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The Computer Fixer
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University of Pennsylvania
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November 1, 2013
Shopping for a New Laptop? What You Should Know
Your old laptop has served you well so far, but it’s getting up there in years and you are starting to eye the latest portable computers. However, finding a new laptop can easily end up an expensive trial-and-error effort, especially if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. Look to the following tips to guide you along your search for the laptop of your dreams (and budget).
Know Your Categories
Know what you are looking for and what different types of laptops have to offer.
Ultraportables – Often fitted with low-voltage Intel Atom and AMD E-series processors, the 11 to 12-inch ultraportable sports and extraordinarily compact and energy efficient form. These devices offer long battery life, excellent portability and a slim form factor, but at the cost of pure performance, room for future upgrades and a limited number of usable ports.
Ultrabooks – Intel’s Ultrabook specification bridges the gap between the versatile tablet and lightweight ultraportable laptops. These machines offer the touch capabilities of a tablet with the traditional but lightweight form of a slim laptop. Ultrabooks like the $749 Lenovo Ideapad Yoga series can be “converted” into tablets for on-the-go versatility.
Midsize Laptops – Ranging from 14 to 16 inches in screen size, midsize laptops are the sweet spot of laptop computing. Not too big, but not too small, either. These machines are often packed with plenty of popular features, including generously sized hard drives, Blu-ray optical drives and the latest in high-definition LED screens. Prices generally range from as low as $300 for value-oriented models to over $1,500 for models with all of the trimmings.
Desktop Replacements – Ranging from 17 to 20 inches in screen size, these beastly machines are the largest and most powerful of the bunch thanks to their high-end graphics, top-of-the-line quad-core processors, full 1080p screens and generous amounts of RAM. However, you’ll pay a sizable penalty in battery life, weight and general lack of portability, as well as price. Most desktop replacements start at a hefty $1,500 and up.
Windows 8 Reigns Supreme
In spite of all the flack it’s received, Windows 8 is now the standard operating system for many OEMs. According to Microsoft, over 100 million copies of the company’s next-generation OS have been sold, which means you’ll be seeing a lot of the tablet and touchscreen-optimized OS as you shop for your new laptop.
Haswell is the Word
Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell processors launched back in June 2013 and by now, they’re readily available in a broad array of laptops. According to CNet, this new breed of Intel chips offer significant improvements in power consumption, battery life and overall performance, allowing laptops like the 13-inch MacBook Air to boast up to 12 hours of battery life. Fourth-gen Intel Core processors can be identified by the “4xxx” model number.
Onboard Graphics are In
The latest Intel Core processors feature the company’s onboard graphics solution, offering performance that’s on par with many lower-end graphics cards. There’s also AMD’s Radeon HD 4200 Series graphics, often featured with the company’s mainstream processors. Onboard graphics will give you better battery life and enough graphics power to play casual or older games, but it won’t be enough to play demanding PC games like Metro 2022 and Skyrim.
Optical Drives are on the Outs
A growing number of laptops are shedding their optical drives and for good reason. Downloadable media content and the growing storage capabilities of SD cards and other flash-based media serve as viable alternatives to disc-based optical media. As a result, today’s thin lightweight laptops omit them to maintain their sleek form factor and feather weight.