This is a guest post by Dave at Dealzon.com, thanks to the folks from HP.
Buying a laptop can be tricky business, especially for the uninitiated. If you’re anything like some people out there, your first instinct would be to call up James, your family friend / nephew / cousin that knows computers like the back of his hand (after all, he’s always talking about how many “Gee Bees” his computer has).
But you now have a problem, James no longer picks up your calls or emails. He’s probably busy — you know how things can get when you’re 14.
How much should you spend? What type of computer do you need exactly? If you’re in the market for a laptop computer in the near future and your “James” has abandoned you, fear not! — for this guide will walk you through some sensible tips and things to look for when you’re buying a laptop.
Easy on the Budget but Still Fairly Snappy
Like almost every “major” purchase, your first step in buying a laptop should be to figure out your spending budget. This is not only a smart financial decision, but it will also make your life easier as it’ll quickly narrow down the range of laptops available to you.
The current laptop market generally falls into these price groupings: the sub-$500 market, the sub-$1000 market, and the $1000+ market. For those of us who want to leave enough in the bank for the holiday seasons, the sub-$500 entry level laptop market will do the trick nicely.
HP dm1z Ultraportable Laptop
- Who’s it for? Students, travelers, and average computer users.
- What can you do with it? Stream HD videos, play some 3D games, writing papers and emails, web surfing and Facebooking.
- Price range: $380 to $420
One of the current best (and popular) sub-$500 laptops is the venerable HP dm1z Ultraportable Laptop. At about 3.5 lbs, the dm1z is decisively lighter than your usual 6-pound brick of a 15-inch low budget laptop (the typical $500 Walmart special). The current iteration of the dm1z comes with one of the latest processors from AMD, released in January 2011. It’s a dual-core processor that mixes a good balance of performance and quality battery life.
Don’t think of this little puppy as a weak netbook, as you can easily stream high-quality 1080p full HD videos from YouTube without a sweat. The dm1z can even handle light gaming (think World of Warcraft, etc.).
The best part about the dm1z though is its one-size-fits-all type of design. Whether you’re a college student that needs an easy-to-carry laptop from classroom to classroom, or a frequent traveler just wanting a sensible machine with nice battery life (over 6 hours), the dm1z will meet your needs nicely while being incredibly easy on the wallet.
The HP dm1z is currently selling for $419.99 after coupon “SAVE30HP” for a 4GB memory model with 320GB of hard drive space.
Mainstream Performance, Features, and Value
When you approach the sub-$1,000 laptop market, your options widen considerably. Besides our little dm1z option above, you can consider middle-of-the-road favorites such as the HP dv6t Quad Edition. This 15-inch laptop is squarely in the mainstream segment, as most laptop sizes are now in the 11, 13, 15, and 17 inch buckets.
HP dv6 Quad Edition Laptop
- Who’s it for? Students, gamers, and power users.
- What can you do with it? Edit videos and photos, play the latest games, watch HD movies, run advanced applications and multiple programs.
- Price range: $809 to $980
For those not in the know, HP is actually the world’s biggest PC maker, out-selling other well-known brands such as Dell, Apple, etc. Furthermore, the dv6 is HP’s most popular laptop model, consistently being #1 in sales among all their laptops.
Because of its generous size and screen real estate, you’ll find more features stuffed in the 15-inch dv6 laptop than smaller models focused on mobility. Recently refreshed in early 2011, the dv6 quad now comes with Intel’s 2nd generation Core i7 “Sandy Bridge” processors. The lingo and brand may not mean much to you, but suffice it to say this is one of the fastest quad-core processors currently out there.
The best part about the popular HP dv6t quad is that technology-wise, it’s arguably the strongest package for your money. Compared to similarly-configured Apple machines, you’re paying almost $1000 less for the same speed/performance (if not more!). Imagine that, same quad-core Intel i7, same graphics chipset (Radeon 6490M), usually more RAM, faster hard drive storage…all for less than half the price tag. Plus, you get a free Blu-ray drive included. Not bad. Not bad at all.
