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Laptop Buying Guide - Reviews42

At least a decade ago, you might have preferred a desktop PC over a laptop. Back then, laptops were of only one variety: the kind that sat on your lap. They could do perform all the functions of a PC. They could play games. They could even showcase movies. But in terms of a complete feature set, one still needed a PC. PCs were better value for money as well, back then.

 

However, nowadays, that’s not necessarily the case. Laptops are also referred to as notebooks, but there are also netbooks and ultrabooks. For those craving a laptop that has all the more – or even more – of a desktop, they can opt for a gaming laptop (more on that in a bit). While desktop PCs are still useful and turned to for their power and value for money, the market is being dominated by smaller yet more powerful computers. Laptops are only one example of this, but arguably the most important when it comes to portable computing.

 

We’ll break down each component and explain their individual importance. We’ll also talk about the different brands and which one will be most suited for the purpose at hand. Then we’ll look at tips on how to best go about shopping for the right brand. Finally, our buying guide will look at each and every kind of notebook available and tell youthe best ones you can buy.

Ultrabooks, Netbooks, and Convertibles: Which Do You Choose?

 

Ultrabooks, Netbooks, and Convertibles Laptops

A laptop is essentially a portable PC. It has its own keyboard and in place of a mouse, you use a touchpad. A laptop’s design comprises of two halves: The first half, the lid, contains the display. The second half, the main body, features the keyboard, components and battery needed for the device to function. This design makes it highly convenient to just pick up a laptop and carry it with you wherever you need to go.

 

Nowadays, you won’t find many regular laptops. Each one has its own characteristic trait or standout feature that makes it appealing.

 

Ultrabooks

Over the years, there have been several innovations made with laptops. The most obvious are Ultrabooks. You may have seen these devices and wondered how exactly they differ from normal laptops. Intel, the CPU manufacturer behind Pentium and the Core series, first defined the term. Ultrabook refers to a slim, lightweight notebook that features the same kind of performance and battery life that a normal notebook would provide.

 

An Ultrabook also has very specific dimensions and weight. It won’t be thicker than an inch, or even nine-tenths of an inch. It won’t weigh more than 2 kg. This is to ensure that you can easily transport and lift it under any circumstance. Ultrabooks also use low-power components to help achieve a longer battery life, and strong unibody designs to make them tough enough for traveling. To achieve strong performance, many Ultrabooks use solid state drives which provide far better performance than normal hard disk drives. Some of the best examples include Samsung’s Series 9 and Series 5 Ultra devices. The Apple MacBook Air can also be considered an Ultrabook in many respects.

However, because of their slimness, a lot of typical features you see on a PC or notebook have to be omitted. Most Ultrabooks don’t have Ethernet ports or optical disc drives. Many Ultrabooks feature less number of ports than regular notebooks. They also feature reduced graphical processing units or GPUs to allow for low power consumption. As such, an Ultrabook is best for all-round performance rather than heavier tasks like video editing or gaming.

 

    Tips:

  • When shopping for an Ultrabook, consider a notebook with the same specifications. Compare prices to judge if the Ultrabook’s portability is worth it for the extra money to be paid. The lesser the price difference, the better.
  • Always consider the battery life of an Ultrabook. Consult benchmarks and laptop reviews. Not every Ultrabook will have battery life befitting an Ultrabook. Samsung’s Series 9 and Series 5 are some examples of Ultrabooks with strong battery life.
  • An Ultrabook is best suited for tasks that will involve either a lot of media viewing or typing. Either way, you’ll need a good keyboard and touchpad. Try to go for chiclet style keys and always test the comfort of the typing experience before buying. Lenovo’s ThinkPad Ultra series features perhaps the best keyboard and touchpad you’ll find.
  • Continuing with this logic, if you’re paying a premium, make sure the Ultrabook has good viewing angles. For the price of a Samsung Series 9, IPS technology or its equivalent (in this case, SuperBright Plus LED HD+) is expected.
Ultrabook without an optical drive
Google Chrome Book

Chromebooks

Netbooks are widely considered to be the predecessors to Ultrabooks. They featured very low price tags and very limited functionality, however, despite having good battery life. While you can still find Netbooks from Asus, they’re slowly being phased out for more capable Ultrabooks, tablets and convertibles. Chromebooks – which run Google’s Chrome OS and are net-centric in their functions – are the new Netbooks. However, they are limited in their functionality.

 

The Chrome OS is best used for performing all your functions online. You know how you have different Google services such as Gmail for mailing, Google Docs for word processing, and much more? A Chromebook is meant for people who rely on those services more than normal software. Although you can still take notes and watch videos on a Chromebook, it is extremely limited in the software it can run. No Microsoft Office or games on Chrome OS, sadly. It makes up for it by being the best possible device for those who surf, and with some of the cheapest devices known to man. The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is a good example and is even one of the better typing experiences.

