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The Right Way To Buy a Portable Computer

MLN Buyer's Guide For Laptops and Notebooks

The Right Way To Buy

When you need to buy a laptop, 2 in 1 or any portable computer, what is the right one for you? Most people believe it starts with the processor. What the clock speed is (how many GHz), how many cores it has, whether it is the Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7. Then, people want to know how much RAM is installed in the laptop, followed by the size of the hard drive. Finally, it is down to the weight and looks.

If a consumer likes the processor, amount of RAM, available internal storage, finds the overall looks appealing and if they believe the price is right, then usually these are compelling reasons to buy. However, this is not the best way to buy a laptop. What is most important is that the user buys what he or she is going to be happy with. This means that the key features need to be relevant to the buyer and that these features need to matter and make a difference to the user’s requirements.

Over the years, some companies (and some sales people) have misled consumers by talking about components that are easy to explain in a simple advertisement or 5 minute conversation; like the processor and RAM, as it usually corresponds to a measurable and definitive number that can be benchmarked or compared. For example, asking them to buy laptops based on whether it has a Core i5 or a Core i7 processor. This would be like buying a car based on it having a V6 or V8 engine only. It is time to change the way you look at a laptop computer and get a bit more proactive in how you make your choice. After all, you would never buy a car based only on the size of the engine.

 

What Is Not That Important

Processor: Unless you are looking for a specialised laptop like a gaming laptop or a machine on which you want to do 3D modelling or design, the processor is no longer all that important. In the last few years, processors have become very powerful. Nowadays, most general-purpose programs, like a web browser, do not use 20 per cent of the processing power of a lowly Core i3 processor. Machines like the MacBook Air just use dual-core processors running at 1.4GHz. While buying a laptop, do not worry about the processor too much; other factors are just as important. Yes, the Core i7 is usually much better than a Core i5 processor, and a Core i5 processor is better than a Core i3. You will notice the difference. However, even if you get a Core i3 processor, it is enough for a general-purpose machine that will run basic applications and programs, especially if other quality components are used in the laptop.

Amount of RAM: Nowadays, all laptops have a minimum of 4GB RAM. That is all you need for very simple tasks. If you can get more, go for it. However, don’t buy a laptop just because it has 8GB RAM. There are more important things that you should take into account instead of just RAM. Programs that are more complex can utilise 16GB or even 32GB of RAM. Unless you are going to specifically need this, 8GB is good. This will also give you good boot times and application launch times. Any more RAM is good for the power user, or for those who want the best application launch times and require greater performance. 

Graphics Card: Are you going to play a 3D game, render 3D graphics, or manipulate 3D imagery? If the answer is no, then don’t worry too much about the graphics card. There was a time when integrated graphics chip used to be weak. A graphics card always made sense at that time. Nowadays, if you are looking for a laptop on which you can browse the web and watch videos, an integrated card is fine. For anything more you will require dedicated graphics. The type of card is going to need to be specific and it is best if you talk to us about your needs first.

Screen size: Do not buy a laptop just because it has a large screen. A large screen with poor quality display or low resolution is going to affect your computing experience negatively. Instead, go for a better screen even if the size is small. While pixel density is important, the type of colour saturation, brightness and accuracy of colours, as well as the refresh rate are just as important. Touch screens are also something to consider, however, the larger the screen the less likely you are to use the touch screen because as the distance between the keyboard and the screen increases, it becomes less intuitive to use. Usually we would recommend below a 13” screen for touch if such a feature were desired. Talk to us about the different types of screens and your requirements.

How fast it starts: Almost all new mainstream laptops start in less than 30 seconds. The worst ones will take around 45 seconds; the best ones (with SSD) will take around 5 seconds, but that is only when they are new. Gradually, they will start taking longer because as you install more and more programs, the start-up process begins to clog up. How you use your PC will be more important after your purchase. SSD drives and your software configuration will determine your boot up speeds. Talk to us about the best options, SSD configurations and the type of software you will install. Your antivirus software here is very important and it will determine the speed of your overall computer immensely.

Ultra-fast DVD drive: Laptop makers love to hype up DVD drives in their machines. They use phrases like “super multi double layer”. The reality is that it does not mean much. Whether super or not, almost all DVD drives in laptops nowadays write and read stuff at similar speed, despite the grand words that describe them. In addition to this, you may not ever need to use a CD, DVD or Blu-ray disc, as most things can be stored on some type of external storage, the cloud or available just by downloading it. Blu-ray however is still a great way to store a lot of data on a simple disc and can offer affordable, dependable storage.

