Before buying a notebook make a realistic assessment of your requirements. Are you a compulsive gamer? Do you tend to watch lots of HD video on your computer? Most users have pretty limited needs that extend only to web surfing and word processing. Any laptop available in the market can meet these requirements. So there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on a high end machine. Besides cost, the other factors that need to be considered are portability and usability.
Do you travel a lot? Mobile professionals need a thin and light machine they can carry around. Netbooks are a good choice for them. These machines are incredibly popular now. They are ultraportable with 9 or 10 inch screens. Another reason behind the popularity of netbooks is their price. These are cheap computers. But buying a netbook isn't a very bright idea if the machine is intended to be your primary computer. Compared to mainstream laptops, netbooks have much less powerful hardware. And the small screen size may strain your eyes if you use it for extended periods.
Upgrading a laptop isn't totally impossible, but it isn't very easy either. All laptops have some parts that cannot be replaced at all because they are soldered to the motherboard. Chief among the components that can't usually be replaced are CPU and Graphics cards. There are of course some parts that can be replaced and they include hard drive and RAM.
Laptop components are mini versions of their desktop counterparts. They are pricier than desktop components, but they aren't necessarily more powerful. In fact, laptops tend to be less powerful than desktops. This is because laptop components usually run at slower speeds so as to reduce heat build-up inside the chassis.
The processor/CPU inside a computer has the greatest impact on system speeds. Intel and AMD are currently the leading CPU manufacturers. There are other chip-makers too, but they usually cater to the lower-end of the spectrum. Intel processors deliver slightly better performance than AMD processors, but they are also pricier than their AMD counterparts.
The graphics card/GPU is an integral part of a gaming laptop. If you are not an avid gamer, then you don't have to buy a laptop with a discrete GPU. But remember that having a GPU will be helpful while running photo and video editing applications and playing HD video. If you tend to play a lot of games, you should buy a laptop with a discrete ATI or NVIDIA graphics. Intel processors usually come with an integrated graphics solution such as the GMA950 or 4500MHD, but these are practically useless for playing graphics rich modern games.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Having sufficient RAM is extremely essential for getting good performance from your laptop. For instance, you will not be able to run multiple applications simultaneously if you do not have enough RAM. So how much RAM is necessary? Well, it depends upon your exact needs. Most netbooks come with 1GB of RAM. Higher-end models will usually have 3GB or 4GB of RAM. Laptops with 8GB and 16GB of RAM are also available at the moment. 1GB of RAM is usually sufficient if you are an average user.
How much storage space you need depends upon how you use the computer. If you only store spreadsheets and your office documents, you will not need much space. But if you use your laptop to store movies, music and photos you will need to buy a model with a large hard drive. Basic laptops usually come with 80GB or 160GB hard drives. Pricier models with 500GB or 640GB of hard drives are also available.
The author is the editor of Notebooks Unlimited.Net, a tech blog dedicated to notebooks and netbooks. Visit her site for notebook reviews, news and tips.
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