    Tips:

  • Look at what you normally do with a laptop. If it’s just surfing on Google Chrome and watching movies, a Chromebook might be the best option. It’s also good for when you want a second laptop in the house which can be used by different family members.
  • When buying a Chromebook, look a t the typing experience, portability and battery life. You will be losing a lot of functionality in exchange, so you should be gaining back a lot more in those departments.
  • Design is always good but a low price is better. Again, with the loss in functionality, you shouldn’t be paying more than the price of the cheapest Windows 8 notebook out there. Take the Google Chromebook Pixel, for example: It looks great, with a strong build and amazing keyboard. However, for its price, you can get a far better notebook. In fact, you could afford a nice hybrid notebook that provides even better battery life with a great keyboard and Windows 8.
Convertibles/Hybrids

Convertibles/Hybrids

Convertibles are Ultrabooks, but they are made even smaller. Convertibles can function like tablets in one form, but can also be changed into Ultrabook with an attached keyboard and touchpad. They are highly useful for their portability and extended functionality. Most Convertibles these days ship with Windows 8, which takes advantage of the touch-screen’s functionality for easier use in tablet mode. They’re greatest disadvantage at present is battery life. Even the best Convertibles like the Dell XPS 12 and Lenovo IdeaPad 13 Yoga won’t last longer than five and a half hours. This falls way behind benchmarks set by the best Ultrabooks but latter devices are improving on this.

 

Most Convertibles, hybrids and even Ultrabooks which use Windows 8 can be divided into two categories: those that use Intel Core CPUs and those that use Intel Atom Clovertrail CPUs. The Core CPUs provide better performance, while the Atom Clovertrail CPUs provide better battery life. As of now, there’s no sustainable middle ground, so you’ll need to decide which is more important.

 

There are several varieties of Convertibles in their form factor and what extra functions they can provide.

Hybrid Notebooks

    Tips:

  • While looking at any form factor, always keep in mind how much space you’ll have to type. Some convertibles have slide out keyboards that are much smaller than normal devices.
  • Not all hybrids have docking keyboards that provide extra battery life. The Asus VivoTab Smart is one example.
  • Decide whether you want a tablet first or an ultrabook first. Some devices function great as both but most others don’t.
  • When looking at form factor, make sure it’s the one that suits your needs. If it means picking up too many accessories that would take up more space, thus reducing the portability, look for something else.
  • Atom Clovertrail hybrids may not provide great performance but along with their superb battery life, they are also more cost effective.

Usually, the term “Hybrid Notebooks” is interchangeable for Convertibles. In terms of definition, they are slightly different but they can refer to the same devices. For example, there are tablets with docking keyboards that add on extra battery life and essentially function like Ultrabooks. These include the HP Envy x2, Acer Iconia W510, etc. However, this definition can also be extended to Asus’s Eee Pad Transformer, which is essentially a tablet. A dockable keyboard converts the device into an Ultrabook.

Gaming Notebooks

 

Gaming Notebooks

 

Gaming notebooks function on a completely different tangent, when compared to Ultrabooks or even regular notebooks. They are far heavier, more bulky and often feature accompanying designs which are garish or radical. However, they are extremely powerful – far more powerful than normal notebooks. Usually, while other laptops carry mobile versions of their graphics cards or GPUs, gaming notebooks feature discrete or dedicated graphic cards (explained below). They also feature 16 GB of RAM as a minimum configuration along with 17 inch displays. They also come with all sorts of modifications. Some these include: The coloured keyboards and lighting of Alienware, modified functionality for display modes and toggling high performance like the Samsung Series 7 Gamer, a separate display for information next to the touchpad as with the Razer Blade and much more.

 

Gaming notebooks suffer from a notoriously low battery life, due to the amount of power necessary to properly function. Some of these notebooks may even last for as little as 1 hour when actually gaming, which means they function best when plugged in. Even though this may go against the essentials of laptop maintenance when it comes to charging the battery (as outlined in “Laptop Maintenance”), they often feature much more powerful cooling systems to prevent heat from ruining the device.

 

    Tips:

  • When shopping for an Ultrabook, consider a notebook with the same specifications. Compare prices to judge if the Ultrabook’s portability is worth it for the extra money to be paid. The lesser the price difference, the better.
  • Always consider the battery life of an Ultrabook. Consult benchmarks and laptop reviews. Not every Ultrabook will have battery life befitting an Ultrabook. Samsung’s Series 9 and Series 5 are some examples of Ultrabooks with strong battery life.
  • An Ultrabook is best suited for tasks that will involve either a lot of media viewing or typing. Either way, you’ll need a good keyboard and touchpad. Try to go for chiclet style keys and always test the comfort of the typing experience before buying. Lenovo’s ThinkPad Ultra series features perhaps the best keyboard and touchpad you’ll find.
  • Continuing with this logic, if you’re paying a premium, make sure the Ultrabook has good viewing angles. For the price of a Samsung Series 9, IPS technology or its equivalent (in this case, SuperBright Plus LED HD+) is expected.

Exploring Different Components

 

CPU

CPUs

The Central Processing Unit or CPU can be thought of as the brain of the computer. It is the centre which carries out all the instructions the computer needs to perform. Think of it as a very advanced calculator handling millions of calculations every second.

 

It is one of the most important components your laptop can have, and as such, you’ll always be looking for the fastest one. However, oftentimes, a well-balanced computer can run better than one with a fast CPU. You should always make sure your CPU fits in with the rest of your components.

 

To that end, how do you decide which CPU is best for you? There are two main brands in the market: Intel and AMD.

 

Intel provides a range of CPUs from the power saving Atom to the powerful Core i7. When looking at budget laptops and convertibles, the Atom’s Clovertrail model will often be a choice. Even though it isn’t too powerful, it provides a strong battery life.

 

 

The Intel Core series is much deeper and more varied because it is divided into generations. The older second generation is still in production and can be found in mid-range laptops. It can be identified by the model number and moniker “Sandy Bridge”, and depends on the manufacturing process used to make it. As technology advances, so does the manufacturing process so it will always be limited by its age (it was released as far back as 2005).

