Laptop buying tip

Purchasing a home or business laptop can be a much more confusing and sometimes frightening experience as most users today have some experience with a desktop computer but not as many have experience with a laptop, what is properly known as a portable computer. Portable computers are an excellent solution for anyone who needs to be portable and have all of their information on a small computer. Below is a listing of help and tips when considering to purchase a laptop computer. 

What to look for

When purchasing a computer, it is likely that you are going to have a general idea of what you may like in the computer or how you would like to configure the computer. Below is a listing of the various components likely to be found in a computer, and recommendations and tips when considering any of the below components.

Battery usage

Determine how long the battery is expected to last under normal use. Many manufacturers will indicate a battery usage time but this may be at the lowest possible settings; ensure that the manufacturer clarifies what the standard battery usage life is when using the portable computer in all power modes.

Display

All portable computers come with a display. While it is almost always possible to hook up an external monitor when traveling with the laptop, the display is an important consideration. When looking at the display, ensure it is large enough for your needs. A very easy method of reducing the cost of the laptop is to reduce the size of the screen, unless price is an important consideration we highly suggest that you purchase a laptop with at least a 12" or lager LCD and recommend an LCD size of 14"

Complete buying tip information on Flat Panel or LCD solutions can be found on our flat panel buying tips page.

Drives

Drives are sometimes overlooked when considering a portable computer but can be an important consideration. Portable computers can come with various drive configurations, for example:

  • One drive bay where the CD-ROM and the Floppy drive are interchangeable. For users who utilize the floppy drive often, this may be an issue; however, for other users who do not utilize the floppy, this may be a more appropriate solution as the computer will be lighter and thinner with one drive bay.
  • Two drive bay portable computers have a floppy solution as well as CD-ROM solutions. These computers will be a less expensive computer when compared to the other solutions; however, it is the always the heaviest of all the solutions.
  • No drive bay portable computers allow for a laptop to be extremely light and utilize external drives instead of internal. Pay close attention to the price of these laptops; while it may appear to be a portable solution, many manufacturers will charge you an additional price for the external drives, which will eventually be needed.

Finally, some users may also want to consider different media solutions. For example, many laptops allow for a standard floppy drive or an LS120 drive. The LS120 drive can read floppy diskettes and at the same time be used as a backup storage device as it can store up to 120MB on a LS120 diskette. Additionally, consider the option of a DVD* or CD-RW drive as opposed to a CD-ROM drive.

*If you are considering a DVD solution, verify if the DVD comes with hardware or software decoding. Hardware decoding for laptops is accomplished by using a PCMCIA card and will add onto the overall price of the laptop.

Hard drive

Hard drives have and always will be an important consideration to think about when purchasing a new portable computer. Like a standard computer, the hard drive will be the destination of all your files and information, and if that drive is to become full, that drive must be replaced or another external drive needs to be added to the computer. When looking at the space of the hard drive, always get the maximum size hard drive, considering you will eventually always run out of space. 

Complete buying tip information on hard drives can be found on our hard drive buying tips page.

Lock

Does the portable computer include any locking system? If yes, what locking system is included? This can be important for users who are on the road.

Memory

Memory is and has always been an important consideration when looking at purchasing a computer. Determine the amount of memory included in the computer as well as verify if that memory can be upgraded in the future. The more memory the computer has, the more efficient the computer is capable or running.

Complete buying tip information on computer memory can be found on our memory buying tips page.

Modem

If a modem is required, ensure that a modem is included with the portable computer. In addition, verify if the modem is an internal or PC-CARD (PCMCIA) modem as you may require all the available PC-CARD slots in the future. PC-CARD modems are type II that for most computers akkiws for an additional type II to be connected. 

Complete buying tips and information on modems can be found on our modem buying tips page.

Network Card

If a network connection is required, ensure that a network card is included with the portable computer. In addition, verify if the network card is an internal or PC-CARD (PCMCIA) network card as you may require all the available PC-CARD slots in the future. Network PC-CARDs are type II that for most computers allows for an additional type II to be connected. 

Complete buying tips and information on network cards can be found on our network card buying tips page.

Processor

The computer processor is and will always be an important consideration when purchasing a computer. Today, with multiple CPU/Processor manufacturers, it may be more confusing as well as more cost efficient to look at the different processors available.

Complete buying tips and information on computer processors can be found on our CPU buying tips page.

Sound card

Sound cards are important when looking at purchasing a computer; however, the majority of all computer users will find that most standard sound cards will suit their needs. However, some users may enjoy purchasing more advanced sounds cards that will increase the amount of speakers that can be used and in some games and programs and the sound quality and capabilities.

When looking at the sound aspect of a portable computer, many laptops do not have sufficient sound and will require external speakers or headphones. Ensure that the sound quality meets your needs.

Weight

Weight is another important consideration when considering a portable as the computer will be carried; the lighter the portable computer, the more easy it will be to carry.

Video card

Video cards are becoming an extremely important factor when purchasing a computer. While this may surprise some, a video card can make or break a computer when it comes to playing games on the computer. Most games today require additional video memory as well as special video modes such as OpenGL. With a video card with little video memory or without these modes, the computer will be unable to play these games. In addition, the advances in video cards can dramatically increase the user enjoyment of the game being played.

Complete buying tips and information on video cards can be found on our video card buying tips page.

Brand of computer

When looking at purchasing any brand of portable computer you will hear good and bad stories. Regardless if the story is good or bad, these stories are always based on the experience of that user. While it may be true that the user had a bad or terrible experience with that computer, all computer manufacturers have had users who have had a bad experience and there is no such thing as a bad or perfect computer manufacturer. Below is a listing of various things to consider when purchasing a computer, and in some cases, how to tell the good from the bad and help allow you to purchase the portable computer that will suit your needs.

