21 Sep 2010, by Richard Harris
So, you are looking to buy a new notebook, but you are unsure of what to look out for. You want something with as many bells and whistles as possible and you want to get the best value for your money, but you are not sure which notebook would best suite your needs. Take 10 minutes of your time to read through this article - it will give you basic tips that will help you select your perfect laptop.
1) Does Size matter?
Indeed size definitely matters. You might have heard the words, “ the smaller the better” however this depends on the main purpose and function of the notebook. So your first step towards choosing your perfect laptop is to answer this question: what exactly will you use the notebook for? Your answer is fundamental when purchasing a notebook and will help you to make the right decision.
If you are a business person who is on the road frequently or simply someone who requires portability then a smaller size notebook is a good idea. The notebook screen size can range from as small as 10” (Netbook/Deskbook) all the way up to 17”. Keep in mind the larger the screen size, the more the notebook is going to weigh. A notebook with a smaller screen will be lighter to carry and is a good idea if you will be traveling around with the laptop.
2) Does brand really matter?
Most laptops consist of similar components. Often these components are manufactured in the very same factory and then later rebranded for distribution. However, having said that, there is a real difference in terms of build quality and the look and feel between brands.
It becomes very much a personal preference with regards to the aesthetic appeal. In my own opinion I have found the likes of a Dell notebook to meet the expectations from a quality and reliability perspective.
As far as after sales warranties go, certain brands outperform others. Brands that offer a next business day onsite warranty are a great option as this minimizes any downtime should a problem occur – this is covered in more detail in Question 7.
3) How does the processor affect performance?
Processing power is rather important when deciding on your new notebook. If you are looking at Intel (recommended), there are many different options and this can become confusing to an average consumer. For example: Intel Atom, Intel Celeron (ULV), Intel Dual Core (SU…), Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel i3 or i5 etc..What does it all mean? What do I need?
The Intel Atom and Celeron processors are essentially “down-clocked” Central Processing Unit (CPU) versions, making them good for battery life as they don’t draw much power, however when it comes to processing, they are not very powerful and can be sluggish when trying to process too much data at once.
If budget allows, always try and purchase Core 2 Duo and above. The latest Intel chips, also known as the “i-range”, are the newest form of CPU in Intel’s arsenal. They are powerful processors with a larger memory (also known as cache). The CPU’s also cater for the power hungry users that require speed and multi-threading. These are perfect for developers, business professionals, enthusiast home users and any impatient person in general!
NB – The rule of thumb is: More power equals more heat and less battery life. (As usual, there can be certain exceptions)
For the sake of time we will not go into the technical aspects today, however If you would like to lookup a specific processor specification you can go to
to view more info on different models.
4) What about battery Life?
The more components drawing power the less battery life you will tend to have. Most notebooks come with a standard 6 cell Li-Ion battery, which is fine if you a running a standard 14”/15” notebook using minimal system resources (i.e. not watching media, not using external peripherals or your dvd drive etc.). You should get about 2-3 hours of battery life before needing to charge the notebook again. Some battery manufacturers claim up to 5 hours on a single 6 cell battery - this highly unlikely in a real world scenario.
Remember the bigger your screen size, the more light is needed to backlight the screen, the more processing power, more graphics is required and this all draws more power ultimately shortening battery life.
You can save battery life by switching off certain features/functions that are not in use, like Bluetooth, wifi and unplugging external devices that are not necessary.
When travelling, a backup battery is often useful and here you can purchase an extended battery, which usually has more cells and will last longer than the stock standard battery. Generally you will want to purchase a notebook with as many “cells” in the battery as possible. Some of the more expensive notebooks come standard with a 9 cell Li-Ion battery.
5) Is dedicated graphics necessary?
Dedicated graphics (having a graphics card built-in to the notebook) is always better to have, although this will also utilize more power. Having dedicated graphics means that a load is taken off of the CPU and motherboard and the graphics adapter can be utilised for graphical interfacing. This is essential when using graphical applications like AutoCAD, for example, or if you want to do video rendering or gaming. Generally the more memory on the graphics card the better. Things to look out for are the “Bit rate”(64bit,128bit, 256bit) and the generation of memory (DDR2 or DDR3etc.). The number indicates the generation and the higher the number the newer the memory is.
6) Is warranty as simple as “the longer, the better?”
Generally the longer the warranty the better, however you need to check the fine print. Often suppliers will state something like: “ 3 year Warranty”, however the first is onsite and the next two years are “carry-in” or “collect and repair”. This may sound harmless but if you cannot afford downtime then this “take away and fix” warranty will not be suitable.
I have witnessed certain warranty collections where the notebook was only delivered 2 to 3 weeks later and this can have a huge impact on any business. I personally have come to love the 3 year onsite warranties that Dell provides, as this gives one peace of mind, knowing that the specialists on the product will come to me and fix my machine the next business day should it malfunction.
7) How long will this notebook last me in real terms?
This depends largely on the individuals’ needs and requirements. Most laptops need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years, however this is industry specific as some individuals needs don’t grow much over 5 years and some grow extensively.
As long as the hard drives don’t fail within 5 years, some notebooks can last a lot longer than expected. I have seen 10 year old laptops still in use, this of course is never recommended as anything could go wrong at any moment. Not to mention that the aged system cannot meet the requirements of any new software applications and so it is therefore obsolete. So in real terms, 3 to 5 years is what you are looking at if you have chosen a notebook correctly.
8) What operating system should I look out for?
Windows 7 is the newest version of Microsoft’s operating systems. If you are a home user then Windows 7 Home is fine, however if you wish to be joined to a domain or a larger network then Windows 7 Pro/Ultimate is recommended. Some notebooks are still being sold with Windows Vista or Windows XP, it is advisable to rather purchase a notebook with more up-to-date software.
9) What should I budget towards a notebook?
This question is difficult to answer as it varies from individual to individual. If you are looking for something with enough power for both work and play, then I would recommend spending anything from R7000 upwards. As a general rule the more you spend the better the laptop will be. Remember that laptops wont usually include Microsoft Office and Anti-Virus which will need to be worked into the budget.
10) What should I look out for?
You should look out for a decent processor that will suite your needs - go for an i3 or i5 if possible. You should also go for as much memory as possible (i.e. 2Gb DDR2/3 < ), Large Hard drive size (320GB+) with highest speeds measured in RPM (Revs per minute-i.e. 7200rpm), Smallest HD LED screen – (High Definition LED which uses less power and gives excellent clarity, the small screen size makes the notebook lighter and uses less power), High Resolution webcam (2MP + ), Windows 7 Home/Pro (64bit supports more memory) , 3G card built-in is nice, Dedicated graphics, 3yr NBD (Next Business Day) onsite warranty, Carry bag and a 6/9 Cell battery.
You also want the laptop to be balanced so that there is no bottle neck or “weakest link” link so to speak. Ie: there is no point in buying a laptop with the best processor available and very little RAM and a slow hard drive.
All in all, these 10 points should get you thinking about the type of notebook you would like to buy. If you are still unsure, then give us a call and we can point you in the right direction.
Hope this was helpful…Happy shopping!