Laptops: A buyer’s guide

September 21, 2006 9:42am CST
What do you really need in a laptop? Jesse Harwell helps you make a buying decision by asking the right questions... Anyone who is into retailing computers will easily recognise the following dilemma. Before buying, a consumer desires to know everything about the technical aspects of laptops, rather than their practical aspects. It seems the customer will try and find out all of the technical differences between hard drives, such as seek time, partitions available, physical dimensions... All important stuff, to be sure. But this information is sought out before the practical details – such as “What am I going to do with this laptop” – is even considered. It is still amazing to hear people say they do not really know what they want to DO with a laptop, but they are sure they want a Dell or a Compaq. The concern here is not with their desire for a Dell or Compaq (both great brands, sure)… but why they didn’t bother to think about what they were hoping to do with the laptop they were planning to buy in the first place. It would be like deciding what car you were going to buy before deciding what you needed your car for, or even thinking if you were going to drive in hot climates or do long road trips. Just as the right car is defined by the needs of the driver, in the same way, the right laptop is connected to the right buyer on the basis of the needed functionality. The surest way to waste a lot of extra cash on your next laptop is to just buy what’s out there, instead of what you need. Here are some key things to consider when shopping for your next laptop (New or Used): What applications are essential for you? The cost of your laptop can be bought down considerably if you cut down on applications you don’t need. So, while buying a laptop, make sure you need all the software that it comes with. For example, if you are comfortable with a free OS, go in for the free one instead of the paid one. Do you want to play games on the system, OR use it for graphics? If you need/want to do these on your laptop, you must consider that these applications are system-intensive. This means, you will have to have a system with a better hard drive, more RAM and a better CPU, rather than something basic. How far are you away from service technicians? This is a point several first-time buyers neglect. It is always nice to have the service centre in close proximity, just in case something goes wrong. Also, check for carry-in and on-site warranty. Carry-in means you will have to take your laptop to the service centre and on-site means the technician will come to your place to repair your laptop. Do you have bad vision? If you do, it may be a good idea to get a laptop with a bigger screen, so as to reduce the stress on your eyes. Bad wrists? Again, go in for a bigger laptop. These usually have space for resting your palm. It might seem a little frivolous now but, in the long run, your wrists will be better off. Are you going to use your laptop as a Jukebox? Okay, let me tell you from experience everyone – and I DO mean everyone – at some point or the other decides they need to use their computer as a jukebox. But while buying a computer, most will deny this fact. I suggest you calculate the total hard drive space you need only after allocating a decent 10GB for music. Do you plan on using Wi-Fi? If you plan to use your laptop primarily at home, it’s best to ignore Wi-Fi as most net access at home is either through LAN or modem, which are usually standard on all laptops. How long does the battery have to work for? You have to ask yourself: Are you going to use the laptop near a plug point or while travelling? If it’s more likely to be near a plug point than not, you can cut costs here. Do you need a DVD or a CD drive? The crux is always going to be on what you need. If you just want to watch movies, CD drive will do. If you want to move huge amounts of data and back-up the same, DVD writer is what you are looking for. Remember, this would even read CDs. Trouble, each upgradation costs that much extra. So think and then order what you want. Only thing is, watching movies on the go is going to tax your battery a lot more. What’s your price range? Now that you have seen what you need to choose for a laptop, it makes sense to see the budget constraints. Don’t go overboard while spending on a laptop, because it will be obsolete before the next year is over! If you print out this list of questions, it will go a long way in helping you to decide which laptop is best for you. It will also save you a lot of money as you get what you need and not a bunch of unnecessary items. You do not need to be a computer geek to save a bundle. You just need to be willing to ask yourself some hard questions. Finding a great deal wouldn’t be too hard then. For, then, you would have decided on some of your applicational needs, find a reseller you trust and work with them to get the best possible deal.
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