Thread: Finding the Right Notebook
19th November 2006, 09:34 AM #1
Finding the Right NotebookFinding the Right NotebookBy Chris Yano
Choosing the right notebook can be a daunting task. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the number of options available today, and rushing a notebook purchase can be disastrous if you do not first consider what it will be used for. This basic guide will help steer you through the most important decisions to make while selecting your new notebook.
First Things FirstThe first thing you need to do is decide what you will use the notebook for. What sort of applications will be used on the notebook? Will it be moved around a lot? Are there any specific needs you have?
Basic CriteriaBeyond that you will also need to set some basic parameters for your search. How much are you willing to spend? What screen type, size and resolution do you want?
SpecificsWhat hardware configuration will suit your needs? Which warranty to choose? Do I buy now or wait for something better?
Once you have answered these questions, your search will be narrowed to a few systems that fit your needs. Please feel free to fill out an FAQ and post your answers in this forum. Other NotebookReview members will help you to narrow your search with recommendations based on your needs.
19th November 2006, 09:42 AM #2
Re: Finding the Right NotebookWhat sort of applications will you be using?If you will be playing 3D games or using any 3D applications like CAD, you want a system with a dedicated GPU (graphics processing unit) as opposed to an integrated graphics processor (IGP). If you will not be running 3D applications or games, then a notebook with integrated graphics will save you money and have better battery life.
Will it be moved around a lot?If so, size and weight should be the deciding factor of your buying decision. The size difference between 15.4”, 14.1”, and 13.3” systems may not seem like much on paper, but size can have a large impact on your ownership experience. I recommend a 14.1” system or smaller, since the smaller footprint is better suited for a lot of travel. The drawback is that smaller systems, particularly sub-13.3”, carry a price premium.
If you intend to do a lot of on-the-go computing, also pay attention to the battery life of systems you are considering.
If you are not planning on moving the notebook around much, a larger system may be more to your liking with a bigger screen and more features/options available due to the added space. 17" and larger systems are capable of being equipped with very powerful GPUs and high-resolution screens.
Specific requirements?Is there something specific you need the notebook for? Make sure your needs will be met before making a purchase. Is there a certain accessory you need to connect to your notebook? Check that the notebook has the appropriate input/output port before you buy it. Will you be running any intensive or demanding applications? Know the requirements of any such programs and adjust your hardware configuration requirements accordingly.
19th November 2006, 09:47 AM #3
Re: Finding the Right NotebookHow much are you willing to spend?Your budget will determine a number of things. Although there are systems that offer excellent value, essentially you get what you pay for. There are a number of offerings ranging from budget-level to high-end. There are systems offering more for less and the reverse is also true.
Building high-performance systems or using high-quality materials and components is expensive and the additional cost is reflected in the price of a notebook. There may be deals out there, but there are no steals. If a price seems too good to be true, it often is.
What screen type, size and resolution?Choosing the right screen is important. It is the one part of the notebook that you will spend the most time with. Make sure you pick one that will suit your needs.
Widescreen LCDs (16:9 and 16:10) dominate the market, but there are those who prefer standard aspect LCDs (4:3). Standard screens are increasingly difficult to find today and are almost exclusively available on business-class notebooks.
The glossy finish is also becoming the standard. Matte screens are difficult to find these days, generally only available on business-class notebooks. Glossy screens benefit from a brighter, sharper look and have excellent contrast. Matte screens on the other hand, do not have the reflection and glare problems of the glossy screens, and can reduce eye-strain over extended use.
Choosing the right screen size is important. A smaller, portable screen size is best-suited for a lot of on-the-go computing. A larger screen is ideal for high-power users who will keep the notebook somewhat stationary. Determining the right screen size can be difficult. A good way to get a feel for the different sizes is to go down to your local computer shop and see them first-hand. If you are allowed to pick the notebooks up and hold them, I encourage you to do so. This will give you a chance to get a feel for their size and weight.
Screen resolution determines how much desktop real estate you have. Higher resolution screens offer more desktop real estate, at the cost of icons and text becoming smaller onscreen. Note that you can always adjust desktop resolution or text size, but you can never add more pixels to your screen.
Want more to read on the subject? Click here.
19th November 2006, 09:54 AM #4
Re: Finding the Right NotebookWhat Hardware Configuration?Processor
Intel vs. AMD?
There is a lot of debate about which company produces the best processor. The truth is that both companies make excellent processors, and take turns leap-frogging each other with new developments. Currently, Intel’s mobile processors have a slight edge in processing power and battery consumption, but most users would be fine with either brand’s CPU in their system. There is not a large difference in performance, and AMD processors are generally less expensive than their Intel counterparts.
Intel’s current line of Mobile Processors
• Pentium M (Dothan) – Usually found in older notebooks, the improved Pentium M was specifically designed for mobile use in 2004. It runs cooler and consumes less power than its predecessor, the Pentium 4.
• Celeron M (Dothan and Yonah) – Budget single-core processor that is suitable for most applications, the Celeron M performance tails off in intensive applications.
• Core Solo (Yonah) – A low-cost processor that is based on the Core Duo structure, but only has one active CPU. The Core Solo replaced the Pentium M in 2006.
• Core Duo (Yonah) – Intel’s first dual-core processor, the Core Duo (32-bit) offers two CPUs on one die without increasing power consumption.
• Core 2 Duo (Merom) – The 64-bit version of the Core Duo, it features slightly better performance than the Core Duo and is capable of running Windows Vista and other 64-bit applications.
