Buying a Laptop: things to look for – A Layman perspective

Wait, confusions, going through reviews and conversations … finally all these leaded to the decision of buying one: Dell XPS 1530. Yes, finally the day came, when I really went for the deal 9th December 2008. I am here to discuss things around it for you all, might still be in earlier stages of making a big purchase. J

Before buying a Laptop, what you keep in your mind, keeping the fixed configurations (something you can’t change later on) as higher as possible and even then tight in budget as you can.

Processor & Motherboard: One was sure to choose a decent Core 2 Duo Processor (2.0 GHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.2 GHz, 2.4 GHz, 2.5 GHz or 2.6 GHz) at least and also to watch out that how much L2 Cache (1 MB, 2MB, 3MB, 6 MB, 12MB) it has or how much FSB it offeres (800 or 1066 or 1366). The processor chosen also alter the specification of motherboard significantly, which is a thing most of the vendor don’t disclose to customer that which one they are using for which configuration.

RAM: The next thing what come in someone’s mind is RAM. Various technologies like DDR2, SDRAM etc and then frequencies over which they operate. The obvious line is “Go for as much higher RAM as possible”, but for me, now days its not of that worth thought because of much cheaper prices and high RAM requirement of Vista and most of the leading softwares. For me, I find 3 GB DDR2 RAM as sufficient nice choice as no 32 Bit OS is making full use of 4 GB RAM. Frequencies available are 667 MHz, 800 MHz, 1066 MHz and 1366 MHz and so are the prices in same order.

Hard Disk & Partition size: Again as I say, prices are as much cheaper now days that you wont mind spending a few bucks more for doubling the Hard Disk space. Choices available range from 120 GB-500 GB and for a Laptop, I find 250 GB or 320 GB a better catch. The next thing to think about in the same reference is the speed of the drive. Yeah now days all the drives are SATA, but RPM speed still matters and this is one of the reason of performance differences between desktop and Laptop. Unfortunately, if you want a performance 7200 RPM drive, then you might be spending 3k more and that too not available with all the brands. Fortunately Dell and IBM ThinkPad are one of the few offering the same with consumer range.

As about partition size, then most of the time, you get Laptop with one partition only or two partitions, out of which, the second one is only for recovery purposes. Everyone wishes to get a partition only for OS and the rest of the space for the other usages. I wish if the vendors make it a practice to make OS partition separate of 40-60 GBs and rest space unaltered.

Graphics Card: There was a time, if you were talking about a graphics card then people were just reverting back that no no.. that’s useless expense as I don’t play games. One of the reasons was higher prices of Graphics card and exclusion of PCI Express Slots from all the older Motherboards. Thanks to Vista in this way that it made people realize that Graphics Cards are going to be necessity very soon. Choosing which graphics card is not a big question as nVidia sure leads from the front, but the question is to choose which one and of how much capacity?

As DirectX 10 has been released and lots of games and softwares are not really going to support any card of lesser capability, but still it might go optional for people, who want to use Laptop for Office purposes only. But for the people, who want to invest for a higher and durable configuration and interested in gaming, I should say that any 128 MB Graphics card or anything lesser than nVidia 8600 GT is a big No No. You need at least 256 MB Graphics Card with DDR3 RAM or if your budget allows, then go for higher. Many games are recommending 512 MB dedicated Graphics card only now days (e.g. Far Cry 2).

Sound: This is now days most neglected side of the Laptop from most of the vendors. Keeping a full fledged and rocking speaker along with other high configuration components and then keeping the size, weight and form factor limited to as low as possible is really a tough task. I really never seen a good laptop with a sound like 2000 Watt, so neither I expect much from a laptop in this regard, nor should anyone else. What we could do is to see whether a decent headphone is shipped with the package or not and where is the placing of Headphone jack and how many jacks are here.

Additional accessories to look for: When one think about a Laptop means a mobile solution then connectivity becomes a big thing all of sudden. You need wireless connectivity at its full, you need Bluetooth, you need In-built Multi Card reader, you might need a Finger Print Scanner keeping further security in mind and most importantly the Inbuilt Web-cam at least you should ask for 2 MP Webcam, although in medium range most of the laptops are offering 1.3 MP Webcam.

With all these you should think about Firewire ports for adding high capacity storage, HDMI ports and as many connectivity options as much possible. USB port also seems to be mandatorily as many as possible.

Optional components: Optional components might be Bluetooth or USB Mouse, TV Tuner, Modem, Data Cards etc. Obviously, it depends on individual’s choice and pocket. For me TV Tuner seems to be a burden.

Other things, which often get unnoticed: This is a part related to service, warranty and in the same reference, choice of the vendor. Many Brands I discussed over net, with colleagues, with mates, with strangers, under forums and I found these brands as major player in Market:

Dell, HP\ Compaq Presario, Sony Vio, IBM, Lenovo and Toshiba

*Dell (My final Choice): I will discuss my chosen configuration later on, but Dell was always the leading one to provide the best technology at first. The only catch is the payment option as paying the cash before getting hands over the real thing going to be crucial with most of the customers in India. Even then they are decent enough, if one is desperate for good deals. They cater a pretty good range starting from just 35k to 85k or higher to meet most of the needs of variety of customers. I find the marketing and sales side also the same level aggressive in pricing and support.

HP: They have their high end Laptops and I guess are targeting Business range most of the time, for the consumer range they have taken over Compaq, which is sure a winner over prices and easy availability. Marketing and sales is this much aggressive that not only local dealers go for recommending their products, but if they know that the buyer has the potential to give them business further then they could follow it in person or via calls continuously and could give you a series of deals. I am not sure that was it better, if I have given a decent thought to this option as well, because one of my colleagues in Dubai bought a similar configuration as mine along with 512 MB nVidea 9600 Card and processor\RAM at 1066 MHz frequency. It was any from HP Pavilion series and the price was only Rs. 53,000/- INR as per rates there.
Now, I will be wondering that whether I made a mistake, although most of the reviews and benchmarks supporting my decision to go with Dell XPS. A good choice, if you don’t want to stress yourself much and not of very much techie to make full use of some higher configuration.

HP Compaq Presario: I should say a cheaper option for consumers in deed. You could get a decent 2GB RAM and 2GHz Core 2 Duo configuration just in Rs. 35,000/- INR and if you just want a good working one with Dual Core then one of my friend just bought it in Rs. 32,000/- INR. I really don’t give weight to Acer, so I could say that its most popular, easiest and cheapest option. Offers are like Music player and Data Cards and the local dealers also make it attractive through offering 4Gb Pen Drives, Mouse, Headphones etc. A good choice for people, who just want a Laptop.

IBM\Lenovo: It’s another brand after HP covering all the ranges in decent manner. You could get a Core 2 Duo configuration just in Rs. 36,000/- and it still work better than any Compaq one. If you leave Leanovo series, then in next ThinkPad\ IdeaPads are here, which comprises of decent high frequency processors, which even Dell is not offering. Prices might be there, but they worth it. Although I didn’t stressed myself much otherwise, I was able to give more insight over this brand, which is another attractive option, I guess.

Sony Vio: I could say earlier what I heard about this brand was only this much that it’s too costly for someone’s budget. I really never given a thought to it, neither tried to know how much rates are there for which configuration, but recently I visited a few Benchmark scores and got to know it performs good enough. But even then will admit that it was never an option to me, so I don’t know much about it right now.

Rest in next review that after these many thoughts how I went through Dell, what were proceedings and how everything went.


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