How to buy a Notebook?

superczar

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Overview

With the steady drop in prices over the last few years, notebooks have finally

become a mainstream product in the Indian market giving close competition to desktop sales.

In a desktop, performance is usually the sole criteria for selection of components and the faster/larger/bigger component is always better.

However, in a notebook, the same does not always hold true and there are several other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

I often see very ambiguous or confused queries in this section, which is not very surprising though. notebooks have only recently started getting mainstream and even folks who know Desktop hardware inside out may get confused when trying to choose the right laptop.

Since I am sitting in office just twiddling my thumb today :bleh: I have tried to list some of the more important parameters that a prospective buyer should consider before making his/her choice.

Comments and additions to the list are welcome, as always:

Form Factor/ScreenSize

Perhaps the most important criteria while choosing a laptop.

IF you are an executive on the run, or a student shuttling between classes, you definitely do not want to be stuck with a monstrosity of a machine that weighs like a brick and has the size of a suitcase.

On the other hand, if you are a graphics designer, or a video editor, the last thing you want to do is to burn your eyes and give yourself a headache by trying to do the task at a teeny-weeny screen!

Which is why the first question you need to ask yourself is WHAT SIZE DO I WANT?



12” , 12.1" and 13.3" ->
Very small and very light. However, the reduced screen size can make the text look too small to many users. The keyboard also tends to be cramped.

If you need a very personal, carry around anywhere (while traveling, or even within the house to the couch or the loo ;)) laptop with extreme portability, this is your best bet.

Beware though that 12" can be much more expensive than similarly specced larger laptops

12" weigh between 1-2 kgs with the very light ones often skimping out on the optical drive

14” and 14.1" -> Small, light and weighing between 2-3 kgs. The 14" ers strike perhaps the best balance between portability and screen size.

If you need portability but are willing to live with a slightly big machine at an affordable cost , this is your best option.

15" and 15.4" -> The normal size for notebooks today. 15.4” notebooks usually weight about 3-4 kgs and they’re usually the least expensive systems you can get.

If you’re looking for a marginally portable affordable package, this is your best option.

Beware though that carrying a 15.4" can be a pain and somehow the 1.4" screen size boost makes the laptop a lot more bloated than the previous category

17” -> They are heavy (~4.5Kg and above) with obviously a 17" screen. Many first time buyers tend to go with the thought that the bigger screen, the better.

It however may help to keep in mind that 17" machines are targeted at a niche market, and most regular users would perhaps be better off buying a desktop vis-à-vis a 17"er

So I would personally recommend abstaining from the temptation of buying a 17" unless you really really need the large screen and do not plan to move the machine from your computer table too often.

Platform- Processor

This usually would be the first question while buying a desktop. Not that the right choice of platform is any less important for a laptop, but perhaps it is of secondary importance to the size.

After all you are spending the extra money on a notebook for the sake of the portable form factor...right?

In General:

The performance charts would look something like

Core2Duo (Merom)>Core Duo (Yonah)>Turion 64 X2>Pentium M (Sonoma)>Turion 64>Sempron~=Celeron M>Pentium IV-M =Pentium IV

Pentium IV-Ms, Pentium IVs etc. are better relegated to history books.

As for the newer processors, With the Core2Duo, there is frankly no reason to choose any other proccy.

However, if you do manage to get a great deal on a Turion 64 X2 or a Pentium-M , it wouldn't be a bad idea at all to go for it!

Additionaly, the Celeron M is also quite a capable processor though it was much maligned due to the obvious name connection with the Desktop Celeron (which indeed deserved its poor reputation)

However, a Celeron M is advisable only if you get a dirt cheap deal on it!

Battery life

Needless to say that battery life is a very important criterion when choosing a laptop.

