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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.

Mainstream

As the name implies, the mainstream market is dominated by the systems that companies buy to outfit the majority of their mobile workers. They're more expensive than budget systems, while being bigger and heavier than thin and light systems. They are all about performance and reliability with solid components.

Rather than changing quickly as new components come out, the designs of these laptops tend to be locked in for a few years, and their accessories can be used by several generations. This makes it easier and less expensive for businesses to deploy and maintain mainstream laptops, but it also makes them a bit less exciting for consumers.

Mainstream machines are for those who create complex documents, crunch numbers, perform online research and - above all - communicate. In other words, a mainstream laptop is a mobile stand-in for a desktop PC.

With fast Intel Core 2 Duo processors, at least 2GB of RAM and large hard drives, this class of laptop offers excellent performance, although it can be at the expense of battery life.

Video may not be top shelf, but it's a step up from budget systems, with a 14 or 15in screen and a powerful graphics engine that uses either system memory or at least 256MB of its own video memory.

Better yet, these machines often have all the ports of a desktop PC, with four or more USB outlets, FireWire and sometimes HDMI for plugging into a big-screen TV.

Mainstream laptops also offer a great selection of upgrades, add-ons and options, from high-performance 7,200rpm hard drives or integrated Turbo memory to SSD storage or a high-resolution display. Watch out, though - the costs add up quickly.

The down side is that all these goodies add up to a bulky machine that weighs 3kg or more. Before you buy, imagine sprinting between airport gates with one of these mobile monsters inside your shoulder bag.

Mainstream laptops at a glance

Target audience: Mainstream systems are the corporate gold standard for mobile workers, balancing power and abilities with size and weight.

Pros: Dependable, these systems have the latest hardware and security.

Cons: This genre of laptop can be surprisingly heavy and expensive.

Typical size / weight: 356x254x36mm / 3kg

Screen size: 14.1 to 15.6in

CPU / RAM: 2.0 to 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo / 1 to 2GB

Storage: 120 to 500GB HDD or 128 to 256GB SSD.

Ports and connections: 2 to 5 USB ports; FireWire; VGA, HDMI or Mini DisplayPort; audio; Ethernet.

Price range: £1,700 to £2,500.

Examples: Apple MacBook Pro 15, Dell Latitude D630, Lenovo ThinkPad R500.

Buying tips: Worthwhile options: a high-performance 7,200rpm drive, extra RAM and a high-capacity battery.

NEXT PAGE: entertainment 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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