 

The Ivy Bridge Core series is the most relevant one, as it presents the peak of processing power. It uses the latest manufacturing process and can be identified based on its model power. It isn’t ideal for power saving purposes and can be more expensive than other CPUs. However, when it comes to performance, it is hard to beat.

 

No matter the generation, each Core family has three members: the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, with the most powerful being the Core i7.

 

AMD A-Series APU Desktop SKU Information
Model AMD Radeion TM
Graphic Brand
TDP Core CPU Clock
(Base/Turbo CORE)
L2 Cache Max DDR3 PKG AMD Turbo
CORE1
A8-3850 HD 6550D 100W 4 2.9 GHz 4MB 1866 FM1 NO
A6-3650 HD 6530D 100W 4 2.6 GHz 4MB 1866 FM1 NO
A8-3800 HD 6550D 65W 4 2.4/2.7 GHz 4MB 1866 FM1 YES
A6-3600 HD 6530D 65W 4 2.1/2.4 GHz 4MB 1866 FM1 YES

AMD has a bit of a different approach when it comes to CPUs. You’ll see two dominant models, the A4 and A8 but with different monikers all throughout. AMD is known for being a strong performer while still reducing heat production and thus battery consumption. However, in terms of performance, an A8 falls below what even a third generation Core i5 can do. But is it more cost effective? Definitely.

 

    Tips:

  • If you’re not finding the ideal Intel CPU that fits within your budget, look at AMD CPUs. Though they may be slightly inferior in terms of performance, they perform strongly in real world usage. You’ll be surprised at the kind of gaming and general performance a sub-40K notebook with an AMD CPU and Radeon GPU can deliver.
  • Always opt for a 3rd generation Intel Core CPU. The 2nd generation Sandy Bridge CPUs may be cheaper but they offer vastly inferior performance and are quickly being dropped.
  • Higher CPU speed is always great but an overall strong configuration is better. Don’t be afraid when opting for larger RAM or a better CPU in exchange for lesser CPU speed. Performance will generally be more superior.
  • The Atom Clovertrail CPU is a much more risky buy.  Only consider it if you don’t need intensive work done, and even then, make sure to test the battery life. Not all systems with an Atom provide strong battery life, even if they’re from the same manufacturer. If it falls in the same price range as an AMD option however, give first preference to AMD.
Ram

RAM

Random Access Memory or RAM is a storage solution. However, unlike a hard disk, RAM is more of a quick storage access that can access anything at random (hence the name). A hard disk drive always needs to go through a protocol to locate and then access the data. With RAM, you can hop to it quickly. This allows for faster functioning of a system. As it stands, you can have an average CPU but with a large amount of RAM, you can still get great performance. RAM is also a very big contributing factor to being able to multi-task or open many different programs at once and run them all without any trouble.

 

Of course, there are different kinds of RAM and they all operate on their own speed like a CPU. The most dominant form of RAM is Double Data Rate 3 or DDR3 RAM. It is an evolution of normal RAM that allows for higher bandwidth and double the efficiency. DDR3 also consumes 30 percent less power than its predecessor. So even for those who want to keep battery life in mind, upgrading their RAM is a good route.

 

Now, obviously the amount of RAM is important in a system. The more, the better…right? This holds true for many computer systems, especially notebooks. But nowadays, it’s a good idea to look for at 4 GB of DDR3 RAM when you’re shopping for a notebook. Anything less than this means decreased performance. Applications will take a longer time to load and you won’t be able to run many program together at once.

 

It just so happens however that the more expensive laptop models are those with the most amount of RAM. As with all factors, it’s a delicate balancing act to find a configuration with just the right amount of RAM.

 

    Tips:

  • If indeed you can’t find the configuration with a large amount of RAM, pay attention to the memory slots it features. If there are any unused slots, like on the 3rd generation Core i3 model of Lenovo IdeaPad Z580, you can add some more later to improve performance.
  • An unused memory slot can also help you in cutting down on costs without sacrificing on performance. After all, adding on RAM is a lot cheaper than going for a higher model.
  • Always test the laptop’s RAM beforehand by opening several web browser windows and running videos at the same time until the laptop starts slowing down. This will help you gauge the real world performance of the device. Higher clock speeds can often be irrelevant but this way, you can be sure that the laptop will deliver in your day to day needs.

Disk Drives

Difference between hard disk drive and solid state drive

Disk drives are the storage centres of any laptop. They are the centres that contain all your data, including your operating system, system files, software and documents. As such, they are extremely valuable and can be very under-rated at times. Disk drives are primarily of two types: hard disk drives and solid state drives.

 

Hard disk drives have been around for the past several decades. They consist of various mechanical parts and use a magnetic head to read the information from the disk. As a result of the moving parts, they are more susceptible to damage and corruption. However, they carry the advantage of allowing for higher amounts of space. Nowadays, external HDDs allow for 3 TB of space – that’s more than 3000 GB of data. Typical notebooks usually carry a maximum of 1 TB space, but even 750 GB is a good number in the long run.