Most laptops come with 4 cell/6 cell/9 cell batteries

In general, opt for 4 cell batteries only if you don't plan to use the laptop while traveling and expect not more than 1.5 hours of battery life

6 cell is the most popular choice offered as it perhaps strikes the right balance between weight , cost and battery life...Expect anywhere between 2.5- 3.5 hours on a 6 cell battery depending on the platform chosen and screen size

9 Cell batteries are meant for road warriors who need long battery life than can last them through several hours of computing while traveling. 9 cell batteries will give you anywhere between 4-6 hours of battery life on a full charge

After the battery cell capacity, the other most important factor that determines the battery life is your system platform.

In terms of battery usage, the charts would look something like (In reverse order)

Core 2 Duo=Core Duo~= Pentium M>Turion 64 X2>Turion 64>Sempron>Celeron M> Pentium 4-M> Pentium IV



Graphic Card


Currently the Indian Market does not offer too many laptops with discrete graphic card options, the situation seems to be improving though.

nonetheless, here is a rough comparison chart

High end: 7900GTX SLI > 7900GTX = 7900 SLI > 7800GTX = 7900 gs > 7800 go = 6800 Ultra > X1600 = 7600

Mid End: 6800 = X800 > X1400 = 7400 = X700 = 6600 > X600

Low End : X1300 = 7300 > X300>X200

Integrated: GMA 950> GMA 815



Almost all systems in the High end category will be able to play the latest and the greatest games at high resolution with all eye candy.

This comes at the cost of high heat dissipation and high battery consumption though. In fact you will not be able to find a high end card on portable machines due to the heat and power consumption issues.

The mid end cards will handle nearly all the latest and greatest games but will need to compromise on wither the resolution or eye candy (AA/AF)

However, the mid-end cards do offer the advantage of lower power consumption and heat dissipation which is why you can see the mid-end cards making in-roads into the portable and ultraportable machines also

The low end cards are not really meant for gaming, but will handle an occasional game or two at lowered resolutions etc. However, the X200, and all cards up above lend themselves admirably to the Aero interface on Vista.

Connectivity

Wireless 802.11 b/g (wi-fi) is pretty much a defacto standard on any laptop that you buy today...Please do not buy a laptop without a built in mini PCI wireless card!

IF you later add a wireless PCMCIA card , not only will it jut out of the body, but also will have relatively poor wireless performance (owing to the lack of a dedicated antenna)

Anyway If you purchase a laptop, do yourself a favor, and invest in a wireless router too! A Wireless network in the house not only feels cool, but is quite a big productivity enhancer too!

Built-in Bluetooth is a nice bonus, though keep in mind that it may not be worth paying a big premium for in-built Bluetooth as unlike wi-fi, you will not need BT that very often, and external USB dongles come for a song these days!

Most notebooks today do not have a Serial/LPT port.

As for the USB ports, the more the merrier :)

Do Try to get a machine that has a built-in firewire port or you'll regret it when you are trying connect your Handycam or firewire HDD to your laptop!

RAM

Count on at least 512 MB but DO bear in mind that in general, after market memory upgrades are considerably cheaper. and RAM is usually the easiest part to upgrade in a notebook.

Therefore do not be unduly worried if your preferred model within your budget has low RAM. Pick it up, and upgrade the memory yourself after a month.

HDD

Notebook HDDs come in 3 flavors, 4200 rpm, 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm (both SATA and IDE)

Do Avoid 4200 rpm HDDs...5400 vs 7200 rpm is a question of a tradeoff between a noticeable performance boost vs. a noticeable battery life drop. Your call! :)

Do keep in mind that notebook HDDs are also relatively easy to upgrade, and after market upgrades from Hitachi/Seagate are usually cheaper than buying the pre-configured high HDD capacity model.

As with memory, do not let a small capacity HDD on your preferred model deter you from buying it. Just upgrade the HDD after saving up for a month :)

However, after the upgrade, you will to discard the existing HDD from your machine (Which usually comes in very handy as a portable drive though)



Glossy or Matte?


Most laptops in the market today have a glossy finish screen. Most people concur that glossy screens have noticeably better contrast and color reproduction. However, some people still swear by matte screens. DO try to take a look at both types of screen before you make your purchase .

