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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What to look for in a laptop

By Kim Komando

There seem to be an infinite number of laptop makes and models. Making a purchase can be harrowing.

You can spend $500, or more than $5,000.

Consider how you will use your laptop. Do you travel? If so, you'll need something light with a long battery life. Are you looking for a desktop replacement? Then you'll want heavy processing power.

Buying a laptop for a student can be tricky. Most schoolwork entails word processing and Web research, neither of which demands much power. A low-end laptop can handle such chores. But your student may want to play the latest games or get deep into multimedia. That could justify a top-end machine.

A low-end machine will run you $500 or less, but most people will want something with more power. A nice laptop will set you back $1,000 to $1,500. A gaming laptop can easily exceed $3,000.

Once you identify your needs, consider the following:

  • Processor. The Intel Pentium M, Mobile AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Turion 64 Mobile are high-powered processors that extend battery life. If you travel, this will be important. Intel's new Core Duo line puts two processors on a single chip for more speed.

    All of these chips run around 2 gigahertz. But they aren't slow. Most can compete with their desktop brethren.

    You'll also find some desktop processors, such as the Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon 64, in laptops. They're OK if you're always plugged in to a power source. But if you're on the go a lot, they can quickly drain your laptop's battery.

    Don't get too caught up in the numbers game. Unless you are doing serious computing, stick with a midrange processor. You'll get more bang for the buck.

    Apple's latest laptops, the MacBook and MacBook Pro, use Intel's Core Duo. These are the fastest Mac-based laptops yet. But you'll pay for the elegance and speed. Prices range from $1,099 to $1,499 for the new MacBooks and $1,999 to $2,799 for the MacBook Pros.

  • Display. This is the one category many consumers ignore. Don't make that mistake.

    Laptops have screen sizes ranging from 12 to 19 inches. You'll appreciate a larger (read: more expensive) screen if you use the laptop regularly. Compare screens in the store. Your eyes will thank you later.

  • Memory and video. Look for models with at least 1 gigabyte of memory. Upgrading memory later on some laptops is a hassle.

    Unless you use your computer solely for business, get one with a dedicated video card. A card with 128 megabytes of memory is usually sufficient. Serious gamers should double that.

  • Drives and weight. Laptop hard drives come in different speeds and sizes. Most rotate at 5,400 or 7,200 revolutions per minute. A faster hard drive is better, but it also drains the battery. Lighter, thinner laptops often use slower hard drives.

    A 60GB hard drive should be fine for most uses. However, a student who will be storing video, photos and music may want 100GB or more.

    Weight is important. Will you be carrying the laptop to work every day? It may not sound like a lot, but a 10-pound notebook with an additional 10 pounds of accessories can be a literal pain in the neck.

    However, you'll pay more for a light laptop. It's not cheap cramming a lot of power into a tiny machine.