Security features: Unless you work for a major organisation or the government, do not bother about fingerprint scanners, etc on your laptop. Once you have bought your machine, just put a decent password on it and your data is all safe. That is if you are a mainstream user. If you deal with nuclear launch codes, then it does not apply to you. In this case, trust your IT guys to give you the right machine and, as always, talk to us first. Always remember your password, and it is a good habit to change them regularly while

 

What Is Important

Form factor: Do I go for a detachable? A tablet? A two-in-one or some other new whiz-bang format? The traditional clamshell format, which we are all used to, is probably still the best form factor for any given laptop above 12”. Unless you have a specific requirement, tablets and touch screen computers that are marketed as 2-in-1 devices may actually be more of a hindrance than of any functionality. Talk to us about how and where these different form factors will help you or may hinder you.

Microsoft Surface ProVenom BlackBook 14 ZeroLenovo ThinkPad


Quality of the screen: What is the most important component in a laptop? If you said the processor, you are not right. The most important component in a laptop is its screen. This is because the screen is something that is going to define your computing experience. It is your window into the computer and the work they do. A bad screen means a poor experience.

Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to find laptops with good screens. Blame laptop manufacturers for this. They often hype processors but ignore screens. This is because it is very hard to market a good screen and the manufacturing cost can increase the overall price of the laptop immensely.

If you are spending a lot of money on your laptop, try to get a laptop that has an IPS screen. Most laptops have TN panel screens. What is the difference? Here is an easy way to understand: Have you noticed that your photos look better on a Galaxy tablet or on iPhone compared to how they look on most laptops? That is because most tablets and phones use IPS screens. Small IPS screens are cheap. As they become larger they tend to cost more. There is more to good screens than just IPS panels as well. If you talk to one of us we can also gladly explain.

Visit our showroom or give us a call and check out the specific laptop model you have in mind. You can carry a USB pen drive full of some colourful photos with you. Plug this into the laptop and see how the colours look for a comparison to what you are used too. Do the colours in your photographs look faded or do they look vibrant? Vibrant colours are good. Also, tilt the screen, move the laptop, change the angle of your view, and see how fast colours fade or darken. If the colours do not change much, the laptop has a good screen.

Equally important is the brightness of the screen, particularly if you are going to use the laptop outdoors. Ideally, a 60 per cent brightness level should make the laptop screen look good. If you have to bump up the brightness to 80 or 90 percent, the screen is not bright enough.

A touch screen may sound like a great feature, however touch screens tend to offer less colour accuracy and are always reflective, this can be an annoying side effect of the touch screen and greatly diminish your productivity. There are also other factors, such as actual usage scenarios, like will you use it on a 15” laptop, as the screen will sit even further away from you?

Finally, watch out for the resolution of the screen. Higher resolution screens make images and text look sharper. Ideally, go for a laptop that has a 1080P (aka Full HD or FHD) screen as a minimum. QHD, QXGA+ (3K), WQUXGA (4K) screens are also great, but depending on the usage requirements and screen size, you may find it harder to actually see what is displayed. It is important for you to understand that a higher pixel density does not always translate to a better usage experience. Too much detail and too small and fine can also be harder to see and read.

Build quality: Do not go by the looks. Pick up the laptop and see how it feels in your hands. Is the plastic used in it good? Is it sturdy? Does it flex when held in one hand? Do the screen hinges feel durable? Inspect the finish of the laptop. The build quality of a laptop is very important because that will determine how long it is going to last. Ideally, go for laptops that have bodies made of metal like aluminium or magnesium alloy. Carbon fibre bodies are also fine. However, these come at a price. If you are looking for plastic body laptops, go for those that feel sturdy and have impeccable finish.

Service technicians

Keyboard and touchpad: These are two very important parts in a laptop but often overlooked by consumers. Good laptops have typing keys that are firm, and most importantly, responsive. They do not rattle and give a kind of clicky or pushy feedback when they are pressed. In addition, the keyboard should not flex and the size of keys should be big enough to make typing comfortable. Ideally, type 100 to 200 words on a laptop that you want to buy to get a feel of the keyboard. Buy it only if the keys feel right to you.

Backlit keyboards, unless put into a laptop that has the required depth (z height = thickness of the base), will always feel spongy or too short when depressed. In thinner laptops, when the keyboard is backlit, the typing experience is also compromised. Only opt for a backlit keyboard if the Z height of the computer is higher than normal and the thickness is not that much of a concern. This usually becomes a concern in a 14” laptop and below.

