Notebook/Laptop Buyers Guide

The way we use our computers has changed beyond recognition over the last few years. What was once used for typing letters and the odd email, is now an entertainment centre, for downloading, storing and organising music, videos and photos, updating our MP3 players, watching movies and even TV. These new exciting tasks require new technology to work smoothly, so maybe it’s time to think about a new laptop.

More and more of us are choosing laptops rather than bulkier desktops, to get this all done. Thanks to more wi-fi hotspots, a laptop also gives you the freedom to get online in cafes, catch up on emails while travelling or even sit in the garden and surf.

Choosing a laptop no longer means compromising on performance or ease of use, thanks to innovative new processors, brighter displays, better keypad layouts, and quicker DVD and CD drives. Laptops can easily handle many of our favourite applications, for organising music, movies and photos, communicating, surfing the web, creating and storing documents.

Picking the right laptop is all about understanding what you’ll be using it for and what all the jargon means. Here we set out to explain the jargon, help you decide what’s important for you and how you can approach buying a laptop.

With that information, you can then confidently browse our range of laptops from Toshiba, Lenovo, IBM, Acer, Samsung, Asus, and many more. Choose from a variety of features and budgets, whatever suits you.

1. Budget Laptops - for basic tasks and general use

There are a few main types of laptops and deciding which you want is the first step in choosing the right laptop. Below, we give you some guidelines on what to expect from each category. When browsing for laptops, please carefully check the specs of the individual laptops as they may vary from these guidelines.

A budget laptop will suit you if you’re planning on using your laptop for things that make life easier rather than memory-hungry applications. That means emailing, simple applications like word processing (MS Office), and surfing the net. We recommend going for a budget laptop if you normally have one application running at a time. Starting from around €300 to €400, these laptops will typically come with:
- Intel Celeron processor or AMD Mobile Sempron processor or AMD Turion
- RAM capacity of 1Gb
- wireless capability
- hard drive capacity between 120 and 160Gb
- DVD rewriter
- 13" to 15" display

If budget is key, check out our range of used laptops. These are laptops that are slightly used but are still in a good condition. We have made sure they are data cleansed, professionally checked and tested, and reboxed with all accessories. That means you can buy with peace of mind and make great savings.

2. Standard Laptops - for advanced tasks and multitasking

We have a range of standard laptops that deliver a good compromise between price, speed, ease of use and portability. You'll enjoy faster applications and easier connections to your peripherals thanks to better processors and more USB ports. Enjoy and share DVDs, images and music thanks to widescreen displays, DVD rewriters and greater hard drive capacity. Typically, our standard laptops come with:
- Intel Pentium Dual Core, Core 2 Duo processor or AMD Athlon 64 X2, AMD Turion 64 X2, or Intel Centrino Core Duo
- wireless capability
- 3+ USB ports
- 15.4" or 17" widescreen display
- hard drive capacity between 250 and 320Gb
- RAM Capacity of around 2GB
- dual layer DVD rewriter
- better quality graphic card

3. Multimedia Laptops and Entertainment Laptops - for more demanding tasks and applications

These have faster processors, more in-built devices, larger screens and keyboards and enhanced video and sound components. Geared towards helping you manage your music, movies and photos, they tend to have more hard drive and RAM capacity, media card readers, plus features such as one-button access to music. They make an ideal desktop replacement and cost from around €600. If you’re planning on using power and memory-hungry games or media editing applications, go for faster processors, ideally those with 2.0Ghz or more. These laptops weigh around 3.5kg so you can take them from room to room though they might not be lightweight enough for frequent travellers.

Typically, our multimedia laptops have:
- Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo processor, Intel Pentium Dual Core, Intel Core i(x), AMD Turion 64 X2, AMD Athlon II X2, AMD Phenom II Dual-Core
- 3-4Gb memory
- hard drive capacity of between 250 and 500Gb
- up to 6 USB ports and Firewire ports
- dual layer DVD rewriter
- 15.4", 17" widescreen display
- a better graphic card
- wireless enabled

4. Ultramobile Laptops / Netbooks

Expect to pay a premium for sleeker, lighter laptops, with extended battery life. You'll get a smaller screen but if you have to carry your laptop with you everywhere you go, you'll appreciate leaving the extra bulk behind. Typically, these models have:
- Mobile-specific processors such as Intel Core 2 Duo processor with Intel Centrino technology, AMD Turion Mobile 64 X2, Intel Atom Processor
- 1Gb memory to 2Gb memory
- 10" to 14" screen
- hard drive capacity of between 160 and 250Gb - weigh less than 2kg - battery life of up to 10 hours

5. Features

Features vary across laptops and once you know what they mean, you can more easily decide what's important to you.

