Laptop buying guide

Things you need to consider


  1. What's your budget?
  2. What are you going to use it for? Word? Internet? MSN? Gaming?
  3. Do you need to use any specialised software? Maya (3D Animation)? CAD (2D/3D Design)?
  4. Do you want a netbook(<11'), ultraportable(<14') or a laptop(>15')?

A netbook is designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet. Primarily designed for web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks typically run on Windows XP, Windows 7 or Linux, rather than more resource-intensive operating systems like Windows Vista. Netbooks generally do NOT have a CD/DVD drive inbuilt. 

Netbook specifications do not vary much, the standard is roughly an Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD and a 10.1" screen. The main thing you should look at is probably the battery life.



Ideal laptop spec for an all round performance with Windows 7 I suggest:

(This doesn't apply for netbooks because most of them are single core just now. They have their own processor: Intel Atom, they are designed for maximum portability and low processing power, which increases the battery life).

  • Processor
AMD Fusion / Intel Core i3/5/7 - When looking at processors, we should not just look at processor speed, but the number of cores it has and the size of it's cache memory. The new Intel Core i3/5/7 range are a popular choice of processors. The Intel Core i3 range starts at around £370. AMD still remain as the budget choice of processor, starting from as low as £300. Some Intel Core i7 processors start at <1.8GHz, but that doesn't mean it's bad, it features turbo boost technology which you can read about under Technical Jargon near the bottom of this article. You can tell what generation an Intel processor is by looking at its first number, for example being an i5 3251 being a 3rd generation and therefore the latest in the i5 range.
  • RAM
At least 3GB DDR3 RAM - The minimum RAM requirement for 32bit Windows 7 is 1GB, and for 64bit Windows 7, it is 2GB minimum. For more info about Windows 7, clicky. The standard operating system (OS) is 32bit, which means the OS will not use up the full 4GB RAM as you have to consider that there are other hardware memory like the graphics card.
  • Wireless B/G/N
  • 802.11b - 11Mb/s data transmission, uses WEP & WPA security.
  • 802.11g - up to 54Mb/s data transmission, uses WEP & WPA security.
  • 802.11n - The newest IEEE standard in the Wi-Fi category. It improves on 802.11g in the amount of bandwidth supported by utilising multiple wireless signals and antennas (MIMO technology) instead of one. Wireless-N cards have peak data rates from 150Mb/s to 300Mb/s when used with Wireless-N routers.
  • 802.11g is the most common wireless standard. The benefits of N is not utilised without the proper equipment e.g. wireless N Router and wireless N capatible USB adapter.
  • GPU (Graphics)
Gamers will want to look for dedicated GPU rather than integrated chipsets like Intel Graphic Media Accelerator (GMA) which are low in power consumption, overall laptop cost and noise. Integrated solutions will share the main system's RAM, hence why it is better to have dedicated video RAM (VRAM). Gamers should aim for an ATi Mobility Radeon HD4000 or 5000 series. or Nvidia GeForce 100M or 200M series GPUs.


More Info/Resources

Other Sites To Get Laptops

  1. Amazon UK
  2. Dabs
  3. CCL Online
  4. HP UK
  5. Dell UK
  6. Laptops Direct
  7. eBuyer

Laptop Review Sites

  1. TrustedReviews
  2. Notebook Review
  3. What Laptop
  4. CNET

Student Software

  • If you need Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) and you are a student then look here. There are also other software including:
  • Kaspersky antivirus
  • Adobe CS4 and CS5
  • Microsoft Expression
  • Music software
  • Students can get Microsoft Office cheap from Ultimate Steal too.
  • Computer Science students should visit Microsoft Dreamspark for professional developer software such as Visual Studio and SQL Server. It's all free, however it is available to everyone.
  • Computing and Engineering students can get access to MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDNAA) from their university (Some universities may not be part of the programme). School Search. You should contact the head of your department for login and passwords for MSDNAA.


