The first thing to consider when buying any new computer is how it is going to be used. The needs for someone doing heavy 3D applications is very different from a grandmother wishing to e-mail her family. The following advice is for people that are using their laptops for school, which means they use it for
- MS Office
- watching movies (DVDs or downloaded)
- listening to music
- doing digital photo stuff
- instant messenger chat
- websurfing and e-mail
- some travel, but not too much
If these are the only types of activities you're going to be doing with your laptop then great, because you don't need a super fancy one and you can get a decent laptop for a great price now.
Personally, I really like the Toshiba brand of laptops. They have an incredible screen that they call TrueBrite or something like that, that just makes the colours very vibrant and crisp. I have a lot of friends with Toshibas and they're almost all very happy with them. There are a few problems with the batteries, but I don't know if this is isolated to Toshibas or is a common problem with all laptops.
A point-list of the rest of the specs that will meet your needs. All of these are a minimum, you can get MORE than these numbers, but you'll be paying more when you don't really need the extra power. However, don't get less because you'll experience the slowness of the machine which if you think about how often you use the computer over years can really have a long term negative affect.
- 512MB of RAM
- Greater than 40GB Harddrive Space, 60GB is good
- DVD drive, with preferably a DVD burner
- Integrated Wireless G, most laptops nowadays come with this, just take the 2 seconds to make sure it's there.
As for processor, it really doesn't matter, just get something greater than 1GHz. I think all processors are better than that now anyway, so it shouldn't be much of a big deal. The point is that you don't need something powerful, so don't let the salesman trick you for that.
I should clarify more on processors, because they can be very confusing.
Toshiba is all Intel, so that makes things a lot simpler. Now for Intel, there are different processors
- Pentium M
- Pentium 4
Then there's another thing called Centrino, which refers to a set of technologies that includes a Pentium M processor. Pentium M processors are the best, they're just as fast as Pentium 4s, but they're smaller so you get longer battery life and the laptop will be smaller as well. Pentium 4s are fast, but big, so those are in the bigger laptops. That's why I suggest Celeron, even though they're the worst, they're more than enough for what you need, and they're the least expensive as well.
As for the extended warranty I'm still not sure if it's worth it or not. It's about $400 or so, so it's quite a bit of money. I think if you're going to be rough with the thing, like traveling with it a lot, and not treating it very well, then ya, I'd recommend getting the warranty. But if you're using it JUST as a home computer and it'll never leave your desk, then the warranty most likely isn't worth it. Still, it's tough to put a price on peace of mind so if you're going to worry a lot then maybe it's worth it just to calm any fears.
If you find a REALLY good deal on a Gateway, or Compaq like they have the same specifications that I laid out above, but costs like $200 less than the Toshiba, then ya, go for those. Gateway and Compaq are good brands, I just think Toshiba is the best. And if you do look at other brands, make sure you look VERY closely at the screen, I absolutely love the Toshiba screen on their laptops so make sure any laptop you get has that kind of screen.
Oh ya, as for size, I don't know if portability is a factor for you, 17" is a good balance between size and weight. If you're going for hardcore portable like super slim and small, then expect to pay a lot more money. Personally I hate the super slim and small laptops, though they do look nice, they're just not worth the money. So don't be taken in by their stylish looks!