Some tips to keep in mind when shopping for a new laptop, tablet or a desktop computer.
The holiday shopping season is upon us and many consumers are heading out to purchase a new PC or laptop to refresh or add to their technology collection. The choices for laptops, PCs and tablets have expanded over the years and often can be confusing for the end user. It’s important to understand what is available as well as what is important to have or not from a feature perspective. Is it better to put your money towards a larger display or more RAM? Do you need to have an HDMI output or look for a higher capacity battery?
Key shopping factors
There are certain criteria that you should consider no matter what kind of computer you’re searching for:
- Consider how the computer will be used – Start by determining who will use the computer, how it will be used, and for how long. For example, someone who needs to create charts and graph, or write reports or do online research, will need a more-sophisticated computer than someone who only plans to casually browse the web. But if the person plans to listen to music, stream videos or play games, you’ll want a machine with more memory, faster processor speed, and better graphics and sound.
- Hard disk versus solid-state drive – Laptop users have two choices: the traditional hard disk drive (HDD), or the solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs are suitable for everyday use, but they are more fragile than SSDs and can be damaged by dropping, exposure to extreme weather, and general negligence. SSDs are more durable, quieter, and faster. But they also cost up to eight times as much, and the available drive size tends to be smaller than HDDs (2 TB on average for HHDs, 256 GB for SSDs).
- How portable do you really need? – When trying to decide how big of a laptop to buy, ask yourself how many days a week you plan to carry it around with you. The more you plan to travel, the smaller or lighter a device you’ll probably want. If you plan to carry your computer only once a week or less, a larger model may be acceptable. Smaller laptops, such as Ultrabooks, usually with screens about 10-12 inches (diagonally) are about 2.5-3 pounds on average. Larger units, with 15-plus-inch screens, can be more than twice that.
- What’s the Wi-Fi capability – All new PCs have Wi-Fi capability, and they’re capable of supporting the 802.11n or earlier wireless networking standards. But some models, especially newer Ultrabooks, can use the faster and more-stable 802.11ac standard. It’s effectively an upgrade to 802.11n, so if your existing router and other devices can use that standard, they’ll work with 802.11ac.
- Beware of “bloatware.” – Lower-priced laptops often include trial versions of software for everything from PDF readers to anti-malware. Expect to spend a couple hours cleaning unwanted apps from the computer when you get it home.
- In-person trumps online – When you buy an item online, you don’t always know what you’re getting. Buying it in person, when possible, gives you a chance to go hands on with how it feels to type on the keyboard and use the trackpad. It’s also easier to return the product if it’s not to your liking.
- Check the computer’s warranty – Just about every computer vendor offers a limited one-year warranty on new computers. These warranties cover defects in workmanship only. Extended warranties, including the “goof proof” ones covering owner negligence, cost an extra $150 to $600 or more for additional years. You’ll have to weigh the worth of such a warranty.
- Carefully consider no-interest payment plans – PC retailers will usually offer some type of low- or no-interest credit plan with your computer purchase. You can save a lot of money with such a plan, and squeeze the machine’s purchase easily into your household budget—especially since that price will ultimately include new versions of software for your new PC. But remember that you really only save money if you stick to the credit plan’s terms—i.e. “12 months, no interest” means you must pay off the machine within 12 months, or face accumulated interest charges. And, consider that every new credit account initially affects your consumer credit score. Do you research here before jumping on any offer that might only be attractive on at first glance.
Now that you have the general buying recommendations, which type of device should you get: desktop PC, laptop/Ultrabook or a tablet?
If you need a lot of data storage space, a larger visual display (without having to buy another monitor), greater capability to hook up accessory tools like a printer, external drive and camera, and generally a lot more power in the graphics and data processing departments (a must if you’re into graphics-heavy projects), a desktop is your best bet.
Things to keep in mind include:
- Traditional desktop or all-in-one (AIO)? – Most desktop units today are AIO models, model, where the monitor and hard drive are combined, and the only separate components are your mouse and keyboard (frequently wireless). There are advantages, as you don’t have any cables to deal with unless you hook up some type of external device like a hard drive or CD/DVD/Blu-ray burner. The AIO also uses laptop components, including CPU, memory and optical drive, meaning it will run quieter and use less energy. But, traditional, multi-piece desktops tend to be more powerful, less-prone to system crashes, and, unlike many AIOs, they’re upgradeable.
- Display resolution – Make 1920 x 1080 (the HD standard) your minimum choice; 2540 x 1440 is better to avoid seeing individual pixels. If you’re buying a machine with a large display (27 inches or more), go for 3200 x 1800 if possible.
