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Which laptop should I buy? [UPDATED: 7/30/11]

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  • Which laptop should I buy? [UPDATED: 7/30/11]

    Welcome to our new forum dedicated to users that need help or guidance on which laptop would fit their specific needs. Please post here if you need any assistance on which one to choose or what will fit your needs. . Please use the below:

    INSTRUCTIONS: New laptop buyers, please copy and paste the below questions into a new thread with as many answers as you can give, this way others can help you to find a laptop that fits your needs.


    General Questions

    1) What is your budget?

    2) What size notebook would you prefer?
    a. Ultraportable; 12" screen or less
    b. Thin and Light; 13" - 14" screen
    c. Mainstream; 15" - 16" screen
    d. Desktop Replacement; 17"+ screen
    3) What country (and state) are you buying this in?

    4) Are there any brands that you prefer or any you really don't like?

    5) What tasks will you be performing with the notebook?

    6) Will you be taking the notebook with you to different places or leaving it on your desk?

    7) Will you be playing games on it; if so, which games?

    8) How many hours of battery life do you need?

    9) Do you mind buying online without seeing the notebook in person?

    10) Which OS do you prefer?

    Screen Specifics

    11) From the choices below, what screen resolutions would you prefer? (more details below)
    d. WXGA or WXGA+ - 1280x768/800 or 1440x900; Wider viewing version of XGA, good for movie viewing or spreadsheets.
    e. WSXGA+ - 1680x1050; Wider viewing version of SXGA, good for movie viewing or spreadsheets.
    f. WUXGA - 1920x1080; Wider viewing version of UXGA, good for movie viewing or spreadsheets.
    12) Do you want a glossy/reflective screen or a matte/non glossy screen?

    Build Quality and Design

    13) Are the notebook's looks and stylishness important to you?

    14) When are you buying this laptop and how long do you want this laptop to last?

    Notebook Components

    15) How much hard drive space do you want; 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, or 1.5TB?

    16) Would you prefer a SSD Hard Drive? How much space do you want?

    17) Do you need an optical drive? If yes, a CDRW/DVD-ROM, CD/DVD Burner or Blu-Ray drive?

    18) What speed CPU/Processor would you like? Dual core or Quad Core CPU?

    19) Do you use wireless, or do you plan on using it? Do you use Bluetooth, or do you plan on using it?


    Glossy vs. Matte Screen

    Glossy screens have a reflective coating. Colors appear sharper and more vibrant. They do however produce more glare. Some people like them, others do not. The glare problem is most acute in well lit environments, like an office. Glossy screens tend to be better for multimedia uses like viewing DVDs or photos. If you are unfamiliar with the screen types, we would highly recommend you check some of each type out before you buy. The screen is one of the more important parts on a notebook. You do not want to get stuck with something you do not like.

    Screen Sizes and Resolutions

    Notebook screens! Notebooks...have screens. And we usually don't give them too much of a passing thought when we go buying; by and large when I went notebook shopping I just assumed "well, it has one, and it sure looks pretty" and was pretty much done with that.
    The problem is that as consumers we like and want to be informed, and we shouldn't have to default to "oh, well, okay." But the terminology used to describe notebooks is always a bunch of complex crap that, quite frankly, doesn't mean anything to most consumers. I've been working on computers for years and years and "WSXGA+" and "WUXGA" and all that don't make any sense at all. Why can't they just state the actual screen resolution?
    The reality of it is that there are all kinds of minutiae about notebook screens that should be understood, as well as a couple of major things, like dead pixels.
    This guide is here to help make some sense of it all.

    Aspect Ratio and Resolution

    Aspect ratio isn't just "widescreen" and "standard." Where TVs are basically two different sizes, computer screens have been hopelessly convoluted.
    Resolution is the number of pixels (the individual dots that make up the picture) wide the screen is and the number of pixels tall the screen is, and we can get the aspect ratio from this. For example, the average 15" flat-panel screen is 1024x768. That means the picture is 1,024 pixels wide and 768 pixels tall. This screen has an aspect ratio of 4:3. That means that for every four pixels there are horizontally, there are three pixels vertically.
    Your home television and most desktop computer screens are built 4:3.
    Now, of course, this is all great, but notebook manufacturers often don't tell you the screens aspect ratio and seldom list resolution. They usually just say "WUXGA" or something similar. Here's a guide that tells you exactly what each of those abbreviations really means. I've *'ed the odd ones out and will explain them in detail after the chart.
    "Standard" Screens
    Abbreviation / Resolution / Aspect Ratio
    • XGA / 1024x768 / 4:3
    • SXGA / 1280x1024 / 5:4*
    • SXGA+ / 1400x1050 / 4:3
    • UXGA / 1600x1200 / 4:3

