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Laptop buying guide 2014: Learn about your processor, RAM, hard drive and system

Updated on October 9, 2014

This laptop buying guide serves to help you understand the basic system information of a computer, and what you should consider before purchasing your product.

Buying a new laptop is an exciting thing, but it can be risky at the same time. Relax; this is not because the machine is prone to explosions or privacy breach, but because investing a large sum of money in exchange of contentment is a challenge in itself.

You can go the cheap way, or the expensive route. In the end, it all comes down to one thing: your satisfaction.

When we talk of new models or top laptop brands, we are mainly talking about high-performance machines that offer large space, a smooth user experience and stability, as well as good speed in terms of executing commands.

You have probably heard of Asus laptops, Acers, Lenovos, Dells, HPs and other products from other top PC manufacturers. However, you have probably asked yourself – at least once – what the difference is between these laptops.

Indeed, what could differ much other than the price, performance or popularity of these machines? Could you just go for any of the highly-rated ones?

Basically, if you go to any computer shop, you will notice that virtually all the products are sophisticated enough to be judged as good PCs. There will be outstanding ones and there will be acceptable ones, with their attributes influencing the price range. In order to choose the perfect laptop though, you need to know two things: what you will use it for and how you will use it.

Made for gamers and priced at over $1,000, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p is one of the new laptops in the spotlight due to its Intel Core i7 processor and 16 GB RAM that guarantee top performance.
Made for gamers and priced at over $1,000, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p is one of the new laptops in the spotlight due to its Intel Core i7 processor and 16 GB RAM that guarantee top performance. | Source

For instance, a fervent video gamer, a serious web surfer and a movie addict all have different expectations from their laptops, and here is why.

The gamer wants his computer to be able to handle high graphics in order to run industry-leading video games; the internet addict wants a lot of memory space to maintain several browser tabs and windows at the same time, whereas the movie addict wants a lot of disk space to store hundreds of large video files on his hard drive.

Now, the situations above put light on three key things that you should look at and test before buying a laptop: the processor, RAM and hard disk drive.

Intel is the world's biggest chip maker and the inventor of the x86 series of microprocessors.
Intel is the world's biggest chip maker and the inventor of the x86 series of microprocessors.

What is a processor?

A processor is a PC component that primarily controls the speed of a computer, its ability to multitask, and eventually has great effect on a computer’s power consumption. You may notice that many refer to it as CPU, which stands for Central Processing Unit or Central Processor Unit.

Some computers use more than one CPU; this is called microprocessing. Nowadays, CPUs are installed on a single chip, which makes them microprocessors. Two major makers of CPUs are Intel and AMD; thus, it is no wonder that these chip makers’ logos appear almost everywhere in computer stores.

The primary unit to determine the performance of a CPU is the hertz (Hz). The higher the number, the better the performance.

What is RAM?

RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and this is mainly what determines how efficiently a computer can work with more information at the same time. It therefore has great effect on a computer’s overall performance.

The larger the memory, the more programs are able to run simultaneously without freezing. A PC’s internal memory is estimated or calculated in bytes. A computer with 4 GB (gigabytes) of RAM is naturally capable of handling more information at once than a computer with 2 GB RAM. Nowadays, some laptops have up to 32 GB RAM, making them very fast.

What matters the most to you when buying a laptop?

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What is a Hard Disk Drive?

The hard disk drive, abbreviated as HDD, is a computer’s main storage device. This is usually where system files, user files and programs are all saved. Considering the operating system normally takes little space on a drive, a user’s files (documents, pictures, videos and games) are often what fill up the disk overtime.

The hard drive’s storage is generally measured in bytes. The larger the space, the more files it can contain. Nowadays, some laptops can have an internal storage device of 1 TB (terabyte), which equals 1000 GB.

On Microsoft Windows desktops and laptops, the location of all files on the hard drive start with C:\

Built for multitasking and a smooth experience, the Dell Inspiron 14R 1181MRB 14-Inch laptop comes with a processor speed of 2.53 GHz, 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.
Built for multitasking and a smooth experience, the Dell Inspiron 14R 1181MRB 14-Inch laptop comes with a processor speed of 2.53 GHz, 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.

So now, you definitely have an idea of what a computer’s processor, memory and hard drive are, and you are surely ready to purchase the perfect laptop for your needs by understanding its specifications.

Expect to be proposed with medium storage, acceptable processor speed and low RAM if you are economical. Going all out for a high-class machine will mean spending big; but at least, if you know what matters more to you, then you can cleverly set your balance based on how much you are willing to put on the table.

OK, enough beating around the bush and straight into checking your desired laptops’ specifications.

Verifying basic specs

  1. Turn on the laptop (obviously by pressing the power button)
  2. Click on the Start button
  3. Go to Computer
  4. Click on System Properties.

