Page 5: Everything else
Now, some people might take objection to me grouping everything else together in the last category, but for the typical user, there is little else on the inside of particular importance.
I will however, make a mention of graphics cards. Undoubtedly, in the age we live in, multimedia is essential to our computing experience, and a graphics card that can keep up with our demands is necessary. Graphics cards come in two forms – integrated and discrete. The discrete graphics card offers better performance, it reduces system load (reduces the data that must be sent on the system bus), and will typically improve performance, however, it is usually more costly than integrated graphics, and does draw more power. Modern integrated graphics (e.g. Intel HD) perform quite well, typically equivalent to last-generation low-mid end discrete graphics (about 25-30% current generation mid-end discrete graphics). While it is unquestionable that discrete graphics offer better performance, unless one has the need for them, they will not add much to a computer, other than in price. The individuals who should be giving consideration to discrete graphics cards are those who intend to be playing 3D games, video editing, driving multiple displays, doing 3D rendering, or running math/physics intensive applications – in other words, not your typical user. A nice comparison of raw performance for graphics cards (again, a synthetic benchmark), can be found at: http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/gpu_list.php. Overall, you will probably be just fine with an integrated card, unless you know it won’t meet your needs.
While there are many other considerations, the rest typically come down to personal preferences:
- Screen: size (diagonal), length to width ratio (i.e. widescreen), native resolution, viewing angle, etc.
- Battery life: a function of battery capacity in mAh, typically related to the number of cells present
- Keyboard: if you are going to be typing a lot, you want one that is comfortable, especially as it is built in; full size (i.e. with number pad), and key type (e.g. chicklet); most people find that they can type a bit faster on a laptop keyboard, but that they have an increased error rate on it.
- Ports available: what external ports are present (USB 3.0 would be nice, but is currently not reasonably priced), how many, and where are they located
- Pretty much every current laptop comes with:
- Wireless (usually Wireless N now a days, but at very least Wireless G – go for N if possible, as it is backwards compatible);
- Ethernet port (as long as it is there, not too much to consider, there are differences in speed 10/100 or 10/100/1000 are common),
- Optical Drive: usually a DVD-RW (some computers come with Blu-ray readers or burners, which might be a nice feature if it is reasonably priced).
- Flash card readers and a webcam are commonly included, although hardly deal breakers.
- Speaker position is a consideration, although, typically the quality of laptop speakers is poor, and any decent audio quality would necessitate external speakers.
Beyond this, there might be one more consideration – how easy is it to upgrade – can RAM be added, can an additional hard drive be installed, etc. Typically, laptops do not permit easy upgrades – components must be replaced as opposed to simply added on.
Personally, I would not worry too much about the software – usually what is included on a computer is not worth keeping on, and often consists of trial versions, and other software that is mostly useless. If possible, ensure you get a 64-bit version of windows, preferably Windows 7. Do not get Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic; go for either Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate. (Of course, Linux would be a nice choice, but that is ‘atypical’, at least for the moment).
Once again, as a personal opinion, I would suggest against the ‘big’ names (Dell, for instance). While their computers are great for business, they do not make great home computers – they are designed to be used as is, with limited possibility of modifications, additionally, most ‘big name’ computers are overpriced compared to other lesser known brands (my laptop is an MSI – which I have been quite pleased with, and was about 30% less than a comparable ‘big name’ laptop).
As for the best times to buy a computer – I would suggest Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, and Back-to-School time. There is also some merit in buying computers late June – simply because a) not too many people want them at that time, and you get the new generation of chips (usually come out in Feb/March) at a discount.
To recap: consider the CPU above all else in a computer – preferably a new generation chip. Most computers will meet all the other requirements you have.