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BuyingTips - Laptop

What is a Laptop Computer?

Laptop PCs have now become faster, slimmer, and cheaper. With powerful processors and accesories, laptops now offer almost everything a desktop PC can offer

Laptops can be divided into two weight categories :Ultralite and Regular. Ultralites are thin, small and weigh under 5 pounds but the drawback is their limited built-in features. Regular laptops, on the other hand, are bigger and heavier but they include such nice features as large bright screen; long-life battery; CD-ROM and floppy drive. Many portables also make room for optional DVD or Zip drives with USB and other interfaces for external devices.

Before buying a Laptop computer the following features will help you decide which is the right one for you:

CPU: Although there are many factors that influence the performance of a computer, the most important one is its microprocessor, also known as its CPU (central processing unit). The microprocessor is a silicon chip (with millions of circuits) that is the brain of a computer. Its speed is measured in MHz (megahertz). Currently, speeds range from 300MHz up to 800MHz or more. It's also important to consider the type of processor, for example, a 400MHz Intel Celeron microprocessor may be slower than a 400MHz Intel Pentium II microprocessor. For most common use, a 400MHz Pentium II is sufficient.

Memory:RAM or Random Access Memory is the computer's work space. More of it lets the computer work faster and lets you run more programs at the same time. Of course given the same processor, more memory will make the computer perform faster. You will be able to start programs more quickly, scroll through long documents quickly, or switch more quickly between two tasks, such as typing a letter and opening email.

Memory is measured in MB (megabytes). Notebooks usually come with atleast 32MB of memory to start. Almost all of them can be upgraded to hold more memory, up to 128MB or more. Never get a notebook with less than 64MB of memory. Looking at last year's fastest processors. You'll find the best deals on machines that have yesterday's top performers. Only graphics professionals or scientists need to have the cutting-edge speed.

Cache: Cache memory, is another form of work space for the processor. Memory (RAM) and video memory are other types of work space. A processor can access items stored in cache very quickly, more quickly than in any other form of work space. The processor uses the cache to store the most frequently requested instructions and data. The larger the cache, the more likely it is that a specific action you want to perform is in the cache, and the faster the notebook will run as a whole.

There are two forms of cache: internal cache (also called Level 1, L1, or CPU cache), and external cache (also called Level 2, L2, or secondary cache). Most notebooks have 16KB (16 kilobytes) or more of internal cache; 32KB or 64KB are large internal caches. More cache is always better.

Hard Disk: The "hard disk" or "hard drive" is where the operating system, all other software programs, and all your own information get stored. Its size is measured in GB (gigabytes). Most notebooks have at least 1.6GB, and it can go up to 15GB or more.

Make sure the weight, size, feel and power of the machine are right for you. You'll be carrying your laptop around a lot. Also, try out the keyboard and pointing device to make sure they're comfortable.

Screen: The screen or display, or Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD, of a notebook, is an important element of the notebook. The size of the screen, the type, and the resolution, can all be important. Most people focus on the size of the screen, since that is the most obvious element. If you are a graphic designer or an avid game-player, you might want to carefully check out the type and resolution as well. Screen SIZE is measured diagonally, just like for TVs. While you can get screens as small as 7", full-size notebook screens measure at least 12" diagonally, and can go up to 15" or more. A 14.1" notebook screen will give you almost the same viewing area as a 15" monitor on a desktop computer. The smaller screens (10"and less) can be great for traveling as they are very light. A notebook screen displays an image as a pattern of many small dots.

Resolution: measures the number of dots on the screen; a higher resolution means more dots. Every notebook screen supports at least a resolution of 640x480. Newer notebooks can also support higher resolutions, such as 800x600 (also called VGA) or 1024x768 (also called SuperVGA or SVGA).

Batteries: Notebook batteries are either Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) or Nickel Metal Hydride (NIMH). Lithium batteries are lighter in weight, and have a longer life, than NIMH batteries, but they also cost more. However, if you expect to run your notebook off the battery a lot, the convenience of lithium will be worth the investment. Battery life is usually expressed as a wide range, because it is highly dependent on how you use your notebook. If you are going to be away from a power supply for a long time , you might invest in a second battery and make sure to charge that battery before you need it. The expected length of time it will take to recharge a fully discharged battery can vary widely because people don't always begin with fully-discharged batteries. NIMH batteries should initially be charged for 16 hours; lithium batteries need only 6-8 hours at first. Thereafter, charge the batteries according to the notebook manufacturer's recommendation. This may be as short as 6 hours, or as long as 12 hours. Remember that a battery, after lying on the shelf for some time, usually takes 2-4 full charges and discharges before it achieves its full potential again.

Pointing Device: The pointing device is to a notebook what a mouse is to a desktop. It lets you point, click and drag items, just as a mouse does, but it's compactly built into the notebook. Try out the keyboard and pointing device together to ensure they're comfortable. Though every manufacturer has its own variation on the theme, all pointing devices fall into three types:

Stick also called a pointing stick, is a device that looks like a pencil's eraser-head situated in the middle of the keyboard, usually over the B and under the G and H keys.

