If you're among the millions of consumers interested in buying a new laptop computer, the range of options can be pretty intimidating. Not surprisingly, there's no one laptop that is right for everyone. Your own particular needs will dictate what's best for you. In this article, we'll offer some pointers that will help you make the best choice for your computing needs, lifestyle and budget.

The Size is Right

When choosing a laptop computer, there are numerous technical questions to consider, but one of the most critical issues is simply the size and weight of the device. Laptop computers typically have a diagonally measured screen size of between 13 and 17 inches. If you'll be on the go frequently with the computer, consider one of the smaller models. Odds are that some performance will have to be sacrificed, but lugging one of the big guys through the airport or around campus can become tiresome very quickly.

On the other hand, if the laptop is essentially the replacement for a desktop computer, go for the big screen gusto. You'll experience less eye fatigue with a bigger display and the brilliant new screens will make the most of high-definition, wide-screen programming. Another benefit of the bigger laptops is that the full-sized keyboard is far better for most users who are likely to be doing a lot of typing.

Fast is Foremost

Now things get a little more technical, but the decisions can still be rather easy when you keep your own needs in mind. In general, the faster any computer operates, the better. For the consumer, there are two primary factors that affect a laptop's performance speed   the CPU and the amount of memory, or RAM.

The central processing unit, or CPU, is the brain of a computer. A faster CPU means better performance regardless of what you're using the computer to do. Almost all CPUs are made by one of two companies: Intel or AMD. Both offer excellent products and each has advantages. Here are a few features to note about CPU performance:

  • Clock Speed is the rate at which the CPU executes commands and is measured in gigahertz, GHz, or cycles per second. More GHz means better performance.
  • Cores are independent processors in a single CPU. Most CPUs now have multiple cores and are known by names like dual-core and quad-core. You can liken multiple cores in a processor to extra lanes on a freeway. The more lanes, the more traffic that can be moved, so the number of cores essentially multiplies the clock speed.
  • Hyperthreading is among the most advanced CPU functionality and refers to the processors ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously; thus, hyperthreading multiplies the already blazing speed of multi-core processors.

Both AMD and Intel make exceptionally fast multiple core processors. Intel's top performers are the i3, i5 and i7, and all employ hyperthreading technology. The downside is that these processors are more expensive than their nearest competitors from AMD. Hyperthreading isn't available on AMD chips, but they are notably less expensive and performance is still exceptional.

The amount of RAM installed on the computer also has a direct effect on performance. While 2GB of RAM is often adequate, up to 6GB are available for power users.

A Place for My Stuff

Storage is the next performance measure that matters to most people. Laptop hard drives are huge compared to those of a short time ago. Hard disks with 500GB and 640GB of storage are commonly available. A newer alternative to the hard drive is the solid-state drive. It has two distinct advantages   there are no moving parts to break down and it operates far more quickly than a hard drive. The tradeoff: solid-state drives don't offer nearly as much data storage as hard drives.

What Else Should I Know?

Operating on a wireless network is a given with today's laptop computers. When selecting a laptop, make sure that it is compatible with the newest and best Wi-Fi standard, which is known as 802.11n.

If you'll frequently be using your new laptop away from an electrical plug, battery life is a big deal. Even if an electrical outlet is handy, the freedom afforded by using battery power is appealing to most users. Most laptops have options for batteries that can last from as little as about three hours to more than six hours. If you're likely to be on the go frequently with your laptop, the additional investment in a better battery is probably worthwhile. As much as we like the quality of Mac laptops, it's worth noting that they don't have optional batteries available.

Laptops generally have video and audio capabilities that are fine for most users. For those who will use a laptop for video editing or extreme gaming, an upgraded video card is a must. Similarly, if you'll be gaming and performing sound editing, an enhanced audio card should be considered.

Finally, as with any product, the warranty and customer support offered by the manufacturer are important. One-year warranties are standard fare, but longer periods and more extensive technical support are available for those who need it.

Armed with this information, the purchase of your new laptop should be a pleasure. The only balancing act that's left is the trade-off between cost and performance, and only you can make that personal judgment.

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