Buyers have a wider choice of Windows notebook brands, models and form factors to choose between than ever before.
By George Moss, business unit manager: Dell CSG at Tarsus Distribution
Selecting the right machine for your needs is no longer as simple as choosing the best-spec’d (read: the most expensive) laptop or notebook you can afford from one of the leading PC brands.
With models designed to meet different requirements such as gaming, ultra-mobility, desktop replacement and reliable business performance, you need to evaluate how the different options map to your needs. This usually involves making some trade-offs: for example, between screen size and compactness, or between performance and mobility.
Here are few factors to consider when considering a new Windows notebook:
One of the first questions to ask yourself is how much you will move around with your notebook. Do you spend your life on the road, dragging your computer from meeting to meeting? Or do you spend most of your time in an office, perhaps taking your notebook home with you in the evening, or packing it in your briefcase for the occasional business trip?
You can get notebooks these days that weigh less than two kilograms, perfect for the road warrior who needs to slip a computer into a briefcase to do some admin on the road or to present to clients.
But these ultralight notebooks will usually not offer the same performance punch as a heavier model, unless you pay a substantial premium for a high-end device, and will have a smaller screen and keyboard–meaning they may be uncomfortable to use if you need to input a lot of data or manage complex documents.
Most notebooks sold in South Africa are the traditional clam design – a screen that folds down on the keyboard. But some vendors also offer two-in-one designs, with a touchscreen that can be detached, or folded back from the keyboard.
That gives you a tablet computer and a notebook in a single machine – which is great if you want to watch movies, work on a drawing, or show a client an interactive demo.
If you spend a lot of your time away from your desk, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not going to run out of juice when you’re not near a power point.
Read online reviews to check that the notebook you’re eyeing has decent battery life. As a rule of thumb, compact notebooks with energy efficient processors and small screens should offer more battery life – as much as eight to 10 hours on a single, full charge. You can expect a bulkier computer with a graphics card, large screen and more powerful processor to offer five or six hours of battery life.
Screen size and quality
Look at both the size and resolution of the screen when choosing your notebook. If you do a lot of detailed work and won’t often connect your notebook to an external display, you might appreciate a 14 or 15-inch screen. On the other hand, if you mostly need your computer to send some emails, connect to a projector when you present and do some basic admin, you might be happy with a display of 12 or 13 inches.
Today’s notebooks usually come with a minimum resolution of 1 366 x 768 pixels – which is perfectly adequate for most purposes. If you’re a gamer, graphic designer or just someone who appreciates crisp visuals, you’ll probably want to opt for a full high definition (1 920 x 1 080) screen – especially if you’re getting a larger screen size.
If you’re a power user with a big budget to blow, you could look at a notebook with a 4K screen–ultrahigh definition with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Not only will this give you sharper visuals for games and movies–provided your computer has the muscle to process 4K graphics and video–it also enables you to work on a bigger canvass and enjoy clearer text and graphics in your business applications.
Today’s notebooks usually come equipped either with a traditional hard disk drive or newer technology in form of the solid-state drive (SSD). SSDs are faster, and you’ll feel a definite difference in speed when you’re booting up your PC or working with large files.
But because SSDs are more expensive than hard drives, many notebooks will come with a SSD that will be too small for users who need to store large amounts of data on a local drive.
Hard drives, by contrast, are cheap enough most entry level notebooks will feature at least 500Gb of storage and drives of 1Tb or 2Tb are not uncommon in higher-spec’d machines. If you need to install large game files or keep a lot of multimedia on your PC, you may be better off with a hard drive.
If you’re always online, streaming your media and working from Dropbox, you might be happy with a SSD and an external hard drive for archives and backups.
Some larger notebooks with space in the chassis for two drives may have an SSD and a hard drive – giving you the best of both worlds.
Several components in the notebook will affect the level of performance it offers. Again, there are trade-offs to be made: a more powerful notebook will generally run hotter, offer less battery life and be bulkier than one made with components designed for efficiency rather than speed and performance.
Central processing unit: This is the brain of the computer, generally made by AMD or Intel. The selection ranges from power platforms like Intel’s Xeon, for business workstations or or high-resolution video editing, through to low-power, low heat systems that can run without a fan (like Intel’s M series). Intel Celeron notebooks are common in Africa–this is a low-cost platform with adequate performance for general productivity tools.
RAM: There are still some cheap notebooks on the market with 4GB or less RAM, but these days, you should try and stretch your budget to 8GB or 16GB of memory.
Graphics chip: If you want to play high-definition PC games, create 3D objects or work with high-resolution video, you might want to get a notebook with a discrete graphics processing unit (GPU). But be aware that using the GPU will run down battery life fast, produce heat, and add to the bulk and weight of your notebook. Most mainstream users manage just fine with an integrated graphics chip.
Don’t underestimate the importance of ergonomics and design in your experience with your new computer. Do you like the way the notebook looks? Does the trackpad feel smooth and responsive? Is the keyboard comfortable to use?
Even if your notebook has great specs, you’ll find it hard to be productive if you don’t enjoy the tactile feedback you get from the keyboard and trackpad, or if there isn’t enough space between the keys to type quickly and accurately.
As with most purchasing decisions research should be part of your process. There are a variety of options far larger than could be covered here so speak to your technology partner to see what options suit your business needs.