- CPU speed – AIOs start at Intel Core i5 level, but go for an i7 processor if you can. The i7 is now the standard in a desktop PC.
- Memory – In terms of size, you’ll want a system with a minimum of 8GB. However, you’ll also want to make sure it has extra memory slots to allow addition of more memory if desired. Otherwise, you may have to replace all the existing memory to upgrade.
- Hard drive size – Bare minimum these days is 1TB, but if you plan to do a lot with video and other graphic programs, you’ll want to at least double or triple that requirement.
- Inputs or ports – Look for a system with at least two USB 3.0 ports, a card reader, and an HDMI input. A Thunderbolt port, faster than USB 3.0, is a definite plus.
Laptop and Ultrabook PCs
Laptops are the choice of most computer users, as the units are portable and capable of doing just about everything they would need a PC to do. They’re also fairly inexpensive compared to their larger desktop and AIO cousins. But there’s a lot more choice involved when buying a laptop.
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- CPU type – Your main choices are dual core and quad core. Dual core-driven machines are suitable for web surfing, creating and sharing documents, and streaming messages. They’re becoming less common, but some of the lower- to mid-priced laptops still use them. Quad-core laptops offer more power, but they’re also going to be louder, hotter and use more energy.
- Screen size – As with AIOs, the higher the resolution, the better the image viewing, and the larger the screen size, the higher the resolution should be. Native resolution is now 1920 x 1080 (also known as 1080p). Some 15-inch or larger screens are into ultra-high definition territory of 2560 x 1440 or better.
- Battery life – Compare products carefully here. Even a laptop that boasts it can get 8-plus hours in battery life gets less than half that amount if you’re watching video. And, keep in mind that more-powerful batteries weigh more.
- Weight and thickness – Current laptops are already famous for being lightweight—anything above six pounds is considered “heavy.” Newer laptops—particularly Ultrabooks—are practically paper-thin and feather-light, with some barely topping 2.5 pounds and a half-inch thick. But remember that sometimes “super light” means “not so durable.” If possible, try picking up the laptop or Ultrabook by one corner, or try typing with it in your lap instead of on a solid surface. If it feels flimsy instead of firm, durability could be an issue.
- Touchscreen – This is a standard now for laptops and Ultrabooks, although some older models are not touch-enabled. When considering this feature, make sure the model you’re buying has at least 10 touch points, so that it fully supports Windows 8.
- Choose carefully – Some laptops, especially those in the thin and light category can’t be easily upgraded in terms of memory, graphics card or hard drive. This can take them from top of the line to crawling behind in only a few years. So, research the upgradability of the models you are considering. If it’s a model that can’t be upgraded, then buy the best you can afford to give it the longest lifespan.
Tablets and Chromebooks
As the middle ground between laptops and handhelds, tablets offer some of the flexibility of a laptop, thanks to their ability to run basic business productivity suites and Internet apps. They’re smaller, lighter and overall less expensive than their larger PC brethren. In some cases, such as with Chromebooks, they’re practically plug and play. However, they are even more limited when it comes to keeping them technologically up to date, and they’re starting to face competition from smartphones, which are becoming larger and more tablet-oriented.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when shopping for a tablet:
- 2-in-1 or Chromebook? – 2-in-1/hybrids function as a tablet and a laptop and are popular for their versatility. Chromebooks are low-powered laptops for people who rely mostly on the web browser and other web tools to get their jobs done, and want to be able to store all of their data in the cloud for access whenever needed. Chromebooks are increasingly becoming the laptop of choice for classrooms
- Necessary use – If you are a multitasker who likes to run several applications simultaneously, you probably won’t want to buy a tablet. Hybrids are an exception, since they have laptop specs and can handle heavier use.
- Operating system – Remember that the OS on a laptop or desktop PC has to be compatible with the tablet’s if you want to use the same apps.
- Storage, processing and memory – Stick with at least 32 GB of data storage size, but more is always better as you gather more files. Go with at least a dual-core processor, especially with a Windows tablet, as the CPU determines what the tablet is capable of. With system memory, you won’t have much choice, as most tablets carry 2 GB maximum. Again, more means more.
- Ports – As with laptops, a Windows tablet can offer a number of ports for connection to other devices, and vice versa. These include USB, micro-USB, SD card and HDMI.
While there are a lot of factors and decision points when deciding between PC’s, laptops and tablets, it comes down to personal preference and carefully identifying the right tool for the job.
Source: Intel Free Press