Buying Guide: Narrow Down Your Laptop Search In Minutes

A question that’s very common these days is, ‘should I buy a netbook or a laptop’, then another would be, ‘is a Core i3 laptop better or a Core i5’, or ‘should I go with a desktop replacement or a 14-incher is fine’? It becomes easier to answer these questions in ones mind, when you know what you should not be buying, this way you can narrow down your search and concentrate on products that suit your needs, and laptops aren’t any different.

Call it a notebook or laptop, it's evident that all portables are categorized into various segments like desktop replacements, ultra-portables, mainstream or business laptops, entertainment or multimedia laptops and gaming notebooks. Some need portable computers for home or office while others need powerful laptops. Let’s take a quick look at the various categories of laptops that suit you and those that don’t.

Laptops for Multi-media
Overt design, multi-channel sound, loud and clear speakers, crisp and vibrant screen, dedicated GPU, powerful hardware, these are a few common traits of a multimedia laptop, not to mention, a lofty price tag too. When it comes to hardware, these laptops ought to have powerful processors, ample RAM, good discrete graphics, a large screen and sufficient hard drive room to store multimedia content. Owing to similar hardware and overall size, these laptops can clearly double up as desktop replacements, but it isn't always the other way around, because multimedia laptops are more feature rich. Having said that, don't go by only the size and weight, because even smaller and lighter laptops have multimedia-centric features, and they are touted as 'portable entertainment laptops', or something to that effect. Here are two examples:

HP DV6-3050TX (higher mainstream segment)



  • Dimensions: 378 x 30 x 245
  • Weight: 2.45 kg
  • Chipset: Intel HM 55
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-Q720, 1.6 GHz, 6 MB L3 cache
  • RAM: 4 GB DDR3
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650
  • Network: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth
  • HDD: 640 GB
  • Optical Drive: DVD Writer (Lightscribe)
  • Screen: 15.6-inch glossy (1366x768)
  • Price: Rs 63,000

Lenovo IdeaPad Z460 (entry-level)

  • Processor: Intel Core i3
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR3
  • Hard disk: 320 GB
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5145
  • Screen size: 14-inch
  • Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi N
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Basic
  • Price: Starting at Rs 34,481

Laptops for Gaming
Gaming on laptops has become rather common and quite affordable. Today, you can buy a 50K multimedia laptop and play games like Batman Arkham Asylum, and even Crysis Warhead at low to medium settings. However, a true gaming laptop would be one that allows you to notch up the settings and get the true to life experience with the help of better rendering and great sound. Gamers would agree that gaming, be it on a PC or laptop, requires powerful rendering, hence a good discrete graphics card is a prerequisite. So, that's the first thing you'll notice in a gaming laptop in terms of hardware, and of course, other crucial requirements immediately follow. These machines are usually the most powerful. Some even feature multiple graphics cards, and hybrid graphics. So, when you see stickers on a laptop that say something like ‘Nvidia graphics cards in SLI’ and ‘dual-graphics’, you're looking at gaming laptop. In addition, if you notice lights on or around the lid, flashy aesthetics, large screen, a sub-woofer underneath, heavy weight and a price tag that makes you run for the hills, you're definitely looking at a gaming machine. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to empty your pockets to get your hands on a gaming laptop, there cheaper options too. Here are two examples:
Asus G51J (high-end gaming laptop)

  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 392 x 48 x 270 mm
  • Weight: 3.47 Kg
  • Processor: Intel Core i7 720QM, 1.6 GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB DDR3
  • Hard disk: 2 x 320 GB
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch
  • Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth
  • Price: Rs 99,000

Acer Aspire 5745G
(mid-range multimedia laptop)

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-430M
  • Memory: 4 GB DDR3
  • Hard disk: 500 GB
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GT 330M
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch
  • Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi N
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Price: Rs 47,268

