Tips for Buying a Laptop

Processors & RAM

Processors are one of the computer's primary components. They act as the brain of the system, performing many of its everyday tasks. It used to be that the only thing that mattered was having more gigahertz (the speed with which the processor can deal with information), but things are now a bit different.

Intel Processors
Intel has multiple processor lines available, but there are only three you should really be concerned with this holiday season: Core i3, i5 and i7. Core i3 processors are typically less expensive and can perform basic computing tasks (streaming video, word processing) well. Core i5 processors, while more expensive, offer a significant boost in performance. If you're planning to play any kind of games on your laptop, a Core I5 is the minimum we would recommend.

Core I7 processors are more expensive than their I5 counterparts, but they offer little in performance boosts for most users. However, some may get some value from a Core i7 if they’re heavy into multimedia editing and plan on processing a lot of video. Additionally, if you’re buying for an engineering type who may be using AutoCAD, an i7 may be worth looking at.

Intel’s top processor works well for these programs due to the i7’s big feature – Hyper threading. This basically makes your processor handle more ‘streams’ of data, letting it perform the previously mentioned tasks at a much higher rate. While i5 processors can also come with Hyper threading, they only manage to make 2 cores act like 4 – if you get a 4-core i5, Hyper threading won’t boost it any further. i7 processors, on the other hand, can boost a 6 core i7 to 12 cores.

While the numbers are definitely bigger, remember that many general computing tasks will use no more than a single core. Even gamers tend to stick with i7 processors, as games generally don’t take advantage of all of the i7’s cores.

AMD Processors
AMD processors are often lower cost/lower performance processors. If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive laptop and won’t be performing more than basic tasks on your device, an AMD processor will likely help you save some cash over a similar laptop with an Intel processor. However, if you plan on doing some more intense computing, Intel will likely be your best choice.

RAM
RAM allows you to run a greater number of programs simultaneously. Considering the RAM specs currently available on most laptops, you really shouldn't look much into any system with less than 4 GB. While plenty of RAM will ensure your computer can easily handle multiple tasks, a smaller amount of RAM can prevent programs from starting and cause slower performance. Any other specs you see on RAM are relatively meaningless – this is one of the few areas where the raw number is pretty much all that matters.

4GB is the baseline we’d recommend for RAM, but having more can be helpful if you run a lot of programs, play games or do heavy video editing. In those cases (or if you have a little bit of extra cash to spend), going with 8GB of RAM will be a relatively cheap upgrade compared to many system upgrades.

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November 16, 2012
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