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20 questions to ask when buying a laptop

Created by Charlotte in Technology



Choosing a new laptop can seem like a bit of a minefield if you’ve never done it before. There are so many models to choose from and options to consider.

 

Here are 20 things for you to think about before you buy.
Much of the content in this article applies only to PCs and the Windows operating system. First, think about how you’re going to use your laptop. If you’re just going to use it for sending email and surfing the net, any laptop will do. However, if you need it for work or more complicated tasks such as video editing, you should pay more attention to the specification.

 

Happy woman drinking coffee and using laptopFor ultra-portability, you could go for one of the many small ‘notebooks’ or even tinier ’netbooks’, but they don’t make good home computers because their screens are so small. If you’re going to be using a laptop for long periods of time, consider buying a separate keyboard and mouse so that you can raise the laptop to a better height to avoid having to crick your neck to look at the screen.

 

1. What size screen?

Laptop screens range from 8-inch on ultra-portable netbooks up to the very large 19-inch, with around 15.6 inches being standard (the screens are always measured diagonally in inches). If you’re going to be using a laptop instead of a desktop computer, the bigger the screen is, the better, but if you’re going to be carrying it around, a screen about 15 inches across is probably best because of the weight implications.

 

2. Matte or glossy?

Most laptops these days come with glossy screens, but if you’re planning to use yours outdoors, a matte screen will be a lot less reflective and so easier on the eyes, especially when the sun is shining.

 

3. How heavy will it be?

What you choose is going to depend on whether you’re going to be carrying it around a lot. A laptop with a 15.6-inch screen will weigh between 2 and 3kg (4.4–6.6lb). Unfortunately, the very lightest laptops come at a substantial cost.

 

4. Which operating system should I choose?

The operating system you can use will depend on the type of laptop you have. For PC laptops, the most popular operating system for home use is currently Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit. Netbooks often use Windows 7 Starter, which is a cutdown version with less functionality. Other operating systems are Apple OS X (which can be used only on Apple Macs) and Linux (which is found mainly on PCs). Some people prefer these for specific purposes, but because fewer people use them, it might be more difficult to find compatible software and, more importantly, to find someone to help you if something goes wrong. However, because fewer people use them, they’re far less prone to attack by computer viruses than Windows (see no. 15).

 

5. Will it be wireless?

If you don’t want to be tied to using the laptop close to a telephone socket, you’ll need to connect it to the internet wirelessly. All modern laptops are capable of doing this, but you’ll need a wireless router, which some internet service providers now provide as standard.

 

6. How long will the battery last?

The life of some laptop batteries is only about two hours before they have to be recharged. If you’re going to be mainly using your laptop while on the move, look for one with a battery that has more longevity than this – some last up to six hours. Bear in mind that battery life does tend to deteriorate with age.

 

7. Should I buy a mouse?

Laptops come with a track pad installed in front of the keyboard. By moving your finger across this, you can move the cursor (pointer) on the screen. If you prefer to use a separate mouse, make sure you buy one with a USB connector that you can pop in one of the USB ports in the laptop (see no. 13). Some laptops have the facility to switch off the track pad when the latter isn’t in use. This is helpful if you have a tendency to tap it by mistake.

 

8. What size hard drive do I need?

The hard drive is the area of the laptop where all your files, folders, pictures and videos will be stored. Its size is measured in gigabytes (Gb). A standard laptop will probably have a capacity of between 160 and 500Gb. However, 160Gb will probably be perfectly adequate except if you’re intending to save a lot of large files such as videos.

 

9. Do I need a CD or DVD drive?

All standard-size laptops have an integral DVD drive that will play both CDs and DVDs, but the smaller notebooks might not and netbooks never do. If you want to be able to copy files on to DVDs, make sure the laptop has a DVD-RW drive (RW=rewritable).

 

10. How much memory should it have?

RAM – random access memory – is also measured in gigabytes. At least 2Gb is recommended for the latest operating systems, which, to work efficiently, need more memory than previous versions. The speed of the laptop will depend a lot on the amount of RAM it has.

 

11. Which processor should I buy?

This is the most important component of the laptop and will determine how well it performs. Processors are usually made by either Intel or AMD. For basic use, a dual core processor will be adequate, but for more complicated tasks such as video editing, it’s worth paying for a quad core one.

 

12. Do I need a webcam?

If you want to be able to make free video calls using Skype, a built-in webcam and microphone will save you having to buy and connect separate ones.

 

13. How many USB ports do I need?

Laptops generally have three or four USB ports on one of their sides (see right). These are where you will connect any peripherals such as a printer, scanner, digital camera, mouse, separate keyboard, etc. So the more you have, the better.

 

14. Do I need to buy speakers?

Unlike desktop computers, laptops include built-in speakers so there’s no need to buy separate ones, except if you’re a music aficionado and want really good sound quality.

 

15. Will I need to buy an anti-virus program?

Your new laptop will probably come pre-loaded with a trial version of an anti-virus program such as Norton or McAffee. After a month or two, your right to use this will expire and you’ll be asked to pay a subscription. The alternative is to uninstall this and download one of the popular free anti-virus programs from the internet. You should never have more than one antivirus program on your computer as they can conflict with each other.

 

16. Do I need to buy software to do office work?

If you need to be able to produce documents or spreadsheets, you’ll need a suite of software that can help you do this. Your laptop may come with a trial version of Microsoft Office that you’ll have to pay for after a few months. Alternatively, you could choose to download Open Office, which is free.

 

17. Do I need a printer?

If you want to be able to print documents or photographs, you’ll need a printer. Many of these are now multifunction machines that can also be used for scanning, photocopying and even faxing. Whichever you buy, it will either connect to the laptop via one of the USB ports or operate wirelessly if you’ve chosen that option.

 

18. What sort of guarantee will my laptop have?

Laptops usually come with a one-year ‘back-to-base’ warranty, which means that the machine will have to go to a workshop to be fixed and won’t be repaired in your home. However, like other electrical products, there will also be the option to pay for an extended and/or enhanced guarantee. Check whether the shop or manufacturer offers a freephone helpline in case you require any help setting up the laptop.

 

19. Will I need to secure the laptop?

If you’ll be using it in public places, you can buy a special lock to secure the laptop temporarily to a desk or table.

 

20. Do I need a case?

If you’re planning to use your laptop when out and about, you’ll need a case for it. There are many to choose from, and their prices range from very little to quite a lot. Make sure that the one you opt for is the right size for the laptop, so it won’t rattle around inside when you’re on the move.

 

A useful website:

Digital Unite Learning Zone learning.digitalunite.com

Imagine how useful it would be to have a set of useful ‘tutorial guides’, either to help you help others find their way on the internet, or just for your own learning? We all have gaps in our knowledge and some of these guides can be revelatory even if we’ve been online for years! These guides are a huge resource, in simple English and simple to download, on everything from shopping online to emailing, from podcasting to browsing.

 

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