Thursday, July 14, 2011


I was in one of the big box stores recently checking out laptops. I generally know what I’m looking at when it comes to laptops but even I was overwhelmed with the choices. To the uninitiated, laptops appear to come in a dizzying number of price ranges and specifications. So how is a non-savvy shopper to know what to buy? How much should you spend? What specifications do you need? The easiest answer is to simply call me and I will personalize my answer to your specific needs. But that would bring this column to a screeching halt leaving 400 words still pent-up inside me.

Deciding on a laptop is a matter of determining price versus your mission profile. The mission profile is what you plan to do with the system. Computer professionals and gamers will have far more need for speed than grandma. Budget is a little difficult to determine but you should know that the cheapest laptop is not always the least expensive in the long run. A sub-$500-dollar laptop uses yesterday’s technology, will give you the performance and reliability of a sub-$500 laptop, be outdated quickly and more likely to need replacement in 2 or 3 years. More expensive laptops will have newer, faster processors and other cutting edge technology that will still be “current” in 2 or 3 years.

Extremely nice laptops go for $1200 and up. Very nice ones for $800 and up. Inexpensive but "will do the job" for less than $500. Once you determine a budget, here the things you need to consider:

Weight. Will you be carrying this through airports or across campus? If so, the difference between 5lb system and a 12lb is immense. Laptops that are very light weight yet very powerful fetch a premium.

Size matters! Do you want something you can easily whip out of a briefcase while in cramped Business Class or do you want a big whopper display that would work for presentations, gaming or over-40 eyesight?

Performance. What is the primary use of the laptop? Internet surfing and simple word processing or designing skyscrapers and gaming? Mo’ power? Mo’ money.

Battery life. Monster laptops with powerful processors and big displays will eat batteries like candy. You can compensate by purchasing an extra battery or choosing a system that is optimized for long battery life. If your system will always be near an AC power outlet then who cares? If you travel often, battery life is of utmost importance.

Ruggedness. If you are buying for a teenager going off to college, I promise they will not treat is nearly as well as you would. Don’t even consider the sub-$500 systems. They will need a laptop that has higher quality plastic or metal (even titanium) enclosures. They need one that will carry them through all 4 years or longer. They need technology that will protect the hard drive when it falls from a bar stool. Ruggedness costs money. You may even consider purchasing the accidental damage warranty.

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