What you should know before buying a laptop

Product Guide

When it comes to laptops we all want to take our time before taking a decision to make a purchase. We can prove to ourselves that we might be having a limited amount of funds available in our hand. That said we must be careful before taking a decision to make a purchase.

We must get to understand the types of laptops available, if possible compare their prices with other brands, and finally match them with traditional computers. This way we would well understand the decision we are taking before making it.

Types

Since the introduction of portable computers during late 1970s, their form has changed significantly, spawning a variety of visually and technologically differing subclasses. Except where there is a distinct legal trademark around a term (notably Ultrabook), there are rarely hard distinctions between these classes and their usage has varied over time and between different sources. Despite these setbacks, the laptop computer market continues to expand, introducing a number of laptops like Acer’s Aspire and TravelMate, Asus’ Transformer Book, VivoBook and Zenbook, Dell’s Inspiron, Latitude and XPS, HP’s EliteBook, Envy, Pavilion and ProBook, Lenovo’s IdeaPad and ThinkPad and Toshiba’s Portégé, Satellite and Tecra that incorporate the use of laptop computers.

Traditional laptop

The form of the traditional laptop computer is a clamshell, with a screen on one of its inner sides and a keyboard on the opposite, facing the screen. It can be easily folded to conserve space while traveling. The screen and keyboard are inaccessible while closed. Devices of this form are commonly called a ‘traditional laptop’ or notebook, particularly if they have a screen size of 11 to 17 inches measured diagonally and run a full-featured operating system like Windows 10, macOS, or Linux. Traditional laptops are the most common form of laptops, although Chromebooks, Ultrabooks, convertibles and 2-in-1s (described below) are becoming more common, with similar performance being achieved in their more portable or affordable forms.

Subnotebook

Main article: Subnotebook

A subnotebook or an ultraportable, is a laptop designed and marketed with an emphasis on portability (small size, low weight, and often longer battery life). Subnotebooks are usually smaller and lighter than standard laptops, weighing between 0.8 and 2 kg (2-5 lb),[23] with a battery life exceeding 10 hours.[24] Since the introduction of netbooks and ultrabooks, the line between subnotebooks and either category has blurred. Netbooks are a more basic and cheap type of subnotebook, and while some ultrabooks have a screen size too large to qualify as subnotebooks, certain ultrabooks fit in the subnotebook category. One notable example of a subnotebook is the Apple MacBook Air.

Netbook

Main article: Netbook

The netbook was an inexpensive, light-weight, energy-efficient form of laptop, especially suited for wireless communication and Internet access.[25][26] Netbooks first became commercially available around 2008, weighing under 1 kg, with a display size of under 9″. The name netbook (with net short for Internet) is used as “the device excels in web-based computing performance”.[27] Netbooks were initially sold with light-weight variants of the Linux operating system, although later versions often have the Windows XP or Windows 7 operating systems. The term “netbook” is largely obsolete,[28] although machines that would have once been called netbooks—small, inexpensive, and low powered—never ceased being sold, in particular the smaller Chromebook models.

Convertible, hybrid, 2-in-1

Main article: 2-in-1 PC

The latest trend of technological convergence in the portable computer industry spawned a broad range of devices, with a combined features of several previously separate device types. The hybrids, convertibles and 2-in-1s emerged as crossover devices, which share traits of both tablets and laptops. All such devices have a touchscreen display designed to allow users to work in a tablet mode, using either multi-touch gestures or a stylus/digital pen.

Convertibles are devices with the ability to conceal a hardware keyboard. Keyboards on such devices can be flipped, rotated, or slid behind the back of the chassis, thus transforming from a laptop into a tablet. Hybrids have a keyboard detachment mechanism, and due to this feature, all critical components are situated in the part with the display. 2-in-1s can have a hybrid or a convertible form, often dubbed 2-in-1 detachables and 2-in-1 convertibles respectively, but are distinguished by the ability to run a desktop OS, such as Windows 10. 2-in-1s are often marketed as laptop replacement tablets.

2-in-1s are often very thin, around 10 millimetres (0.39 in), and light devices with a long battery life. 2-in-1s are distinguished from mainstream tablets as they feature an x86-architecture CPU (typically a low- or ultra-low-voltage model), such as the Intel Core i5, run a full-featured desktop OS like Windows 10, and have a number of typical laptop I/O ports, such as USB 3 and Mini DisplayPort.

2-in-1s are designed to be used not only as a media consumption device, but also as valid desktop or laptop replacements, due to their ability to run desktop applications, such as Adobe Photoshop. It is possible to connect multiple peripheral devices, such as a mouse, keyboard, and a number of external displays to a modern 2-in-1.