 

Solid state drives, on the other hand, are a very different beast altogether. They rely on a different means of transferring and reading data such as Flash memory. They don’t use moving parts and are as such far more stable than HDDs. Because they don’t have to “spin up”, they often achieve optimum efficiency at all times. So you can be assured of transfer speeds that are far higher than what an HDD can achieve. They also consume less power, generate less noise and heat, and are more slim and compact than HDDs. Their only disadvantages are (1) cost, which is comparatively higher than HDDs, and (2) storage space, which is comparatively lower than HDDs. While 750 GB HDD is pretty much the norm on mid-range laptops, a 256 GB solid state drive can be quite expensive

Apple’s Fusion Drive

Various hybrid drives are being released, which can be seen best in Apple’s latest line of MacBooks and iMacs that contain both an HDD and SSD (referred to as “Fusion Drive). The former provides storage for documents and programs while the latter can be utilized to run more intensive applications. Apple has a special program embedded within its systems that allows the system to tell which applications you use more. These are then accessed via the SSD component of the Fusion Drive to allow for quicker data transfers. On the whole though, the kind of storage device you obtain will often depend on the kind of notebook you purchase. High end ultrabooks and convertibles usually feature solid state drives. The majority of storage devices in notebooks are normal hard disk drives.

 

    Tips:

  • Don’t just look at the amount of space an HDD offers. Also make sure to look at its RPM or the Revolution Per Minute it can achieve. A higher RPM means better peak performance in data transfer speeds.
  • When picking up a notebook with a solid state drive, go for an external HDD as well and store the majority of media and such on it. You can use this as your go-to solution for storage keeping necessary programs on the SSD for everyday usage.
  • Also keep in mind that though they may be more expensive, due to the notebooks being more expensive, solid state drives will last far longer and take much more punishment than regular HDDs. This is especially important when you consider the amount of traveling you may do.

Displays

The display is exactly that – the monitor that showcases all of your data, your operating system and even the very movies you watch and the music you listen to. But more importantly, it’s your gateway to interacting with your computer. Very few operations could be completed today without the use of the display. Over the years, the laptop display has seen a lot of changes. Some of these are to make the display image sharper while others make it thinner in order to make the overall laptop slimmer.

 

Perhaps the most important thing to note first about laptop displays is their overall nature. This is often divided into two categories: glossy and matte. Glossy displays are shinier and thus more susceptible to glare and reflections. Matte-coated displays have reduced glare and can thus be easier to operate in direct sunlight. Keep in mind that not all glossy displays attract a lot of glare. In fact, the overall brightness level of a display helps keep glare at bay. But we’ll get to that.

 

Laptop displays range in size from 10 inches (usually seen on hybrids) to 17 inches (limited to gaming notebooks). The resolution of a display looks at the number of pixels displayed, and is usually measured in width X height. For example, a 1366x768 resolution display contains 1366 pixels across and 768 pixels high. The more the number of pixels, the sharper a display will be. However, the size of the display also defines just how many pixels will be packed together. This means you can have a sharper picture with a higher resolution on a smaller sized display.

 

The standard resolution for most notebooks is around 1366x768, but higher ones such as the Samsung Series 5 550P have a 1600x900 resolution for a proper widescreen aspect ratio. Full HD displays with a 1920x1080 resolution are on higher devices like the Acer Aspire S7. Then there are displays like Apple’s Retinal Display which offers a 2560x1600 resolution for the 13-inch display and a 2880x1800 resolution for the 15-inch display.

 

Other factors that come into play with displays it the technology incorporated into them. In-plane switching or IPS technology is one of the more important kinds, as it allows for better viewing angles and consistent colour production. They also don’t lighten up when touched and this is important for touchscreens where the light can obscure the icon under your finger. One of the bigger disadvantages of IPS displays however is that they consume 15 percent more power than typical displays.

 

Other recent innovations include LED-backlit displays which offer longer lifespans, better colour quality and lower power consumption but which are more expensive. They are more typically seen in television displays but are slowly making their way to high end notebooks.

     

    Tips:

  • Always tilt the display and view it from different angles when testing it out. Some devices may feature the slightest bit of colour change even if you tilt the display up or down.
  • IPS technology might consume more power but compared to the benefits in viewing angles it provides, should be taken into consideration. Remember: Those viewing angles also dictate whether you’d be able to tilt your display and view it while lying down.
  • Bigger isn’t always better. Go for the display that matches your needs rather than for the sake of screen real estate. If portability is more important, it would be better to opt for a 13 to 15 inch display. A screen resolution of 1366x768 is usually good in these circumstances.
  • Check the display for effects of ghosting. This is a fault where it looks like a hazier replica of the image is super-imposed on top of the actual image. All IPS display may suffer from this default in one way or another but the best ones often feature it far less.
  • Always look at the display resolution in regards to the price. Paying 60K for a 1366x768 resolution display isn’t exactly the best deal, even if you opt for an Ultrabook which is more expensive by default.
  • Glare can be a major let-down with displays. Inspect both glossy surface and matte-coated displays for glare, usually by keeping it underneath a heavy light source.

Keyboards/Touchpads

The keyboard and touchpad are also two of the more under-rated components of a laptop. They, however, determine how you’ll interact with the device. Given that no two people have the same pair of hands, what is comfortable for one person may be unusable by another. There’s also the fact that some keyboards are different depending on the kind of device you’re using. Convertible devices may have shallow keys, which provide less feedback but still allow for fast typing. Conversely, older laptops will rely on the traditional keyboard layout.

 

The usual keyboard arrangement these days is chiclet keys. These are keys with a fair amount of space between that are more like individual buttons rather than one clumped whole. They allow for a good amount of travel and provide adequate response. Being spaced out, they also prevent dust from getting between then and clogging their working. They’re also less likely to be popped out than regular keys.

