Purchasing a notebook computer can be a difficult experience. It requires that you not only accurately assess your current needs, but also what your needs will be in a few years. In our opinion, your current needs trump those of your future self, and by knowing the ins and outs of today’s technology, you’re more likely to be satisfied with your purchase – and better off in the future. Let’s run down the important aspects of today’s laptop.
In our opinion this is the single most important specification to take into consideration. It has a ripple effect on every other aspect of a notebook, including its size, weight, and battery life. Ultimately, it goes to the very core of the notebook’s purpose in life. Screen sizes can range in size from 5 inches in your ultra-portable or ultra-mobile personal computer system, up to 17 inches. The larger the screen size, the larger (and thus heavier) the system will be.
If you have ever traveled with a notebook, you know how a heavy notebook can be a pain. Thus, if you are going to be moving the notebook around a lot, you want an ultra-portable, which typically have screen sizes of either 12.1 inches or 13.3 inches and weigh 3 pounds or less, give or take a pound. Notable standouts include the new Macbook Air, Dell XPS 1330, HP 2510p and the Lenovo Thinkpad X series.
If you might take your notebook with you occasionally, but will most likely keep it on your desk and plugged in most of the time, your best bet is a mid-size 15.4-inch notebook. These notebooks are middle-of-the-road in every regard, including price, weight, battery life, and performance. There isn’t a particular stand-out model, as every vendor makes a 15.4 inch notebook.
Ah yes, the Ferraris of notebooks: just as expensive and about as practical. Desktop replacement notebooks ignore all the typical considerations for a notebook including size, weight, battery life, cost, thermal output, and portability. While these notebooks offer performance similar to – and possibly even better than – a decent desktop, they are heavy, run super hot, and have a poor battery life. These notebooks have massive screens that are either 17 inches, or in some cases 19 or 20 inches. It should be noted that the term "desktop replacement" is not synonymous with “gaming notebook,” though desktop replacements typically have far greater gaming power than smaller notebooks. Notable offerings in this category include the Alienware Area-51 m-9750, Gateway’s P-171XL FX and the HP HDX and Dell’s XPS 1730.
The majority of today’s notebooks include a widescreen display that has an aspect ratio of 16:10 – like a movie screen. This is notably different from the older 4:3 ratio that was square, like an old TV set. Though it’s up to you to decide which format you prefer, the standard aspect ratio notebooks are becoming more difficult to find due to the benefits of a widescreen display. Not only are widescreen displays better for watching movies, they allow manufacturers to increase screen real estate by just making the notebook a smidge wider rather than taller, which is preferable to most people.