somewhat when dealing with other media – particularly eBooks and similar (where portrait mode might be a better solution)

The closest thing on the market to such a beast is the ASUS Transformer but I don’t necessarily want to have to hold a tablet in my hands and/or willing to go down to such a small screen size.

0 votes

Andrei

You may want to try a software solution like EEERotate or similar to rotate your screen image and touchpad behavior with 90 (or 180) degrees.

EEE Rotate is very light software. It worked on all hardware I tested – though some incompatibilities may exist.

It works great for me with portrait photography, but i do have a smaller laptop, so i can sustain it comfortably in any position.

0 votes

Dave Meyer

The RGB backlighting and chiclet keyboard are curious inclusions.

RGB backlighting is nice, but has minimal impact on viewing angles and color fidelity compared to the actual panel, TN, IPS or VA etc. There aren’t many IPS panels in the wild in laptop world, but there will likely be quite a few out in back-to-school season, given their adoption by tablet makers.

Seriously, hygiene as the main advantage of chiclet keyboards? They’re a matter of taste. Some like traditional, some like chiclet. I’ve never been comfortable typing on a chiclet board, and am too old to learn new tricks.

I’d have included battery life and decent video connectivity on my list.

0 votes

Info

Thank you for the post. I’m still learning from you, but I’m improving myself. I absolutely love reading all that is posted on your site.Keep the information coming. I liked it!

Stock tips

0 votes

Doc

“theoretical speeds of 480 Megabits per second (in real terms 60MB per second” 480 Megabits *is* 60MB (Megabytes) per second….60MB x 8 bits per byte = 480MBits.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Yep, I was just spelling it out for those who don’t know!

0 votes

Lorenzo Gatti

Regarding keyboards, I’m surprised to see no mention of layout: many models have undersized arrow keys, sometimes all and sometimes the up and down arrows nested between normal left and right arrows. This degeneracy eliminates whole brands from consideration.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

I agree, but it’s all subjective and based on what you’re used to. For example I can’t abide the function key in the bottom left, where the Ctrl key should be. Drives me nuts.

0 votes

Alberto Fx

I just boughjt a toshiba satellite L645 with 4MB RAM, core i5 and integrated V-card, and even if generally satisfied, I was disappointed by the speakers. Although with a 12cell battery pack it can survive for up to 6h of video reproduction the audio really sucks! So you almost always need external speakers or headphones to listen to music, something I do very often with my laptop! (previous laptops was a toshiba as well but with integrated harman kardon speakers).

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Yep, definitely a problem these days. I’ve given up looking for “decent speakers” on my next laptop as I regard CPU and display above all else, and you simply can’t have everything (well, not for my budget anyway).

0 votes

Tamara

it would be great of you to first look here and see which companies at least tries to have conflict-free products, and than choose your new laptop..

http://www.raisehopeforcongo.o

0 votes

Cross Country Home Services

Really glad to read this post….Very informative…The article is interesting and very relevant to today.very nice content..Thanks

0 votes

Anonymous

Why not just tell people that the BEST laptop today is the MacBook Pro?
Don’t believe me, just read PC Mag’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards here: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2384246,00.asp

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Unfortunately not everyone has MacBook money, myself included. Whilst they are nice machines they certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of mobile computing.

0 votes

RocRizzo

Why not just tell people that the BEST laptop today is the MacBook Pro?
Don’t believe me, just read PC Mag’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards here: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/

0 votes

Tenzin Gyalpo Dhenub

A blue ray drive will not harm..

0 votes

Bobbo

Thanks for mentioning build quality. Most of my users don’t treat their laptops very gently (even had one run over it with her car – don’t know why it was on the garage floor behind the car wheel, but at least she admitted her mistake). Besides, I believe care and use is an education issue that most people ignore. 

0 votes

Pedro Paiva

 As I want a 13.3″ screen (for the laptop size and weight and have an external screen at home), only found a Sony that has the backlit keyboard. However am disappointed that no laptop has a screen that you can read on bright daylight, like the 100$+ from One Laptop per Child…

0 votes

Rammses Gonzalez

I´d love to congratulate the creators of this web page. It is one of my favourites ’cause it keeps me updated with the newest in computing technology.

About this article i´d like to say that I own a 15″ Toshiba notebook since a year (model: satellite L455D-S5976). In Toshiba´s official web page its price is $400.00 USD. With a  2.0 Ghz processor and 2Gb of RAM running at 800Mhz I use it for surfing and for simple office tasks. It can run photoshop but with some limitations. Video editing and watching Full HD video is just imposible. As a gaming plattform it is bad too. It is useful just for emulating old arcade games.

I feel satisfied with the overall performance of my current notebook (according to its price) but I would love to buy a Toshiba-Qosmio notebook (about $1900.00 USD) for editing video and playing the latest pc games.

Finally I have to say that It is a shame that in my country almost all hardware cost almost twice as much as in USA and the high-end hardware is not available. So if I find a store with the Toshiba model I want ($1900 USD) I will have to pay almost $4000.00 for it. Just as an example a 17¨ Mac book pro costs in USA $2600.00 USD but in a well known store in mexico it costs more than $4000.00 USD.

Holy crap!!!!!. We have here a weak purchasing power and paying two times the amerian prices, it is just imposible for many to have a high end pc. 
 

0 votes

Tina

Rammses,

thanks a lot for your input!

You’re right, it’s incredible how the US gets so many great deals, even from non-US manufacturers.

0 votes

Err0rX

I really wish we could get over this HD hump. While it’s nice to have standardized resolutions, I have a Sony laptop that’s 7 years old now that supports a maximum resolution of 1920×1200. A 1080p screen should have stopped being a wow factor 5 years ago.

0 votes

Ed

I don’t know if my little finger on the left hand is the problem or if it’s the chiclet keyboard on my Vaio E. The Shift key often (as in too often to be a fluke) gets stuck, which drives mouse clicks and my keyboard shortcuts crazy.

Battery life is important, too. I keep asking dealers why most Windows laptops today top out at 3 or 4 hours, when Macbooks go for 10 hours? I’d be happy with 6 or 7 at least.

I also don’t like these mirrorized screens. Why can’t the modern laptops give graphic professionals an option?

0 votes

Tina

Longer battery lifetime would indeed be awesome! However, the problem must be in the hardware, not (just) the operating system. In the case of Macs the OS developer happens to be the hardware developer, too.

0 votes

Makhrak

Thanks for the Guide.

0 votes

Timothy Barham

Battery Life is #1 for a laptop, I tend to keep stuff for a while and have had two hard drives and one laptop battery fail and one laptop hinge go.  The Dell XPS 1645 with a core i7 CPU Q 820 with 8 gb of ram with the Windows7 Ultimate o/s which I thought would be the best thing since sliced bread; I found to be slower than my old desktop, flexes like crazy – maybe if it bends it won’t break?  But the most worrying thing was that after buying it for a reasonable price on ebay, as a “rerufurbished” item the beautiful 1920 X 1080 RBG screen ended up just red and black!  Luckily it was just a connector had come loose as the 3 month warranty had expired.  Then all the flattering reviews that inspired the original purchase get balanced by the user’s forums and you read about the nightmares that others who purchased the same product…stuff like gamers who found the 90 watt power adapter should have been a 130 watt item, but then you need a bios update that dell are slow to provide. You pay your money and you take your chances