 

However, it is a matter of preference. Some users benefit more from the spaced out keys while others like to rely on the traditional keyboard.

 

Touchpads are a bit dicier. You have the standard touchpad with the left click and right click mouse buttons and the touchpad where the buttons are embedded. So when you register a click that is closer to the left side, the touchpad registers this as a left click and so on with the right click. The funny part is that sometimes it can mistake these clicks.

 

With the new range of Windows 8 enabled notebooks, the touchpad can also be used to perform gestures. It can scroll back and forth on the Start menu, bring up the Charms menu for navigation and shutting down the device and even toggle back and forth between programs. It provides an array of functions and it’s possible to find touchpads with better responsiveness than others in this department.

 

Of course, if there is a particular configuration you have in mind that doesn’t feature a keyboard or touchpad you’re comfortable with, you can always invest in a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. These keyboards and input devices (which include touchpads as well) are similar to what Apple uses for its iMac systems.

 

Essentially, the device connects through Bluetooth and operates wirelessly. This means you can use the keyboard and mouse anywhere in the same room and the system will be able to accurately pick it up. They require their own batteries however, but you can invest in rechargeable batteries to use in the keyboard and mouse over a long period of time.

 

The advantage of a Bluetooth mouse is quite simple to understand: For example, people who rely more on the mouse when gaming or even when working with visual effect software just find it easier and faster. Of course, there are other input devices like stylus and drawing slates that can also be connected via Bluetooth that makes the task easier for artists. Bluetooth keyboards would be for individuals who are more comfortable with the typical desktop arrangement than with what laptops have to offer.

     

    Tips:

  • The easiest way to see if a keyboard is comfortable for you is to bring up a rough document and start typing. Try to measure for speed and accuracy. This is also helps you determine whether the feedback of the keys is good enough. Oftentimes, you’ll find laptops that have harder keys that require more force to push. As always, it’s about finding the right balance.
  • When looking for the ideal keyboard, always remember to find one that has decently sized Enter, Backspace, Left Shift and Spacebar keys. These are some of the most important keys for typing and if they aren’t big enough, you can find it frustrating to properly operate the device.
  • Some keyboards come with a full-sized Numpad. This is similar to a desktop keyboard, where a full arrangement of numbers will be included. For the most part, it’s a preference issue. However, always check to see the difference between a Numpad keyboard and a keyboard that doesn’t have one. Some offer better travel and for others, it won’t matter.
  • Even though the touchpad can use Windows 8 gestures, not all of them support these gestures by default. Knowledge of Windows 8 gestures will help you see which ones don’t when you try to test for the same. Of course, if the device has a touchscreen, this point is moot.
  • Always check for the basic movement of the touchpad. They can notoriously drag on Windows 8 machines. How fast a device double-clicks, whether the cursor smoothly moves across the screen when you drag it or jumps awkwardly, whether it can differentiate between left and right clicks, and any lag between your input and the actual response should all be checked.
  • The same tips apply for Bluetooth accessories as they do for normal laptop keyboards and touchpads. Always check for response and accuracy. Check whether the keys are comfortable for you and adequately suit your requirements. Battery life needs to also be considered along with the range and strength of the Bluetooth signal.
Laptop Maintenance

Laptop Maintenance

Of course, it’s not just enough to find the perfect laptop – you also need to know how to care of it. Laptops have a notoriously short shelf life if they aren’t properly cared for. This is because for all intents and purposes, they are still computers. Computer components just aren’t meant for the wear and tear of daily life. However, if you properly maintain your laptop, it can last you for years.

 

First and foremost, the battery. Laptops and mobile phones have one thing in common: You shouldn’t keep them plugged in when they’ve been fully charged. Unless you need the device for a high performance task, like gaming, it’s usually better to unplug it when the battery is fully charged. The opposite is true for charging it. Wait until the battery is fully discharged before placing it for charging again. This will not only ensure a longer life for the battery but will help keep heat production down to a minimum.

 

And of many things that can damage your laptop, heat is one of them. Always use your laptop in a place with plenty of ventilation, and allow the vents on the underside plenty of breathing space. Don’t be afraid to give your device plenty of rest as well. Shut it down when you’re not using it, and keep it in a dry place. The components will operate more efficiently when they’re not being taxed all the time.

 

Of course, when it comes to the battery, make sure to change it as soon as you can sense that it isn’t delivering the same battery life as before. The laptop may even warn you of the reduced capacity and how it should be replaced. Given the above argument for heat production, it’s best to purchase a replacement battery. These can be found for cheap, but quality laptop batteries can be obtained from the manufacturer showroom or a certified dealer.

Dust is as much a threat to laptops as PCs. Dust can block the vents on the laptop’s underside, thus keeping heat from escaping. Always try to keep the vents clear, but more importantly, rub your laptop down for dust. This means cleaning between the keys, using a screen cleaner for the display, wiping the lid and getting into those hard to reach places between the vents. Dust doesn’t necessarily need to enter into your laptop to damage it – sometimes; even food crumbs can jam your keys, preventing their proper working. Needless to say, do not eat food or handle liquids around your laptop. And do not, under any circumstances, use water to clean your display. Always use a dry handkerchief when cleaning dust and screen cleaner when wiping the display.

 

When carrying your laptop around, remember that the hard disk drive – which most people still use, except in higher models – is fragile. Try to buy a proper laptop bag that provides enough cushioning and stability to the laptop when you’re carrying it around. Mechanical shock and vibrations can quickly become the HDD’s undoing.

