How to buy a Laptop

Buying a new laptop can be a very confusing experience. There are so many brands and types out there these days. Size, weight and screen dimensions vary considerably. Prices start in the hundreds and go up to the thousands.

Do you need to spend $3000 on a new laptop or will a $1000 one do exactly the same thing for you? There are a lot of stores out there and web sites that will try and direct you to the latest greatest model with every bell and whistle.

On the following pages we discuss three of the most typical applications for notebook pc's and what to look for. In addition to the specific features discussed on the following pages, there are things that you should look out for regardless of your laptop application.


Memory is more important to the feeling of snappy performance than the speed of your processor. All of today's laptops have processors that can handle the bulk of the tasks the average person needs done. With laptops running Windows XP we recommend at least 1GB of on-board memory. The price of memory is so cheap these days that this hardly is the major expense that it was a few years ago. If your laptop comes with Windows Vista we recommend a minimum of 2GB of memory. While your computer will run on less-- performance will suffer. Of course more memory is always better and you should buy as much as your laptop can support and you can afford.


There are two screen styles typically available today. The traditional style screen comes in 3 resolutions. XGA (1,024 x 768 pixels), SXGA (1,400 x 1,050 pixels), and UXGA (1,600 x 1,200 pixels). The newer wide style screens which we recommend come in the following resolutions. WXGA (1,366 x 768 pixels), WSXGA (1,680 x 1,050 pixels) and WUXGA (1,920 x 1,200) pixels.

Higher resolution means higher cost. However, higher resolution is not always a better thing. While higher resolution screens can display more information, the size of that information is smaller. If you had 3 laptops side by side with WXGA, WSXGA and WUXGA screens displaying the same thing the first would be much larger to the eye than the last. In choosing a screen you need to consider what is comfortable to your eye. The highest and most costly resolution is often the least desirable.

The other thing to consider is the screen size as compared to the resolution. A 14-inch wide screen with WXGA will likely look very nice. Anything higher will likely be too small for comfortable reading. However a 17 inch screen with WSXGA might look great because the larger screen size makes items appear larger and compensates for the effects of the higher resolution.

Build Quality:

Laptops come in various levels of ruggedness and build quality. A $600 laptop might have all the features you need and serve you well. But it is not going to be a machine that can take a beating. There are very expensive and high end laptops out there designed to be taken out and abused. Whether you need to spend the extra money on a higher level of ruggedness is something you need to decide based on your situation. We know of many road warriors who carry the cheapest of laptops and are careful with them and get excellent service life. Remember, the internal components of a inexpensive laptop and a higher priced one are essentially the same. While the more expensive one may have more memory, better video and a faster processor -- the components, the mounting and the quality of the components are essentially the same. However, a company wanting to produce an inexpensive laptop is going to use the cheapest case and external components they can in order to offer you this value.

In many cases a laptop under $1000 will do everything for you that a $3000 laptop will do.


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