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PC Advisor's ultimate guide to buying a laptop

From ultraportables to tablets - we've got them covered

There's a huge array of choice when it comes to laptops, but with everything from netbooks and ultraportables to machines suitable for gaming and those designed to withstand use in rural locations, which should you choose. We've put together the ultimate laptop guide to help you decide.

Entertainment

The sooner we face up to the fact that we're all media junkies, the sooner we can satisfy our needs with an entertainment laptop. As good at turning an office or small apartment into a media lounge as they are for taking TV on the road, entertainment systems contain the equivalent of a high-powered media machine. But be warned: they can weigh more than 5kg.

Look for a premium Intel processor, like the Core 2 Duo Extreme or Core 2 Quad, along with 4GB of system memory. A large hard drive is de rigueur because an entertainment laptop is not only for watching TV shows but recording them with a built-in digital video recorder. Most also have double-layer or Blu-ray optical drives for putting your favourites on to discs.

The centre of attention is the built-in TV tuner. At the moment, however, no mobile entertainment system on the market has two tuners for watching one show while recording another. We suspect it's just a matter of time.

Video is key, with a high-definition display of at least 17in; in fact, 18.4in panels are becoming the sweet spot. Look for a high-end graphics engine with between 512MB and 1GB of its own video memory.

Sound is just as important, with high-end audio chips and elaborate control panels. Some models, such as the Acer Aspire 8920, include up to five integrated stereo speakers, a bass booster and Dolby Home Theater sound effects.

These systems have room for an incredible array of connection possibilities, with four or five USB ports, HDMI (for connecting to an even bigger screen), eSATA (for an external hard drive) and often SPDIF (to drive digital speakers).

Entertainment laptops at a glance

Target audience: Get this laptops for mobile types who need to edit video on the road or just watch TV, wherever.

Pros: They can be used to replace a desktop PC, not to mention a TV and stereo for those who are tight on space.

Cons: No double tuner setups for watching one show while recording another; plus these are huge laptops that stretch the definition of portable and they'll stretch your wallet as well.

Typical size / weight: 432x304x64mm / 5kg

Screen size: 17 to 21in

CPU / RAM: 2.2 to 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme or Core 2 Quad / 4 to 8GB

Storage: 500GB HDD or 128GB SSD

Ports and connections: 4 to 5 USB ports; VGA, HDMI, composite or S-Video; audio or SPDIF, Ethernet, sometimes FireWire, sometimes eSATA.

Price range: £800 to £1,500.

Examples: Acer Aspire 8920.

Buying tips: Have travel plans? Look for a big bag for this bad boy.

NEXT PAGE: gaming machines

  1. From ultraportables to tablets - we've got them covered
  2. Ultramobile PCs
  3. Netbooks
  4. Ultraslim
  5. Thin and light
  6. Tablet PCs
  7. Rugged PCs
  8. Budget laptops
  9. Mainstream
  10. Entertainment machines
  11. Gaming machines
  12. Mobile workstations



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