Another way of doing this is by repeating the first two steps above, then following these steps below:

  • Go to Control Panel
  • Click on System and Security
  • Click on System

Both ways should lead you to a window showing you basic information about the computer. In the case of a laptop running a Windows system, it should show you information on the following:

Information shown
For instance
Windows edition
Windows 8 or Windows 7 Home Premium
Manufacturer
Dell or Hewlett-Packard
Model
N5110 or dm4-1160us
Rating
5.9 or 4.5
Processor
Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-2410M CPU @ 2.30GHz
Installed memory (RAM)
8.00 GB or 4.00 GB
System type
32-bit or 64-bit Operating System
Pen or Touch Support
Available or not
Website
Hyperlink to manufacturer's online support center
Computer name
Name to identify the PC
Product ID
20-character license key for Windows activation

You will notice that, if you are aiming for a modern laptop, the operating system will likely be Windows 7 or Windows 8. In truth, you should not worry much about the edition if you don’t plan to play around with your system like geeks do.

The rating score matters if you wish to be sure about performance details regarding your processor, memory, graphics and hard disk. These key system components – which are assessed by the Windows Experience Index (accessible in the Performance Information and Tools menu of the Control Panel) – are rated on a scale of 1.0 to 7.9.

Note that the base score is determined by the lowest subscore of all the hardware components rated. In other words, the base score shown is not the average of the combined subscores.

The processor information tells you about your chip and its speed in hertz (predictably in GHz), whereas the RAM field refers to your memory space.

Clocked in at 3.0GHz, the highest-end Asus ZENBOOK Prime laptop is impressively equipped with the Intel i7 Core processor.
Clocked in at 3.0GHz, the highest-end Asus ZENBOOK Prime laptop is impressively equipped with the Intel i7 Core processor. | Source

Although this information is pretty much what you need to look at if you do not plan to get inside the coding side of your system, there is one more thing you need to double-check: the Windows activation details.

You should make sure that Windows is activated and that your Product ID is displayed. This info is undeniably important. Even though it can likely be seen on a sticker underneath your laptop, it is advised that you write down your Product ID right after you purchase your product. This detail can be needed during reinstallation of your system; that is, if in the future you ever wish to revert entirely to the state your personal computer was when it was released from the factory.

Similarly, knowing your exact model is necessary for the association or fixing of spare parts, as you would not want to face compatibility problems at any point in time.

Once you are satisfied with what you see, then your cash will no doubt be worth the product. Of course, other components, such as a laptop’s charger, adapter or battery are not to be ignored. Nonetheless, keep in mind that most good laptops come with strong power systems that can offer you over 3 hours of battery life after a full charge.

Money vs Performance: More tips on how to buy the best laptop for your needs

Laptop maintenance tips

In the end, all that is left to do is enjoy your experience, and keep your laptop running at its best at all times. Recommended ways to do this are:

  • Installing all new Windows Updates
  • Installing a full-version antivirus software and performing full system scans regularly
  • Activating and scheduling Windows Defender (if the program is installed)
  • Regularly defragmenting your files on the drive
  • Regularly checking your drive for errors
  • Regularly backing up your files and deleting the ones needlessly taking space on your hard drive
  • Shutting it down after using it every evening

There are many other ways to maintain a computer’s performance to its maximum level even after several months of usage. In a subsequent hub, I will be talking more about those and walking you through steps that will keep you from thinking of buying a new laptop for a very long time.

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    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 8 months ago from Accra, Ghana

      @touch4laptop Good to know! Which laptop did you purchase?

    • touch4laptop profile image

      Eslam Elewa 8 months ago from United States

      thanks a lot, this guide helped me a lot to buy my new laptop

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 2 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      @Avi Hi, I totally understand your opinion. However, I had also taken note of this while writing this article, which I didn't want to stretch to exceed 3,000 words etc... As a result, I made some sort of continuation to it with the following article, which focuses on Intel processors and the technologies behind CPUs that should matter to different kind of users: https://turbofuture.com/computers/Laptop-buying-gu...

      If you check my profile, you will see that I made a few more articles belonging to the same Laptop Buying Guide series. I hope my other articles answer your questions. Thanks for your point!

    • profile image

      Avi 2 years ago

      Sorry, I gave this blog piece a 2 star rating because it was not completely informative.

      When you take about anything computers or engineering numbers are important. For instance while describing processor speeds the author simply states 'the higher the processor speeds/clock speeds the better'. Does anyone really needs to be told that. How useful is that information without the actual numbers.

      I found more info in the comments section. This information should have been in the blog/article in the first place.

      My intention is not to offend. The reader's time is precious. So I hope this review would help you write more specific information in your future.

      Thanks.

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 2 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      It depends on what you aim to use your laptop for... Turbo Boost is a technology used in Core i5 and i7 processors, and how it clocks a CPU depends on how it was built. So if you're a common office worker (data entry, writing letters, sending mails, using CMS, etc), then a 1.5 GHz processor with high Turbo Boost should be okay, as long as the laptop's RAM is also high. If you're a gamer looking to play high-end games then you need a much higher processor... and in that case, I'd recommend an i7 with a base clock speed of at least 2.6 GHz.

