Buying Guide: How to choose the right laptop at COMEX 2015
Choosing the right laptop these days is not an easy task; with literally hundreds of different models from a variety of manufacturers vying for your hard-earned cash.
It does not help that computer descriptions often come in jargon that often makes no sense to the ordinary consumer.
What does an SSD do? Do I want or need it? What is GHz? How much of it do I need?
All these and more are common questions you will ask yourself before buying a new laptop.
In anticipation for COMEX 2015, here's a simple and straightforward guide to help you choose your next travel companion.
Criteria 1: Size
The first question you will have to ask yourself is that of size. Which is to say, how often you will actually be moving the machine and over what distance?
After all, the reason you are getting a laptop over a desktop is that you want a machine that can be as mobile as you.
Laptop size often measured in screen-inches with the smallest being around 11 inches and the largest one's going up to 18 inches. Generally though, laptops come in 11, 13, 15 and 17 inch configurations though there are some exceptions to that rule.
11 to 13-inch machines often fit into the ultrabook category like the Dell XPS 13 which weighs a light 1.45 kg while the largest ones such as the 18-inch Alienware 18 gaming laptop will weigh upwards of 6 to 7 kg. Basically, the logic goes that the more you will be moving the laptop around, the smaller it should be.
Criteria 2: The processor
Now that you have figured out what kind of machine you want, it's time to look at the first hardware component, the processor.
The processor is basically the brains of your computer; it’s the part of the machine that does the actual raw computing so choosing the right one is of paramount importance.
At COMEX 2015, you will see processors from two manufacturers: Intel and AMD.
Intel chips are far more common and come in a few varieties such as the Core M series, Core i series and the Celeron series while AMD is running the A series chips in laptops these days.
At this point you have to ask yourself what your priorities are.
If its portability, lightness and quiet, go for a Core M processor like on the Lenovo Yoga 3 or the Asus Zenbook UX-305.
If you want a machine with a little bit of oomph but still very friendly on your wallet, Intel's Core i3 or AMD A8 will be more than enough.
For the majority of people however, including mid-core gamers, Intel's Core i5 or AMD's A10 is the perfect balance of power and price and will handle everyday tasks with utter ease.
For the real power user though, and I mean hardcore gamers, video editors and anyone who needs heavy duty work, look no further then Intel's Core i7 chip which will offer you top-of-the-line performance. This performance will come at a premium however with Core i7 machines being significantly more expensive than others.
Criteria 3: RAM
Now that your laptop has a brain, it will need a heart, or in the case of a laptop, RAM .
RAM is an acronym for random access memory, a type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly meaning that it is the active memory that is used to run applications on your system.
Having more RAM lets you run more applications simultaneously and not having enough RAM is often the cause for slowdown when you are tying to have too many windows open at the same time.
Obviously this is incredibly important, which makes choosing the right amount a RAM a most important choice.
Fortunately though, the choice is a simple one. The sweet spot is 8GB while 4GB is the bare minimum these days. Anything more than 16GB is overkill unless you are a video editor or a gamer hooking up his computer to multiple 4K displays.
The good news is that a lot of the sellers will provide you with a free RAM upgrade to tempt you into buying a laptop from them so make sure you ask your seller if he is willing to do it.
Criteria 4: Graphics
The next feature you will see advertised is the graphics card.
As the name implies, a graphic card allows your computer to handle graphically intense tasks like gaming and video rendering.
They come in two varieties, integrated and dedicated.
An integrated graphics processing unit (GPU), manufactured by your CPU maker doesn't use its own RAM - it utilises the system's memory instead. What this means is that it siphons a portion of your total system RAM for graphics tasks.
The benefits for such a system is that it uses much less battery, produces less heat and is generally cheaper allowing you to have systems that are small, slimmer, lighter and cheaper.
The downside is that you will be unable to do things like play graphically-intense 3D games or watch and edit high-resolution videos.
A dedicated GPU, made by brands like Nvidia and AMD, has its own RAM, which means that it does not touch the on-board RAM in your system. For example, if your GPU has a 2GB memory, this means that you can use all of it for certain tasks like gaming.
The downside is that such an option is usually more expensive and produces a great deal more heat, requiring you to have a laptop with more fans and a bigger chassis for ventilation making for laptops that are more expensive and less portable.
Basically, you need to ask yourself what your priorities are, if you are a gamer or a designer, get a laptop with a dedicated graphics card. If you want a machine for the everyday sort of tasks, go for an integrated solution, the laptops will often be cheaper and more portable.
Criteria 5: Storage
The next feature that will be advertised to you is storage space and is responsible for things like boot times, program launching times and the speed at which you can transfer data between drives.
Like most things in the computer world storage comes in two varieties: HDD and SSD.
Performance wise, SSD is better - it's faster, lighter and allows you to go from pressing the power button to a fully functional desktop in seconds.
The HDD is heavier, transfers data slower and has moving parts making it more prone to failure.
However, you do pay a pretty large premium for the convenience provided by an SSD and even if you do pick one up, the largest that most manufacturers put into their machines is 512GB, which is a lot smaller than most HDD's which average 1TB (about 1,000 GB)
A good option is to go for a dual system, a primary SSD with less storage (say 128GB) for installing the operating system and other program files to speed up loading times while having a secondary HDD for storing your music, documents, photos and other data files.
These sections cover the basics of what you need to know. Our last piece of advice is to be weary of freebies, they may sound tempting but often the free mice and bags you get are often of very poor quality and not worth having.
What you want is premium anti-virus, Microsoft Office, a RAM upgrade and extended warranty.
Basically, your laptop should be a companion that fits your lifestyle. Do not buy a machine because it’s the most powerful or because it’s the cheapest, buy one that compliments your everyday. If you work from home, you can afford to sacrifice portability while if you are a jet-setting business you need something light, rugged and with massive battery life.
Think about what the machine will be like to use and travel with on a daily basis because after all, in today's internet connected age, there is no companion more steadfast than a good laptop.
Good hunting at COMEX 2015.