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Garth Callaghan

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Five Things to Look for When Buying a New Laptop

WGarth Callaghan

Black Friday is right around the corner and many people will be searching for the best deals on phones, Blu-Ray players, and TVs. Stores and websites around the country will be having great deals on computers, too, but how do you know if that computer is right for you? Typically you're presented with a list of specs with little to no explanation as to what they mean. Here I'll talk about five of the most important properties to look out for when buying a new laptop.


(Note: This all refers to PCs, not Macs, as there are likely to be many more deals on PCs this week.)


1) CPU: The Central Processing Unit (often just called "the processor") is basically the brain of your computer. It's what's making it run and what's carrying out the millions of complicated instructions and calculations so that you can check your Facebook or open a new Word document. There are all kinds of CPUs on the market today, but the basic rule of thumb right now is to stick with the Intel Core i series. In this series you have three options: i3, i5, and i7. i3 processors are the cheapest, and are great for casual users who surf the web, check email, and make Word documents. i5 is a step up, with boosted speed for running photo or video editing software or other programs that might be more demanding. i7 is the fastest of the bunch, and is great for running games, heavy video editing, and 3D rendering. This is the most advanced option, and if you don't know whether or not you need it, you probably don't. I would recommend the i3 for most users as it is by no means slow and is typically the cheapest option. However, if you see a good deal on an i5 (or even i7), it won't hurt to have that extra speed if you think you might need it someday. Just keep in mind that you won't see a difference in checking emails or opening Microsoft Word with a faster processor -- it really only makes a difference in more advanced programs.

2) RAM: Random Access Memory (usually referred to as just "memory") is the temporary storage used by your computer when it is powered on. Your operating system and applications will store data in memory that it might need to retrieve again soon. As you might imagine, the more memory you have, the more your computer can handle at one time. When doing your shopping you might see computers that range from 2GB - 8GB of RAM. I would recommend at least 4GB for the casual users who mainly just surf the web or create documents -- anything less will limit the capabilities of your machine and is becoming obsolete. Again, you can go with more than 4GB if you plan on gaming or using more intensive software, but you won't see a difference in speed for your basic tasks.

3) Hard Drive:
This one is a bit more basic: the more space your hard drive has, the more data you can store on it. For users who don't store much on their computers besides documents, a 320GB hard drive is more than enough. For people with a lot of photos, music, games, or large programs, you might be more interested in a 500GB or 750GB hard drive. Don't forget: you can always get an external hard drive to store files on if you want to leave space on your computer.

4) Operating system: As I said before, if you are reading this I assume you are interested in buying a PC. There are still a few PCs that come with Windows XP installed, and I would highly recommend you avoid them. XP was great, but it's now over ten years old, and is not even supported by Microsoft anymore. As for Vista, well...we don't talk about that anymore. Now you should be shopping for a computer with Windows 7. There are two versions of Windows 7: 32 bit and 64 bit. A 32 bit operating system is ok for basic use, but it can only utilize up to 4GB of RAM and might not support more advanced software. I would recommend looking for a computer with a 64 bit OS because it will run faster and is less likely to become obsolete in the near future. The only downside with a 64 bit OS is that it could have trouble running old programs and hardware, but this is becoming less of an issue as new software and hardware has come out to support newer systems.

5) Screen size:
When it comes to the size of your display, bigger isn't necessarily better. The common sizes for regular laptops (not including netbooks) is between 13.3-17.3 inches diagonally. 13.3-15.6" is good for most users and is still very portable. 17.3" displays are very nice if your laptop is likely to live at your desk, but if you plan on carrying it around very often it is pretty bulky and heavy. Again, think about how you plan on using your laptop: if you are carrying it back and forth to the office you might want a smaller one. If you plan on watching lots of movies and playing games, a larger screen might be better.


Of course there are other issues to consider when buying a new computer. You might want a laptop with increased battery life if you plan on being on-the-go for most of the day, or you might want a higher-end graphics card (although this is mainly for gaming, and isn't very important for most users). Some computers even come equipped with a Blu-Ray player now. In the end, it all depends on how you plan on using your laptop. It won't hurt to have a top-of-the-line computer if you aren't planning on doing anything too advanced, but why pay all that extra money? Hopefully after reading these five points the computer-buying process is a little less mysterious and you'll be able to buy a new laptop with confidence this Black Friday. Good luck, and happy (bargain) hunting!