Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Buy a (PC) Laptop for Normal People

I've had many people ask my advice on buying a laptop for them or their college student. I thought I would share my suggestions here to make it more available.

This advice is for you if:
  • You don't do a lot of video editing or Adobe Photoshop work.
  • You work mostly in Microsoft Office, surf, email and keep your music on a computer.
  • You don't necessarily want a Mac.

This describes most of the laptop users. We are light users. I include myself in this even though I do a lot of photo editing in Lightroom and use several programs outside of Office. What typically makes one a heavy computer user: video editing, heavy Photoshop use.

Budget: $400-$700
You can find all you need in this price range.

Stick to the name brands:
(No particular order)


Lot's of people will tout this brand or that. For every person who tells you why "brand x" stinks, I'll show you 10 people who rave about theirs. You can find plenty of online ratings. Here's one.

Look for these basic specs:
  • Hard drive: 500 GB* or larger (Gigabytes*)
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Processor: You do not need the latest, greatest & fastest. Most people can't tell the processing difference between today's hot one and one that's 18 months old (or more). Salesmen love to push processor. Ignore them.
Screen Size:
If you plan to carry it a lot, look for a 15" or smaller. It will fit in a backpack easily and won't wear you out. The more you plan to tote it, the more you should pay attention to how much it weighs. Getting your hands on it in a store is a great gauge of this.

If you won't carry it much at all and you like a lot of screen space, look for a 17". The 17s will probably be at $700 or a little more.

(My next laptop will be 15" or smaller since I simply plug a large monitor into my laptop to do photo editing.)

Battery life:
Unless you plan to be plugged in a lot, check the specs on battery life. If you can find it rated 6-8 hours, that's great. Realize whatever it's rated for, it will diminish with the life of the battery. So that 4-hour battery is maximum and it will decline from there.

Other factors:
Pay attention to things like keyboard, touch pad, buttons, and overall look and feel of it. The great thing about a PC laptop is there are tons of options. Make sure the controls and look and feel good to you -- you will live with it for the next 3-4 years. This is a great reason to go to a retail store.

DVD/CDR drive: (The thing you put your CDs & DVDs in)
These are starting to phase out. We are in the transition of getting all of our data wirelessly. If you want to cut down on the weight of a laptop go without. If you do, you may have to pop for a CDR drive that you connect with a USB cable to your laptop ($70-$80). If you're not sure, go with the DVD/CDR drive. Most of them still come equipped with one.