Beginners Guide to Selecting a Laptop


What You Need to Know When Choosing a Laptop

When choosing a laptop, the most important criteria you need to be armed with is knowing how you will use it.  Most people use laptops for one of the following primary purposes, and your usage will determine what type/how powerful of a laptop you’ll need:

  • Schoolwork/Writing
  • Office Work/Calculating
  • Web Browsing/Watching Videos
  • Gaming
  • Media Production

Although there are exceptions to this list, and some of these items overlap each other, we listed these categories in order of how powerful of a laptop you will need to perform each type of usage.

Today’s laptops are incredibly powerful, and you might even be able to get away with buying the most basic model.  However, let’s take a look at what’s ‘under the hood’ to see what you’re most likely to need.

What’s Inside?

Three main specs (or specifications) determine the power of a laptop – the CPU (Central Processing Unit – or processor), the amount of RAM (Random Access Memory), and the amount of hard drive space.   Very simply stated: the faster the processor and the more memory and hard drive space, the better the laptop will be at performing complex tasks.  Let’s talk a bit about these:

CPU (Processor)

The CPU is a piece of hardware inside your computer or laptop that performs most of the work.  The more advanced of a CPU you choose, the better you’ll be able to work quickly and efficiently.  You can think of the CPU as the brains of the computer. It carries out instructions and performs the arithmetical, logical and input/output functions of the computer.

RAM (Memory)

RAM is your computer’s memory bank.  It temporarily holds and manipulates the files that are currently in use.  It also works in tandem with the CPU to enable it to access data much faster.  You can think of it as an assistant who is ready and waiting to hand over files that the CPU needs quickly.  With more memory, your laptop will always be ‘ready and waiting’ with the required files.  This ability will make it better able to multitask and make it faster, too.

Hard Drive (Storage)

The Hard Drive is the device within the laptop that stores its data.  It is a core component of computers and stores all the information (data) that the CPU processes which makes your programs run.  The hard drive is where the RAM gets data that it needs to have ready for the CPU.

You can see how the above three specifications all work together and are essential to your laptop working efficiently.

Additional Features

Beyond these three specs, you can further customize your laptop with other features such as:

Graphics Cards

Graphics cards (or gaming cards) are mostly necessary for gaming.  Most laptops will come with a simple graphics card that is fine for simple games but typically will not be able to handle the new big releases.  Upgrading this is a must if you intend to play games.

External Ports

Don’t forget to check that the laptop you’re considering has enough external ports.  Enough to support the way you want to use it.  Does it have enough for all your devices?  If you use a lot of external devices, you will need to have the proper number of ports.  These can include USB, HDMI, and even VGA ports if you want to connect to your TV.

Screen Resolution

Basic laptops will come with a screen resolution that will be just fine for average use.  However, if you plan to use your laptop outside (in the sunshine) or if you are planning to watch movies and play games, you will need to consider a higher resolution screen.  The specs on choosing a higher resolution screen will depend on the exact software you will be using.

Be Aware

Be aware if you are thinking of buying a used or refurbished laptop.  If you absolutely must buy one, be sure that it includes a strong warranty.  The issue with buying used or refurbished is that older laptops experience a significant decrease in performance.  Think of them as a living creature that becomes slower as it ages.  Also, used laptops and computers are often no longer supported by the manufacturer, and you might not be able to fix it if something goes wrong.  This situation could end up costing you more money overall if you find yourself needing to buy another laptop sooner than you expected.

In the end, it is important to do your own research before setting out to buy your laptop.  Don’t let the salesperson talk you into something you don’t need.  You’ll only know this is happening if you determine your needs before heading out.  Read online reviews from many different sites and stay firm in your choice.  With a bit of background knowledge, you’ll be ready to choose a laptop that will serve you well, for years to come.

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Author: Jennifer Davies

Jennifer started working in the Help Desk for a software company and her love for writing and tech led her to start blogging. Fast forward ten years and now she's conducts in-depth reviews for ReadPlease and several other leading review sites.

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