Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Web Secret #219: Buying a Laptop

Recently, I finally came across a succinct, easy to understand article that explained how to buy a laptop.

The article's author, Sam Grobart believes, (as do I,) that worrying about most laptop features is a waste of time, unless you're managing your airport's traffic control system or rendering 3-D graphics.

Most people are merely looking for a portable computer to get you online, maybe watch some movies, answer some e-mails and work on a document, spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. And if you fall into that category, this is all you need to worry about:

WEIGHT - Don't buy anything that weighs more than six pounds. Any number of laptops weigh far less than that (down to around two and a half pounds), so there’s no reason to get anything heavier.

SCREEN SIZE - For most of us, 13 inches is big enough, but still portable. And you can always hook your laptop to an external monitor when you are home.

PROCESSOR - Doesn’t matter. Even an entry level processor is ridiculously more powerful than anything you used 5 years ago.

BATTERY LIFE - “Battery life will vary depending on the product configuration, product model, applications loaded on the product, power management setting of the product, and product features used by the customer.” In other words, battery-life specs don't mean a thing. Get to know your battery's life in the context of your individual computer usage.

MEMORY - Unlike the processor, RAM (random access memory) does matter. You want 4 gigabytes of RAM. A laptop with less than that will seem sluggish, with annoying delays between the time you click on a menu command or hit a key and something actually happens.

STORAGE - This used to matter a lot, but with the rise of streaming services and cloud computing, the amount of storage on your computer has become a lot less important. Today, almost any laptop north of $300 has 500GB of storage, which could hold nearly 500 hours of video, or around 8,300 hours of music. For some perspective, an application like Microsoft Office requires three gigabytes of space. (Remember when it took an hour to download Microsoft Office? I downloaded the entire thing on my son's new laptop in 5 minutes.)

GRAPHICS CARD - See “Processor.” For regular use, any graphics processor is going to do the trick.

WIRELESS - Get the Wi-Fi-only model.

OPTICAL DRIVE - This is that slot or tray you have been using for DVDs or recordable CDs and it is falling by the wayside. Music has gone largely digital, forgoing physical media. Video seems next. Applications are increasingly downloaded from online stores. So you don’t need the optical drive.

PRICE - Spending $500 or so will get you a PC. You will need to spend twice as much to get the entry level MacBook Pro. See "MAC or PC" below.

MAC OR PC - Get a Mac, get a Mac, get a Mac. I know what I am talking about. I worked for a company that was entirely Mac, I worked for a company that was entirely PC. At one point my family was entirely PC, and now we are almost entirely Mac. Macs don't require endless calls to tech support, or anti-virus protection. Pick up a $1,000 PC and compare it to a $1,000 Mac. You can feel the difference. My husband's expensive Sony Vaio is always on the fritz. Besides, odds are that you have an iPhone, and it is lovely to have all of your gadgets seamlessly integrate with each other.

TRY IT OUT - All the specs in the world won’t tell you if the keyboard’s too cramped, the screen is not to your liking or the speakers are tinny. To figure that out, you need to go to a brick-and-mortar store.

Then go out an buy an entry level Mac laptop. That is all you need.

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