Microsoft Surface Pro-series devices and Surface Book are examples of modern 2-in-1 detachables, whereas Lenovo Yoga-series computers are a variant of 2-in-1 convertibles. While the older Surface RT and Surface 2 have the same chassis design as the Surface Pro, their use of ARM processors and Windows RT do not classify them as 2-in-1s, but as hybrid tablets. Similarly, a number of hybrid laptops run a mobile operating system, such as Android. These include Asus’s Transformer Pad devices, examples of hybrids with a detachable keyboard design, which do not fall in the category of 2-in-1s.

Desktop replacement

Main article: Desktop replacement computer

See also: Gaming computer § Gaming laptop computers

A desktop-replacement laptop is a class of large device which is not intended primarily for mobile use. They are bulkier and not as portable as other laptops, and are intended for use as compact and transportable alternatives to a desktop computer.[29] Desktop replacements are larger and typically heavier than other classes of laptops. They are capable of containing more powerful components and have a 15-inch or larger display.[29] Desktop replacement laptops’ operation time on batteries is typically shorter than other laptops; in rare cases they have no battery at all. In the past, some laptops in this class used a limited range of desktop components to provide better performance for the same price at the expense of battery life, although this practice has largely died out.[30] The names Media Center Laptops and Gaming Laptops are used to describe specialized notebook computers, often overlapping with the desktop replacement form factor.[23]

Rugged laptop

Main article: Rugged computer

A rugged laptop is designed to reliably operate in harsh usage conditions such as strong vibrations, extreme temperatures, and wet or dusty environments. Rugged laptops are usually designed from scratch, rather than adapted from regular consumer laptop models. Rugged laptops are bulkier, heavier, and much more expensive than regular laptops,[31] and thus are seldom seen in regular consumer use.

The design features found in rugged laptops include a rubber sheeting under the keyboard keys, sealed port and connector covers, passive cooling, very bright displays easily readable in daylight, cases and frames made of magnesium alloys that are much stronger than plastics found in commercial laptops, and solid-state storage devices or hard disc drives that are shock mounted to withstand constant vibrations. Rugged laptops are commonly used by public safety services (police, fire, and medical emergency), military, utilities, field service technicians, construction, mining, and oil drilling personnel. Rugged laptops are usually sold to organizations rather than individuals, and are rarely marketed via retail channels.

Business laptop

A business laptop is a laptop designed for those in a workplace. Typically, it is ruggedised, with consumer facing features, like high resolution sound removed to allow the device to be used for pure productivity.

 

 

 

 

Comparison with desktops

Advantages

Portability is usually the first feature mentioned in any comparison of laptops versus desktop PCs.[56] Physical portability allows a laptop to be used in many places—not only at home and at the office, but also during commuting and flights, in coffee shops, in lecture halls and libraries, at clients’ locations or at a meeting room, etc. Within a home, portability enables laptop users to move their device from the living room to the dining room to the family room. Portability offers several distinct advantages:

  • Productivity: Using a laptop in places where a desktop PC cannot be used can help employees and students to increase their productivity on work or school tasks. For example, an office worker reading their work e-mails during an hour-long commute by train, or a student doing their homework at the university coffee shop during a break between lectures.[57]
  • Immediacy: Carrying an laptop means having instant access to information, including personal and work files. This allows better collaboration between coworkers or students, as a laptop can be flipped open to look at a report, document, spreadsheet, or presentation anytime and anywhere.
  • Up-to-date information: If a person has more than one desktop PC, a problem of synchronization arises: changes made on one computer are not automatically propagated to the others. There are ways to resolve this problem, including physical transfer of updated files (using a USB flash memory stick or CD-ROMs) or using synchronization software over the Internet, such as cloud computing. However, transporting a single laptop to both locations avoids the problem entirely, as the files exist in a single location and are always up-to-date.
  • Connectivity: In the 2010s, a proliferation of Wi-Fi wireless networks and cellular broadband data services (HSDPA, EVDO and others) in many urban centers, combined with near-ubiquitous Wi-Fi support by modern laptops[58] meant that a laptop could now have easy Internet and local network connectivity while remaining mobile. Wi-Fi networks and laptop programs are especially widespread at university campuses.[59]

Other advantages of laptops:

  • Size: Laptops are smaller than desktop PCs. This is beneficial when space is at a premium, for example in small apartments and student dorms. When not in use, a laptop can be closed and put away in a desk drawer.
  • Low power consumption: Laptops are several times more power-efficient than desktops. A typical laptop uses 20–120 W, compared to 100–800 W for desktops. This could be particularly beneficial for large businesses, which run hundreds of personal computers thus multiplying the potential savings, and homes where there is a computer running 24/7 (such as a home media server, print server, etc.).
  • Quiet: Laptops are typically much quieter than desktops, due both to the components (quieter, slower 2.5-inch hard drives) and to less heat production leading to use of fewer and slower cooling fans.
  • Battery: a charged laptop can continue to be used in case of a power outage and is not affected by short power interruptions and blackouts. A desktop PC needs an Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to handle short interruptions, blackouts, and spikes; achieving on-battery time of more than 20–30 minutes for a desktop PC requires a large and expensive UPS.[60]
  • All-in-One: designed to be portable, most 2010-era laptops have all components integrated into the chassis (however, some small laptops may not have an internal CD/CDR/DVD drive, so an external drive needs to be used). For desktops (excluding all-in-ones) this is divided into the desktop “tower” (the unit with the CPU, hard drive, power supply, etc.), keyboard, mouse, display screen, and optional peripherals such as speakers.

 

Disadvantages

Compared to desktop PCs, laptops have disadvantages in the following areas:

Performance

While the performance of mainstream desktops and laptop is comparable, and the cost of laptops has fallen less rapidly than desktops, laptops remain more expensive than desktop PCs at the same performance level.[61] The upper limits of performance of laptops remain much lower than the highest-end desktops (especially “workstation class” machines with two processor sockets), and “bleeding-edge” features usually appear first in desktops and only then, as the underlying technology matures, are adapted to laptops.

For Internet browsing and typical office applications, where the computer spends the majority of its time waiting for the next user input, even relatively low-end laptops (such as Netbooks) can be fast enough for some users.[62] Most higher-end laptops are sufficiently powerful for high-resolution movie playback, some 3D gaming and video editing and encoding. However, laptop processors can be disadvantaged when dealing with higher-end database, maths, engineering, financial software, virtualization, etc. This is because laptops use the mobile versions of processors to conserve power, and these lag behind desktop chips when it comes to performance. Some manufacturers work around this performance problem by using desktop CPUs for laptops.[63]

Upgradeability

Upgradeability of laptops is very limited compared to desktops, which are thoroughly standardized. In general, hard drives and memory can be upgraded easily. Optical drives and internal expansion cards may be upgraded if they follow an industry standard, but all other internal components, including the motherboard, CPU and graphics, are not always intended to be upgradeable. Intel, Asus, Compal, Quanta and some other laptop manufacturers have created the Common Building Block standard for laptop parts to address some of the inefficiencies caused by the lack of standards. The reasons for limited upgradeability are both technical and economic. There is no industry-wide standard form factor for laptops; each major laptop manufacturer pursues its own proprietary design and construction, with the result that laptops are difficult to upgrade and have high repair costs. Devices such as sound cards, network adapters, hard and optical drives, and numerous other peripherals are available, but these upgrades usually impair the laptop’s portability, because they add cables and boxes to the setup and often have to be disconnected and reconnected when the laptop is on the move.

Ergonomics and health effects

Wrists

Prolonged use of laptops can cause repetitive strain injury because of their small, flat keyboard and trackpad pointing devices,.[64] Usage of separate, external ergonomic keyboards and pointing devices is recommended to prevent injury when working for long periods of time; they can be connected to a laptop easily by USB or via a docking station. Some health standards require ergonomic keyboards at workplaces.

Neck and spine

A laptop’s integrated screen often requires users to lean over for a better view, which can cause neck or spinal injuries. A larger and higher-quality external screen can be connected to almost any laptop to alleviate this and to provide additional screen space for more productive work. Another solution is to use a computer stand.

Possible effect on fertility

A study by State University of New York researchers found that heat generated from laptops can increase the temperature of the lap of male users when balancing the computer on their lap, potentially putting sperm count at risk. The study, which included roughly two dozen men between the ages of 21 and 35, found that the sitting position required to balance a laptop can increase scrotum temperature by as much as 2.1 °C (4 °F). However, further research is needed to determine whether this directly affects male sterility.[65] A later 2010 study of 29 males published in Fertility and Sterility found that men who kept their laptops on their laps experienced scrotal hyperthermia (overheating) in which their scrotal temperatures increased by up to 2.0 °C (4 °F). The resulting heat increase, which could not be offset by a laptop cushion, may increase male infertility.[66][67][68][69][70]

A common practical solution to this problem is to place the laptop on a table or desk, or to use a book or pillow between the body and the laptop. Another solution is to obtain a cooling unit for the laptop. These are usually USB powered and consist of a hard thin plastic case housing one, two, or three cooling fans – with the entire assembly designed to sit under the laptop in question – which results in the laptop remaining cool to the touch, and greatly reduces laptop heat buildup.