Processors

The processor, also known as the central processing unit, is the brain and the brawn of your laptop. It executes programmes, processes data and manages the battery life in a laptop. A popular high-end processor is Intel's Core 2 Duo and Core i(x) series, or AMD's Turion 64 X2 and AMD Phenom II Dual-Core, some of which incorporate built-in wireless and better power-saving devices. AMD also has a range of processors; the mobile ones come with added wireless performance and incorporate Bluetooth technology.
The gigahertz will give you a key indication of performance. Laptops with 1.6Ghz or 1.7Ghz will probably deliver all the speed you need; ultra-slim laptops tend to have around 1.2 or 1.3Ghz. For fantastic performance, choose something around the 2Ghz mark.

Memory

Random access memory (RAM) stores applications and data and makes retrieval of data quicker and applications run faster. Laptops come with 1024 megabytes or more. We recommend at least 1024Mb, to allow for future upgrades. If you’re using huge files and using demanding multimedia applications, look for 2Gb and above RAM laptops. Many laptops, especially multimedia ones, include graphics cards with built-in RAM to make sophisticated games even smoother.

Hard drives

The hard drive is where you store programs and files. The greater the capacity, measured in gigabytes (Gb), the more programs, music and data you can store. If you save simple Office files, you may only need about 20Gb. However, most of us now want to store music, photos and films on our laptops, particularly if its a desktop replacement. We recommend going for around 120Gb to 160Gb so you can accommodate future needs too. Some laptops come equipped with 320Gb for masses of storage space. If you want to add more capacity at a later stage, you can add from 80Gb to 1 terabyte (1000Gb) with an external hard drive. They are easier than ever to use. For many, all you need do is connect with a USB drive, and drag and drop files. They are a great way to back up files too

How much capacity do I need?

Laptop Hard Drive Capacities

Screen size

A smaller screen means a lighter, more portable laptop. If you want to watch movies or work on presentations, go for an entertainment laptop with a 17" widescreen display.

Graphics cards

Graphics cards enhance your laptops display. Look for a Graphic card with built-in memory if you’re into gaming.

USB ports

The more digital devices you have, the more USB ports you want. Digital cameras, printers, MP3 players, external hard drives, modems, webcams and pretty much anything you want to add to your laptop will use a USB port. Wireless connections are more common too. You can connect to routers, printers and mobile phones wirelessly or with bluetooth technology.

Optical drives

Nearly all of our laptops include DVD rewriters. These are best for flexibility as you can read DVDs and CDs and create DVDs. DVDs have more storage capacity than CDs. A DVD rewriter is recommended if you want to watch DVDs on your laptop and install software from CD or DVD.
You can read and create CDs on all the laptops we sell (exception is Netbooks), and watch DVDs thanks to a CD rewriter and DVD-ROM. If you want to create DVDs, look for a DVD rewriter to burn discs. Laptop Optical Drive Capabilities CD+RW and DVD+R are competing technologies to read and write CDs and DVDs.

Touchpads

This replaces the traditional mouse. Tapping the pad is equivalent to clicking the mouse. It may be hard to get used to if it’s your first laptop. You can adjust the settings to make the touchpad more or less sensitive. Try a wireless mouse if you cant get used to it and for added comfort when surfing from home.

Battery life

The more mobile you are, the more important battery life will be to you. 3 hours is about standard these days. Laptops aimed at frequent travellers boast up to 8 hours. Please note that the battery life dependends on the application(s) that are running on your laptop. Application which requires more memory normally shortens the battery life.

Essentials

When buying a laptop, we recommend you also get:
- an anti-virus software if you are going on line
- a laptop case if you’re going to be travelling around
- a printer if your laptop is a desktop replacement

6. Jargons

ADSL

Asymmetric digital subscriber line [ADSL] is a technology that converts an ordinary household telephone line into an extremely fast Internet connection,

Anti Virus

Software that detects potentially harmful programmes for your computer.

