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Obviously, the hardware is the most important aspect when surveying a laptop to buy. You want to make sure the machine is going to do what you want it to. At the same time, purchasing a computer more powerful than you need will mean you’re spending extra money for capabilities you’ll never fully utilise. Getting the right balance is the key to getting a machine that both does what you want and doesn’t make a dent in your bank account!Processor
The processor is the heart of a machine, so it’s a good idea to look into the options you have. Of course, they come with their own confusing names, so it’s tricky for someone new to the market to identify what each processor means. Let’s break down each processor and what each one means in terms in performance.Single Core
You’ll find that some laptops will have a single processor core in them, such as an “Intel Celeron” or “Pentium” processor. As far as speed goes, single cores aren’t great! Compared to its brothers, a single core processor will take a while to load software and process tasks. However, single core laptops will be very cheap to purchase, so if you just need something to process word documents or show presentations on the go, single core should be fine. Anything more than simple work use may tax it, however!Dual Core
Some laptops will come with two cores within them, or as it’s known in the IT world, “Dual Core.” These include processors from the “Intel Core i3” range. Dual core processors are a solid workhorse for everyday activities, from web browsing to even less-intensive games. If you’re not going to be taxing your processor all the time, a dual core is a solid choice for a somewhat speedy processor without breaking the bank.Quad Core
Quad core processors, however, are four processor cores bundled together, and you’ll see these in processors such as the ones in the “Intel Core i5” and “i7” ranges.
Higher up the scale, such as the i7, are processors ideal for very intensive activities that max out the processor for long periods of time. Activities such as video rendering, complex 3D work, or even something like Folding@Home, will benefit the most from an i7. While a very powerful processor will easily handle any loading tasks you give it, it might end up being too much rather than too little! Consider if you’ll really get the most out of something like an i7 before buying one.What about “GHz?”
You’ll notice that processors also report a statistic in “GHz.” This stands for “gigahertz” and represents the speed of a processor. The higher the number, the faster the processor. One thing to remember, however: the GHz stated is usually the speed of one core. A 3GHz dual core processor (3+3=6) will be slower than a 2.8GHz quad core (2.8+2.8+2.8+2.8=11.2).How do you check the cores?
If it’s not immediately obvious how many cores a processor has, you can visit the manufacturer’s page for that specific processor, and it should tell you its speed as well as the amount of cores it has.What about “Core2” technology?
In some laptops, especially older ones, you’ll find that there are Intel processors that use “Core2” technology, such as Core2 Duo and Core2 Quad. You’ll also notice they’re cheap dual/quad core processors. So, do they offer i5/i7 for cheap? Not quite! They’re an older series of dual/quad processors, so they’re not as powerful as the i-series. You may find a powerful Core2 Quad can give a low-range i3 a run for its money, but anything higher will leave these older processors in the dust.RAM
RAM can be quite cryptic, as it’s not very obvious how RAM affects system performance. Usually, the more the merrier, but how much should you be looking at in your laptop?
2GB RAM can be found on most budget laptops. With 2GB, you can definitely load office software and browse the Web without too much hassle. You may notice things get a little slow at times, however. If you can afford more, 4GB of RAM is highly recommended over 2GB. For those without the money to spend, 2GB should be okay, as long as you don’t open too many applications.
4GB RAM is a good amount to buy. It suits a lot of use cases, and you won’t notice many (if any) problems with 4GB RAM. Some more system-intensive tasks will require more RAM, but if you’re not pushing your system to its limits, you shouldn’t find much issue with 4GB.
6GB or above RAM can be a bit of an overkill for some users. At the same time, however, laptops with this much RAM sometimes aren’t too expensive. Some modern games require this amount of RAM, so if you intend to do heavy gaming, 6GB+ is a safe investment, especially given how much of a pain it can be to upgrade a laptop’s RAM!Video Card
Video cards are another confusing case for newcomers. Basically, a video card is an independent piece of hardware that handles rendering graphics. This can be from watching videos on YouTube to drawing high quality 3D models in a videogame. So, which one is right for you?
Integrated is a little confusing, as it means the laptop doesn’t have an independent video card. What it means is that the processor in the laptop also handles the graphical output of the machine. As you can imagine, it’s not ideal for really intensive graphical applications. If the most graphically-intense software you open is a word processor, however, you won’t need a dependent video card at all! An integrated graphics card should suit fine.
A Video Card Less Than 1GB means the laptop has its own dependent card. This will be useful if you want to watch high quality movies or play some low-spec videogames on your laptop.
A Video Card Greater to or Equal Than 1GB is for when you really mean business with your graphical output! If you’re looking to play games or do 3D modelling, anything short of 1GB can really harm your experience. Check for laptops with higher-end cards and read reviews and consume websites to ensure it’s the one you want.On Spec
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding on what each component of a laptop means and can buy the machine that does what you want the best. What do you need most out of a laptop? Let us know below.
Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.
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