Technical Jargon


  • Benchmarks
The processor model names no longer correspond to specific technical features like the number of cores. Instead, the range is now divided into low-level (i3), mid-range (i5), high-end (i7). If you want to compare processor performance, then benchmarks are the way to go.
They are all still dual core processors except the i7-720QM and i7-820QM which are quad core.
  • Intel Hyper-Threading Technology allows you to run demanding desktop applications simultaneously while maintaining system responsiveness. For example, Intel Hyper-Threading Technology helps multimedia enthusiasts create, edit and encode graphically intensive files while running background applications, such as virus protection software, without compromise to performance.
  • Intel Turbo Boost Technology dynamically redirects power and accelerates performance to match your workload. Previously, unused portions of the chip would be “turned off,” leaving some cores idle. Intel Turbo Boost Technology reroutes that unused performance to the cores that are active, boosting their performance without wasting power. As a result, you automatically get extra performance whenever you need it, and increased energy efficiency when you don’t.
  • Processor Die Size refers a small block of semiconducting material on which a circuit is constructed on. The transistors on Intel’s latest processors are just 32nm wide, while our previous generation processors are built on 45nm and 65nm architectures. This allows transistors to be packed more densely, leak less energy, produce less heat which leads to processors that run faster and are more energy-efficient.
  • Cache is a fast storage area where the processor places frequently accessed data. Smart Cache is Intel’s performance-maximised data storage. It allows each processor core to dynamically utilize up to 100% of available cache and obtain data from the cache at higher throughput rates. By keeping more data closer to the processor for fast execution, overall performance is improved. This is of particular benefit when running rich media titles and games, as well as everyday productivity applications.


  • What's the difference between different DDR2 RAM? (Source)
PC2-4200 (DDR2-533), PC2-5300 (DDR2-667), PC2-6400 (DDR2-800), and PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066) memory are all types of Double Data Rate, second-generation SDRAM, usually referred to as DDR2. The varying numbers refer to the different speeds of memory your computer was designed for.
Let's take a look at PC2-4200 (DDR2-533) to break it down simply.
PC2-4200 (DDR2-533) refers to the bandwidth of the memory. A PC2-4200 module has the bandwidth of 4.2 GB/sec; therefore, it is referred to as PC2-4200. DDR2-533 refers to the effective front-side bus speed of your system. While your DDR2 system or motherboard may operate a 266MHz front-side bus, its effective front-side bus speed is 533MHz because DDR2 effectively doubles the amount of data transferred per cycle that a non-DDR2 system would.
The same holds true for PC2-5300 (DDR2-667), which has a bandwidth of 5.3GB/sec and is designed for use in systems and motherboards that require a 333MHz front-side bus, with an effective front-side bus speed of 667MHz. And the same holds true for PC2-6400 (DDR2-800), which has a bandwidth of 6.4GB/sec and is designed for use in systems and motherboards that require a 400MHz front-side bus, with an effective front-side bus speed of 800MHz.
The primary benefit of DDR3 is the ability to transfer at twice the data rate of DDR2 (I/O at 8× the data rate of the memory cells it contains), thus enabling higher bus rates and higher peak rates than earlier memory technologies. In addition, the DDR3 standard allows for chip capacities of 512 megabits to 8 gigabits, effectively enabling a maximum memory module size of 16 gigabytes.


  • WEP (Avoid)
WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy which was designed to provide wireless users with a level of security equivalent to that achievable on a wired network. WEP uses secret keys to encrypt data. Wikipedia: WEP
In 2001, several serious weaknesses were identified by cryptanalysts with the result that today a WEP connection can be cracked with readily available software within minutes. Source.
  • WPA
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is a security standard for users of a wireless connection. It is an improvement on and is expected to replace the original Wi-Fi security standard, WEP. WPA provides more sophisticated data encryption and user authentication than WEP such as TKIP and EAP.