How To Choose a Laptop

Woman using her new laptop

Buying and using a laptop can be a liberating experience. You will have the ability to take your work wherever you go, and take your computer to class, a coffee shop, on a trip – anywhere. Laptops are made in a variety of sizes and colors to tailor to the individual. And due to their overwhelming popularity, these computers are an affordable solution for your needs.

You may end up spending a bit more for a laptop computer than you would for a desktop model, but the convenience is worth the extra cost. 


To choose your new laptop, you need to think about the features you want:

  • Decide what screen size you need. If you are used to a larger-sized desktop monitor, you'll want to choose a laptop that has a larger screen. A 15" screen is usually standard, but there are 17" screens available, which may be worth the extra investment. Dell even offers 19", 20", and 21'' screens on certain models.


If you need or want a large screen, you may want to consider purchasing a larger unit, especially if you are choosing a laptop as a desktop replacement. Also, you may want to consider a wide screen monitor over a standard monitor to get the space that you need. A wide screen monitor is good if you would like to watch movies or if you frequently need to have two applications open side by side.

  • Get a model that can connect to your devices. Peripherals such as mp3 players, cameras, and cell phones are used just as much as computers. That is why it is so very important to purchase a computer that can accommodate these items. You will want a computer that has at least 2 USB ports, I Firewire port, and a space to plug in an SD card.
  • Decide what kind of networking features you want. One of the most popular current features is wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi. With wireless access, you can access the Internet wherever there is a "hotspot." This is an area where the public is allowed to use an Internet signal, whether it's for free or comes with a charge.

    You can also set up a home network and access the Internet anywhere in your house. Most laptops have slots for network cards, but if you want built-in network access then make sure it has a built-in network card. It's a nice feature if wireless Internet access appeals to you.

  • The right processor/CPU. Processor speed and the ability to add temporary memory are vital features to consider. Processor speed will affect the performance and battery life. You want a unit with an efficient processor not only because it will help your computer run swiftly, but also because some of CPUs are designed to save your battery by using less power.
  • Existing RAM and RAM upgrades. Another way to boost a laptop's speed and efficiency is to add RAM. Upgrading the memory of the computer allows for shorter start up and loading times. This can be crucial when you are trying to conserve power. Buying a machine that allows for an easy RAM upgrade is one way to ensure that it will suit your needs over the long haul.


You will also need to play with the laptop a bit to see if it is something you feel comfortable using:

  • Test it out. Open the laptop and use the mouse, touch pad, and buttons on the computer. Make sure that they are comfortable to use. These features are built permanently into the computer, so they should be easy to use. You may have to choose a brand that you did not consider to get a model that is comfortable for you to use.
  • Determine its durability. It is important to buy a laptop that will last a long time. Find out which systems are the most durable and can take more abuse than others.
  • Size does matter. Laptop computers come in a range of sizes. If you will be traveling often, you may want to consider a model that is light and easy to store. Netbooks and tablet computers are created for this purpose. They still allow the user to access the Internet and can complete small tasks on the go.
  • Determine your battery needs. You will want to look for a battery that lasts a long time, especially if you will be taking your laptop on the road - or even out on the patio - with no electrical outlet. Starting up your computer is a big drain on a battery, and you may not get much time (perhaps only an hour or two) on a standard battery. So if you will often be using your laptop away from a power source, make sure that it features a long battery life. 

  • Check the bottom. Some laptops place the cooling mechanisms directly on the bottom of the unit. This can cause the computer to get very hot there. Check the model you choose to ensure that it will not get uncomfortably hot in your lap.

Warranty and Service Plan

Lastly, you will want to look into the details of the standard warranty and additional service plans:

  • Standard plans. Computer companies and resellers have varying warranties and service plans. Some companies have you send your laptop back if anything goes wrong, some want you to take it to a service depot (which may be inconveniently located up to 50 miles away), and others will come to your home or business and repair it on the spot.
  • Service time. Also, make sure that you can afford to wait the length of time promised for service. Dell has a great next-business-day plan, whereas some others take weeks to get issues resolved. If your business, school, or other activities can't wait an indeterminate amount of time for resolution, make sure to get a next-day or two-day service plan.
  • Check what is covered. Be sure to read over both the warranty and the service plan coverage that is offered. Some warranties cover very little, while others cover hardware and sometimes software as well. Certain deals and warranties are voided if you spill something on or drop your laptop (even accidentally), while others cover anything that could go wrong for any reason.
  • Extended service plans. Some companies offer secondary service plans if you have a drop or spill. Count on one of the two happening at some point and purchase this secondary policy if it is offered. Also check your homeowner's or renter's insurance. It may cover your laptop, including accidental spills and drops. 

You may already have a favorite brand of desktop computer. It is likely that the same brand will produce a laptop you like. Whether you are looking for a laptop as your main computer or as a secondary computer for work or school, you'll love its ease and portability. Have fun with your new computer!


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