Broadband

High speed access to the Internet. It’s usually provided by ADSL or cable modems by an Internet service provider (ISP's) such as Vodafon

Browser

A software programme that allows you to look at web pages and organise files. Popular browsers include Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

Cache

A high-speed area of a processor that’s used to store currently used data. Having a larger cache offers greater speed as more data can be stored and accessed by the CPU.

Double layer

This refers to the latest DVD optical drives. By using compatible media, it can read and write almost twice the amount of data than a single later disc can.

Download

Download describes the process of copying files or information from the Internet to a computer.

DSL

The abbreviated version of Digital Subscriber Line, also known as broadband.

Dual Core Processor

This acts like two processors in one, enabling simultaneous running of demanding applications.

DVD ReWriter drive

Laptops that have a DVD ReWriter drive will let you read, play and create both DVDs and CDs.

Ethernet

A common method of linking computers into a Local Area Network (LAN).

Firewall

A Firewall is a security system designed to protect a computer network from unauthorised access, especially via the Internet.

FSB

Front side bus refers to how fast the main data connection to the processor runs. The faster it is the faster the overall system runs.

GB

The abbreviated version of gigabyte. It's a measure of memory size, roughly equal to one billion bytes. A computer's hard drive is usually measured in GBs.

GHz

Abbreviation of Gigahertz. It refers to the speed the processor runs at.

Hard drive

The central storage point for all your files and data. The larger the hard drive, the more you can store on it.

Hz

The abbreviated of Hertz. This is the unit used to measure the frequency of electric vibrations per second. It serves, for example, to measure the speed of a processor.

KB

An abbreviation of kilobyte. It's a data storage capacity measure that equals approx. 1000 bytes. It's normally used as a measurement of a processor's cache. E.g. 512KB Cache.

MB

An abbreviation of megabyte. This is a data storage capacity measure that equals 1000 kilobytes (KB) or one million bytes. It is typically used as a measure of RAM and processor cache.

MHz FSB Megahertz FSB

An abbreviation of Megahertz Front Side Bus. This refers to the speed at which the processor can 'talk' to the memory.

Memory or DDR RAM

DDR RAM is Double Data Rate Random Access Memory. This is the laptop's memory. The higher the number, the more tasks it can do at once.

Modem

This connects you to the Internet through your telephone line.

Operating System

All computers must have an operating system in order to run other programmes. Operating systems perform basic tasks, such as recognising input from the keyboard, sending output to the display screen, keeping track of files and directories on the disk and controlling peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers.

Processor type

A central processing unit (CPU), or sometimes simply processor, is the brain of the computer. CPUs are one of the core components found in almost all-modern computers.

Processor Speed

The processor speed is normally made up of GHz, MHz FSB and Cache. The bigger the number, the better.

RAM

Random Access Memory. This is the amount of PC memory available to a programme at any time. Generally, the more RAM your PC has, the faster and more efficiently your applications will run.

Screen

A 14" screen will be standard but keep an eye out for movie-friendly widescreen options on many of the models.

Software

This refers to the programmes and applications that come with a computer bundle when you buy it.

TV Tuner

This enables a PC to pick up TV broadcasts so that you can watch and record programmes on your PC.

Upload

This describes the process of uploading files or information to the Internet from a computer.

USB Connections

Universal Serial Bus connections. These allow you to 'Plug and Play' peripherals, such as a printer, without needing to shut down the computer. The more the better.

Wi-Fi

Wireless networking. This is a useful way for laptops to speak to each other without the hassle of using cables. It works by creating an invisible network that can be joined by PCs, laptops and other devices like printers or hi-fis. A wireless enabled laptop lets you connect to your own Wi-Fi network or surf the net wirelessly when out-and-about using Internet hotspots.

Widescreen

A laptop's screen display is measured in inches. Look out for small screen sizes for ultimate portability or widescreens which are great for watching DVDs.

Wireless Network

The ability of a PC to connect to a network without needing a physical cable connection. This requires compatible Wi-Fi capable hardware. Look for the latest standard 'wireless-N', which is 10-15 times faster than 'wireless-G'.

Sept. 2010

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