Thighs

Heat generated from using a laptop on the lap can also cause skin discoloration on the thighs known as “toasted skin syndrome“.[71][72][73][74]

Durability

Equipment wear

Because of their portability, laptops are subject to more wear and physical damage than desktops. Components such as screen hinges, latches, power jacks, and power cords deteriorate gradually from ordinary use, and may have to be replaced. A liquid spill onto the keyboard, a rather minor mishap with a desktop system (given that a basic keyboard costs about US$20), can damage the internals of a laptop and destroy the computer or result in a costly repair. One study found that a laptop is three times more likely to break during the first year of use than a desktop.[75] To maintain a laptop, it is recommended to clean it every three months for dirt, debris, dust, and food particles. Most cleaning kits consist of a lint-free or Microfiber cloth for the LCD screen and keyboard, compressed air for getting dust out of the cooling fan, and cleaning solution. Harsh chemicals such as bleach should not be used to clean a laptop, as they can damage it.[76]

Parts replacement

Original external components are expensive, and usually proprietary and non-interchangeable; other parts are inexpensive—a power jack can cost a few dollars—but their replacement may require extensive disassembly and reassembly of the laptop by a technician. Other inexpensive but fragile parts often cannot be purchased separate from larger more expensive components. For example, the video display cable and the backlight power cable that pass through the lid hinges to connect the motherboard to the screen will eventually break from repeated opening and closing of the lid. These tiny cables usually cannot be purchased from the original manufacturer separate from the entire LCD panel, with the price of hundreds of dollars, although for popular models an aftermarket in pulled parts generally exists. The repair costs of a failed motherboard or LCD panel often exceeds the value of a used laptop. Parts can also be ordered from third party vendors.

Heating and cooling

Laptops rely on extremely compact cooling systems involving a fan and heat sink that can fail from blockage caused by accumulated airborne dust and debris. Most laptops do not have any type of removable dust collection filter over the air intake for these cooling systems, resulting in a system that gradually conducts more heat and noise as the years pass. In some cases the laptop starts to overheat even at idle load levels. This dust is usually stuck inside where the fan and heat sink meet, where it can not be removed by a casual cleaning and vacuuming. Most of the time, compressed air can dislodge the dust and debris but may not entirely remove it. After the device is turned on, the loose debris is reaccumulated into the cooling system by the fans. A complete disassembly is usually required to clean the laptop entirely. However, preventative maintenance such as regular cleaning of the heat sink via compressed air can prevent dust build up on the heat sink. Many laptops are difficult to disassemble by the average user and contain components that are sensitive to electrostatic discharge (ESD).

Battery life

Battery life is limited because the capacity drops with time, eventually requiring replacement after as little as a year. A new battery typically stores enough energy to run the laptop for three to five hours, depending on usage, configuration, and power management settings. Yet, as it ages, the battery’s energy storage will dissipate progressively until it lasts only a few minutes. The battery is often easily replaceable and a higher capacity model may be obtained for longer charging and discharging time. Some laptops (specifically ultrabooks) do not have the usual removable battery and have to be brought to the service center of its manufacturer or a third-party laptop service center to have its battery replaced. Replacement batteries can also be expensive.

Security and privacy

Main article: Laptop theft

Because they are valuable, commonly used, portable, and easy to conceal in a backpack or other type of travel bag, laptops are prized targets for theft. Every day, over 1,600 laptops go missing from U.S. airports.[77] The cost of stolen business or personal data, and of the resulting problems (identity theft, credit card fraud, breach of privacy), can be many times the value of the stolen laptop itself. Consequently, physical protection of laptops and the safeguarding of data contained on them are both of great importance. Most laptops have a Kensington security slot, which can be used to tether them to a desk or other immovable object with a security cable and lock. In addition, modern operating systems and third-party software offer disk encryption functionality, which renders the data on the laptop’s hard drive unreadable without a key or a passphrase. As of 2015, some laptops also have additional security elements added, including eye recognition software and fingerprint scanning components.[78]

Software such as LoJack for Laptops, Laptop Cop, and GadgetTrack have been engineered to help people locate and recover their stolen laptop in the event of theft. Setting one’s laptop with a password on its firmware (protection against going to firmware setup or booting), internal HDD/SSD (protection against accessing it and loading an operating system on it afterwards), and every user account of the operating system are additional security measures that a user should do.[79][80] Fewer than 5% of lost or stolen laptops are recovered by the companies that own them,[81] however, that number may decrease due to a variety of companies and software solutions specializing in laptop recovery. In the 2010s, the common availability of webcams on laptops raised privacy concerns. In Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2010), school-issued laptops loaded with special software enabled staff from two high schools to take secret webcam shots of students at home, via their students’ laptops.