As the world becomes more and more interconnected thanks to technology, the quality of said technology becomes more and more important. Doubly so, considering how the majority of us now have to conduct our business online, whether we want to or not—so making sure that your packing top of the line hardware, or solid budget-ware, is vital.
The problem, not all of us are tech nerds who sit around all day looking at specs and numbers. Whenever I listen to a laptop reviewer spew out a bunch of numbers and barcodes, then squeal in delight about them, my ears do the auditory equivalent of “glazing over” (unlike when I hear about an online casino South Africa– now THAT’S worth listening to!)
So allow me to break down all the various bits and bobs that reviewers and websites drool over so that you can be an informed consumer.
This… basically doesn’t matter.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and it’s certainly true for laptops too. Lots of reviewers gush over minimalist designs and ultraslim aesthetics, although I personally prefer my laptops to have some heft to them. Too thin, and they begin to feel cheap and fragile. I’ve never liked Apple products for that reason (and several others).
However, to each his own.
She’ll tell you that size doesn’t matter, but it’s a lie—especially screen size.
The amount of screen space you want will vary wildly from person to person. Some prefer the smaller screen sizes (which usually means a smaller laptop overall). The standard size for laptop screens is around 13 inches (about 33 centimeters)- which is the measurement of the screen’s diagonal, by the way!
13 Inches and under is the way to go if you want portability. 13 Inches will fit into just about every backpack and even some generously large handbags. Unless you have one of those useless, tiny designer backpacks, you’ll be able to carry a 13-inch laptop just about everywhere and not even notice the weight.
14 Inches and up is where you get into the more powerful laptop territories. The bigger the laptop, the more powerful hardware you can jam inside. You can get extremely light 15 inch laptops if you want a bigger display but still want portability. However, the bigger it is, the harder it’s going to be to jam it into a backpack full of, say, school books.
Now it’s important to differentiate between screen size and screen resolution. Size is the physical girth of the screen. The resolution is how many pixels are crammed onto it. 4K, meaning four thousand by four thousand pixels, is the gold standard. The more pixels, the higher resolution images you can display.
However, there are some tradeoffs.
First, higher resolution monitors drain the battery a lot faster. A 4k monitor display can easily shave off a good couple of hours of battery life compared to an identical laptop with a 1080 monitor.
Second, the price will drain your wallet just as fast. Higher resolution monitors tend to be extremely pricey and can easily jack up the price of a laptop from hundreds of dollars to well over a thousand.
Now, when I started looking for an upgrade to my current laptop, reviewers throw out sentences like, “This laptop’s screen can emit 350 nits,” and I sat there and thought to myself, what the heck are NITS?!
As it turns out, nits are a unit of brightness (I guess). 1 Nit equals the light of one candle per square meter. So that’s kind of cool. For reference, most laptops and phones output between two hundred and three hundred nits of light. If you want to use your laptop outside, you might have a hard time seeing the screen unless you have more Nits of output.
From what I know, above five hundred Nits is supposed to be really good, but unless you expect to be using your laptop outside often, or else just want that extra level of pop, you don’t really need to care how many Nits the screen outputs.
The quality of keyboards is something that’s hard to explain, but you immediately notice once you start using one. Nothing really beats all the quality and size of external keyboards, but where laptops might lack in quality, they make up for in variety.
The first thing you should probably worry about is whether or not the keys you want are actually present on the keyboard. For instance, on 13″ laptops, the Numpad is often removed entirely to save space. I personally like having it, and if you do too, then make sure that you don’t get a model without one.
Then there are smaller things, like the placement of the home and end key, which is placed in a spot where it’s too easy to accidentally press them you could end getting very frustrated.
Some reviewers I’ve watched comment on the Right Shift Key being too small. I almost never use the Right Shift Key, and so do most people (I think?). But every keyboard has one, and if it’s something you care about, check that the laptop doesn’t do anything too weird with it.
More importantly, is the ergonomics of the keyboard. Most laptops have space on either side of the trackpad where you can put your wrists and / or the palms of your hands while typing. However, some laptops, like the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo, gives up this space in favor of a second screen. I have never used such a laptop (the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo is $3000), and most laptops don’t do this, but some do so watch out for it.
