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What to look for when buying a Laptop/Notebook:

Display:

Size, resolution, colour depth and display technology are the four most important aspects of a laptop screen.

The LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panels used in notebooks are very different from desktop screens. They are more expensive to manufacture, and this is one reason why laptops cost more than desktop PCs. Screens range in size from 6.7” to 15.0” (measured diagonally). The unusual measurements are because the panels are cut from larger sheets. Buy the largest screen you can afford to avoid eyestrain you also have the option of connecting to an external monitor. The type of screen is also important Passive (DSTN) or Active (TFT).

TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screens are brighter but more expensive they are better for multimedia or presentations as they allow for a wider viewing angle and update quickly. DSTN Dual-Scan Super-Twisted Nematic) screens are excellent for general use and also use less power. The resolution and colour depth are not related to passive or active technology.

Processor:

This differs from the processor found in desktop PCs as excessive power consumption and overheating have to be overcome.

The speed of the processor (measured in MHz or GHz) is not the only factor influencing the speed of the computer. Two other important considerations are RAM (Random Access Memory) and architecture. This refers to the method of transfer of data (bus). Most notebooks are now PCI (Peripheral Component Interface) local bus architecture - either 32 bit or 64 bit. A PCI bus provides a high-bandwidth data channel between motherboard components such as the processor and devices such as hard drives and video cards.

Current processors are Intel Centrino Duo Mobile Technology (Intel Core 2 Duo Processor) Intel’s Centrino, Celeron, Celeron M, Pemtium M or Pentium IV or the equivalent from manufacturers such as AMD.

Storage:

Laptop hard drives are normally 2.5” and are more expensive than the drives in desk-top PCs.

Hard drive capacity in notebooks varies between a minimum of 60 GB in entry-level notebooks to 1000 GB in top-of the-range machines. Get the largest hard drive possible as modern applications and multimedia use up large amounts of space.

A stiffy drive (1.44 MB) is usually standard on a laptop some laptops have a multi-purpose bay which allows the stiffy drive to be swapped with a CD-ROM drive, hard drive or even a second battery. If you need extra storage space you can connect an external hard drive with a parallel port or PCMCIA casing, or use an Iomega Zip or Jaz Drive which allow back-up of large amounts of data.

Power Management:

If you are on the road a lot it is important look at the type of battery and power management features of the notebook you are buying.

Lithium Ion batteries are being used by many manufacturers now in place of Nickel Metal Hydride they give longer life, are lighter and take less time to charge. Notebooks use a variety of power-management tools some allow running in power-save mode which is slower but gets the most out of the battery.

Microsoft Windows operating systems have the option of a suspend mode which turns off the power but allows you to go straight into the last application you were working on without having to reboot the machine. Many laptops allow you to monitor the battery life. They also can be put into hibernation mode which uses very little power and lets you go straight to the file you were previously working on.

The type of software and use of devices such as CD-ROM drives also affects battery life.

Three types of technologies have been used in laptops NiCad, NiMH and Li-ion. Research into Lithium-based batteries began in 1912 but commercially-viable rechargeable ones only came into production in the 1980s. Lithium is the lightest of all metals and has the greatest electrochemical potential. Lithium batteries have a high cell voltage (about 3.6V per cell) a large energy capacity resulting in high energy density in a small light battery. Li-ion batteries are very stable they use an oxide of lithium such as lithium-cobalt dioxide for the cathode and a carbon compound for the anode. Overcharging can convert the lithium oxide to metallic lithium with the danger of explosion. Manufacturers have therefore designed intelligent batteries that have simple sensors and electronics to monitor cell voltage, temperature and charge or discharge current so damage can be avoided either by temporary shutdown (which can be reset by removing and re-installing the battery) or by a permanent fuse that renders the battery useless. Intelligent batteries can normally only be charged from inside the notebook. Most manufacturers warn of using in excess of 60 C.Li-ion batteries should be stored charged. If stored for over three months with a cell voltage of less than 2.5V, unrecoverable battery loss will occur. Leakage and corrosion are also mor likely to occur. Some Li-ion batteries wont allow a recharge if individual cell voltages fall below 2.5V because at this point cells will have chemically altered and recharging could be hazardous.Li-ion batteries are best stored at 70% 90% of full capacity.All rechargeable batteries self-discharge when stored or not used. Li-Ion self-discharge by 3-5% in the first 30 days and than by 1% - 2% per month. With intelligent batteries the control circuits can consume 3% per month so a 90% charged Li-ion battery can be stored for about 18 months before falling below the minimum charge limit. Shorting, piercing, crushing or applying reverse current or heating can cause very high temperatures or explosion.

Memory:

128 MB RAM has now become the entry-level standard increasing the amount of memory is usually the simplest and least expensive way to speed up your notebook’s performance the current range of laptops can be upgraded to at least 256 MB up to 512 MB or even more.

Pointing Devices:

Notebooks come with a variety of devices to control the screen pointer they act like a built-in mouse.

The trackpad is an electromagnetically - sensitive area below the keyboard, the trackpoint is a small button in the middle of the keyboard. Some notebooks (for example certain Dell and Compaq models) allow you to swap the trackpad for a trackball which is preferred by some people.

Don’t forget that you can also connect an external mouse if you can’t come to terms with the one on your notebook!

Multimedia:

Except for the ultra-portables, all the laptops we sell either include a CD-ROM drive or have the option of adding one later. Some have a TV-Out port which allows connection to TV set this is useful to someone doing presentations. In addition to the small built-in computer speaker, multimedia laptops have speakers that allow playback of CDs some have the option of connecting external speakers or microphone. The sound system should be Sound Blaster compatible. Zoomed Video Port (ZVP) Speeds up multimedia presentation by accepting MPEG, TV, and video-conferencing Speakers and Microphone High-end should have stereo speakers for top sound (through the notebook’s internal wavetable audio) and a full-duplex microphone so that it can be used as a speaker phone while on the road.

