How I evaluate a laptop

I was recently asked for help to select a laptop.

Of course, this is time sensitive information and might be out of date in a week or two.

Processor

  • Type: Core Duo, Turion, and Pentium M are the best ones. Laptops with a Celeron or a Sempron should be passed over.

Memory

  • Size: There should be a minimum of 512 MB, but 1 GB is better as laptop main memory is usually shared with the graphics card. 1 GB also allows for future expansion.
  • Type: There are two types of ram, DDR and DDR2. Both come in a number of speeds. For DDR, memory should run at 333 MHz or faster. DDR2 ideally will be at 667 MHz or faster, but 533 is most common in laptops.

Hard Drive

  • Speed: Hard drives rotate at different speeds and this affects how fast they are. 7200 RPM is the fastest but they also are currently have a high price premium. 5400 RPM drives should be okay, but 4200 RPM drives should be avoided.
  • Size: It’s difficult to find anything smaller than 40 GB, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Larger would be better, of course. And if there’s any serious thought about upgrading to Vista, it should be at least 60 GB.

Graphics

  • Type: Most laptops use integrated graphics. The best ones to have are the ATI X1x00 series or the Nvidia Go series. Intel also makes integrated graphics and the newer ones are decent. Sort of. This is probably the most confusing area and often has a huge effect on how fast the laptop feels. This is one area that can’t be upgraded in many laptops so picking the right one is quite important.

Screen

  • Size: Laptops vary quite a bit in screen size, from 12 inch to 17 inch. Some also have a widescreen option. I would look for one that is about 15 inches. Anything bigger, and it will likely come with a laptop that is heavy and not easy to carry around.
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