FAQ – Laptop Feature Recommendations Decipher the techo-babble associated with the purchase of a laptop.

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The following FAQ is meant to decode the terminology you will encounter selecting a laptop to purchase. We go over the various features available on modern laptops and offer our recommendation for each item.

Check out our Dell suggestion page for laptops that satisfy our  recommended features.

This page is part of a series of pages outlining various aspects of laptops

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Dell Information Page 
< Dell Consulting Services
< Dell Purchase Page

Where to buy? ( Dell Laptops )

Processors

  • Purchase a laptop or computer with an Intel i3, i5, or i7 processor.
  • Don’t purchase a computer or laptop with a Celeron, Atom, or E2 processor.
  • i3: Will satisfy most users requiring only basic internet or office work.
  • i5 Recommended: An excellent compromise between performance and cost.
  • i7: More for higher end gaming, design, or engineering. Never a bad choice if your laptop comes with it, but it can significantly raise the overall price.

Display size

  • 11″ – 14″ offer good portability and battery life, but less readability. For laptops with this screen size, a high quality display is recommended.
  • 15″ Recommended: Excellent compromise between portability, readability, and cost. 
  • 17″: Offers excellent readability but are significantly more expensive with reduced portability due to size and weight.

Memory

  • 4GB can be used for basic computing such as Internet only, running one program at a time, or only have a few tabs open on your browser at any given time. 
  • 8GB of RAM Recommended. Good compromise between performance and cost. Sufficient for nearly everyone. 
  • 16GB is typically reserved for high end gaming, video work, design, and engineering. To much memory will not hurt, but it may not be utilized, resulting in greater expense with no gain in performance.

Hard Drive

  • Currently the most important choice you make in order to prevent a slow running computer. It’s a more significant factor than processor and memory regarding overall performance.
  • We strongly recommend Solid State Drive (SSD). They are all electronic with no moving parts. They operate at much faster speeds than the old, mechanical, spinning hard drive.
  • We stopped offering computers and laptops with conventional drives years ago because they are so much better in nearly every way including:
    • Read\Write speed
    • Boot times are greatly reduced
    • Program startup is much faster 
    • Shock proof. (The only choice for laptops)
    • Silent operation
    • Lighter
  • We recommend a 250 GB SSD drive for all users, with some exceptions regarding storage capacity.
    • 120GB equipped laptops can be used effectively if no pictures, videos, or large programs are being stored. 
    • 512GB equipped drives are for those that store 10’s of thousands of pictures and videos. 
    • In extreme cases, a 1 Terabyte drive may be needed, but that’s very rare.
  • Storage capacity HAS NO BEARING on performance. A 120GB drive and a 512GB drive perform the same, assuming the same model line of drive. 
  • The only downside with SSD drives are that if they fail, chances are the data cannot be recovered, or at the very least with great difficulty. As with any laptop or computer, backing up your data is extremely important. We discuss backup options here and here
  • ADVANCED TERMINOLOGY THAT CAN BE IGNORED:
    • SSD’s come in physical forms called SATA3 and M.2, among others. 
    • SSD’s using NVMe technology are faster than SATA3, at least on paper. However, you may not notice enough of a difference in day-to-day operation to justify the additional cost of an NVMe drive.
    • Whatever is installed, you can’t go wrong choosing a laptop or computer using an SSD instead of the old style mechanical drives.
    • We like the Samsung line of SSD’s.

Required Features

  • Wireless – Make sure the type of wireless installed is of the “Dual-Band” variety. No exceptions. Single band is not good enough anymore. It’s not necessarily faster, but dual-band gives you an option if one band is not working as well as the other. The 2.4G band is becoming very crowded.
  • Microphone and Camera – Even though you may not think you’ll use them, life is a lot easier if it’s built-in. Nearly all laptops have a microphone and camera installed by default, but don’t assume that’s the case.
  • Windows 10 – The choice is Home or Pro. Home is sufficient for most users.  Pro is used if you will be attaching to corporate networks or encryption (BitLocker) will be required. Pro has a few more obscure features that are normally not necessary for home use. 

Optional Features to Consider

  • CD\DVD
    • It’s becoming increasingly rare to have a DVD drive inside the laptop.
    • The thinner the laptop, the less likely it comes equipped with a DVD drive.
    • A viable option is to use an externally attached, USB DVD drive in the event it will be needed.
    • Fortunately, using a CD for anything is becoming less and less common.
  • Touch Screen
    • Most people don’t use the touch screen feature on laptops, even if they purchased it with the option.
    • Touch screens increase the overall cost the laptop.
    • Some screens, when opened, will flip all the way around and make the laptop operate more like a tablet, with the keyboard now on the underside of the laptop. The Dell “2 in 1” style of laptop comes to mind.
    • Laptops with the normal “flip up” screens can also come with touchscreens, but for the most part nearly everyone prefers the built-in keyboard and touchpad or an external mouse.
    • Overall, it’s a personal decision. When on the road or in the air with limited space, the touch screen may come in handy. Programs and website may not be designed for touch. The “click targets”, meaning the text and buttons you press to make things happen, may be very small for those of us with big fingers. 
  • Keyboard
    • Backlight: The laptop may or may not come with back-light capabilities, which simply means the keyboard is illuminated for low light conditions. 
    • Numeric Keypad: On 15″ screens or larger, you will often see a numeric keypad on the right side of regular keyboard layout. For those who work with numbers this can be helpful.
      • Typically, 14″ screens or lower will not have a numeric keypad. There simply is not enough overall width to fit a numeric keypad next to the normal keyboard. 
  • Battery
    • Some laptops come with battery capacity options. If so, we strongly recommend choosing the highest battery capacity available. You won’t regret it.
    • Most laptops no longer have removable batteries, at least not easily, which is unfortunate. 
  • Fingerprint Login
    • This is a small device that’s part of the laptop that will detect your fingerprint when it’s touched. It can speed up the login process by not having to remember passwords.
    • Typically, a backup password or PIN is still required just in case the fingerprint scanner does not work for some reason. Most people forget that password, so write it down.
  • Encryption 
    • If you will be encrypting your laptop drive for security reasons, you will want to make sure something called a “TPM Module” is built into the laptop. Life is much easier when working with encrypted drives. 
    • All Dell Latitude laptops come with a built-in TPM module.
    • You will also require Windows 10 Pro be installed, which comes with Bitlocker Encryption.  
    • Bitlocker Encryption is extremely dangerous because it’s so good. If the laptop or drive fails or passwords are forgotten or lost, your data may not be recoverable.
    • Because of the danger involved in encrypting the drive, backups are extremely important. We discuss backup options here and here
    • We only recommend BitLocker, which is built into some versions of Windows. We’ve seen many bad things with third party encryption system. 

This page is part of a series of pages outlining various aspects of laptops

Laptop Recommendation Page ( Start here if not already done so )
< Laptop Terminology FAQ’s ( You are looking at this page:  )
Dell Information Page 
< Dell Consulting Services
< Dell Purchase Page

Contact Us

Feel free to contact us at (920) 794-7221, send us an email, or just stop in and chat. 

 

Author: Roaming Gnome

I sneak around the shop and watch everyone.