Expansion:

A notebook has a range of connection devices, or ports, that allows you to connect to external devices such as printers, modems, monitors and back-up devices, for example. These are also known as I/O (input / output) interfaces.

Standard ports found at the back of the notebook include an external VGA port, serial port, parallel port and docking station port. These can greatly enhance the usability of your notebook. Notebook manufacturers face a dilemma as to which ports to include in their design.

A parallel port is big (using a 25-pin connector) and slow (only 150Kbps) but can transfer several bits of data concurrently which makes it suitable for a printer or external storage device such as a Zip drive which require higher data throughput than a keyboard, for example.

A serial port on the other hand transfers data one bit at a time and has a smaller 9 pin connector (transfer rate of 920Kbps). This is used for peripherals such as modems and mice.The PS/2 port is still included as it gives an optional means of connecting an external keyboard or mouse but as it is slow (9.6Kbps) and has limited use it will probably fall away in time.

A docking station or port replicator (also known as a mini docking station) allows you to connect a full size keyboard, monitor and mouse so that a notebook can be used just like a desktop PC at the home or office. A full docking station offers this facility with even more desktop functionality some come with internal bays for CD-ROM drives, hard drives or network connections.

An InfraRed port is now standard on most laptops this enables you to print or transfer files without the need for cables. Designed by the Infra Red Data Association (IrDA) it works like a TV remote control and can help reduce the number of cables coming from the laptop. It can be difficult to set up and devices being linked must be close together with nothing blocking the path of the delicate IR waves. As it has a slow transfer rate of 115Kbps

PCMCIA: One of the great successes in portable computing has been the development of PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) technology. The term PC Card is now commonly used. Using a credit-card size device, this allows you to connect your laptop to a phone line, network or mobile phone.

Some cards have dual functions allowing modem and network connection, for example.

As it has a maximum throughput of 20Mbps and great flexibility, more peripherals are being designed with PC Card connections. These include external stiffy drives, CD-ROM drives and digital cameras.

As there is very little difference in performance between a built-in modem and a PC Card modem, most PC manufacturers will probably opt for the PC card as this allows greater flexibility.

Most laptops have two type II slots and one type III slot.

Type II cards are up to 5.5 mm thick and are usually modems and network cards.

Type III cards are up to 10.5 mm thick and are mostly hard disks.

Some expansion bases also have PC card slots. Different brands of laptops can generally support their own range of PC cards and those of independent manufacturers. Microsoft Windows operating systems recognizes the PC card when it is installed for the first time, automatically makes the necessary settings and installs the correct drivers. The PC card also comes with drivers on disk if they are needed. Whenever the card is subsequently inserted, Microsoft Windows automatically remembers the correct settings. When you wish to remove the card, click the PC card icon on the taskbar on the bottom of the screen to stop the card - you are then prompted to remove the card.

Card Bus: This allows access to Fast Ethernet and high-speed SCSI via a 32-bit PC card. The Card Bus standard provides higher levels of performance than the 16-bit PC Card standard. As a comparison, 32-bit Card Bus cards are able to take advantage of internal bus speeds that can be as much as four to six times faster than 16-bit PC Cards. Since Card Bus performance attains the same high level as the host platform’s internal (PCI) system bus, it is an ideal way to add 100 Mbps LAN, SCSI II, video conferencing and other high-performance capabilities to the notebook form factor. In addition, Card Bus PC Cards operate at a power-saving 3.3 volts extending battery life in most configurations.

USB (Universal serial Bus) : This is now being included on all laptops. It allows one standard connection instead of different plugs for serial, parallel and video. USB is a peripheral bus specification developed by major PC and Telecom systems manufacturers to provide computer peripherals with true plug and play capability, eliminating the need for special cards to be installed and systems to be configured. USB laptops allow computer peripherals to be automatically configured as soon as they are installed without the need to reboot or use setup utilities.

Modems:

A modem converts a computer’s digital pulses into analog audio frequencies for transmission over phone lines. With the increasingly common digital telephone system, it is now possible to get faster speeds than the previous highest of 33,6 Kb per second. There are a lot of factors which affect speed of modems even with a 56k modem you will not be sure of being able to get this speed all the time.

GSM PC Cards: These connect a cell phone to the laptop via the PCMCIA slot. The Option Card is available for all the most popular makes of phone and comes in GSM-only or GSM and modem configurations.

Xircom modem cards can be upgraded to connect to most makes of cellular phone.

The Nokia phone card fits into one of the PC slots and operates as a built-in cellular phone by using the speakers and microphone on the laptop true wireless communication is possible.

ISDN PC Cards: Connect at 128 Kbps on an ISDN line from home or at a remote work site. The TDK combo ISDN / Modem / GSM PC Card also allows connection at 33,6 Kbps on any phone line where ISDN is not available and up to 9600 bps with a GSM connection to a cellular phone.

ADSL: Connect at 512 kbps on an dedicated telephone line from home or work. ADSL gives you access to the internet 24 hours 7 days a week.

Wireless PC Cards: Now with your laptop you can be even more mobile by accessing the internet from almost anywhere in the world. By signing a contract with one of the wireless internet companies you will get a PC Card that will give you internet 24 hours 7 days a week.

External Storage:

The Iomega CD Writer and Harddrive are external storage devices that also work like a internal hard drive. These connect to the laptop via the USB or Firewire port.

Modem Travelkits:

These combine international telephone adapters for use when travelling abroad.

Power Connector Kits:

These have twelve power plugs with the same universal socket to accommodate any plug in the world.