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How to Buy a Computer Laptop/Notebook Buying Guide

    Laptop Buying Guide

    Forward - The purpose of this article is toprovide you with unbiased information for your laptop/notebookcomputer buying decisions. We've tried to make this guide easy toread and informative, however it also includes detailed technicalinformation for the more advanced reader.

    This guide is divided into several differentchapters which include: what to consider before purchasing a laptopor notebook computer, recommended laptop features, an explanation oflaptop video memory and how it effects screen resolution, a notebookCPU speed index guide, details on the mobile CPUs that are in thespeed index, hints on buying a laptop, and a list of otherlaptop/notebook computer resources.

    The right menu bar contains a list of the differentchapters that you can use to jump to the chapters you are mostinterested in.

    What to Consider Before Purchasing a Laptop Computer

    1. Portability - The main reason to have a laptop ornotebook computer is portability - the need to take your entirecomputer from one place to another. If you don't need portability,then you should probably buy a desktop.

    2. Expense - Laptop computers cost almost twice as much ascomparably equipped desktops. Shocking isn't it?
    You can actually buy two comparably equipped desktops for the priceof one laptop. So if you have to have a computer in two separateplaces, you would be better off with two desktops (if they werereasonably close together you could hook them together in a wired orwireless local area network (LAN).

    3. Speed - Laptops are 20-30% slower than a desktop withthe same features (CPU, hard drive capacity, etc.). Slower CPUs,motherboards, hard drives, and video systems all contribute to thespeed loss.

    4. Upgradeability - Laptop computers are mostlynon-upgradeable. Whatever CPU, video card (built into themotherboard), sound card (also built-in), and screen, that come withthe laptop are the same parts the laptop will end with.
    While it is possible to upgrade main memory, and removable drives,the upgrades can cost twice as much as a desktop's. Upgrades usingPC cards or docking stations are also very expensive.

    You can also upgrade newer laptops through their USB, USB 2.0,and Firewire ports. Only USB 2.0 and Firewire ports can run highspeed devices e.g. hard drives and DVD drives. Again, all externaldrives cost almost twice as much as an internal drive.

    5. Serious Gaming. You will need to spend at least $2500for a laptop that can play current games at a respectable speed. Idon't recommend laptops for serious gaming no matter how much youare willing to spend. Why?

    Because if you love to play games, about 1-1.5 years after youpurchase your laptop you will find it isn't fast enough to keep upwith the latest new game. At that time, you will regret buying agaming laptop. However, if you have the money, and want to throwdown $2500 every year or so, more power to you.

    On the other hand, if your computer budget is limited, it'sbetter to have a functional laptop and spend your gaming dollars onan upgradeable desktop.

    Recommended Notebook Features

    Memory, Memory, and more Memory - Most lower-priced notebooks are sold with 128 MB of system memory (RAM). That's not enough for running applications efficiently under Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. If you use your notebook for occasional typing and web browsing you could get by with 128 MB of RAM but you would probably be much happier with 256 MBs. Power users should try to get a notebook with at least 512 MB or more. It is very important that the memory is purchased when you buy the computer as many notebooks have only one or two memory expansion slots and you will wind up throwing away the old memory when you upgrade.

    Batteries - Lithium batteries are superior to other kinds.

    Hard Drives - 20 GB minimum. Of course, larger is better.

    Hardware DVD/MPEG-2 - All DVD drives rely on MPEG graphics compression to display video. The current standard is known as MPEG-2. MPEG-2 compression can be provided by software (slow) or by hardware (fast).

    It is generally agreed that a 500 MHz or faster Pentium III or Athlon is required to play software DVD effectively. Needless to say, hardware MPEG-2 is more desirable, and will provide smoother playback. Hardware MPEG-2 is a video chip function in notebooks.

    Video Screens - There are basically two kinds: active matrix (TFT) and dual scan (STN)/passive matrix screens. Another type of passive matrix screen is called HPA (High Performance Addressing). HPA screens are generally brighter than plain dual scan screens.
    Active matrix screens are faster, brighter, and cost about $200-$300 more than a dual scan/HPA screen. It's best to view the screen before purchase to see if you like it.