The best seller HP dv6 quad edition is currently at $804.99 after coupon “NBCR9933”, includes latest perks such as USB 3.0 and a free Blu-ray player upgrade.
Premium High-End Laptop — Just Because 😉
Beyond the mainstream option, of course you could consider the premium and high-end lineup, where both performance and style matters. The great thing about buying a PC laptop though is that you can usually find style at a relatively reasonable price point. Which brings us to the popular HP Envy 14 line-up.
HP Envy 14 Beats Edition
- Who’s it for? Power users, gamers, and other cool kids.
- What can you do with it? Edit audio, photo, and videos. Run advanced applications, play modern video games, and stream HD movies.
- Price range: $900 to $1100
In our example above, we’ll look specifically at the stylish Beats Edition Envy 14, which comes in a slick and stylish matte black cover, with a soft touch smooth palm rest area. The back cover prominently features the Beats Audio logo, which extends around the laptop with red accents and finishes off with a very nice red LED-backlit keyboard. The design and feel of the Envy 14 Beats Edition instantly screams premium laptop, as the alloy chassis feels very sturdy and looks great. For those of us wanting to work and play in style, this 14-inch puppy definitely fits the bill.
At a starting price of $849 after coupon, the Envy 14 series of laptops is surprisingly affordable (or much cheaper than other premium laptops, depending on how you look at it). Performance isn’t skimped on these laptops, either, as they have 2nd generation Intel dual or quad-core chips, depending on your choice. The Envy 14 comes equipped with a capable graphics card in the mid-range Radeon line-up (in layman’s terms this means you will be able to run all the latest computer games).
Finally the key point you’ll frequently see touted on the Envy 14 is the “Beats Audio” capability, giving you nicer audio quality when paired with good headphones. Essentially they have enhanced audio software which gives more definition to the high, low, and mid ranges of any music/movies/etc you listen to. Does it work well? Both Laptopmag and Cnet gives the Beats edition positive reviews in the audio department, so it’s certainly well received by respected critics. If you care about audio quality in your laptop (via the laptop’s speakers or headphones), the Beats edition probably won’t disappoint.
The Envy 14 Beats edition can currently be found for $899.99 after coupon “NBN6288”, includes a 2nd gen chip, capable graphics card and free shipping.
Balancing Between Your Needs and Budget
Remember, whenever you need to buy a laptop, the first thing you should always do is set the budget (and stick with it!). Modern laptops made in 2011 should last you a good 3-4 years without too much issue (provided your usage pattern don’t change too much through the years), so you can usually buy safely without having to splurge too much.
After you’ve set your price range, pick and configure your laptop accordingly. If you’ll just be web surfing or doing basic computing tasks, a Core i3 processor or equivalent option will be plenty. If you want a bit more speed and will probably do more multitasking, a Core i5 will help. Finally, if you know for sure you’ll be a power user running some intensive computing tasks (editing high resolution videos, high-end gaming, etc), go with a Core i7.
In the graphics department, the same story holds true, go with the built-in integrated graphics card if you’ll only be watching videos and playing light games. Modern integrated graphic chips really are plenty fast for HD movies and light 3D gaming. But if you want to play brand new modern games such as the upcoming Battlefield 3, grabbing a mid-range+ graphics card will be ideal.
Hopefully this guide has given you a few ideas on how to shop for a laptop, while letting you know what to expect when you spend a certain amount. The last bit of advice we want to give you goes back to the money equation: don’t be afraid when you buy a sub $500 laptop. As long as the machine (plus its hardware) was released sometime this year, you’re receiving a very capable computer that can do most basic tasks without a sweat. If you don’t know what IDE, CAD, OpenGL, or DirectX means, you probably don’t need anything beyond a $500 ~ $700 laptop. I’m all for awesome technology, but why spend more on speed and power you’ll never ever use?
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