Hmmmm, thats all I can think of now, will append to the list if something else comes to mind. Suggestions welcome as always :)
 
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superczar

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Yeeeeesh...not sure if it fits in here or should go into the laptops section.

Anyway, now that I have posted it here, one of the kind mods can take a call on it :p
 

Vince

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Cool!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! :clap: :thanx:

Dude, you're forcing me to buy a lappie now.. :(

A doubt or 2..

1) you've talked about replacing RAM and HDDs.. you mean by ourselves? :ashamed:

2) About Service centres.. isnt that an important factor too? I dont want an Apple Powerbook if there aint no service centre for a 1000 miles.. :S

From your wide personal experience how are the service centres for various companies here? (India/Chennai)
 

superczar

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1) you've talked about replacing RAM and HDDs.. you mean by ourselves?
- yes...Ejjhactly ...

- Yup..Important point I missed..Fortunately, I never have had any cause to obtain service so I am not the best person to comment on that...

I would presume all the major brands will have a service center in Chennai anyway, and AFAIK, Dell provides on-site service

Though IIRC, HP/Compaq has the most extensive service networki in the country

As for Apple , they being a relatively new entrant and a niche market player may perhaps have issues related to the avilability and timeliness of service
 

vijayshimla

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Form Factor- screen size- Unless U burden the laptop with 9 cell battery- a 17 inch HP Pavilion DV 9000 is exactly 3kg 600 gm- specially considering the nice 17 inch wide screen-display-not too much to carry! A friend brought it from Sg. & I was pleasantly surprised at the light wt & non-bulk of new generation of 17-inch wide screen Laptops. Generally even 15.4 inch laptops have also gone to 3 kg wt. The weight now is definitely not a factor anymore for non-selection of17 & 15.4inch screen size lappies.
 

dipdude

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www.techenclave.com
Wonderful guide - concise and up to the point.

Better title would be "Laptop Buyers Guide" ;)

As always, waiting for the next guide/review/insight :D
 

superczar

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Thanks for appreciating dude...

Have one small request though, could you please move this thread to the laptops section...

Most people looking for laptop recos head to that section, and this thread could perhaps serve a better purpose there :)
 

TheMask

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Jan 3, 2005
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Stickied! Perhaps a mention of some worthy brands and brands to avoid would be good too.
May be the approx prices too? but then agian pricing depends on a lot of customizable factors. :D
 

MAGNeT

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May 4, 2005
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thks for this excellent article.......

i want to ask some basic questions

1::wht do u suggest for user for buying laptop(indian or us markts considering rates there and warranty stuff)....

2::If suppose i go for a lappyfrm usa....which one will u suggest frm this 4 asus,sony vaio,toshiba or acer

3::Also suppose i get it frm us...and if i face anyproblems regarding it....how can i claim warranty

i know this is not a generalize question....but this questions willdecidemy fate of getting within 50k range first lappy....

hope u can help in it
 

KingKrool

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Mar 16, 2005
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You forgot the most important point - hit the dealer on the head and demand only thr price or all too often he will be sure that Core 2 Duo is not so good as Core Duo because "it is less Mhz sir, for same price" or some other inane crap...
 

imranais

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Excellent and very helpful guide man, u deserve to be repped (x10).... :clap:

:thanx:
 

kunalthesarkar

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hi
i am buying a sony vaio c13g it has a express card slot and not a pcmc card slot for internet data card i wanted the laptop for pure internet traveling basis could u help me out

thanks
 

superczar

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For all people confused on what size to buy, here is a 9400 (17") next to a XPS 1210 (12")

Take your pick :D



 

x86

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Dec 30, 2005
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I dont need extra breakfast tray with such massive space infront 17'' keypad.

jokes apart the 17 inch looks horrible, i'll surely go for a 12 inch one but i have to see it once in my eyes ;).
I'd love to have a 13.3 or 14 inch one.