There is also “Finger Travel”, which is just how far you have to move each finger in order to reach the desired key. The laptop’s size is usually the biggest factor for this, but laptops sometimes compensate by changing the spacing between the keys. This is something that you just have to get used to when picking up a new laptop, but if you have particularly small or large hands, this might be something to think about.
You know what a battery is. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory as to what it is, but there are some things you should look out for when getting one in a laptop (or any gadget, really).
First of all, the battery life is a complete lie. The tests done to determine battery life probably just have the computer idle with the brightness turned all the way down while a virgin princess massage it and feeds it grapes. Basically, you will almost never get the battery life that the company markets the laptop as having.
However, there are absolutely some laptops that will drain faster than others, and bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. A marginally bigger battery won’t help much when it’s powering a 4k screen, running Triple A video games, cad rendering software, and your Spotify playlist.
Besides, the battery life probably only really matters if you plan on being more portable with the device. The smaller laptops, while having less juice overall, won’t drain anywhere near as much so long as you don’t try to run Crysis.
This is the tradeoff when it comes to laptops. More power means less battery life. You should think about which are you going to need more?
Processors are probably one of the hardest things to wrap your heads around when trying to understand computer specs. These processors are incredibly important, but trying to determine why and, more importantly, which ones are better is infuriatingly obtuse.
The two powerhouses of this industry are Intel and AMD. Every year they drop new chips and cores that are titled like gosh darn barcodes. Or else someone fell asleep on the keyboard. Well, I have cracked the code of Intel’s processors! Here’s how it works:
Intel processors are often named something like “Intel Core i7-8565U”.
It’s actually kind of convenient in a way, but let’s break it down.
- “Intel Core” is just the brand name.
- I7 is what Intel calls a “Brand Modifier”. It’s the same of a specific series of processors. The higher, the better.
- The first one or two digits after the Brand Modifier (8, in the above example) represents processors generation. The 8 in the example means that the processor is part of the eighth generation. Currently, Intel have up to eleven generations of processors.
- The number after the generation number is the Processor’s SKU number. It’s basically the processor’s ID within a generation. The bigger, the better, within a generation, but you typically don’t need to bother.
- The end suffix, however, is a different matter. This indicates what function the processor is designed for. Processors can be optimized for different use-cases. The U in the example means that it’s “Mobile Power Efficient”. It’s designed for mobile and designed to save battery, rather than be faster. There’s a list on Intel’s website if you want to see all the available options.
These days, storage space is growing exponentially bigger every year (I wish it did in real life- maybe my house wouldn’t be so messy). Many laptops come with terabyte hard drives, which is a huge amount of space.
It might even be overkill for what you need, so unless you plan on using all that space (for instance, if you want to do video editing with lots of high-resolution footage), then you can get lower prices for half-terabyte hard drives or even 256 Gigabyte hard drives.
What REALLY makes a difference is whether or not the hard drive is HDD (Hard Disk Drive) or SSD (Solid State Drive). Always go for the SSD. It’s SO much faster, and not just for retrieving files.
Your computer will boot faster because it’s loading the operating system off of the drive. This is something you shouldn’t compromise on unless you’re really on a tight budget. It’s THAT better.
The other big number that gets tossed around a lot is RAM, which is short for Random Access Memory. It’s basically the computer’s short term memory, and the computer uses RAM to do all of its most immediate thinking. The more RAM, the better.
Fun Fact: NASA went to the moon using computers that only had 4 Kilobytes of RAM. The laptop I’m writing this on has 4 GIGAbytes of RAM. Your cellphone probably has at least 8 gigabytes of RAM these days. Computers and laptops have 4, 8, 12, 16, or even 32 Gigabytes of RAM.
So, which is right for you?
Well, the rule of thumb is that more RAM is better. It’s just more processing power your computer will have, which determines how many chrome tabs you can open, what games you can play, etcetera. However, most games will run pretty well on twelve gigs of RAM. A lot of games will run on eight if you turn down the graphics settings. Four Gigabytes of RAM will struggle with 3D games, even with the graphics turned down.
So what’s right for you? Well, it depends. Do you plan on doing a lot of gaming? 3D rendering? Video editing? Are you the kind of person who leaves a hundred and fifty different chrome tabs open and never closes them? If yes, then you might want to fork out for more RAM. However, if you’re just looking for something to take notes in class, then four gigabytes of RAM will more than cover all of your needs.