Clean Laptop
Anti Virus

You shouldn’t just be protecting your laptop from external threats either. There are just as many software threats and maintenance issues that go unchecked. Install antivirus, firewall and anti-spyware software on your computer. This will help root out and protect you from any unwanted access the internet and malicious programs.

 

Keep a separate partition from your system drive to ensure optimum performance. Since your system drive contains your operating system and important system files, it’s a given that software running from this partition will run slower. So make sure to always install any important software on a separate partition. Also, in case of a system failure, when you use System Restore, you can be assured that your precious data will be safe on the separate partition.

 

(System crashes only affect data stored on the system drive – any data not stored on the Desktop or My Documents or anywhere else on the system drive remains safe.)

Try to delete any unwanted files. You can perform different cleaning activities on your laptop by using different tools like CCleaner that will search your computer for unused files, cookies and other junk to be deleted. You can also defragment your drive, which helps it stay healthy and properly performing in the long run. Defragmentation is a more complicated process however, so make sure to consult more advanced guides before performing it yourself.

 

Always make sure you have the warranty handy in case of pre-mature failure. Some manufacturers even offer free service and replacement if the device is within the period of warrant. As such, you should always purchase laptops from authorized dealers or manufacturer showrooms. While second-hand options always look appealing in terms of price, remember that they will last far less than a brand new laptop.

 

It’s a fact of life that computers will fail. Not just laptops but PCs as well. So keep a backup of your files on an external hard drive and store in a safe place, safe from dust, moisture and heat.

CCleaner

Recommended Laptops

Today’s market is replete with devices across segments. The number of laptops is no exception. With the wide array of convertibles, hybrids, Ultrabooks (both with and without touchscreen functionality) and gaming PCs, it can be hard to decide what the right system is for you. We picked out the best laptops thus far and divided them based on their worth in their respective categories. Oftentimes, there’s been more than one notable entry in a category and we’ve given due highlight to them as well. We also looked at comparable devices and how they stack up to the recommend ones based on their specifications and price.

Gaming Notebooks

 

Ultrabooks with Touch-Screens

 

Acer Aspire S7

It was a close race between this and the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch. In fact, they share some common traits like the 1920x1080 resolution displays, Core i7 CPUs and 4 GB of RAM. However, the Acer Aspire S7 wins with its excellent design that included a stellar Gorilla Glass plated lid and slim, strong profile (also by virtue of the fact that you can actually find it in India). But this is the only Ultrabook around, both touch and non-touch that comes with a RAID SSD configuration. Essentially, it means much faster transfer speeds than any Ultrabook currently available. Despite the shabby battery life, there is simply nothing that can compete with the Acer Aspire S7 in terms of pure performance.

 

The Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 Touch stacked up quite well against the Acer Aspire S7. Despite featuring more RAM and CPU speeds, its display wasn’t as sharp and it certainly didn’t feature a RAID configuration. This meant lower overall transfer speeds. There’s also the superior build quality of the Aspire S7 which is still lighter than the Carbon X1 Touch (which is also built quite well, and features the same excellent keyboard that the ThinkPad series is renowned for).

 

The Asus S400 CA and Lenovo IdeaPad U510 aren’t what one would consider their ideal Ultrabooks, especially when it comes to touchscreens and Windows 8 interfaces. However, they still offer solid overall performance with plenty of storage. Display quality won’t set the world on fire, and they aren’t the lightest Ultrabooks. The IdeaPad U510 actually has the advantage of an NVidia GPU instead of the typical Intel HD 4000, so those looking for a portable gaming solution can check it out. It pales in comparison to a regular notebook’s gaming performance however.

 

Model Acer Aspire S7 Asus S400CA-CA028H Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 Touch Lenovo IdeaPad U510
CPU 3rd generation Intel Core i7-3517U 1.9 GHz 3rd generation Core i7 3517U 1.9 GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i7-3667U 3.20 GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i5 3317U 1.7 GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 NVidia NV 610M GFX 1 GB DDR3
Internal storage 256GB SSD RAID-O configuration 500 GB HDD, 24 GB SSD 256 GB SSD 1 TB HDD, 24 GB SSD
RAM 4 GB DDR3 4 GB DDR3  8 GB DDR3L 1333MHz 4 GB DDR3 1600 MHz
Display 11.6 inches, 1920 x 1080 Active Matrix TFT  14 inches 1366x768 HD LED Backlit Glare panel 14 inch HD+ (1600 x 900) 14 inch 1366x768 HD LED
Ports 2xUSB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, SD card reader 1xUSB 2.0, 1xUSB 3.0, SD card reader 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, SD card reader
Weight 1.22 kg 1.83 kg 1.55 Kg 1.7 Kg
Price Rs. 87,599 Rs. 59999 Rs 102000 (without touch) Rs. 60411
MacBook Air

Ultrabooks without Touch-Screens

 

MacBook Air

It was a close race between this and the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch. In fact, they share some common traits like the 1920x1080 resolution displays, Core i7 CPUs and 4 GB of RAM. However, the Acer Aspire S7 wins with its excellent design that included a stellar Gorilla Glass plated lid and slim, strong profile (also by virtue of the fact that you can actually find it in India). But this is the only Ultrabook around, both touch and non-touch that comes with a RAID SSD configuration. Essentially, it means much faster transfer speeds than any Ultrabook currently available. Despite the shabby battery life, there is simply nothing that can compete with the Acer Aspire S7 in terms of pure performance.