AMD’s current line of Mobile Processors
• Sempron – A low-cost, single-core processor found in older notebooks and desktops. The successor to the Athlon line, newer versions of Semprons support 64-bit applications.
• Turion 64 – A single-core, mobile 64-bit processor with lower power consumption than the Sempron.
• Turion 64 x2 – The Dual-core, 64-bit version of the Turion.
Nvidia vs. ATI?
This is another popular topic of debate. Both companies produce excellent GPUs. Nvidia GPUs offer better OpenGL performance and Linux support. Meanwhile, ATI GPUs perform better in Source engine games and handle anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering well. You really can’t go wrong with either brand of GPU.
Competing cards from both companies were tested on an even playing field and yielded virtually identical performance. Read the results here.
There are a wide variety of GPUs available on the market today, so it is important to understand how demanding your games or programs are. If you want to play the newest games at high resolutions with high texture and detail settings, you will need a performance or high-end GPU. But if you only intend to play simple 2D games, a basic GPU or integrated graphics processor like the Intel GMA 900/950 will suffice. There is a wonderful guide that covers GPUs in detail here.
Of all the components in your notebook, the amount of RAM installed will have the most noticeable impact on performance. The more you have, the faster everything will run. 512MB is the bare minimum today but 1 GB is recommended -- especially if you intend to run Windows Vista. If you do a lot of multi-tasking or gaming, 2 GB of RAM is a nice upgrade to consider.
There is not a significant difference in performance between 533 MHz and 667 MHz RAM, so go for the speed that best fits your budget. You can read more here. RAM is also one of the easiest components to upgrade, so if your reseller’s RAM upgrades are expensive you may consider doing it yourself.
How much space do you need? Do you intend to store vast amounts of files, music, videos, or photos on the hard drive? If you tend to run out of space quickly, then you definitely want a larger hard drive. But if you are under a tight budget, an external hard drive costs less per GB and is always an option.
High-speed hard drives (currently 7200 RPM) open programs and files faster, and reduce boot times. Although it is a nice upgrade to have, it is not essential if your budget will not allow it. There is a long-running discussion on this topic here.
Today the standard choice is between a combination DVD player and CD burner or a CD/DVD burner. If you do not need to burn DVDs, you can save money by ordering the less expensive CD burner combination drive.
If you intend to connect to either your network or the internet wirelessly, make sure that you configure your notebook with a wireless card. As long as you have an 802.11 a/b/g wireless card you will be fine. The majority of today’s notebooks feature the Intel PROSET 3945 802.11 a/b/g Wireless card.
If you intend to spend a lot of time on your notebook while unplugged, an extra-capacity battery may be worth consideration. Some systems have better power management than others, so make sure to choose a notebook with sufficient battery life to suit your needs. Read more about notebook batteries here.
What Warranty do I choose?
Deciding whether or not to invest in the extended warranty can be difficult. Standard coverage varies from notebook to notebook. Ideally you will choose a notebook that has an excellent standard warranty, but that is not always the case.
If it is a budget system, you may not want to spend 20%+ more for extra coverage. An expensive notebook that you need to last as long as possible, however, may warrant the extra $200-300 expense to keep it covered for a few years. There is an excellent write-up with more information on warranties here.
19th November 2006, 09:57 AM #5
Re: Finding the Right NotebookBuy now or wait?Notebook technology is constantly evolving. Trying to time your purchase to avoid missing upcoming advances is an exercise in futility. There will always be something faster or more powerful in development. There is no avoiding it.
If you need a notebook now, be assured that currently available technology is very powerful. If you are not in a rush, however, you may consider waiting for certain future releases.
On the Horizon:• Windows Vista – January 30, 2007. Microsoft’s successor to Windows XP, Vista is the operating system that will usher in the 64-bit computing era (both 32-bit 64-bit versions are available). It offers an enhanced visual style and improved networking ability. The biggest improvement over XP is said to be Vista’s security features.
• Santa Rosa (aka Centrino Pro) – Early 2007. Code name for Intel’s next Centrino platform (Centrino Pro), Santa Rosa will offer optimized performance for Core 2 Duo processors featuring 800 MHz front-side bus (vs. 667 MHz) and compatibility with the upcoming 802.11 n wireless standard (wider range and faster transfer rates).
• DX 10 – January 30, 2007. Microsoft’s newest 3D rendering interface, DX 10 makes higher detail and shadowing effects possible in 3D applications. Unlike previous versions, DX 10 effects will only run on DX 10 GPUs.
• DX 10 GPUs – Unknown. Although Nvidia is said to be testing mobile versions of its new DX 10 GPU, the 8800 GTX, there have been no announcements regarding release dates. Reports have indicated that we may see some DX 10 mobile GPUs in July of 2007, but this is based on non-official estimates. Future release models with possible DX 10-compatible GPUs were on display at the CES 2007 in early January 2007. It remains to be seen when they will in fact be released. Intel currently offers a DX 10-compatible integrated graphics processor, the GMA X300.
• 802.11n wireless standard - Unknown. A faster standard of wireless LAN connections, 802.11n is expected to dramatically increase wireless range and data transfer speeds. The standard has yet to be ratified by the IEEE, and its release date has been pushed back several times already. Its projected release is currently November, 2007.
Please feel free to fill out an FAQ and post your answers in this forum. Other NotebookReview members will help you to narrow your search with recommendations based on your needs.