Pad, also called a track pad, is an area below the keyboard, an inch or so square, that you run ("track") your finger over. While pads usually come with separate buttons on which to "click", they also let you "click" by simply tapping your finger on the pad. This can speed you up by reducing the distance your hand has to travel.

Trackball is a round ball, either on the keyboard or on the cover of the notebook to the right of the screen, that you roll with a fingertip. Trackballs feel the most natural to some people and they're not error-prone, but they are like sticks in that they require separate devices on which to "click".

Modem: Notebook modems either come built into the notebook, or it's very common to have to add your own as an external option.The modem is the device that transmits data to and from your notebook so you can use email and the Internet. Modem speed is measured in KB (kilobits of data sent or received per second). It is usually given as two numbers. The first number is how fast the modem can transmit to and from an Internet site; usually this is 56KB. The second speed is how fast the modem can send or receive a fax, usually 14.4KB or 28.8KB. Generally, the faster the modem speed - especially the first number - the better.

For more information on modem please check Buying tips - Modem

CD-ROM: The CD-ROM drive reads compact disks (CDs) that store music, software, data etc. CD-ROM drives may be built into a notebook, or might be "swappable". This means they share the same space as the floppy disk drive, and you "swap" between using CDs or floppies. Some notebooks save weight and cost by leaving out the CD-ROM drive. You can always buy an external drive separately. CD-ROM speed is measured as X: 6X, 10X, etc. If you use CDs primarily to install software, you'll be fine with whatever CD-ROM comes with your notebook. But it's a different story if you're into multi- media. If games, music, videos or movies are important, you'll need 32X, or higher speeds.

Ports: Notebooks can include many ports, or connections. USB, or Universal Serial Bus, is a newer and much faster version of the serial port. It lets the notebook connect to a wide variety of devices, such as digital cameras, speakers, external hard disks, scanners, printers, etc.

IR, or InfraRed port, allows the notebook to transmit information to and over a "wireless" link. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) like the Palm Pilot, and some computers, printers, and cameras support this.

S, or Serial port, is used to attach external mice, keyboards, or other devices. Most notebooks have a serial port.

P, or Parallel port, is used by most printers and many network connections. Most notebooks have a parallel port.

M port is used to attach an external Monitor. Most notebooks have a monitor port.

PS2 is a special port (sometimes called the mouse port) to attach an external mouse or sometimes a keyboard. Most notebooks have this port, because this frees up the serial port for some other use.

A is an Audio port. This means the notebook can accept input from a microphone or can transmit sound out via headphones or external speakers. If the notebook has more than one Audio port, it can support some combination of audio capabilities.

MI means a specific audio port, namely one that accepts Microphone Input.

HO means a specific audio port, namely one that transmits Headphone Output.

SO means a specific audio port, namely one that transmits Speaker Output.

EXP or EXPAN means an EXPansion port. This allows the notebook to be plugged into a port replicator or dock station.

FD means an external Floppy Disk drive. Most notebooks have this if they do not include an internal floppy disk drive.

ET10/100 means a 10 or 100-megabit Ethernet port. This allows the notebook to be plugged into a network or other communication connection that uses so-called "Ethernet protocol" and communicates at 10 megabits per second.

SCSI is a Small Computer System Interface port. Many printers, external disk or tape drives, modems, and other devices can be attached on a SCSI port. SCSI ports support higher transmission speeds than do traditional serial and parallel ports, and can allow you to attach up to seven devices to the same port.

TV means a Television connection, allowing the notebook to be connected to a TV screen.

Port replicators and dock stations are like power strips for a notebook where you plug in monitors, keyboards, printers, etc. You push one button to attach or detach the notebook, and all the devices stay connected to the replicator or station. Besides being convenient, this lets you neatly arrange your cabling, and helps avoid breaking a notebook connector. One should get a notebook that can accept a port replicator or dock station, even if you don't need it right away you have the option in the future.

PCMCI Cards: Every notebook has several slots available to hold so-called PC cards. These cards currently come in two sizes: Type II cards are about the shape and size of a credit card, and Type III cards are the same length and width but about twice as thick. Virtually all notebooks now have enough slots to hold two Type II cards or one Type III card. PC cards were originally designed to hold additional memory and some software. Type II PC cards now can be modems, Ethernet or other network-connection cards, game cards, software, and a host of other things. Type III PC cards are less common; they are most often used for additional hard disk capacity, or very powerful cellular modems.

ZIP or JAZ Drive:Almost every notebook has a floppy disk drive as backup method. But floppies only hold 1.4MB (megabytes). You'd need 700 floppies to back up an entire 1GB notebook. This is where ZIP drive comes handy. Each ZIP disk can store 100MB of data, so a 2GB notebook fits on just 20 ZIP disks. And now there's Jaz disks, which hold 20 times more data. That 2GB notebook fits on 1 Jaz disk. Just about every notebook can use ZIP or Jaz disks if you buy a separate ZIP or Jaz drive.

Make sure the weight, size and feel of the machine are right for you. You'll be carrying your laptop around a lot. Also, try out the keyboard and pointing device to make sure they're comfortable.

Get what you need when you need it. There will always be something better, cheaper, and more feature- laden coming along next week.

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