Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Before You Buy Your Laptop

Buying a new laptop can be a nightmare. Often, people who are not laptop savvy are confused with the range of brands, different hard disk (HDD) and random access memory (RAM) capacities, and other features including those of the deal being offered.

What you want to do with your laptop (or smart phone) will have some bearing on the capacity of the device you buy. But first, let’s discuss what some of the terms mean. Skim these if you already know what they are.

CPU - Central Processing Unit. This is a chip-set that does most of the work to operate your laptop. Most laptops have a little blue sticker indicating that your laptop has “Intel inside” and there is a variety eg, “Celeron, i5, i7’ etc. More about these later
RAM - Random Access Memory. RAM is memory that is used to hold data while it is being processed eg, while downloading or uploading photos.
VRAM - Is RAM associated with your output monitor. It provides a buffer between your laptop and monitor. Also called Dynamic RAM (DRAM).
HDD - Hard Disk Drive. A storage device upon which you can store data eg, a photo or document.
SSD - Solid-State Drive. SSDs are taking over from HDDs because they have no moving parts and are much faster. (Also eMMC - Embedded Multi-Media Controller)

Now that you are familiar with these terms, when you visit a retail store and see displayed descriptions of various brand and models’ capacities, you’ll know what they refer to. Having this understanding will help you buy what you need and not more or less.

Package Deals  
Laptop sales people are good at promoting package deals. Many of the deals are excellent, but there is also need for caution. Why? Because you may pay more for each item “packaged” than you would pay for separate items and think it’s a bargain because a sales rep tells you so.

Say for example the deal includes a laptop, a power surge protection plug, an antivirus program, other software, and some sort of help line offer. You may be charged say $30 (all amounts in AUD) for a power surge protection plug that you can buy for $10. The help line package could be $300.

You need to ask what the package includes and how the price is determined. If you don’t think you will use the $300 help line or already have a power surge protecting power board, perhaps the package isn’t what you need.

If you already subscribe to an anti-virus/firewall protection program, transfer it to your new laptop. Most allow use on four or six separate devices. Go for the separate items you do need. Remember they want to sell you a laptop - you have the negotiating advantage.

Deciding What Specifications You Need
If you are playing games online, you’ll probably want a lot of RAM, a high speed CPU and VRAM. Gaming uses a lot of resources. Ask your supplier for a laptop specified sufficiently for gaming. It will usually be more expensive than other laptops.

Most people use their laptops for email, photo collection and editing, music, offline games, surfing the internet, and perhaps managing their affairs with banking, superannuation, insurance and so on. If that’s you, you don’t need a specified-to-the-max laptop.

Looking at one major retailer’s site today, the cheapest laptop they have is a Lenovo for $396. It’s light (for travellers) and has minimum specifications including minimal storage (64 GB). It would suffice for email and surfing, but 64 GB of storage is insufficient and it would probably lead to frustration. You get what you pay for.

Their Gaming Laptop is $2297 and is highly specified.

In the middle range is a $797 Lenovo with 8GB RAM, an Intel 1.3 processor and 128 GB of SSD. It has a 15.6” screen (measured diagonally) and comes with Windows 10. It would be suitable for most applications, even some level of gaming. If you download huge volumes of high resolution photographs you’d probably need to transfer them later to a removable hard disk drive otherwise the 128 GB of SSD would disappear fast.

Summary
If you are buying a laptop, don’t walk into a store and get the first one you see. Before you go, think about what you want your new laptop to do. Write down your minimum requirements and then go shopping.

Don’t think that higher cost is always better quality. Choose a price range with which you are comfortable and then compare several models and brands. Don’t pay for additional stuff you don’t want or need. Make sure you know what warranty period applies and if you intend to use DVDs with it, make sure it is equipped with a DVD reader as many laptops now are not.


Good luck with your shopping.

Robin

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