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Black Friday Laptop Buying Guide: 6 Key Aspects on Getting the Best Bang for your Buck

Finding a truly good bargain on a quality laptop can be tough.  There are so many acronyms and other terms that sound like they fell out of a Star Trek episode.  Most people really don’t know what they are buying, not to mention whether or not they got it for a good price.

This article is going to focus on 6 key aspects of a laptop and explain them to you in clear, everyday speech.  Once we cover that, we’ll take a look at some laptops currently on sale and see which ones are truly a deal.  We’ll sort through the descriptions and acronyms in the product listing to show you where to find these six key aspects.  When done with this article, you’ll be an informed laptop buyer this holiday season! :D

 RAM

The first item we need to focus on is RAM.  RAM is the laptop’s short term memory.  The bigger its short term memory, the more “stuff” it can recall without having to ask you to wait while it sorts through its filing cabinet (Hard Drive).  Laptop RAM will typically range from 3 – 8 GBs.

So the question is this:  What is the minimum amount of RAM that you need?  The answer is 4GB.  Today’s 64 bit operating systems like Windows 7 are designed to run on 4GB (or more) of RAM.  It will run on less than 4 GB, but the operating system will not being used to its fullest capacity.

You will find with some of the cheaper laptops you only have 3GB of RAM. Do you want to spend money on something that you know right off the bat is not going to run at 100% performance?

 CPU

A laptop’s CPU is its brain.  It handles a staggering number of calculations a second in order to make your laptop run.  There are two main manufacturers of CPUs (Intel and AMD) and two camps of very passionate people who swear by one of them.
It’s kind of like Star Wars fans vs. Star Trek fans.  You tend to want to keep them apart or trouble can break out. ;)

That being said, it is with great caution that I am going to stick with Intel processors for this article to avoid confusion and because Intel processors are the industry standard to which applications are designed to run on.

Intel Core I3, Intel Core I5, and Intel Core I7 are the three Intel processors you should stick with for laptops.  The Intel Core I3 is the most common one you will find, and the cheapest on the market. It will do most everything you want your laptop to do unless you are doing something really intense on it. And, if you were, you’d know.  If you are like most of us who go on Facebook, surf the internet, look at and edit family photos, and play music the Intel Core I3 is for you.

You will find some cheaper laptops have Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs (often called Pentium B590 or P6200).  This type of CPU first came onto the market up to 6.5 years ago.  The ones you see in most laptops now where new in 2009 or 2010.  CPU technology increases drastically from year to year.  Do you want to buy a ‘new’ laptop with a CPU that is based on technology that can be close to three years old?

OPERATING SYSTEM

The operation system is the software that you use to interface with the laptop.  Examples are Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

I will keep this one pretty simple.  You want Windows 7 on a new laptop because it is the newest operating system software and all new applications will be developed with Windows 7 in mind.

To give you some context, there are still laptops being sold with Windows XP.   This operating system was released in 2001.  That is 10 years ago.  Microsoft does not even support it anymore.  Do you want a ‘new laptop’ with an operating system that is 10 years old?

Let me add a quick note on Windows Vista which was released after Windows XP in 2006. Windows Vista was a dreadful operating system and the reason why Windows XP is still so heavily used today.  Avoid any laptop with Windows Vista as an OS.  In a pinch you would be better off with Windows XP.


HARD DISK

We spoke about RAM before.  RAM is the laptop’s short term memory.  Hard Disk is the laptop’s long term memory.  Think of it like the laptop’s filing cabinet.  The Hard Disk is where you store your photos, music, documents, and install your applications.  The more you have the better.  The lowest I would suggest is 320GB but 500GB would be better.  You’d be shocked how fast it fills up.


BATTERY LIFE

There are three types of batteries you will see with laptops.  Nickel Cadmium or NiCd (Bad), Nickel Metal Hydride or NiMH (Good), and Lithium Ion or LiON (Better).  I know laptop commercials love to show somebody on the beach using their laptop or the high powered business man using his laptop on the plane.

Do you plan to do to that, too?  If so, this is an important category and something to watch out for.  Most Laptop specs will not clearly say what type of laptop battery it has, but will more likely say how long the laptop will run on battery power.  If that is important to you, be sure to know the battery specs before buying.  Also, keep in mind those battery life claims are a lot like a car manufacturer’s mileage claim.  They are determined under the most ideal of conditions so your laptop’s battery mileage may very.

NETBOOKS, CHROMEBOOKS, AND NOTEBOOKS (LAPTOPS)

This article is focused on notebooks (laptops) but I will provide a brief explanation to what Netbooks and Chromebooks are since it is possible to see them and mistake them for an actual notebook (laptop).

Netbooks are stripped down notebooks with minimal hardware and functionality.  They are basically over-priced web browsers.  They are not worth their seemingly cheap prices in my opinion.

Chromebooks run on a new Google OS and are designed to run using Google apps on a cloud computing model.  What does that mean?  It means you need internet access for these laptops to be all that useful.  They are also stripped down notebooks with minimal hardware and functionality. Although I love Google I don’t think there is a real value with Chromebooks.

In summary, I would avoid both Netbooks and Chromebooks and just buy a Notebook (Laptop).  You will not pay too much more for a Notebook and you will not be limited by the stripped down hardware, software, and other limitations.
If you were planning to buy a Netbook or a Chromebook just go out and buy ANY Notebook and you will be better off.

CONCLUSION

When shopping for a laptop you should be looking for at least an I3 processor, 320 GB Hard Drive (500 GB is even better), Windows 7 operating system, and no less than 4GB of RAM.  (Often listed as 4GB DDR Memory)

 

CURRENT LAPTOP DEALS

Now that you are a well informed, powerhouse of laptop knowledge, let’s see if you can spot the deals below:
These were two real laptop deals, but unfortunately they are no longer available.

:: Amazon had a Dell Latitude D630 14.1-Inch Notebook PC (Refurbished) for $311.04.  It had the following hardware:

Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz Processor
2GB DDR2 System Memory  (This is the RAM)
80GB SATA Hard Drive
Microsoft Windows XP Professional

This is NOT a deal.  2 GB of RAM, an older CPU, an old operating system, and only 80 GB of Hard Drive Space.  It is simply not worth $311 even though it would appear to be a good price.

:: Amazon had a ASUS Laptop Intel Core i3 370M 2.4GHz, 4GB DDR3, 5000GB HDD, DVRW, 15.6″, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit for $399.  It had the following hardware:

Intel Core i3 2.4GHz Processor
4GB DDR3 RAM
500GB SATA hard drive (5400 rpm)
ATI Radeon HD 3000 integrated graphics.
Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

This is TRULY a good deal.  It has everything we talked about and it was only $88 more than the other laptop!  Trust me, it’ll be the best $88 more you spend.

If you want to check out all of the Best Laptop Deals for this Holiday Season, go to the Ultimate Holiday Deals Guide page.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this enlightning article! I loved it. Just what I was looking for. Now I feel more empowered to purchased a laptop. I always wondered what made a laptop a good deal.

  2. I am glad you liked it, anna.

  3. thank you for all the info, it is very confusing if you are not that computer savy. do you have a similar article for tablets?

  4. First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thank you!

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