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Notebook Computer Buyer's Guide 
Published 2006/6/13
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If you do lots of traveling, you may want to consider an ultraportable or thin and light laptop computer. But with increased portability, you may have to make some technical compromises--a smaller LCD screen, less power, possibly an external rather than integrated DVD/CD drive. If you demand all the characteristics of a desktop PC, you should consider a more powerful all-in-one system. These 'desktop replacement laptops' have a sad battery life, but come with the fastest processors, widescreen displays, and DVD-RW drives. These powerhouses run in the 8 to 15 pound range. Visit our laptop reviews page for a selection of models to review from this powerful laptop computer classification.

Laptop Processor Facts

In the Windows-equipped arena, both Intel and AMD provide low-power, energy-efficient processors with their mobile (M) models designed to reduce heat and prolong battery life without sacrificing power. Intel's Centrino technology has advanced laptop performance while greatly increasing battery life.

As far as Apple's portables are concerned, both i-Book and PowerBook now include Apple's G4 processor, and the latest 1.5GHz G4's provide the best options in portability and sheer power. Personally, if I was contemplating a laptop computer buy in the near future, it would be a Centrino model.

Laptop LCD Viewing Screens

There is no longer any need to settle for a subpar 14-inch LCD with a maximum resolution of 1024x768 pixels. Larger 15-inch displays offer a more desktop-like viewing experience (with higher resolutions), while widescreen 16-inch and 17-inch displays are now here, supporting resolutions as high as 1680x1050.

Laptop Computer Graphics

Poor graphics performance has often held laptops back from vying with desktop computers. If you demand extra multimedia performance for game play, watching movies, or video / photo editing, ATI's new Mobility Radeon 9200 and 9600 have provided the best laptop solution to date, along with NVIDIA's DirectX9-compliant GeForce FX5200 and FX5600 Go GPU's. Integrated graphics (also referred to a shared video memory) is standard on many different laptop computer models and delivers barely average performance--suitable for office use, but not much more.

Laptop Computer Memory (RAM)

This is a very important laptop computer purchase decision. Like hard drive size, the amount of memory you need is dependent on what you will spend most of your time doing with your laptop. Most new laptops come equipped with 512MB of RAM, and considering most of today's applications, I wouldn't settle for anything less. It will slow you down. Check out the great memory deals at Crucial's Clearance Corner.

Laptop Hard Drives

Consider a 30 to 40GB as minimum size. Larger capacity drives--60GB to 80GB--are often available on the bigger machines and considering a laptop's poor upgrade potential, the larger the hard drive the better. A helpful site in choosing a new or replacement laptop hard drive is Laptops4Less. Most items are at factory-direct pricing and they offer same day shipping. They also handle a wide array of laptop replacement parts, AC adapters, and many different laptop accessories.

Laptop Battery Life

For quite some time Apple laptops have subdued their PC rivals in terms of battery life, but Intel's Centrino technology is fast catching up, and it enables Windows-powered laptops to last up to five hours on a single charge. Some laptops also include 'media-bays', allowing you to replace the optical drive with a second battery to extend your battery run time. If you're on the market for a new replacement or secondary backup notebook battery check eBatts.com for a comprehensive selection, fast service and very fair pricing.

Wireless Networking

The majority of laptops come with a 56K modem and a 10/100 Ethernet port for cable/DSL connectivity as standard. All Centrino-based laptops feature 802.11b modules for wireless networking, but Wi-Fi is not standard on all machines, so study the laptop computer spec sheet carefully.

Similarly, Bluetooth can also be found on some models although mostly as an optional extra. All of Apple's laptops are Wi-Fi compatible, although you may need to buy a separate Airport (802.11b) or Airport Extreme (802.11g) card.

Laptop Optical Drives

Most new laptop computer models now come with a combo DVD/CD-RW optical drive. More and more of these DVD/CD-RW drives are being replaced with DVD-RW, multi-format drives capable of writing and rewriting to both CDs (650MB capacity) and DVDs (4.7GB capacity).


The majority of new laptops include an array of ports and slots--USB 2.0, FireWire (IEEE1394), PCMCIA PC card slot, S-Video and VGA-out (monitor). With few ways to expand beyond their factory configuration, a laptop should have at least two USB ports (three would be better) plus a FireWire connection. Because many laptops are now being manufactured without a floppy drive, the USB ports are very useful for utilizing a jump drive for doing quick back-ups. A PCMCIA slot is also useful for adding wireless capability if it doesn't come as standard. If you're searching for computer components, you'd be hard pressed to beat the prices at TechBlowouts.com.

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