      The same applies if you're in the entertainment/multimedia industry and you need to do really heavy video editing or audio rendering.

      But in short, an a 1.5 GHz processor (Core i5 or i7) should be enough for common workers or students. You may learn more about processors in my specialized hub about Intel CPUs: https://turbofuture.com/computers/Laptop-buying-gu...

    • profile image

      theophilus 2 years ago

      Thanks for the advice, what's ur take on laptop with low processor I.e 1.5 ghz but has a turbo boost

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 2 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      @Jake Hi Jake! Just click on the first ASUS laptop Amazon link in my article to buy the ASUS laptop. It's equipped with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and 500GB HDD. It's just enough to run most games these days :) It's only $600...

    • profile image

      jake from state farm 2 years ago

      Hey im also looking at a laptop and money is tight so i really want to get a reliable computer for games and studying I was looking at under $700 and im a heavy gamer so I know i want an i7 processor any suggestions?

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 3 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      @Francis, Hey Francis, I assume that based on your needs, what you need is:

      1) A large screen for the best DVD/Movie/Video experience

      2) Enough battery power to study even when away from an A/C adapter

      3) A lot of RAM for multitasking, which will be needed for your heavy browsing

      4) A lot of disk space for your downloaded files.

      Speaking of manufacturers and brands, every brand come with its pros and cons, whether the negative sides lie in the performance, the price, flexibility, etc... If you want an HP, then I'd recommend the following (please Google them):

      a) HP Pavilion 15t-n200: Comes with 8GB RAM, 750GB HDD, Intel i5 Processor and 15.6-inch HD display and 9 hours of battery life

      b) HP ENVY - 17t Touch: Comes with 12GB RAM, Intel i7 processor, 1TB HDD and 4 hours of battery life.

      c) HP ENVY - 15t Touch: Comes with Intel i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD and 15.6-inch HD display.

      All of these cost between $750 and $1,000 (excluding promotions).

      Let me know if you found what you want.

    • profile image

      Francis Otieno 3 years ago

      Thanks for the very informative info. I am planning to buy one and this is what it is for:

      Watch DVDs

      Studying

      Heavy web browsing and downloading

      Etc

      You were a bit scanty on preferences to certain brands but as for me I need a machine that can withstand the pressure of daily use. Am told hps are way ahead of the pack in the mid-range brands and am seriously considering to buy one. How about the i3,5,7s vis a vis amds, you needed to shed some light on that too. Thanks.

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 3 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      @sms Happy to know it helped you... I'll keep publishing more articles. You can follow me to be notified.

    • profile image

      sms 3 years ago

      informative..the best part is, we understand the significance of each of those technical specifications to a good extent in this note...

    • ciphertv profile image

      Dylan Burgandy 3 years ago from Canada

      Yes, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p.. This is really cool in my work!

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 3 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      @Marisa A laptop - or notebook PC if you'd prefer - is still a top thing to use wherever you are. If size is a problem for mobility, then you can get a 11-inch type. It really is a relief to have your notebook with you all the way, especially when you've chosen the perfect one for your needs (stay tuned for my next hub about how to select your processor type for different use).

      Personally, I'd use tablets as supplementary items; these are just "nice-to-have" products for me. Regarding technology's fast evolution, I think buying a new notebook model from at least 2012 won't let you regret any moment from now, regardless of the new releases that'll ensue.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 3 years ago from Sydney

      Hmm. I'm going to have to buy another computer if (as is likely) I go overseas next year. I'm not looking forward to it because things change so fast! I mean, is a laptop even the right thing to buy these days? Should I be getting a tablet or some kind of hybrid thingy instead? It's all very confusing!

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 3 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      I'm happy you enjoyed my hub! I wanted to make it informative to help people out, after all... Well, what was your first laptop? I'm curious.

      In fact, I also made the same mistake the first time I bought a laptop. I just bought one, without checking the specs... I didn't know really what I wanted :P But all this thought me a lesson, and that's pretty much what made me very selective of the laptops I look at these days...

    • isaacasante profile image
      Author

      Isaac Asante 3 years ago from Accra, Ghana

      Hey, nice to know you had a laptop for your birthday :) Which of the ones featured in my article did you receive? The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p, the Dell Inspiron 14R 1181MRB 14-Inch laptop or the Asus ZENBOOK Prime laptop?

    • ciphertv profile image

      Dylan Burgandy 3 years ago from Canada

      oh this is what my brother gave for me on my birthday/1

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 3 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      Where were you when I first bought my laptop, I could have used your advice. The only thing that I took into consideration when I bought my laptop was the fact that I wanted one. This is a very informative hub. Thanks for the share and happy hubbing.

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