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Five Laptop Features that Matter Most
Laptops range in price and function from a simple $299 Netbook to a $2,999 maxed-out portable gamer machine. Unfortunately, buying one can mean deciphering technical jargon and comparing hundreds of specifications. Yet, this complex task can be boiled down to just a handful of key factors, that aside from weight and battery life, are CPU, GPU, HDD, RAM, and some carefully selected, Extras. Follow our simple pointers to cut through the guesswork so you can choose the laptop that is best for you, your wallet, and your sanity.
1. CPU (Processor
Find a CPU that suits your type of use, rather than just opting for the most speed.
While it was once a matter of more = better, manufacturers now design processors not only for optimum speed, but also for different kinds of tasks. This purpose-driven development means that two processors of equal speed can perform differently depending on the type of work you are doing. If you anticipate some serious video editing or need to have lots of apps running at the same time (multitasking), you’re safest going with the Intel Core i7. For everyday computing, the Core i3 or Athlon NEO X2 will suffice. There are many families of processors available, and each is tailored to a specific type of use. There is even a whole set of processors commonly found in Netbooks where long battery life is a high priority. To get a better lay of the land, have a read of our in-depth look at prevailing CPU technologies.
2. GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Fraught with positives and negatives; Assess your needs to pinpoint the right balance.
Graphics processing is a big factor in price, battery life, and performance. The main technologies are integrated graphics and discrete graphics. The average user, word processing and net surfing for instance, will be quite happy with the Intel HD Graphics integrated solution that comes standard on many laptops. However, HD movies and games call for more robust discrete graphics such as the Nvidia GTX - at a cost of reduced battery life and increased price. Some technologies, like Nvidia Optimus and AMD Hybrid, allow the user to turn the discrete graphics on or off depending on the planned task, but will likely exacerbate the price quandary.
3. HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
SSD is the next big thing, and so is the price. A standard HDD could do the job.
For a long time, the only real choice to make with regard to hard drives was capacity: The average user could save a few bucks by going with lower capacity, while the media-focused user needed to consider increasing storage. That changed when SSD, Solid State Drives, hit the market. SSDs have a sizeable speed, noise, and security advantage over their predecessors, but these come at a very drastic price disadvantage. For instance, we found a 500GB HDD suitable for any music buff priced at $199. By contrast, an SSD of just half that capacity will set you back $699. If your data storage requirements are on the low side and you have the bucks, we recommend you consider SSD, otherwise go with the highest capacity hard disk drive you can afford. Of course, there's always the "cloud."
4. RAM (Memory)
RAM can be a bottleneck or a floodgate. Buy enough, but not too much, yet.
Tasks like editing video require moving lots of data around, which means you’ll need more RAM. If you’re doing this kind of work, you may also consider DDR3 RAM, which can move more and move it faster than the norm, saving you time. If you are like us, however, and just surf Retrevo all day, 4GB of DDR2 RAM will do just fine. The key to look out for here is, upgradeability, or the maximum amount of RAM the system can accommodate. As time ticks by and your needs change, the ability to add extra RAM will extend the useable lifetime of your laptop greatly. Here's a tip; RAM is one of the easiest and cheapest upgrades that you can even do yourself. You can often save a few bucks on the initial purchase price and add memory later.
5. Extras
Don’t plan for every eventuality, instead, add-on extras only when necessary.
Inevitably, you will find yourself debating multiple extras and weighing the pros and cons of each against the other major factors. It becomes very easy in this situation to try to squeeze in more features that seem useful or could “come in handy.” Instead, you should focus only on what you need now. Extras like built-in mobile broadband and fingerprint scanners, for instance, will provide a layer of security and keep you connected to your business network from nearly anywhere, but each come with serious sacrifices in weight, battery life, and price. In reality, you can add most built-in extras via USB connections, later, on an as-needed basis, so why not wait until then to buy them?
Summary
Ultimately, you cannot consider all the positives and negatives of every feature. You might wonder about weight, battery life, screen size, etc, but these are just ancillary to the factors mentioned. You are better off focusing on the cake, than agonizing over the crumbs. Remember, if you try to get everything right, you will end up getting something wrong.
Retrevo Knows Laptops
Visit our Laptop Reviews section for detailed information by model. You might also want to check out these lists of laptops:
Best Laptops on a Budget
Best Values in Netbooks »
Best Lightweight Laptops and Netbooks »
Best Laptops for a Home Office »
Best Values in Gaming Laptops »
Best Values in Laptops with Windows 7 »
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Thanks bro

Thanks bro

The 5 things that matter most to me:

1. Power input. I've had 3 laptops die on me because the power input jack crapped out. Laptops are plugged in/unplugged/plugged back in much more often than probably any other electronic device. Your PC, TV, Gaming system, etc all stay plugged in. The constant action the power jack gets on a laptop wears it out quickly

2. Casing behind the display. If you're one of those people who drives with your hands at 10 and 2, or brushes your teeth for exactly 3 minutes and then flosses, this probably won't matter to you. But, if your like me, you probably don't always do everything like you're supposed to, and may pick up your laptop by the display end from time to time. Flimsy casing make the lcd screen much more likely to crack as a result

3. Battery life. Sure you can upgrade or replace a battery, but wouldn't it be nice if a laptop came standard with a super sweet long lasting battery?