Laptops as Desktop replacements
There are characteristics that define why a laptop can or should fall into this category. The two most prominent ones are a laptop's size and weight, but, the most important one is performance. However, none of these three aspects can alone determine whether a laptop is a desktop replacement. So if you see a laptop with high-end core hardware, but weighs merely over a kilogram, you wouldn't necessarily term it as a desktop replacement. But, a laptop weighing over 2.6 kg, with a large screen and good hardware can most certainly substitute for a basic desktop PC. Powerful performance calls for powerful core hardware such as a good dual-core (or quad-core) processor, ample amount of RAM, a roomy hard drive and discrete graphics. In addition to powerful hardware and ample storage capacity, even the features of a laptop need to be impressive. Desktop PCs usually have a 17-inch monitor, though the older ones are still stuck with 15-inchers and ancient ones with 14-inch. In any case, when you notice that the screen of a laptop is about 15.6-inches or larger, it’s almost certain that you are looking at a desktop replacement. All-in-all, your best clues are, the size of the machine, its weight and the screen size.

Dell Studio XPS 1645 

  • Chipset: Intel PM55
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-720QM, 1.6GHz, 6 MB L3
  • RAM: 4 GB DDR3
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 4670
  • Network: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi N and
  • HDD: 500 GB
  • Screen: 15.6-inch glossy (1920 x 1080)
  • Battery Life: 3 Hours 35 minutes

Mainstream laptops
Mainstream laptop could be categorized by machines that are available with mainstream CPUs like Intel’s Core i5 and they usually fall under the 14 and 15-inch categories. They usually weigh lesser than performance machines, but are decently powered. So, you can carry them with you on a regular basis, and use mainstream and office applications, such as spreadsheets, presentations, Internet-surfing, and light multimedia such as movies and light gaming. Now, most laptops in this segment have discrete GPUs, especially if it’s a multimedia laptop, but if you see one without a discrete GPU, you’re mostly looking at a business laptop, or else, it’s an entry-level laptop which means it should not cost over 40K.

In terms of performance, these laptops are usually slightly weaker than desktop replacements and are more energy-efficient. Hardware that's most common in these laptops is a mainstream single-core or an entry-level dual-core (the latest ones feature Intel's new Core series) processor, 2 GB RAM and a 320 GB hard drive.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y560

  • Dimensions: 385 x 33 x 255
  • Weight: 2.7 kg
  • Chipset: Intel HM 55
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-430, 2.27 GHz, 3 MB L3 cache
  • RAM: 4 GB DDR3
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730 / Intel HD (dual-graphics)
  • Network: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth
  • HDD: 500 GB
  • Optical Drive: DVD Writer
  • Screen: 15.6-inch glossy (1366x768)
  • Price: Rs 51,127

These machines are slim, light in weight and very easy to carry, hence the name ultra-portable. So, light weight, slim design, power-efficiency and the use of ultra-low voltage processors are traits that best describe these laptops. If you come across a laptop that measures an inch or slightly more in thickness, weighs about 1.6 to 2.2 Kg, has a 11.6-inch to 14-inch screen and offers over 5 hours of battery runtime, you're looking at an ultra-portable laptop. These laptops have gained so much popularity that they are categorized as ULV laptops. Ultra-portable laptop or ULV laptops are powered by ultra-low voltage processors which consume very little power, and also perform only the basic computing tasks such as office applications, casual Internet surfing, chat, emails, VoIP and so on. They are ideal for basic home computing and office purposes. All-in-all, they are by all means the most convenient to carry around (when you're not comparing them with netbooks). And yes, laptops from this segment are often even more expensive than some mainstream laptops, and it’s mainly because of their form factor, hardware and longer battery runtime.

Lenovo ThinkPad X100e 

  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 284 x 30 x 211 mm
  • Weight: 1.48 Kg
  • Processor: AMD Athlon MV-40, 1.6 GHz
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR2
  • Hard disk: 320 GB
  • Screen size: 11.6-inch
  • Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi N
  • Price: Rs 28,700

These are just a few laptop models as examples, if you’d like to see a list of recommended laptops from different categories, click here . Also, don’t forget to add yourself to our Tech2 Facebook Page for latest updates.

Published Date: Oct 01, 2010 09:51 am | Updated Date: Oct 01, 2010 09:51 am