Serenity Now! A Frustrated Users' Guide to Buying a Laptop

Dennis Faas's picture

So, you want to buy a notebook? Well, I've been thinking of doing so myself. And, although my cheap arse hasn't yet decided on whether to go with a less expensive, bulky desktop or a sleek laptop, we can look over some of the important details to consider when purchasing the latter in today's market. There sure are a lot of things to consider, so let's get started.

First, what kind of processor do you want? Better yet -- what exactly is a processor?

A processor is the engine of your computer (in this case: the laptop). Although other components, like memory, will help determine overall speed of the computer, the processor is responsible for most of the hard work.

In this day and age, there are two dominant companies vying for your dollars and you might recognize the names from previous reports. Both Intel and AMD provide popular processing chips, and each have their high-end and budget prices.

You want a fast laptop? Try Intel's Pentium M processor, which includes Mobile Centrino (wireless) technology, or the AMD Athlon 64 mobile -- both use "ultra low voltage", resulting in longer battery life for mobile computing.

On top of that, you might want to consider a notebook "cooling pad", a product that provides air to the lower part of a laptop (available at most computer supply retailers for about $30-40).

Want to go a little cheaper? Instead of the Pentium M processor, check out the Celeron M processor from Intel. I know, confusing, but just print this report out so that when you waltz into Best Buy you don't make an arse of yourself.

Still with me? Let's talk memory.

Don't go lower than 512MB. Windows XP will certainly run on 256MB, but it will run considerably slower than one that has 512MB of RAM. As for Windows Vista (the next upgrade to XP): expect that you'll need about twice that in order to run things relatively smooth -- and that's certainly true if [Microsoft's operating system upgrade] history is to repeat itself.

Ok, now we get a bit specific. Graphics memory.

Until only a few years ago, this didn't matter. It wasn't until the late '90s that graphics cards became at all popular, and even then they were reserved for the hardcore PC game junkies. But, today computers are used for presentations, meaning you'll need at least 128MB of graphical memory in order to put together a nice Powerpoint slideshow.

For those who want to run serious games, and I know I will, you'll want to pick something up with at least 256 MB of graphical memory. A GeForce card by nVidia is a good choice, but so is the ATI Radeon. (Source:

If you don't care much about running games, stick with a notebook that uses shared video memory (although, this is not recommended). Shared video memory steals from your primary memory (RAM) and notebooks that utilize this type of setup are always inferior to an on-board video card that houses its own video memory.

That should get you started. Most of the other components in a notebook are a bit less important, although you'll want to pick up a 60-80GB hard drive, too. For the ideal notebook we've described here, you'll probably be spending about $800-1000, so be prepared. For anyone checking out this website, you probably realize that this will be a frequently-used tool in the next few years. Thinking of waiting? Know that the new Intel Core 2 Duo chips will be very expensive for some time, at least until the competition releases something (and AMD probably won't launch its next chip until at least late 2007). (Source:

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