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Is the Perfect Computer… A Notebook?

That's What I Like!

Oh yeah - portable and happy-go-lucky - like me!

This is Part 6 in the How To Buy A New Computer Series

Part 1 Buying A New Computer
Part 2 Hard Drives and Memory
Part 3 How to Pick A CPU
Part 4 What Are L1 and L2 Cache and Bus Speed?
Part 5 How To Choose The Right Monitor


There is no such thing as The Perfect Computer – but there is a perfect computer for you.

Now that you understand the hardware specs, it is time to find the right combination of speed, memory, power, and price that will make your working life a dream.


The first, obvious choice is between a notebook computer and a desktop computer.

Do you need a computer that let’s you be online any time and everywhere? If your idea of an office is the local Starbucks, then a notebook is a must.

There are two essential questions to ask about a notebook:

  1. Is it light enough to lug around with me?
  2. Is it powerful enough to do the work I need to do every day?

Notebook computers necessitate a series of  compromises.

  • A big screen adds weight, but a small screen makes multitasking impractical.
  • A processor powerful enough to run applications like Photoshop drains the battery quickly.
  • A computer light enough to carry for any length of time is going to be either under-powered or over-priced.

So you need to seriously think about how you will use your notebook before you fall in love with it.  If you don’t plan ahead, the divorce can be costly.

Notebook computers fall into roughly three classes, each heavier and more powerful than the previous one:

  1. Lightweight and super-portable
  2. Every day use
  3. Desktop replacements


If a notebook will be your only computer, even if you travel with it, you may need a larger, heavy desktop replacement style notebook. These computers usually have 15 – 17: screens and can weigh over 8 pounds. They will probably run for less than 2 hours on a fully charged battery.

But a powerful laptop can run video or photo editing software without choking. It will have a hard drive roomy enough to store your documents without the added weight and space of an extra external hard drive. And it will be able to handle all your business tasks as well as playing a DVD to pass the time in airports or on the plane.

Just make sure to buy a rolling case for your new computer.


Until this year, a super-lightweight computer (under 3 lbs.) cost over $2,000.00. The only market for such devices was assumed to be salesmen and business executives who would gladly pay any premium for small and light.

Then the ASUS Eee PC changed everything.

A real computer that runs Windows XP, weighs less than 3 lbs, fits in a bookbag, and costs less than $400.00 – the EEE PC shook up the notebook market.

Now everyone from Lenovo to Dell to HP is selling a netbook, and prices keep dropping.

It can be hard to resist the “grab and go” appeal of the netbook – but before you buy one, make sure you understand: a netbook cannot be your primary computer.

The netbook excels at one thing: it is the perfect companion PC for reading email or surfing the web when you can’t or don’t want to use your regular computer.

At least as they are currently configured, netbooks are too underpowered to use for much serious work.


In between these two extremes is the every day notebook.

A good laptop will have a good (but not super) processor – usually Core2 Dual instead of Core2 Quad. Most online sellers, like Dell, will allow you to beef up the specs, so that you can buy a large enough hard drive and enough RAM to run several applications at once.

Expect to pay anywhere from $800.00 to$1,000.00 for a laptop with a 15 1/2″ display, a Core2 Duo  2 GHz processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB (5400 RPM hard) drive. Increasing the size of the hard drive or the speed of the procesor will, of course, increase the price.

Such a notebook will be able to replace your desktop computer when you travel without breaking the bank. You may find you often use it in the evenings, when you are away from your desk, as well when you are away from the office.

If you decide to settle for less power, a smaller hard drive, or less RAM, you can probably save $150.00.


Keep in mind – it is harder to upgrade components on a notebook. You can’t add a second hard drive or buy a new monitor. Even swapping out the RAM can be tricky, since many notebooks have only one user-accessible memory slot. So you often have to discard the installed RAM, rather than just add to it.

Many business users replace notebook computers just as they do cell phones. They buy a cheap model, expecting it to only last a year or two. When it slows down, breaks down, or gets stolen – they just buy a new one.

If this sounds like you – invest in good back up and encryption programs.

If you want your computer to last for 3, 4, or 5 years – don’t shop bottom of the line. The dollars you save up front will melt away with wasted time and lost productivity.

Photo by Tanakawho Released under Creative Commons License

How To Pick A CPU

Computer Brains

Computer Brains

This is Part 3 of the Buying A New Computer Series. You can find the rest of the series at:

Buying A New Computer Part 1

How To Buy A New Computer Part 2: Hard Drives and Memory


The processor, also known as the CPU (for Central Processing Unit) is the brains of your computer.

The CPU isn’t the only thing that will determine how well your computer performs, but it is an extremely important part. The CPU executes the code – which is to say, it runs the programs. The processor performs thousands upon thousands of calculations each second. It moves data in and out of memory. It writes information to disk and then fetches it when needed. The CPU is the boss as well as the traffic cop that makes your computer work.

How quickly the CPU executes instructions (i.e., how fast it is) is the speed that PC manufacturers brag about in their ads. Processor speeds are currently measured in Gigahertz, abbreviated as GHz.


There are many different types of CPUs in current computers, from two different manufacturers. The most commonly found Intel processors are

  • Celeron
  • Pentium Dual Core
  • Core 2 Duo
  • Core 2 Quad

Without getting deep into the specs, the processors are listed, from slower to faster, in the order of how quickly they can process data – which in plain English means how fast they are.

There is also a special case, the Atom, which Intel uses in NetBooks, those extra small, lightweight notebooks meant for web surfing and email. The Atom processor requires less power, so the battery lasts longer. However, it is also slower and less able to multi-task.

With computers, there is always a trade off between speed and battery life, so you are less likely to see the most powerful processors in notebook computers.


AMD, the other big player in the CPU field, generally sells its processors for less than Intel, resulting in a lower overall computer price for consumers.

There is a raging debate about Intel vs AMD, but just remember – for normal use, you might be able to save a few dollars by going with an AMD processor without sacrificing performance.

AMD makes it almost impossible to compare their CPU specs by giving the various processors meaningless names. The most commonly found AMD processors in desktop computers are:

  • Athlon
  • Athlon X2 Dual Core
  • Phenom X3 Triple Core
  • Phenom X4 Quad Core

Again, the list is ranked from slower to faster.

However, there is not a straight one-to-one comparison between AMD and Intel processors. An Athlon X2 Dual Core will not necessarily have the same specs as an Intel Core 2 Duo.


You don’t need to get tied up in knots over CPU specs. The computer company will give you a rough measure, in GHz, of the speed. You will also get an excellent predictor or performance in the price. A computer that costs $500 is almost guaranteed to be slower than one that costs $900

Small increases in CPU speed will not be as noticeable as increases in RAM. To the person sitting in front of the monitor, a 2.3 GHz CPU with 512 MB of RAM will seem much slower than a 2.1 GHz CPU with 2 GB of RAM.


When you are selecting your computer, a faster CPU is better than an older, slower CPU because it will be better able to handle new applications that you may add in the next two or three years. New programs, from word processors to internet browsers, demand more and more CPU power to run.

So get the best processor you can afford, even if it is not the very fastest processor in the line.

Photo by Rob20 Released under Creative Commons License