Key factors can help determine best laptop choice
Published Thursday, November 19, 2009 8:53AM EST
October marked a momentous occasion in the world of personal computing.
Microsoft released Windows 7, the successor to the ill-fated Vista, and suddenly there were two mainstream operating systems you could recommend to your computer-challenged aunt (along with Apple's OS X).
The Windows release couldn't come at a better time for PC manufacturers, spurring sales in a market that was in desperate need of a kickstart. In fact, laptops have never been cheaper, faster, or as powerful as they are now.
But the proliferation of computers is bound to cause confusion. With so many options, which is the best one to buy?
Recommending the "best" laptop is a hard ask: what's perfectly adequate for me may be woefully insufficient to you. I may be content with a clunky machine that plays music and lets me watch dancing cats on YouTube. You may want something more portable, or more powerful, or both.
That being said, there are a few specifications you may want to consider before slamming down a thousand bucks for a new machine.
How much RAM does the computer have? These days, 2 gigs should be the absolute minimum.
How much hard drive space is available? If it's under 250 gigs, don't bother.
How heavy is it? Six pounds doesn't sound like much, but believe me -- it is. Look for something under five pounds.
How large is the monitor? Stick to something between 13 and 15 inches.
Does it have a DVD drive? How about USB ports? The latter are especially important.
Is style an issue for you, or would you be happy with a clunky looking box like the Dell Inspiron?
What chipset is the laptop using? You'll get a lot of options here. Intel's Core 2 Duo is the most ubiquitous chip out there, and it's really, really good.
Assuming that the computer you want is mostly for home use (playing music, watching movies and photos, browsing the Internet, word processing), here are a few can't miss options.
Apple MacBook Pro 13 inch (starting from $1299).
There's a lot to love about the MacBook Pro; but first and foremost, it's beautiful. If you're a switcher to Mac from Windows (as I was), it'll take a bit of time to get used to the new interface. But once you do, you'll be delighted by the attention to detail Apple engineers have put into the system.
Apple's iLife suite of programs come free with every Mac, which means you can view your photos in a more than capable viewing application, make movies with iMovie, and even create podcasts using GarageBand.
At a starting price of $1300, you'll be paying a premium. But in my mind, it's totally worth it.
Dell Studio XPS 16 (starting from $1199)
Sure, you could get an Inspiron, Dell's best-selling workhorse laptop, for several hundred dollars cheaper. But why get an adequate machine when you could get something with style. Dell's XPS line flies in the face of Dell's stodgy reputation.
These laptops are loaded with Windows 7 and are designed with serious performance in mind. The XPS 16 boasts loads of memory and a huge hard drive that will have no problem holding all but the most gigantic media libraries.
Toshiba Satellite T130 (starting from $730)
For something that's a little more affordable, you may want to look at Toshiba's Satellite T130. It weighs under four pounds, and is extremely thin.
For its price, the Satellite is full of features, from Bluetooth to a built-in webcam and microphone. Memory and hard drive space are also very impressive.