The touchpad in a laptop needs to be responsive. It should make the cursor on the screen move smoothly when you use it. It should feel smooth and responsive to your fingers. Remember you can always adjust the sensitivity and speed in Windows, so do not judge the touchpad with Microsoft’s standard settings straight out of the box. A good quality keyboard and touchpad is often a sign of the overall quality of the laptop. There is a chance that if a laptop has a good keyboard and smooth touchpad, it is likely to have a good overall quality build.

Speakers: Before you a buy a laptop, go to a store with a pen drive full of your favourite songs. Play these songs on the machine you want to buy. If your laptop has a good set of speakers, it will help you enjoy YouTube videos. Don’t you want that? Usually laptop computers offer poor quality sound and only the top end of town can offer high quality native sound. External speakers or headphones are usually a must.

Battery life: This is very important. It pretty much counts for everything if you are in the 2kgs and below range. What use is a super portable machine that only offers limited battery life? Go for laptops that offer better battery life. Talk to us about manufacturer claimed battery life. Battery life is always controversial and it is important to understand how the stated battery life is achieved; similar to how fuel consumption is measured in a car. Still, if someone claims to give 10 hours battery life in a laptop, it is likely that the machine will last for at least 8 hours. Battery life will greatly affect the overall cost of the computer, as long battery life means the computer is usually smaller, which means it uses higher end components that cost more and are more energy efficient. The flip side to this is, the longer the battery life the less performance orientated the laptop is. In the same way the faster a car is, the more fuel or energy it consumes. Efficiency is the key here.

Battery lifespan: Usually a battery will last for about 18 months to 2 years, and then its overall capacity will diminish. This applies to all rechargeable batteries, not just laptops. Ask us, can this battery be replaced? How much will it cost? Will I have to throw this laptop away once the battery dies? Remember, all rechargeable batteries are consumable and they will eventually die.

Weight: This is particularly important if you want to carry around your laptop. Go for lighter laptops (under 2kg) if you are going to carry it in your bag. 1.5 kgs and below is for the mobile warrior, 2kg is for portability, 2.5kg will give you some mobility, and 3kgs plus is where you have a portable computer. Going from 1.5kg to 2kg and vice versa will not make that much of a difference in your overall mobility and experience.

SSD or embedded flash storage: If you do not need tons of storage (hint: you do not if you are not going to store movies or many large applications) go for laptops that have SSDs (Solid State Drive). An SSD really makes a huge difference to how well a laptop responds. A laptop with a Core i3 processor and an SSD will feel faster compared to a laptop with Core i7 and a 1TB mechanical hard disk. If an SSD equipped laptop is out of your budget range, go for a machine that has embedded flash storage (around 20GB or more). The embedded storage helps laptops feel faster. This type of laptop will not be as fast as one with an SSD, but it will be a good choice. SSD storage comes at a premium, but some manufacturers have the perfect balance between price and efficiency. Speak to us about the varying options.

Warranty: This is a big one. Most laptop parts come from the same factory. The best machines and the cheapest machines all use common parts from the same factory, so a major factor in deciding what brand to buy comes down to an individual brand’s warranty. This is ever changing. Some companies that used to offer excellent aftersales warranty and service may no longer do so, due to factors like overseas management, outsourced call centres, cost cuts, or lack of focus. Therefore, your previous experience may no longer be applicable Talk to us about your laptop’s warranty. We have a good idea on who is doing what and in some instances we may be the authorised service agent for that particular brand. This will make all the difference in your after-sales support.

 

One last thing: When it comes to buying a laptop, don’t go by the specification sheet. You would never buy a car based on the specifications sheet. Go by what you see, feel and what you can understand. Ask more and more questions. The more we know about your expectations and requirements the better we can provide you with a fitting match. The components like the screen, keyboard, touchpad and the laptop body that you can see are usually more important than the digital specs on paper. The internal hardware is more or less the same in most laptops, from the cheapest Acer or MSI laptop, to the mid-range ASUS, HP, Toshiba, Lenovo laptops, or the higher end of town like Venom or Apple laptops.

While there is never exactly the perfect device that will suit everyone, there is always the right device that will suit you. Your iPad, iPhone, Galaxy device or smartphone, will do most basic computing tasks best, such as internet banking, social media updates or catching up on the news. When real computing tasks are required, a good mid to high end PC will give you the best usage experience in doing those additional things that a basic PC or a high-end tablet/phone cannot do. The PC can be driven by the end user to do limitless tasks and provide endless possibilities; it is just a matter of matching the hardware with the user to ensure you are empowered to make a difference in the digital frontier.