Laptops buying guide

Mar 07, 2012 No Comments by

Laptops are becoming less expensive and more capable.  There are several reasons for this: memory (both RAM and storage) is getting cheaper by the day, processors are now faster and more efficient and competition from tablets such as the iPad is making the PC industry nervous.  The component parts of a PC used to be so big a desktop tower was required to accomodate them.  Now, though, a huge wallop of computing power can be easily accomodated within a laptop casing, meaning it’s more practical than ever to buy a laptop as a desktop replacement.


What do you want to do with your laptop and how much do you want to spend?

Only gamers, those who use a computer specifically for work (eg graphic designers, photographers) and fashion victims need to be spending more than £1,000 on a laptop.  99 per cent of users can spend less than £500 and be perfectly happy.

Screen size

Who wants to squint at a tiny screen?  But bigger screens weigh more.  Compromise at 13-15 inches.


If it weighs more than 3kg (over 6lbs) you will get fed up lugging it around.  And it will crush your delicate lap and any precious goods nestling therein.

Battery life

If you’re on the move with no access to a power supply this will become an issue.  Look for at least 5 hours battery life. Running programmes that put higher demands on the CPU (watching a movie, for example) will drain the battery faster than if you were performing a simpler task such as writing a document.


Stands for Random Access Memory (which isn’t important) and affects the speed at which your laptop operates (which is). 1GB is acceptable; 2GB or more is better.  These days 4GB of RAM is commonplace.

Gigabytes (GB) of storage capacity

You might not need it but if you stash lots of photos and music on your laptop the memory could soon fill up, which will make you cross.  Aim for at least 250GB.

Processor (CPU) quality/speed

As a conductor is to an orchestra, so the processor controls the laptop’s many functions. A ‘dual core’ processor with an operating speed of 1.6 to 2.5GHz will cope with most demands.  There are whizzier processors and if you multi-task on a PC – play games while having half a dozen other programmes open, for example – something like an Intel i7 Quad Core is worth considering.

Inputs and outputs

Many laptops now have an ‘HDMI out’ socket.  You’d use an HDMI (High Definition Multi-media Interface) lead to join HD components such as hooking a Sky HD box to an HD TV.  Having an HDMI output means you can plug your laptop into an HD TV and watch BBC iPlayer (and all sorts of other Internet-based goodies) on a bigger screen.  Also look for lots of USB sockets and other slots for inserting SD memory cards like the ones your camera uses.  All very handy.  DVD/CD drives are still common but some super-light laptops don’t have them, so check.

Some examples of what your cash will buy at on 7th March 2012:


Toshiba Satellite C660D-1C9 15.6 inch Laptop (AMD E450 1.65GHz processor, RAM 4GB, HDD 500GB, Windows 7 Home Premium).   Perfect student fodder.


Acer Aspire 7740 17.3 inch Laptop (Intel Core i3-370M Processor, RAM 6GB, HDD 640GB, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit).  At 6kg and with a 17.3 inch screen this would make an ideal desktop replacement.


Lenovo Z370 13.3 inch Laptop – Black (Intel Core i5 2.4GHz, RAM 4GB, HDD 750GB, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit).  Powerful and not too heavy at 3.3kg.  Impressive spec for the price.

If you want even more info you could click on this link which will introduce you to the grandaddy of geeks, Walt Mossberg, and his Spring laptops buying guide.