 

Samsubg Series 9

Samsung Series 9

Samsung just had to answer that question. How do you possibly top Apple’s slim wonder? Offer a 15 inch display with 1600x900 resolution display that also features 8 GB of RAM and a Core i5 while pushing the best possible battery life that any Ultrabook has seen. The Samsung Series 9 is no slouch when it comes to performance either, and is perhaps only bested by the Acer Aspire S7 when it comes to pure numbers. Regardless, this slim and lightweight design combined with the battery life means you can take the Series 9 anywhere, any time without any worries. And it just looks so very nice.

 

 

 

Model MacBook Air Samsung Series 9 Dell Inspiron 14z HP Envy Spectre XT 13-2001TU
CPU 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 3rd generation Core i7 3517U 1.9 GHz 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7 GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i5 3317U 1.7 GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 AMD Radeon HD 7570M Intel HD 4000
Internal storage 256 GB Flash storage 256 GB SSD 500 GB HDD 128 GB SSD
RAM 4 GB DDR3 8 GB DDR3 4 GB DDR3 4 GB DDR3
Display 13.3-inch (1,440 x 900) display 15 inches 1600x900, HD LED Anti-Reflective Display 14 inch HD WLED, 1366x768 13.3 inch 1366x768 HD LED Backlit display
Ports 2xUSB 3.0, Thunderbolt, SD card reader 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, SD card reader 2xUSB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader
Weight 1.35 kg 1.65 kg 1.87 Kg 1.39 Kg
Price Rs. 94,900 Rs. 102695 Rs 51,348 Rs. 59990
Dell XPS 15

Notebooks

 

Dell XPS 15

The Dell XPS 15 is perhaps one of the best performing notebooks currently available that doesn’t cross into pure, expensive gaming notebook territory. You can have up to 16 GB of RAM, a stunning 1920x1080 display, 1 TB of storage space and a Core i7. The sturdy yet middle-weight design also helps establish it as a both a decent desktop alternative as well as a potent portable solution. Battery life may not approach the Samsung Series 9’s level but it’s still fairly good.

 

MacBook Pro with Retinal Display

MacBook Pro with Retinal Display

This is an obvious choice, thanks to Apple’s Retinal Display technology that pushes double the resolution of a regular HD display. But the MacBook Pro also continues Apple’s tradition of offering sleek performance without compromising on battery life. The design and sturdiness have also stood the test of time and with a choice of up to 16 GB of RAM, 768 GB internal storage and quad-core Core i7, there’s plenty of reason to go for Apple’s latest and greatest.

 

 

 

Model MacBook Pro with Retinal Display Samsung NP550P5C-S05IN Dell XPS 15 Lenovo IdeaPad Y500
CPU 3rd generation 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU 3rd generation 2.4 GHz Intel Core i7 3630QM 3rd generation 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 3632QM 3rd generation 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 3632QM
GPU Intel HD 4000, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M, 2 GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M, 2 GB NVidia GT650 N13P-GT1, 2 GB DDR5
Internal storage 512 GB HHD 1 TB HDD 512 GB SSD 1 TB HDD
RAM 16 GB DDR3L 8 GB DDR3 16 GB DDR3 8 GB DDR3 RAM
Display 15.4 inch Retinal Display, 2880x1800 resolution 15.6 inch, 1600x900, HD SuperBright Anti-reflective LED  15.6" FHD 1080p Truelife WLED Display  1920 x 1080, 15.6 inch display
Ports 2xThunderbolt, 2xUSB.30, HDMI, SDXC 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI, VGA 3 USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader 1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, SD card reader
Weight 2.02 kg  2.5 kg 2.6 kg 2.7 kg
Price Rs.189,900 Rs. 61990 Rs. 124200 Rs. 65281
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13

Convertibles

 

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13

When it first appeared on the scene, the IdeaPad Yoga 13 felt a little odd. However, it proved itself to be a much better solution to the Ultrabook/tablet than other efforts. Despite the fact that it skimps on performance and features when matched against, say, the Dell XPS 12, it’s slimmer and still quite powerful in its own right. It also features good, strong battery life with up to 8 GB of RAM, a Core i5/i7 and up to 256 GB internal storage. It also just feels far more comfortable to hold and flip into either a tablet, Ultrabook or a desktop touch device.

 

Samsubg Series 9

Dell XPS 12

While the XPS 12 got a lot right with its 1920x1080 resolution display and amazing keyboard – not to mention configurations one could go for – it’s not as portable as Lenovo’s device. In fact, it feels far more bulky to handle when used in tablet mode. Combined with the higher price and slightly less battery life, it’s hard to recommend over the IdeaPad Yoga 13. However, for those who need a strong, portable solution and can handle the overall size, it still warrants a look.

 

 

 

Model Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Dell XPS 12 Samsung Ativ Smart PC
CPU 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7 GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7 GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3317U 1.7 GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
Internal storage 128 GB SSD 128 GB SSD 128 GB SSD
RAM 4 GB DDR3 4 GB DDR3 4 GB DDR3
Display 1600x900, 13.3 inch HD Plus IPS display 1920x1080, 12.5 inch TrueLife FHD Display 11.6 inch, 1920x1080 Full HD LED display
Ports 1xUSB 2.0, 1xUSB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader 2xUSB 3.0, 1 mini-display port 1 USB 3.0, HDMI, micro HDMI, microSD card reader
Weight 1.54 kg 1.54 kg 0.89 kg
Price Rs. 75,714 Rs. 92,990 Rs. 72,990
Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF201

Laptop/Tablet Hybrids

 

Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF201

Yes, there are far better hybrids available in the world. In fact, there are far more recent ones like the Acer Iconia W510, Asus VivoTab Smart, Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and even the HP Envy X2 that we would recommend. However, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF201 is still easily available in India. For those still unsure about taking the Windows 8 plunge can also take comfort in that this includes Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich instead.

