There’s a nifty computer buying guide in the September issue of Consumer Reports magazine. They recommend 6 laptops and 3 netbooks and offer 5 tips. If computer terminology and components drives you as crazy as it drives me, scroll down for a simple explainer for what you need.
CR recommends these laptops:
Smart splurge – Apple MacBook Pro 17-inch MB604LL/A
Desktop replacement – Dell Studio S17-162B
Lightweight winner – Lenovo IdeaPad Y650
Bargain buy – Dell Inspiron 15
Budget-priced Mac – Apple White MacBook MB881LL/A
Low-cost and super light – HP Pavilion dv3
CR recommends these netbooks:
Screen star – Samsung NC10-14GB
Easy keys – Samsung N120-12GBK
A nice touch – Asus Eee PC 1000HE
Here’s my simple guide to computer terminology and components.
Terribly adorable and guaranteed to get you second looks, a Netbook is in between a smart phone and a laptop. They are super portable and good for basic word processing, emailing and Internet surfing. They have much less power than a laptop, however, so don’t plan on watching video on them.
The processor does most of the work and so prices are closely tied to speed. Many systems will have more than one processor inside the computer, with names like dual core, core duo, quad core, which refers to how many processors are inside the machine. As computers get faster and faster, it is more efficient to delegate the work among multiple processors than increase the speed of a single processor. For a basic computer look for a minimum of 2 GHz. Gamers and users running more sophisticated applications will need more GHz and multiple processors.
A new term in this area is FSB (front side bus). Basically, the processing chips are getting so fast people want to know how fast the chip can talk to the computer, which is what FSB denotes. Look for 800Mhz FSB or more.
Memory, sometimes called ram, is like a scratch pad for the processor to store information before it is saved to the computer’s hard drive. For instance, memory is used to display a picture that you have downloaded but not saved.
A basic computer needs 1 to 4 GB. Users who tend to have multiple windows open, play music and run programs at the same time will be best off with at least 2 GB. Gamers will need 6 to 8 GB. Keep in mind that you can upgrade your computer’s memory with relative ease after purchasing it, unlike upgrading your hard drive.
One place where you don’t need to splurge is for DDR3, which is about twice as expensive as DDR2 but only about 5% faster.
For laptops, 250 to 500 GB should be sufficient. A more sophisticated user may need more than 500GB.
Standard screen sizes for laptops will be 14 to 15.4 inches (which refers to the diagonal screen size). Bigger screens are available but usually mean added weight. Prices for flatscreen desktop monitors have come way down. You can get a 20-inch flatscreen desktop monitor for less than $100 or one that is 23-24 inches for about $200.
Laptops come standard with WiFi capability these days.
The standard battery laptops come with is usually sufficient, unless you travel for work or will need your computer in class all day. If you do upgrade, remember you are adding more weight.
Chances are the software package that comes with the computer is not going to be enough. But college bookstores often have much better prices than regular retailers so check with them before you buy. Certain classes or fields of study may require specialized software.