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Laptop buying advice for 2012

What to look for in a laptop in 2012? The laptop that is right for you depends on the way you are going to use it, but nonetheless there are some interesting decisions to make when buying a laptop in 2012.

If you are planning on buying a laptop you probably have a budget in mind and you know the way you are going to use your laptop. These two factors are most important in deciding what laptop is good for you.

Size and power consumption

If you are traveling a lot your criteria should be different when buying a laptop than when your laptop sits on a desk at home all the time.

As a mobile user the weight and power consumption of your laptop are important factors. You don't want to be dragging a 7 pound laptop around all the time, no matter how big and bright your presentations look on it.

If you are using your laptop primarily at home, in the same location, than weight and power consumption are a less important issue.

What laptop size is good for you in terms of size and power consumption is really a matter of common sense. If you are a traveller keep in mind that you also have to tow an adapter and possibly some other accessories with you.

Storage, SSDs are here to stay

Solid State Drives (SSDs) have found there way into the mainstream laptop and if you are going to buy a new laptop in 2012 you will have to decide whether you are going for the budget option with a magnetic harddisk or with a brand new and lightning fast solid state drive for a one or two hundred dollars more.

While being more expensice, SSDs deliver a noticable performance boost. In the video below I demonstrate the performance between a laptop with a classic harddisk and a laptop with a SSD.

On the left: A Dell e6520 with a Samsung 470 128 Gb SSD drive
On the right: A HP Elitebook with a classic Western Digital Scorpio 7200 RPM 300 Gbdrive

The Dell with the SSD drive is twice as fast. This is not entirely fair, because the Dell laptop has more internal memory (8Gb instead of 4Gb) and a faster processor (Intel I7 versus Intel I5). However, booting a computer is a task that relies heavuly on the hard drive. It is an "IO intensive" process, as computer experts like to say. So, the speed difference might not be entirely caused by the difference in hard drive, it will still be the most important factor.

Whether an SSD is the right thing for you will depend on your budget. My advice is: if you can spend the money on an SSD, do it. This is one of those upgrades that will make a difference.

The amount of internal memory or RAM

RAM geheugen

If you buy a new laptop in 2012 you can probably choose between, 2, 4, 8 or perhaps even 16 Gigabytes of internal RAM. Power users with a bigger budget may opt for 8 or even 16 gigabytes, while those who use their laptops primarily for reading email and browsing Facebook can usually do with 2 or 4 gigabytes.

If you have the budget to buy more, don't go overboard with just RAM. If you have 8Gb already you will be better of investing your money in an SSD than in more RAM.

CPU

The CPU is one of those items that you have to keep a close eye on if you want to know which one churns out the most megaflops. The CPU market is always moving and my advice would be to check the processor charts at sites like CPU Benchmark or Toms Hardware to give you an idea of the price-performance ratio of your potential buy.

Screen quality, resolution and dimensions

Screens make a difference, but if you buy a laptop over the internet it is going to be hard to experience the quality difference between different screens.

The thing you can see when shopping for a laptop online is the screen resolution. Often the screen resolution is hidden behind technical terms that no one understands or wants to understand, like WUXGA, WUXGA+ and WXGA+. What you should look for is the actual resolution. The resolution is the total number of pixels the sceen has.

For example, a WUXGA screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. This means the screen has a total of 2.3 million pixels and a 16:10 dimension. Screens with a higher resolution often offer a better picture, but with a higher resolution, items on your screen get smaller. This is something to remember if you are visually impaired.

Connectors and ports

HDMI port

An HDMI port

Most modern laptops are equiped with plenty of USB ports to connect all your peripherals like mouses, webcams, etc. But ports like HDMI (for connecting high definition multimedia devices), 1394/firewire, or eSATA (for external storage devices) are not found on every laptop. If you are in need of one of such interfaces, be sure to check in advance if they are present.

Also an interesting thing to think about when buying a laptop is whether you are going to hook your laptop to a normal keyboard, mouse and monitor. Are you comfortable with working on your laptio directly all the time or do you favour the comfor of a large monitor and "real" keyboard? In that case you would need a docking station. Docking stations can be pretty expensive, so you should set aside a part of your budget should you need one.

Conclusion

Without a doubt the most interesting choice when buying a laptop in 2012 is whether you include a conventional, magnetic harddisk or if you are going to go with its newer and faster brother, the SSD.

It's a trad off between money, speed and storage size. SSDs are more expensive and they offer less storage space, but they are very fast compared to magnetic harddisks. It is up to you!