    Video Memory and Screen Resolution - The screen resolution of any notebook or desktop computer is a function of the graphics adapter, amount of Video RAM available, the size (pixel density) of the screen shown (e.g. 640x480), and the number of colors used. These screen features are loosely defined by the type of output the screen can produce e.g. VGA, SVGA, XGA, and SXGA as shown below

    Video Memory and Screen Resolution Table

    Type of Output
    Maximum Screen Size
    Number of Colors
    Video RAM Required
    VGA 640x480 16 1 MB
    SVGA 800x600 256 1 - 2 MB
    XGA 1024x768 64K-16M 4 MB
    SXGA 1280x1024 16M 8 MB
    Super XGA+ 1400x1050 16M 8 MB
    Ultra XGA 1600x1200 16M 8 MB

    Recommended Minimum Video Memory* - Try toget 2MB or more. Less than 2MB and you may have difficulty runningprograms in Super VGA resolutions. To get true color (XGA - 16million colors) on an external monitor, the graphics adapter needs4MB of video memory (note: the notebook's graphics adaptermust also be capable of producing the desired amount of colors, makesure before you buy).

    Laptops with no dedicated video memory. If your notebooklists the term "shared memory" in its specifications, it is likelythat it contains no dedicated video memory. The video controllershares system RAM with the CPU, eliminating the requirement fordedicated Video RAM. For notebooks that use shared RAM, the videocontroller's capability is the limiting factor for screenresolution.

    There are two drawbacks to shared RAM: The videocontroller accesses shared RAM slower than dedicated Video RAM, andthe memory used by the video card reduces total system RAM availableto software programs. For example, if your notebook with 64 MB ofshared RAM is running in XGA mode, you would have only 60 MB of RAMavailable for programs. So if your software program requires 64 MBof system RAM, you are out of luck.

    So what is good about shared RAM? Shared RAM allowsmanufacturers to cut cost, size, and heat generation by eliminatingVideo RAM. As a result, you will usually see shared RAM in lowercost laptops, notebooks, and desktops.

    Hint: Avoid notebooks with shared RAM unless you are interested in low power consumption and extended battery life.

    Mobile CPU Speed Ratings

    Mobile CPUs (central processing unit) are ratedfastest to slowest (compared at same clock speed when possible).CPUs are also categorized as current, on the way out, or obsolete.

    Note: For desktop CPU information please see ourDesktopCPU Rundown.

    Speed Conversion 1000 MHz = 1 GHz

    Current CPUs
    1. Intel Mobile Intel Pentium 4 processor supporting Hyper-ThreadingTechnology at 2.66 GHz, 2.80 GHz, 3.06 GHz, 3.20 GHz.
    2. AMD Athlon 64 at 2800+, 3000+, and 3200+
    3. Intel Centrino Pentium M at 1.30 GHz, 1.40 GHz, 1.50 GHz, 1.60,and 1.70 GHz.
    4. Athlon XP-M processors (with 512k L2 cache) at 2000+, 2200+,2400+, 2500+, 2600+, and 2800+.
    5. Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M at 1.4, 1.5, 1.6,1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0,2.2, 2.4, and 2.5 GHz
    6. AMD Athlon XP-M "mainstream version" (256k L2 cache) at 2200+ and2400+.
    7. AMD Mobile Athlon XP1600+, 1700+, 1800+, 1900+, 2000+, and 2200+
    8. Apple G4 PowerPC 800, 867, 933, 1000, 1250, and 1330 MHz(Motorola 7451 with L3 cache)
    9. Apple G4 PowerPC 800, 867, (Motorola 7440)
    10. Mobile Intel Celeron at 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, and 2 GHz (400MHz bus)
    11. VIA C3 at 1 GHz (Nehemiah Core)
    12. Transmeta Crusoe TM5800 at 700, 733, 766, 800, 867, 933, and1000 MHz

    On the Way Out
    1. Apple G3 PowerPC 800, and 900 MHz
    2. AMD Mobile Athlon 4 1500+ and 1600+
    3. Mobile Intel Pentium III Processor-M at 866, 933, 1000, 1060,1130, and 1200 MHz (0.13-micron)
    4. Intel Low Voltage Mobile Intel Pentium III processor-M at 700,733, 750, 800A, 800, 850, 866, 1000, 1220, and 1330 MHz(0.13-micron)
    5. VIA C3 at 733, 800, 866, and 933 MHz
    6. Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Intel® Pentium® III 850, 866, 900, and933 MHz
    7. Low Voltage Mobile Intel Celeron processor at 866 MHz
    8. Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Intel Celeron processor at 650 , 700,733 MHz, and 800 MHz (0.13-micron)1. Apple G4 PowerPC 550 and 667MHz (Motorola 7440)
    9. AMD Mobile Athlon 4 at 950, 1000, 1100, and 1200 MHz
    10. Mobile Intel Celeron at 1.06, 1.13, 1.20, and 1.33 GHz(0.13-micron, 133 MHz bus)
    11. Mobile AMD Duron at 950, 1000, 1100, and 1200 MHz
    12. Apple G4 Power PC 400 and 500 MHz (Motorola 7410)
    13. Intel Pentium III SpeedStep 600, 650, 700, 750, 800, 850, 900,and 1000 MHz