Add-ons

Some computer manufacturers may try to sell additional add-ons when purchasing a portable computer. Unless you have done your research on the additional add-on, do not consider the add-on. While in some cases it may be beneficial to get a printer, scanner, camera or PC Cards with a computer, you may be paying premium for the additional add-on, or in the case of the printer, you may have to pay premium on the ink in the future. Do you research, ensure that if you get an additional hardware or add-ons that the hardware will suit your needs and that it does not end up being something that is not going to be used. 

Free add-ons? Some computer companies may entice you into purchasing a computer by giving you free add-ons. These add-ons may be advertised as free, however, ensure or ask if the add-on price is not just being added to the overall computer price.

Documentation

While most manufacturers today are reducing the amount of documentation included with their computers, an excellent question, especially if the computer is being purchased by a new computer user, is "what documentation is included with the computer?"

All computer manufacturers will include some paper documentation or paper inserts; however, does this information include documentation about upgrading the computer in the future? How to connect the cables to the computer? Documentation on how to use the software such as the additional included software?

Note: It is important to distinguish between paper documentation and on-line documentation. On-line documentation, which is being found more today, is information that is either locally on the computer or can be accessed via the Internet. If the information is available over the Internet, see how that information looks and if it suits your needs before purchasing the computer.

Location

We use location to describe different topics. First, what is the location of where the computer is purchased: If the computer is purchased at a local retail store, can the computer be returned to that store if unsatisfactory? If the computer is purchased through mail order or directly through the computer manufacturer or reseller, where can the computer be returned if unsatisfactory?

Second, can the store location of where the computer was purchased service the computer? If not where is the closest location to where the computer can be serviced?

Third, if the computer is purchased directly from the computer manufacturer and is shipped through mail, how is it shipped? What is the time period for the computer to arrive to your destination? What happens if the computer is damaged during shipping?

Refurbished

Refurbished is a term used to describe a computer or a hardware device or component in a computer that has been used; however, it has been looked at and determined to be in working order. However, because the product has been used or purchased, it cannot be sold as new.

Refurbished computers have a lower price and are a good deal for users looking for a better deal. However, compare the price of the refurbished computer to a new computer as well as to review all of the tips on this page as all the same rules, tricks, and tips still apply.

Service

Service is an important consideration to look at when looking to purchase a computer, new or used. The service is how many companies describe the repair of a computer if it or a component within it is to become broken. Below is a listing of recommended services.

  1. Is the service onsite, meaning a technician will come to your location to replace or fix a bad component. If the service is onsite, is it for the complete time of the warranty?
  2. If onsite is not offered, what is and for how long?
  3. Can the computer be taken to a local service center? If yes, what is the closest authorized service center?
  4. What is the time frame the service takes to occur? For example, if the computer has a bad component, what is the time it takes for a technician to come onsite and replace that component, or what is the time it takes to have the computer sent in to be fixed? Finally, if that time frame is not accomplished, what is the company willing to do? Would they be willing to provide you with a loaned computer?
  5. Because the computer is a portable computer, is International Service available? This allows users who may be in a different country to have their computer fixed in that country.

Software

Software, for many computer users especially new users, is thought to be an important consideration when purchasing a new computer. Granted there is software that we highly recommend looking for when purchasing a computer, such as word processor or spread sheet program, some computer companies may over hype the software package. Below is a listing of what to look for when looking at the software included with a computer.

  1. Does the software include Microsoft Office or Corel Suite? These packages allow you to have a word processor and a spread sheet. For the majority of all users, this should be an important consideration.
  2. Is the software full versions of the software or is the software demo programs or shareware programs?

Support

While you can always contact Computer Hope for support, manufacturer support for most users is another important consideration, as if an issue arises with the computer, you must be able to be able to contact a support representative. Things to consider when looking at the support options of a computer are shown below.

  1. Is support open 24 hours, 7 days a week? If not, what are the hours?
  2. Is support open on holidays? If not, what days are it closed?
  3. What support options are available? Phone? E-mail? Web? Chat?

Upgrade

While this option may not be considered at first when purchasing a computer, it is an important consideration. Below is a listing of different options to look for when looking to upgrade a portable computer.

  1. What can be upgraded in the computer? RAM? CPU? Hard Drive? If available to upgrade, what are the maximum amounts or is it specified within documentation provided with the computer?
  2. Are the upgrades something that the end-user can do or does it require a service center to install?

Warranty

Finally, what warranty is offered by the computer manufacturer? How long is the warranty? Does the warranty cover both hardware and software issues? 

Warranty can cause frustrations for most users. We highly recommend that a computer only be considered if it has at least a one-year warranty. Many cheap computers only come with a 90 day warranty; meaning if a part goes bad, you pay for the part as well as the service. This may not be an issue for users who just need a cheap computer and are willing to replace parts and service the computer.

Scams

Watch out for the below scams and tricks when buying a laptop computer.

Get what you pay for

Make sure you are paying for what you get. It has been known that computer companies may list a processor being a specific speed but may actually have a different speed into the computer. This, unfortunately, can be very easy as any user can 'over clock' a processor, making it appear as one speed but in reality being a completely different speed. For example, you may buy a 733MHz processor but instead get a 500MHz.

To determine the processor speed, open the computer and look at the processor itself. Do not look at the processor through a software program or through BIOS as these values can be changed or tricked.

Legal software

When purchasing a computer, ensure it comes with legal software. Many end-users or small computer companies who build or sell computers may not provide you with legal copies of the software, which is illegal. Verify that the software that came with your computer is on a standard CD and not a burnt CD. A burnt or home-made CD will be a different looking CD and have a gold or green bottom. Ensure that if the software requires a license or registration number that it was included with the computer. An example of software that includes these certificates is Microsoft Office and Windows

Additional information