 

Equipped with a rather sharp looking, wide-angle 12800x800, 10.1 inch display that is both LED backlit and scratch resistant, the TF201 features an NVidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU with 1 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage. A microSD slot is included, which allows for even more storage. You even get an 8 megapixel camera on the rear for taking pictures with. The dock functions exceptionally well and helps elevate the battery life to an amazing 12+ hours – way more than you’ll find on any Windows 8 hybrid. There are plenty of bundled apps as well, like Polaris Office, for helping to get your work done.

 

And while we wouldn’t recommend the keyboard too much, it’s still far more affordable (launched at Rs. 46,010 a year ago) than what you could find today.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF201

Notebooks for Business Users

 

Business users require few essentials when it comes to notebooks, but they are important ones: A strong build and no-nonsense design, an excellent keyboard, strong performance and a long-lasting battery. Many different companies have attempted to compete with Lenovo’s ThinkPad line, but till now nothing comes close to matching its excellence.

 

Even the best must evolve though. So Lenovo brought about the ThinkPad X230. Featuring strong performance thanks a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 3210M clocked at 2.5 GHz with 4 GB DDR3 RAM and a 500 GB HDD, it’s also very portable at just 1.34 kg. The device comes with Windows 7 for those who aren’t interested in touch features and a good-looking 1366x768 resolution, 12.5 inch display. The biggest change however, is with the keyboard. Lenovo departed from its classic ThinkPad keyboard and while it’s not an enormous change for those not used to the devices, long-time users might take some time to adjust. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent keyboard with an equally excellent touchpad and costs only Rs. 72967.

 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

For those who’d like to stick to the original layout, but with some minor modifications, there’s also the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The device is faster than the X230, with a 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3427U clocked at 1.8 GHz, 4 GB DDR3 RAM and with a 128 GB SSD. It also features a better looking display, measuring 14 inches with a 1600x900 resolution. Build quality is excellent, the design is nice and slim, and you’ll have no problem carrying it around. The only problem is price: At 102,000 it’s much more expensive than the X230.

 

Given the relative unavailability of the ThinkPad Tablet 2, we couldn’t recommend it. However, with its strong battery life, touch screen functionality, portability and the best keyboard you’ll find on any hybrid, it easily warrants a look from business users.

 

Best Laptop for Students

Notebooks for Students

 

Choosing a decent laptop is a dicey affair. On one hand, you’d like to be able to manage work but still watch movies and have a little gaming on the side. Then there’s price, which puts most premium Ultrabooks and convertibles out of reach. Hybrids won’t give the same feeling of power.

 

That’s where the Samsung NP355V5C-S05IN comes in. Essentially a Series 3 notebook, it packs a quad core AMD A8 4500M CPU clocked at 1.9 GHz with 6 GB of DDR3 RAM, a dual GPU in the form of an integrated 512 MB Radeon HD 7640G and dedicated 1 GB Radeon HD 7670M and a 1 TB HDD. The dual graphics solution can handle many of today’s game on high settings, while the higher than usual RAM and large storage space is more than enough for storing media and documents. The 1366x768, 15.6 inch matte-coated Anti-Reflective display is a little iffy with its viewing angles but otherwise works great (avoid direct sunlight though). Battery life lasts for a good 3.5 to 4 hours. While certainly nothing excellent, it’s still good considering the performance and its price of Rs 33490.

 

Lenovo IdeaPad Z580

And if an AMD solution doesn’t sit well, then check out the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (59-333346) which features a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 3210M clocked at 2.5 GHz with 4 GB DDR3, an NVidia GT 630M with 1 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD. For Rs. 42414, it provides some very strong performance with a decent battery life. Lenovo may be on the cusp of introducing new Windows 8 machines with touchscreen to the market, but the IdeaPad Z580 holds up remarkably well against them. Also considering that gaming performance and future compliance is much better thanks to the NVidia GPU and Intel CPU, it’s worth the smaller HDD and higher price.

 

Best Laptop for Students

Notebooks for Gamers

 

A vast majority of gaming laptops often don’t make it to India. So devices like the Razer Blade and Asus G75VW are effectively out. What we do have is a relatively strong placeholder that skirts the edge of good gaming performance, an Alienware machine and the Dell XPS 15.

 

The Dell XPS 15, as already detailed above, packs a good amount of performance with 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD and a 1080p display. For those looking for a cheaper but still potent gaming solution, there’s the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500.

 

IdeaPad Y500

Retailing for Rs. 65281, with its own stylish dust black design, the IdeaPad Y500 features a 3rd generation Intel Core i7-3632QM clocked at 2.2 GHz with 8 GB DDR3 RAM, a 1 TB HDD and an NVidia GT650 N13P-GT1 with 2 GB of DDR5 RAM. This makes it a very strong gaming solution despite the reduced amount of RAM and lack of solid state drive. Of particular note, it’s one of the only notebooks in at this price that offers a 15.6 inch, 1920x1080 resolution display. Battery life is of course a limiter due to the sheer power it contains so keeping a charger handy is essential.

 

 

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