Value-Priced Laptops: What You Need to Know When You're Ready to Buy
When buying a value-priced laptop, use the following list as a guideline for what to select. If you can afford more, great! But, make sure the laptop you get has at least these features.
Processor Buy a laptop with an Intel Pentium M processor. Intel offers a lower-performance processor called the Celeron, but I don't recommend it. Laptops built with a Celeron can appear enticing because of teaser prices starting at around $600, but the money you save in the short term is not a good long-term tradeoff. The Celeron processor does not run large complex programs as well as the Intel Pentium M does, and the Celeron does not have the Intel SpeedStep technology for conserving battery power. Therefore, the Celeron is slower and uses more power, so you get less battery life. In the years to come, software will offer more sophisticated capabilities and will demand more and more processor speed. The Intel Pentium M will keep pace better with new software technology because the underlying performance is there. And with a Pentium M you will be able to run longer on battery power. So spend a little more and get an Intel Pentium M.
Memory 512MB DDR SDRAM (Don't get less!). 512MB is mandatory these days for good performance. Some manufacturers configure value priced laptops with only 256MB of RAM. This is just not enough. It takes almost 256MB just to run Windows XP Home and a good virus scanning product. If your laptop only has 256MB, there will not be enough RAM to run programs efficiently. Your laptop performance will be really slow. Make very sure you get 512MB. There is no need to get more than 512MB for just normal activities. If you are doing video editing, or some other task that needs a lot or memory, you might want to consider more. But that would be the exception and not the rule for most people. Also, upgrading RAM in laptops later is a tricky bit of hardware installation even for the most experienced user.
Wireless Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 internal wireless card (802.11b/g).
Internal hard disk 30GB or larger. 30GB is enough for most uses and is the minimum size on an internal hard drive in most laptops today. Unless you are downloading thousands of songs for your Apple iPod, a 30GB internal disk drive should be enough.
Optical disk CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive (burns CDs, reads DVDs). I recommend a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive because it is fun to watch a DVD on your laptop when the airline movie is horrible. CD-RW (Compact Disk Read/Write) drives are very convenient for making backups of your data and for exchanging files with others. There is even a CD burning wizard built in to Windows XP to make the process of making your own CDs easy. Also, the cost savings in getting a CD-only drive is very small, so get the CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive.
Operating system Windows XP Home. The big difference between Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional is the capability to log in to a Windows domain. XP Home can't, XP Professional can. This is of concern to you only if you want to use your laptop in an office environment where the network administrator uses a Windows domain server to enforce security policies. The average user at home or school will be very happy with Windows XP Home.
Productivity suite Microsoft Office Basic (Word, Excel, Outlook). Microsoft Office Basic is the minimum recommended because some day someone will send you a Word or Excel document and expect you to be able to open it. The software that comes installed on your laptop is highly discounted, so there is no cheaper way to get Microsoft Office. Instead, you can get other flavors of Microsoft Office that contain additional applications such as PowerPoint for presentation graphics. Feel free to pay more to get these other applications if you think you will use them. You will never have a cheaper opportunity.
One item not in this list (because it is not consistently offered) is a high-capacity battery. Some laptop models have them, some don t. High-capacity batteries mean your laptop runs longer on a charge. And because laptop batteries degrade over time (fact of life, a laptop battery is considered a consumable) you will probably be able to go a year or two longer before you need to replace it if you get the high-capacity battery. This option can add as much as $130 to the purchase price but will give you many more hours to linger over a mocha at Starbucks instead of looking for tables near power outlets to plug in your charger.