Variety isn't only the spice of life, it's the reality of the laptop marketplace. For every computing need and budget, there are often four or five models elbowing each other aside for your attention.
It is amazing how much laptop computers (also called notebook computers) have started to change in just a single year. The competition from tablets and even smartphones has forced portable computers to lose weight quickly while also maintaining powerful processors, high resolution screens, and lots of memory and storage. And so, the best laptop computers have gotten better.
Competition is always good for the consumer because it adds additional features and capabilities while at the same time helping to keep the price of the systems down. There are now plenty of very powerful notebook computers, available at the Adorama Laptop Computer Center, that cost under $1,000. However you can also spend significantly more than that if you want (or need) every bell and whistle imaginable.
Laptop makers wage a perpetual war to boost processing power while not burning down the battery. As you load your laptop with faster and more robust processors, they run hot and run down your power supply. Fortunately, new graphic engines that can more efficiently handle visual processing not only improve performance (i.e. how fast it takes you to do things), but keep the battery humming along for longer.
Before you buy your new laptop, keep a few things in mind.
Screen Size: Pay attention to the type of and quality of the display - just because it says "HD" doesn't mean it's sporting a 1920 x 1080 resolution screen (in fact, most laptops don't). Also, matte screens are easier to view in brighter light, while those with higher contrast ratios and brightness will provide a more pleasing visual experience.
Processing Power: The brains and brawn of any laptop (or computer, for that matter) is the computer processing unit, or CPU. So how fast of a CPU do you need?
That depends, of course, on what you want to do. Basic word processing, web surfing, email checking, and social networking isn't terribly taxing on your system, so processors offering 1GHz or more of CPU performance should suffice. If you're into watching movies, playing video games or doing any video or photo editing and image management on the road, you'll need considerably more processing punch (in the 2GHz-plus range).
Memory: Depending on the version of Windows your laptop runs, you may only need 4GB of RAM (32-bit versions of Windows 7 can only support 4GB). If you have a higher performance laptop with a 64-bit version of Windows, you can step up to higher memory capacities (you're also future-proofed to handle new 64-bit software programs).
Hard drive storage is another matter. It's relatively cheap (and getting cheaper) so bulking up isn't a bad idea. Besides, if you buy a generously-sized hard drive, it makes a good back-up for files (like digital images or videos) that you're also saving on a desktop hard drive. Newer Solid State Drives (SSDs) use the same flash memory found in digital camera memory cards in place of a hard drive. They're lighter weight, drain less battery power and load faster than a hard drive but they're also more expensive and can't offer the large storage capacities found on hard drives.
Models worth considering
Apple's MacBook Air line has turned heads for its ultra-slim profile and performance specs. The Air uses flash memory—not a spinning hard drive—for memory. That not only makes the Air lighter (hence the name) than traditional hard drive-based laptops, but it enables the air to start up nearly instantly. The downside is that you won't get the same kind of storage capacity as you would with a comparably priced notebook that uses a hard drive.
The 11.6" MacBook Air Notebook Computer is a thin and sleek system, only slightly thicker than a half inch at its widest, and weighs in at 2.4 pounds. It includes an 11.6-inch display that has a native resolution of 1366x768.
This notebook comes with a 128GB flash drive and 4GB of RAM and is powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor that includes 3MB of L3 cache. Housed in a solid aluminum case, it has a battery life of five hours or up to 30 days on standby.
One of the emerging trends in the notebook space is the so called Ultrabook, a very lightweight yet powerful notebook that targets the MacBook Air space, and a nice example of one is the Asus Zenbook UX31E (Adorama price: $1,099.99). The device is slim at two thirds of an inch, light at less than 3 pounds, and comes with a seven-hour battery life.
It is powered by an Intel 1.7GHz i5-2557M processor with 3MB of L3 cache and 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM system memory and runs Microsoft’s Windows 7 Home Premium operating system. The 13.3-inch display is capable of 1600x900 native resolution, and the notebook has a 128GB hard drive.
Acer has a very full line of notebooks in its arsenal of affordable models is the Acer Aspire V5-571-6869 (Adorama price: $574.99) which has a 15.6-inch display for road warriors that need space for two pages of text or to handle large images and video.
This laptop includes 6GB of RAM that is expandable to 8GB, a 500GB hard drive and is powered by a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor. Weighing in at approximately five pounds and slightly less than an inch thick it has a five hour battery life allowing almost a full day’s work between charges.
Sony has long been one of the more feature rich suppliers of notebooks and the Sony VAIO VPCF234FX/B (Adorama price: $1,049.99) follows in this tradition with a combination of powerful features that meet the needs of everyone from graphics designers to gamers.
The Sony notebook includes a 16.4-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution powered by an Nvida GeForce graphics subsystem with its own memory. With a fast 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor with 6GB of RAM and a 640GB hard drive it also includes a built-in Blu-ray disc player.
If you are looking for an even more powerful system the Toshiba Qosmio X875-Q7290 might just fit the bill with its huge 17.3-inch display and host of other built in features. The $1,744.99 (Adorama price) laptop has 3D graphics and a 1920 x 1080 resolution.
It has a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and two storage systems, a 1TB drive and a 750GB drive, providing plenty of space for large video or image files and comes with an integrated HDMI port. It has four stereo speakers and a Blue-ray disc player as well.
If you're looking at a laptop simply because you're short on space, consider an all-in-one PC (or Mac) as an alternative. These PCs aren't meant to travel, but they pack better performance than a laptop while ditching the cumbersome tower. They typically come with a wireless mouse, keyboard, and Wi-Fi to cut the cord clutter.
Apple has been a long-time player in the all-in-one space and it provides powerful systems combined with superb displays such as the Apple iMac 21.5 inch All-in-one (Adorama price: $1,120.00). The computer is powered by a 2.5GHz Intel i5 Quad-Core processor with 4GB of memory. The computer has a 500GB hard drive as well as a full-size wireless keyboard.
The 21.5-inch TFT backlit LED display has a 1920 x 1080 resolution and a AMD Radeon HD graphics processor and with a 16:9 aspect ratio it mirrors what is provided by a HDTV. While it has the usual assortment of USB and other ports Apple also brings the Thunderbolt port that features 2 10-Gbps data channels for data transfer that's up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. (Editor's note: The Adorama Learning Center web site's content is edited and posted via an Apple iMac 21.5")
Another strong offering in the all-in-one category is the HP TouchSmart 320-1050 Desktop, a sleek and interesting looking system that comes with a $685.00 price tag. One of the first of its kind with a touch screen display that provides a degree of versatility not often found in notebooks or desktop system that display also provides 1600 x 900 resolution.
There is plenty of storage with its 1TB hard drive and its 2.6GHz AMD x4 A6-3600 processor is supported by 6GB of RAM. A nice feature is its standard wireless keyboard that gives a user flexibility about where a system can be set up.