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How to Buy a Laptop
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 September 2010 20:10 Friday, 30 July 2010 20:26
|How to Buy a Laptop|
Buying a new laptop can be an overwhelming experience. There are an almost infinite number of feature combinations. This article will help guide you through how to buy a laptop by providing a description of most of the key features that laptop buyers are interested in.
Intel launched the new Core i3, i5, and i7 processors earlier this year. Many OEM’s are still selling the older Core2 Duo products as well, some at a really good price to clear out inventory. The Core2 Duo parts are roughly equivalent in terms of performance to the Core i3 parts of similar clock speed. The Core i5 and the Core i7 are higher performing processors. All of the Core2, Core i3, and Core i5 are dual core processors. The Core i7 can be either dual or quad core (you can typically tell by the suffix on the processor model number, those ending in an “M” are dual core and those ending in a “QM” or “XM” are quad core). More processor cores basically mean that your computer can do more things in parallel, or simultaneously. Dual core means the CPU chip contains two processor cores, and quad core means the CPU chip contains four processor cores. While quad core will typically have better performance than dual core, they require more power to operate. More power to operate means less battery life for your laptop.
For the average home user the Core i3 processor is sufficient. If you plan on doing serious 3D gaming on your laptop, you’re best off going with a Core i7.
Processor manufacturers further break down their product lines by something called clock speeds. The clock speed is basically a measurement of how fast that particular processor is running at (almost like the system heartbeat). An Intel Core i3 running at 2.26 GHz (pronounced Giga Hertz, a measurement of frequency) will be slightly faster than a Core i3 running at 2.13 GHz. How much does clock speed really matter? The answer is it depends on what you’re doing. If you are doing high level mathematics calculations that typically take hours to run, it can make a big difference. For the average home user, they won’t be able to tell the difference between a 2.2 GHz processor and a 2.5 GHz processor.
You can still find some laptops with Intel Celeron processors for pretty cheap. In my opinion it’s best to avoid these. The Celeron’s tend to perform far worse than the Core2 or Core i series and show poor battery life as well. Spend the extra $50 and get a Core i3 instead.
AMD makes a number of laptop processors as well. The Phenom II series comes in a dual, triple, or quad core configuration. The Phenom II quad cores have a hard time keeping up with the Intel quad cores, and are probably more equivalent to an Intel Core i5 dual core. The Turion II series are roughly equivalent to the Intel Core2 series in terms of performance. AMD systems tend to have worse battery life than Intel systems (at least for now), largely due to the idle power consumption (the power consumed when your laptop is idle, not having to do a bunch of processing). For these reasons, AMD systems are usually cheaper than Intel systems.
DDR3 is the memory most common for laptops. Some of the older laptops are shipping with DDR2, probably best to avoid these. DDR2 memory has now become more expensive than DDR3, and has lower performance. The speed of DDR3 memory most common today is DDR3-1066. Some manufacturers will try to save a few dollars by installing DDR3-800. I would recommend against these systems, spend the extra couple of bucks for DDR3-1066.
You also want to make sure your memory is installed in pairs. If you are buying a system with 2GB of memory, make sure the system has two 1GB memory SODIMM’s (what laptop memory sticks are called). All of the processors today have the ability to utilize both memory sockets at the same time, increasing the performance of your system. With only one memory socket populated, you will be not getting the performance out of your laptop that you should be, and it can make a big difference.
The absolute minimum amount of memory you should consider is 2GB of system memory. More often than not 4GB is coming standard on today’s laptops. As the price of memory fluctuates, OEM’s will sometimes try to cut back the amount of memory in the system rather than raise the selling price. Watch for this! Remember, make sure you have two memory SODIMM’s for maximum performance.