How to Choose a Laptop or Notebook Computer


Today's laptops are much more powerful than even the hottest desktop computers of yesterday. They're also lighter and much more stylish. Many people are opting out of desktop computers altogether and use a laptop for all their computer needs. If you're thinking of going this route, check out these shopping tips.

  • Read through How to Choose a Desktop Computer. The "Before you shop" points and most of "The basics" also apply when shopping for a laptop.

  • Pick up the laptops at the store. (Ask to have them unlocked if necessary.) Choose one that feels sturdy, solid and not too heavy.

  • Try the keyboard. Since you can't replace it (except with the exact same item), make sure you're comfortable with its touch and responsiveness. Test it on a desk and on your lap.

  • Test the pointing device, track pad or track ball, the laptop alternatives to a mouse. Some of these can be hard to master. You'll be able to connect an external mouse, but the built-in device is more handy when you're mobile.

  • Check if the computer's bottom gets uncomfortably hot when it's running--a problem if you actually use the laptop on your lap.

  • Pay attention to screen size and resolution. Current liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens on laptops measure from 13 to 21 inches diagonally. Screen resolution may be as low as 800 x 600 pixels or as high as 1600 x 1200. The more pixels, the crisper the screen image. View the screen in a variety of settings: A screen that looks great in normal room lighting can look terrible in bright or dim light.

  • Choose a laptop with at least two USB 2 connections and at least one Firewire (IEEE1394) connection. USB 2 and Firewire are very popular and fast ways of connecting iPods, digital cameras and some phones to computers.

  • Check to see if the laptop has built in wireless capabilities, most do these days. A wireless network card (also called Wi-Fi or 802.11) will free you from having to be wired to your Internet connection (see How to Network Your Computers). Also, Bluetooth capability will let you share information wirelessly with other Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as your cell phone or personal digital assistant.

  • Check to see if the laptop has a DVD Burner. That makes backing up documents, music files and pictures a snap because of the high capacity of the discs.

  • Get an antitheft device. Hundreds of thousands of laptops are stolen every year. Look for cables that secure the laptop to a desk. Install software that disables a stolen laptop, or better yet, reports the laptop's location when it connects to the Internet.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be skeptical of claims about battery life. In the real world, battery life is almost always less than what the manufacturer advertises.
  • What's the difference between a laptop and a notebook? Nothing. Use the two terms interchangeably.
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