    1. AMD Athlon 4 at 850 and 900 MHz
    2. Mobile Intel Celeron at 733, 800A, 866, 900, and 933 MHz (0.18micron)
    3. Transmeta Crusoe TM5500 at 600, 667 and 733MHz
    4. Mobile AMD Duron 600, 700, 800, and 850 MHz
    5. Intel Mobile Celeron 750 and 800 MHz (100 MHz bus )
    6. Intel low power SpeedStep 600 MHz (for mini-notebooks)
    7. Low Voltage Mobile Intel Pentium III 750
    8. Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Intel® Pentium® III 600
    9. Low Voltage Mobile Intel Celeron at 600 and 650 MHz
    10. Intel Mobile Pentium III 400, 450, 500 MHz (with full speed L2cache)
    11. Intel Low-Power Pentium III 500 MHz (for mini-notebooks)
    12. Intel Ultra Low Voltage Pentium III 500 MHz SpeedStep (formini-notebooks)
    13. Apple G3 PowerPC 400 or 500 MHz
    14. Intel Mobile Pentium II 333, 366, and 400 MHz (with full speedL2 cache)
    15. Intel Mobile Celeron 366, 400, 433, 466, 500, 550, 600, 650, and700 MHz (with Quickstart)
    16. Intel low power Celeron 500 MHz.
    17. Intel Ultra Low Voltage Celeron 500 MHz (for mini-notebooks)
    18. Transmeta Crusoe 333, 366, 400, 500-700 MHz (emulates x86instruction set in software)
    19. VIA Cyrix III 553 - 667 MHz
    20. AMD K6-2 450, 475, 500, 533, and 550 MHz (with PowerNow!)1. AMDK6-2P 433, 450, and 475 MHz
    21. Intel Mobile Pentium II 266 and 300 MHz.
    22. Intel Mobile Celeron 266, 300, and 333 MHz.
    23. AMD K6-2 P 350, 366, 380, and 400 MHz.
    24. AMD K6-2 266, 300, and 333 MHz.
    25. Intel Mobile Pentium 166-300 MHz.
    26. AMD K6 233-300 MHz.
    27. Cyrix Media GX 300 MHz.
    28. AMD K6-3 450, 475, and 500 MHz with PowerNow ! (never shipped)
    29. AMD Mobile K6-3P at 400, 433, and 450 MHz (never shipped)
    30. AMD Mobile K6-3 P 350, 366, and 380 MHz (never shipped)

    Hint: If you are buying a new notebook, try to buy a notebook with a processor from the "current category" at the fastest speed you can afford. Those considering notebooks in the non-current categories should only buy heavily discounted models.
    Remember that notebook CPUs are mostly not upgradeable, so buy a notebook that is fast enough to meet your current and future processing requirements.

    To read more about each type of CPUs click here.

    Notebook Reviews and Additional Resources

    1.PCWorld's Notebook page. Latest reviews on notebooks and handhelds.
    2.ZdNet's Notebook page. Latest notebook reviews. Also has editor's notebook picks and links to shopping.
    3.CNet's Notebook page. Reviews and all sorts of notebook information.

    4.InfoHQ College Computer Buying Guide. Advice to help students and their parents buy a computer for college.
    .InfoHQ Used Notebook Buying Guide. In this article we discuss; whether or not you should consider buying a used notebook, what you should know before buying a used notebook, and what you should pay for a used notebook.
    6. InfoHQ Ruggedized Notebook Guide. Ruggedized notebooks features reviewed and discussed. Ruggedized notebooks compared from 4 manufacturers.
    7. InfoHQ News and Rumors. New notebooks and laptops announced by manufacturers are included in our Daily News and Rumors column. Also includes our Sunday Shopping Watch feature which compares computer prices in computer chain stores.
    8. InfoHQ Vendor List. A list of major laptop, desktop, and peripheral manufacturers and retailers. Also, includes our ratings and comments on each vendor.
    9. InfoHQ Help Board. A place to comment, ask questions, and to help others.
    10.InfoHQ Tech Watch Newsletter. Check this out if you are interested in the latest happenings in the computer world. Latest laptop and notebook technology is usually discussed in the newsletter then is updated into our Laptop Buying Guide.

    11. DisplaySearch - A company that provides technical reports and market analysis on laptop TFT/LCD monitors.
    12. Genovation Inc. - Manufacturers numeric keypads and keyboards for notebook and handheld computers.
    13. Wholesalers-Direct - Laptops, computer accessories, bulletin board, and links to other tech sites.

    Published on: 2006-03-13 Author: