This Instructable is designed to show you, the people of Instructables.com, what to look for in a laptop. This is not guaranteed to be the right way, as there is no such thing as a "right way". This will or will not give you good results, because there is no "right way". I am writing this Instructable to aid you in this process, which can be difficult at times. Well, let's get started! Oh, and I apologize ahead of time about the spacing of the text in step 2. It looks different published. I am sorry for any inconvienience this has caused you.
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Step 1: Price
The first thing most people will notice is the price of the laptop. Yes, $400 is cheaper than $1000, but what is right? There is no "right" price. It all depends on what you need in the laptop. Of course, $1000 will get you a lot farther than $400, but is it worth it? It varies. If you want a top of the line laptop that will last you years, than go with the $1000 laptop. If you want an entry level laptop or a netbook that you will use for basic tasks such as word processing or surfing the web, than go with the $400 laptop. Laptops are not cheap, but some of them run about $2000, so don't go overboard.
Step 2: Specs
Okay, we know the price, but what about what's inside? Well, there are a bunch of things to look for inside the laptop, and some of them matter more than others, so let's get started. I will only list the more obvious specs here.
Operating System: Windows 7 is pretty much your only option today in the Microsoft realm. If you want something for home use, go with Home Premium, and if you want more "stuff" in it, like better networking and utilities, go with Professional. Ultimate gives you even more options .
RAM: What is does is give you more room to perform more tasks. The more RAM, the faster your system will be. 1 GB is typical for
netbooks and low-end laptops, and is good for basic tasks. 2GB is better, as is suitable for a little multitasking. 3GB will open
up more doors, and make it possible to perform tasks quickly and effeciently. 4GB is suitable for pretty much anything you
need to do, and will allow for 3D games and you will get the most use of your computer.
CPU: The brains of the computer, where everything happens. For optimal performace, you will want a 2nd Generation processor if
you are with Intel. There are not many AMD processors in laptops; the only one I've seen is an AMD Fusion processor, so that
is pretty much it. For the speed of the processor, it depends. If you want to perform basic tasks, go with either the AMD
Fusion, which is 1.6 GHz, an Intel Pentium, 2 GHz, or an i3 chip, 2 GHz. For moderate use, such as multitasking, use either an
Intel Pentium, 2+ GHZ, or an Intel i5 chip, 2+ GHz. For a future-resistant laptop, use an Intel i7 2.4+ GHz
GPU: The Graphics Processing Unit. This is what gives you picture. Integrated graphics, which means the GPU is embedded into
the CPU, is OK if you don't plan on playing 3D games at high frame rates. Dedicated graphics, which means there is a
separate processor for the graphics, is OK if you want to play 3D games, and use graphics intensive programs. If you have
dedicated graphics, 512 MB of graphics memory is sufficient for moderate tasks. 1 GB of graphics memory is good for
graphics intensive programs and 3D games.
Hard Drive: Your storage medium. The size, of course, will matter on whether you manipulate large files. 250 GB is about entry
level, and will give you adequate space. 320 GB is about "midgrade", and will last you a while longer. This is usually
adequate for average users. 500 GB is sufficient for just about anything. You can have multiple 3D games on it, and
have a plethora of space for other stuff. Solid-State Drives are gaining popularity. They are faster, but they cost more
and the capacities are about 1/8 of 2 TB hard drives. They typically go up to 256 GB, so if your budget allows, or you
want the faster speed, go for it.
Screen Size: The screen size greatly depends on what you are using the laptop for, so if you are looking for a ridiculously portable
laptop, an 11 inch screen will suffice, but you won't find that size on anything but netbooks. 14 inches is usually
appropriate for an ultraportable. A 17 inch screen is only for high performance and desktop replacement laptops.
Ports/Connectors: Depends greatly on your intention of use. Always have USB. If you want to output HD Video, and HDMI is nice.
You also always want earphone/mic jacks so you don't bother anyone if you are ever in that situation. Gigabit
Ethernet is almost optional, unless you need it. Modem is optional. eSATA is a nice touch if you want to connect
an eSATA compatible external hard drive.
Drives: A CD drive is becoming more of an optional component as people are switching to flash memory such as flash drives. If you
do get one, make sure it can write CDs, and at least read DVDs. Floppy drives are obsolete today, so don't expect to find one
in a laptop anymore, but hey, if you still have floppy disks, get an external one.
Wireless/Bluetooth: Make sure to have a wireless card. 802.11n will get you connected to any network. Bluetooth is optional. If you
connect you phone to your computer over Bluetooth or something , then get it.
Audio: Pretty straightforward. Make sure it has good speakers if you listen to music a lot.
Batteries: At least 3 hrs. If you want all day computing, get a 9-cell battery.
Step 3: Cosmetics
Well, we are at the looks of it. This part is pretty straightforward. Just see if you like the looks of the laptop. If you like blue, get a blue laptop. If you like red, get a red laptop. See the pattern? Make sure it is thin enough. You don't want to be lugging around a laptop 1 inch thick. Weight is another factor. Aim for 5 lbs and under, unless you need a desktop replacement laptop.
Step 4: Conclusion
Well, I hope this helped with your decision in buying a laptop. Any comments, suggestions, or just plain constructive criticism are welcome.