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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.