    "Widescreen" Screens
    Abbreviation / Resolution / Aspect Ratio
    • WXGA / 1280x768 / 5:3**
    • WXGA / 1280x800 / 8:5 (16:9)***
    • WXGA+ / 1440x900 / 8:5 (16:9)***
    • WSXGA+ / 1680x1050 / 8:5 (16:9)***
    • WUXGA / 1920x1980 / 8:5 (16:9)***

    Yeah, you can see how that could get a little confusing!
    SXGA resolution (1280x1024) is sort of anomalous. For some odd reason, it became very popular, but the aspect ratio is off. The actual proper step up in resolution to maintain the 4:3 ratio is 1280x960, but it's fairly uncommon for people to run screens at that resolution, and notebook screens almost never appear with it.
    The widescreen resolutions are a real chore. They're usually cited as 16:10 to bring them in line with the 16:9 that the home theatre enthusiast is familiar with, but true 16:9 would be 1280x720, and that's a pretty odd resolution. So your DVDs are STILL going to get letterboxed, but it'll be much more negligible.
    Also, one major pain is that ultraportable notebooks will sometimes use a resolution of 1280x768 instead of 1280x800, and that's even weirder. (But it sure looks nice on that tiny screen.)
    Note that any of these screens can scale down in resolution. Because notebook screens have a fixed number of pixels (while desktop CRT monitors do not), pixels are essentially "blended" to achieve the intended resolution. In older screens this tended to look pretty awful, but newer ones blend very well and produce a fairly good picture. Still, it won't look as good as the screen's native resolution. The reason that I mention any of this is because I've seen people ask if their screen can run at a lower resolution, and yes, it can. But you probably won't want to.
    Gamers will actually probably want to stick to lower resolution screens so the games can run at native resolution, while multimedia enthusiasts (digital image manipulation, video editing) will want to get as high a resolution as they can.

    Screen Size

    So now you have the fundamentals for understanding how many pixels are on the screen, but what about the screen size?
    When a manufacturer lists a screen size in inches, it measures that distance from the bottom left corner to the top right corner. So if a screen size is listed as 15.6", it's 15.6" from the bottom left corner to the top right corner.
    Below is a list of the typical screen sizes you can expect to find and the resolutions they routinely appear with. Note that the first one in each list will be by far the most common one.
    Standard Screen Sizes and Typical Resolutions:
    • 14" - XGA
    • 15" - XGA, SXGA+

    Widescreen Screen Sizes and Typical Resolutions:
    • 10.6" - WXGA (1280x768)
    • 12.1" - WXGA (1280x800)
    • 13.3" - WXGA (1280x800)
    • 14.1" - WXGA (1280x800)
    • 15.4" - WXGA (1280x800), WXGA+, WSXGA+
    • 17" - WXGA, WXGA+, WSXGA+, WUXGA

    14.1" seems to be the sweet spot for travel-ready notebooks, while 15.4" is more for notebooks geared for desktop replacement, and 17" is almost strictly desktop replacement. The lower sizes are for ultraportables and thin and lights.

    Widescreen Vs. Standard

    Widescreen is becoming the norm against standard aspect ratio in notebooks, partially because a widescreen will effectively add a lot more reading space to a screen with a minimal amount of increase in size. More than that, widescreen is fairly logical for humans, since our eyes aren't jammed right next to each other.
    If you're going to be a gamer, though, widescreen can become a problem. While many games will run at widescreen resolutions, many won't either. This is one of those things that really just befuddles me, as most gamer boutique notebooks are being made with widescreens these days.
    Last edited by [email protected]; 08-02-2011, 09:58 AM. Reason: Updated screen sizes.
    Justin Nolte
    [email protected]