Guidelines on Choosing Your Next Notebook

The Holidays may be over, but I’m quite certain that there’ll be more than a few people looking out to purchase a new computing device. Let us focus on the mobile variety, for now. Now more than ever, with tablets going mainstream, there are plethora of potential choices to be had. Some smartphones are even “smart” enough to take on mobile computing needs, further broadening customers’ range of choices.

The prospective gadget shopper could be rendered paralyzed by the sheer number of choices. For now, let’s focus on the more venerable but versatile notebook computers. They’re not as portable and convenient as smartphones or tablets, but having an actual solid and full-sized keyboard and more upgradeability options keeps it relevant and viable.

I’ve cobbled up a few short and succinct guidelines to direct the bedazzled buyer into a narrower range of choices based on many personal needs and preferences. 

Screen Size & Weight

This is definitely one of the first things to consider when choosing a mobile computer. Some people are satisfied with a ten-inch screen or even smaller; this might not be the case with those that have impaired vision. It’s also best to see the unit in person, and turned on. Various LCD flat panels have different visual characteristics, and you should make sure you won’t be staring into a screen that will make you squint or give you headaches from prolonged use.

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Do take note that the bigger the screen, the bulkier (and possibly heavier) the entire system will be. Weight can be a very important factor to some, so be sure to know how heavy your prospective mobile system will be. Also, slimmer and lighter notebooks are often significantly more expensive compared to their non-diet cousins (I think you’ve seen the ad about a certain notebook that fits in a manila envelope). 

Processing Power

Almost gone are the days that laptops and other mobile computers are significantly less powerful than desktops or servers. They can’t take the performance crown, but at least they can do just about any computing or gaming task a desktop can accomplish.

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The rule of thumb is that for a notebook or laptop to perform as well as a desktop, it will generally be magnitudes more expensive. This is why most gamers still prefer to lug around a desktop, but nowadays, even desktops are becoming smaller, with the Mini-ITX motherboard specification, small chassis, and solid state hard drives becoming more and more popular and affordable.

If you’re on a budget, don’t go overboard on system specs; just take what you can afford. Most people are happy with a dual-core processor with around four to eight gigabytes of memory. Unless you’re doing some heavy rendering or editing work, this is satisfactory. 

Storage & Ports

You should also determine how much data you’ll be storing and moving around using this computer. Most laptops have on average, two USB ports. One will most likely be used for the mouse (when you’re plugged in and want a faster and more precise browsing/gaming experience), and the other for an external storage device. Find a unit with three or more USB slots if you have other gadgets (smartphone, MP3 player, etc.) that you want to plug simultaneously into your computer.

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If it’s going to be an internet browsing and word processing machine most of the time, then you won’t really need much in the way of hard disk space and USB ports (even a 60GB SSD will do). If you’re the kind who has a lot of audiovisual presentations and media on hand, then you should consider something beefier (no less than 120GB), and it would be very ideal if your device has an external monitor port (D-Sub, DVI, or DisplayPort) so you can plug into a bigger display or a projector.

It goes without saying that multimedia hoarders should get the largest capacity hard drive they can afford, and you could skip on SSDs if you’re on a budget. 

Aesthetics & Ergonomics

This might seem to be the least important part of the selection process, but do realize that it will be a determining factor in how you enjoy using your computer and how efficient you will be while working with it.

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This is why I keep insisting that you should be able to get your hands on a model unit so you can determine if it’s right for you. Keyboard button layout, key sizes, touchpad placement, extra buttons, and other characteristics vary widely from model to model. People have different preferences too. It’s up to you to find a notebook or laptop that fits your way of interfacing with these devices.

 Accessories

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Don’t blow your entire budget on the unit! Be sure to bundle up your prospective mobile computing device with the appropriate mobile computer accessories that can make your experience all the more convenient and productive. I wish you the best of luck in determining your mobile computer companion. Do enjoy the experience, and learn what you can along the way. Happy tech shopping!

Stacey Thompson is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, and a lover of weird little animals. She is based in San Diego, California, and works with many technology-based companies like Belkin USA