There hundreds of different laptops out there and many of them look almost identical. Deciphering the various specifications can feel like a bit like navigating a minefield of codes and jargon, none of which makes much sense. Trying to establish what’s important, which laptop would suit your needs best and which features you really have to pay attention to can be tricky.
The good news, however, is that it’s really not all that complicated and with just a basic understanding you can easily crack the code and get the best laptop for your needs.
The processor is the brain of a laptop, it does all the hard work of running the software. A more powerful processor will allow your laptop to run more tasks more quickly. There are different types of processor, but in simple terms the more GHz a processor has the faster it will be able to run. To add a tiny bit of confusion there are chips with more than one processor on them, these are referred to as cores. Put simply, the more cores the more processing power is available.
The more RAM your computer has the faster it will work. RAM is a super-fast bit of computer memory that the processor uses to help it perform tasks. Increasing the amount of RAM your computer has is a great way to speed it up. The majority of laptops have a slot open for you to upgrade your RAM whenever you want. Installing RAM is fairly straightforward and the chips just push into place. There are many different types, however, so make sure you buy the right RAM for your laptop.
All your precious data is stored on the hard disk: pictures, documents, movies and so on. The larger the hard disk the more you can save. Hard disk capacities have grown massively in the last few years with 500GB drives in laptops commonplace. That’s enough for tens of thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video. As well as the storage space hard disks can be measured by their RPM (revolutions per minute). The higher the RPM the faster data can be read and written to the disk and therefore the more quickly your PC will perform.
Solid State Disks are quickly replacing hard disks as the storage medium of choice in laptops. SSDs are faster than traditional hard disks and use much less power thereby increasing battery life. SSDs have no moving parts so have the added benefit of being completely silent in operation too. They are, however, more expensive and store much less data for your money.
There are a variety of screen sizes available from 11 right up to 17 inches, but most fall in the 15-inch area. For the majority of work a 15-inch screen will be just fine with enough space to work comfortably on most projects. A 17-inch model is perfect if you’re planning to use your laptop to watch videos, but may be too big to carry around comfortably. A smaller screen, though eminently portable, may be too cramped to do anything but basic work.
In addition to the physical size of a laptop screen the resolution is an important factor. The more pixels a screen has the more detailed and clear the image will be. Screen resolutions are measured in pixels. For example, a 15-inch screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution will be sharper than one with a 1366 x 768.
The graphics card in a PC powers the screen and as you might expect the faster the card the better the performance. For most tasks you won’t need a really powerful graphics card, but for games and video it’s worth paying more to get that extra muscle. A laptop graphics card isn’t replaceable so make sure to get the right one from the outset.
By far and away USB is the most popular connection available today. USB is used to plug printers, scanners, phones and just about everything else into a computer. There are three versions of USB available but thankfully they are all compatible with each other. USB 3 is the latest incarnation of the connection and is much faster than its predecessors. The number of USB ports available varies between laptops, so think about which peripherals you’re likely to need to connect to your system at one time. USB peripherals include mice, printers, digital cameras and USB thumb drives.
Blu-ray, DVD, CD
Many of the latest laptops come with a Blu-ray drive that allows you to play high quality movies as well as more traditional DVD and CD discs. These drives will also let you create your own DVDs and CDs.
Wireless communications are fast and reliable and have quickly become the default method of connecting to a network and getting online. All new laptops will have Wi-Fi built in and connecting is easy.
A wired network connection is not as convenient as wireless but has advantages such as really high-speed and a more secure link to the network.
Laptops are meant to be used on the move and the bigger the battery the more life you’ll get out of it when working on the go. The higher the mAh rating a battery has the longer it will last when charged up.
Bluetooth is a short-range wireless network that can be used to connect smaller devices to a laptop. Mostly, Bluetooth is used for mobile phones and headphones or other audio equipment, though many printers also use it too.
Memory card reader
A memory card reader will let you copy pictures from a digital camera without the need to plug the camera in to your laptop. Simply pop the memory card in the PC and copy the images across. This has the dual benefits of being faster and not draining the camera battery.
Some laptops will have video out ports that allow you to display what’s on the screen on another monitor. HDMI and VGA are the two most popular. HDMI is much better quality and carries the audio signal too, though VGA is still found on many screens, projectors and TVs.