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What Laptop/Notebook Specs Require My Attention?
 

What Laptop/Notebook Specs Require My Attention?

Table of contents


Processor (CPU)

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is essentially the brain of the laptop computer and the largest single determinant of system performance. Where a laptop CPU can differ from a desktop CPU is in its advanced power management features that are used to help extend battery life. A long battery life means you can use your laptop computer without the help of an AC adapter for longer periods of time when a power outlet isn't available.

Generally speaking, processors with higher clock speed, which measures the rate at which computer instructions are executed, generate better performance. Laptop process clock speeds range from 1.0GHz to 2.9GHz in the very high end. The following chart covers the most popular laptop CPUs available today.

Characteristics

Processor Series

High performance

Intel Core i7

Intel Core i5

AMD Phenom II

AMD A-Series A10

Mainstream

Intel Core i3

AMD Dual-Core

AMD A-Series A8

Budget

Intel Pentium

Intel Core 2 Duo

AMD A-Series A6

 


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Memory

Memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) is used to store application data for the CPU. To allow your notebook computer to run smoothly, at least 2GB memory is needed by today's applications. If you plan on running a number of applications simultaneously, the general rule of thumb where memory capacity is concerned is: the more the better.

There are two types of memory used in notebook computers: DDR2 and DDR3, though DDR3 is used more widely these days than DDR2. Generally speaking, DDR3 has the advantages of reduced power consumption and a higher performance potential than DDR2. DDR3 can provide up to twice the bandwidth than DDR2 and requires less power (1.5 volts versus 1.8 volts). Your choice of memory type is restricted to the notebook computer you choose.

Memory clock speed like 1333MHz or 1600MHz is another factor affecting a notebook’s performance.  The higher number indicates faster speed. In general, spend the money to get more RAM first, and then worry about speed. If you are choosing between 4GB of 1066MHz DDR2 memory or 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3 memory, go with the 4GB of slightly slower RAM, because you’ll get better performance.


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Hard Drive

The hard drive stores almost all the data required by the computer system including the operating system, applications and user data. The desktop computers typically use 3.5-inch hard drives, while laptop computers use smaller 2.5-inch drives. There are currently four hard drive speeds in use: 4200rpm, 5400rpm, 7200rpm, and 10000rpm. Generally speaking, higher rotational speeds equal faster performance.

Laptop computers are usually configured with hard drives from 320GB to 750GB, which should be sufficient for most users. Users who store more documents, movies or music files may require higher capacity hard drives of 1TB (1,000GB) or greater. Some laptops allow the use of a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of a standard hard drive. While SSD drives tend to cost more, they are faster and much more durable, since they have no moving parts. SSDs are also more power efficient than regular hard drives.


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Display

Laptop computers generally utilize built-in LCD displays. The newer models come with LED backlight technology which produces sharper image. Larger-size displays can provide a greater viewing area and higher resolutions. Screens are measured diagonally from the lower screen corner to the opposite upper corner of the screen. Different classes of laptops tend to have common screen sizes.

  • Ultraportable: 12" or Less
  • Thin and Light: 13" to 15"
  • Desktop Replacement: 16" to 19"

Many new laptops sport widescreen displays with a 16:9 aspect ratio because the widescreen format allows more onscreen content which is especially important for multi-media applications, such as video watching.

Below is a chart of the most common display resolutions.

 

Display Type

Aspect Ratio

Resolution (pixels per inch)

SVGA

4:3

800 x 600

XGA

4:3

1024 x 768

SXGA

5:4

1280 x 1040

SXGA+

4:3

1400 x 1050

UXGA

4:3

1600 x 1200

WXGA

16:9

1280 x 720

WXGA+

16:10

1440 x 900

WSXGA+

16:10

1680 x 1050

WUXGA

16:10

1920 x 1200

QWXGA

16:9

2048 x 1152

 


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Graphics (Video Card)

Notebook video cards are divided into discrete and integrated versions. If you use the notebook primarily for document processing, web surfing, chatting, music listening, movie watching, and even some light gaming, an integrated video card is usually good enough. For serious gaming or multimedia processing, a discrete video card is usually the better choice.

Among the various notebook types, the Ultraportables typically feature integrated video cards, while most thin-and-lights and mainstream notebook computers use either integrated or mid-range discrete video cards. Most desktop replacement notebooks are installed with mid-range or high-end discrete video cards.

Integrated video cards feature GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit) integrated directly onto the chipset and share some system memory as video memory. Discrete video cards feature a separate GPU and local video memory to free up system memory. Notebook computers featuring discrete video cards can provide better graphics performance.


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Optical Drive

Almost all laptop computers, with the exception of Ultraportables, feature internal optical drives. DVD-ROM, DVD-RW, or Blu-ray-RW (BD-RW) drives are currently most popular. If you only read data discs and watch DVD movies, a DVD-ROM drive is sufficient. A DVD-RW combo drive has the added ability to write/burn CD-R/RW discs (700MB max capacity). If you require more data storage or wish to burn your own DVD movies, a DVD burner is recommended (single-layer DVDs provide a capacity of 4.3GB). For even greater capacity, a BD-RW can store 25GB on single-layer discs (50GB on double-layer discs).


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Networking

All new notebook computers are equipped with wireless networking capability to connect to a local area network at home, at work, and elsewhere. Ethernet ports for wired connection are no longer a standard configuration.  

The four wireless networking standards currently in use are:

  • 802.11a
  • 802.11b
  • 802.11g
  • 802.11n

The fastest 802.11n supports data transfer speed up to 450 Mbps (Mega bit per second); 802.11g supports speed up to 54Mbps; 802.11b supports transfer speed up to 11Mbps; and 802.11a standard has a maximum data transfer rate of 54 Mbps. 802.11n, which was introduced in 2009, is becoming more prevalent in new notebooks and it is backward compatible with older 802.11a/b/g standards.

Some newer notebooks also come with Bluetooth function, which provides short distance wireless connections to other devices equipped with Bluetooth technology such as Bluetooth speakers and Bluetooth printers.


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Other Useful Components

Most new laptops/notebooks are equipped with at least one HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connector, which is designed for audio/video transfer through one single cable. It makes it handy to project videos from a laptop to a big screen TV. The latest HDMI 1.3 standard supports video transfer of 2560x1600 maximum resolution across a single digital link.

While HDMI is pretty much standard in most laptops, there are still many computer peripherals using USB connection. If you have to deal with a lot of USB devices, a laptop computer with at least 2 USB ports is recommended. Otherwise, you can opt for a USB hub to increase the number of USB ports available. The most prevalent current USB port standard is USB 2.0, which supports a data speed of 480Mbps (Mega bit per second). Some laptop manufacturers are installing USB 3.0 ports on their new models. USB 3.0 standard supports a much higher data transfer rate of 5Gbps (Giga bit per second).

Apple laptop computers have a new connector called Thunderbolt. It features a faster data transfer rate of 10Gbps.

Many laptops/notebooks come equipped with a built-in webcam (video camera), which is especially useful if you want to video chat with family, friends or business associates.


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