4. Cooling fan. These things sit on your lap, there's nothing quite like the feeling of charred testicles.

5. Touch pad. Its the most used, most touched part of the machine. If it's oversensitive, under-sensitive, wears out, etc. it sucks!

These 5 things are always the first to wear out on my laptops, well before I run out of RAM or memory. An awesome graphics card means squat when your display is broken.

Totally misses the point

The features that matter most in a laptop for most business users are

1) Ergonomics and tactile devices (Keyboard, pointing device)
2) Screen quality/clarity
3) Battery Life (and ability to change battery)
4) Weight
5) Versatility (ports/connectivity ) - and for a #6..
6) Noise. (quiet fan or better yet - no fan)

The old cliche CPU/GPU/RAM blah blah blah .... There is almost no laptop made today that won't run basic software adequately. Those are NOT the most important issues when purchasing a portable computer .

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not really

Good comment but not sure I agree. Of course weight and battery life are probably the most important but that goes without saying and the article mentions that. Another point of the article is that CPU/GPU is not just an old cliche but needs to be looked at in a new light. Ergonomics, Screen quality, noise, are all good things to consider too. 

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External Storage

You did your readers sort of a dis-service by not mentioning external storage vs a large hard drive for a laptop in your blog. You don't need to buy the biggest and the best hard drive and online storage above 2GB gets expensive. I'd recommend a pocket drive or any flavor put out by Seagate, WD etc. to store your work, music, pictures and backup on and you don't have to worry about filling up your hard drive and possibly lose all of your data stored on your hard drive if you lose your laptop. Heck, a pocket drive will set you back less than a $100 and surely it will keep your hard drive from chugging along as it gets full. Another way to do it is to buy a larger full size desktop hard drive that you could store the above mention items that could be downloaded at the end of the day, week or trip. Hope you readers of this blog remember not to rely on one source for your buying decisions as they invariably leave out a lot of important information so shop around for sources of info as well as laptops or for that matter anything that you consider a major investment.

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External HD

My current laptop is a Toshiba Satellite A75-S206. It's quite BIG, and gets around 2 hours from a ridiculously large Lithium Ion battery. I also have an HP Pavilion ZD-7168 "desktop replacement". It has a gorgeous 17" 1440x900 display and a real Pentium IV processor. No Centrino, Pentium M, or any of that "crippled for better battery life" garbage. With the oversized battery, it weighs in close to 10 lbs. This will run the Pavilion around 2 hours. I've owned a couple of expensive Centrino and Pentium-M laptops. They proved to be worthless, even though they had higher RPM SATA drives.

I could care less about battery life if I have to sacrifice performance to get it. Performance is the name of the game. If I need longer battery life, I can easily scale back performance and such. Better yet, I can carry spare batteries, an inverter, a longer extension cord, etc. I have no problems finding an AC outlet when necessary.

I'm a record producer, and frequently do live professional multitrack audio recording and intensive video editing. This pretty much requires a 2nd HD, 7200 RPM or faster, on a Firewire 400 or faster port. It *must* be separate from the system drive. Yes I know that USB2 is supposed to do 480 mbps, but the reality is that 1. it does this only in short bursts (average speed is a good order of magnitude slower), and 2. USB2 requires a LOT of processor power, which causes program glitches. Firewire 400 does its own processing, and actually averages very close to 400 mbps. Firewire 800 is even faster. Hook up a USB2 and Firewire 400 HD, transfer some very large files, and TIME these. It's not even close.

-Mike

Must have: Ability to swap in a fresh battery

Too many devices are coming out with sealed battery units. You can't swap in another battery when the one in use gets too low. This is why I'll never buy an iPhone or a MacBook Air. Not only does it restricts daily use, it seriously damages the re-sale (or gift utility) of the device.Swappable batteries are a non-negotiable must-have for phones, tablets or laptops.

Agreed!

Most people don't realize the value of a 9 cell battery verses a typical 6 cell battery. The ability to have two batteries at the same time is must for me!

I travel alot for work-

I travel alot for work- Warrenty and Weight are by far the most important things I consider...

laptops

One feature I have found would be beneficial is an illuminated keyboard.

Illuminated kb

Try the macbook pro - noticeably absent from the review

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A lighted key board would be

A lighted key board would be good

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