Guide to buying a laptop computer (or notebook PC)

Guide to buying a laptop computer (or notebook PC)

What is a laptop computer?

A laptop computer is a small, portable computer. Today’s laptops deliver performance that’s on par with that of many desktops. Increased battery life, lightweight materials and compact components help allow for more performance and portability than ever. The result is greater productivity for business users and more multimedia fun in more places for the home user.

Dell has a laptop to fit the needs of most business travelers, students and others who simply want the freedom to use a compact computer virtually wherever they like. Dell laptop computers come with a long list of optional features. Built-in Wi-Fi technology has helped simplify connection to wireless*networks. Mobile broadband*has helped speed up the mobile online experience and Bluetooth®  connectivity has helped simplify use of wireless devices in conjunction with a laptop.

When purchasing a DellTM  laptop, consider how you plan to use it then find one that meets the size and weight for your portability needs. When you purchase a Dell InspironTM  laptop, you even have the freedom to choose an optional color or design that fits your personality.

Types of laptop computers

Laptop computers come in a variety of weights and sizes and sizes. The basic classifications are: ultraportable, thin-and-light, mainstream and desktop replacement. Each has its own pros and cons.


Ultraportable laptop computers typically weigh the least, are very small and extremely slim. Typically less than three pounds*, most come with a display size of 12 inches or less. While easy to carry, ultraportables may offer relatively low system performance and a small sized keyboard and display.


Thin-and-light laptop computers mix portability with performance and features. They typically weigh four to five pounds* with a display size of 12 to 14 inches. Thin-and-light laptops often feature a mid- to full-size keyboard for comfortable typing, but may or may not include built-in optical drives.


Mainstream laptop computers are slightly larger and heavier than thin-and-lights with 14- or 15-inch displays. Generally, the mainstream laptop will provide performance and features equal to those of a thin-and-light laptop, but with more peripheral connections and a slightly lower price.

Desktop Replacement

Desktop-replacement laptops are the heaviest and largest family of laptops. They can be more difficult to carry around, but with display sizes of approximately 17 inches, they provide the most on-screen workspace and typically more hard drive space than mainstream laptops.

Laptop uses – business or pleasure?

Laptops are purchased for personal use, business use, or both. Those seeking a personal laptop usually consider the entertainment desires it can fulfill. Business users, on the other hand, are typically more concerned with productivity and data security.

While processor speed and data-storage capacity are important considerations in both instances, business users may want user-authentication features like a biometric fingerprint reader or smart-card support to help protect sensitive business data. Business users may also require multiple wireless* connectivity options so that they can connect to networks in a broad range of environments.

Personal users, however, might want to purchase a laptop that will play their favorite movies and music while storing photos. Ever-faster processors, high-definition displays and enhanced sound capabilities combine to make the laptop a complete mobile multimedia entertainment platform. A range of optical drives, including those with Blu-ray compatibility, helps ensure that whether you’re into music, movies or games, Dell laptops have you covered.

Benefits of a laptop computer

The most obvious advantage of the laptop computer is its mobility. In addition, as processor manufacturers pack more performance into their products, they are learning to manufacture processors that also require less energy to operate and produce less heat. Coupled with technology that has allowed lighter, longer-lasting and more compact batteries, DellTM  laptops offer a world of performance while occupying a small space in your world.

Anatomy of a Laptop Computer

Display and display size

The display on your laptop is the window into your digital world. In recent years, Active matrix (or TFT, thin film transistor) displays have become a popular display technology because of their bright, vivid images that can be viewed from wide angles. Moving up a step, high-resolution, high-definition displays can give your movies and photos more life-like images with crisper and clearer detail. The higher the resolution, the more information can be displayed and the sharper the definition and color.

When choosing a laptop, remember that the larger its display, the easier it can be to work with and view movies on. At the same time, larger displays can reduce your level of mobility.


The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the brain of your computer and the largest single determinant of system performance. A laptop CPU will often differ from a desktop CPU in that it’s engineered with advanced power management features that are used to help extend battery life. Most laptops today offer multiple-core processors, allowing parallel processing of multiple tasks for fast performance. Multiple-core processors currently range from two to four processor cores per chip.


Random-access memory (RAM, or just “memory”) is utilized by the processor to open, close and manage tasks across multiple applications. The more memory, the faster the performance of your laptop. Most laptops now come with 1GB of memory*, though 2GB is often recommended. Most laptops have capacity for 4GB* of memory.

Hard drive (or HDD, Hard Disk Drive)

The hard drive is where all the data on your laptop is stored, including the operating system, applications and user data. Hard drives employ different rotational speeds, measured in RPM, which directly affect performance. Generally speaking, higher RPM equal faster performance.

Hard drive storage capacity is typically measured in gigabytes (GB) with sizes now exceeding 300GB*. If you store lots of music, video and photos, you should consider a laptop with at least 250GB of storage*.

Optical drive

Almost all laptop computers feature internal optical drives. Most users want re-writeable DVD and CD drives, which enable easy creation of CDs and DVDs containing music, video or backups of files. Laptops with high-definition displays can also benefit from the latest optical technology: Blu-ray. This technology was developed to enable recording, rewriting and playback of high-definition video (HD), as well as storing large amounts of data.

Wireless connectivity

Dell laptops are designed to keep you connected to the Web in a variety of ways. Dell’s Wi-Fi catcher helps find the strongest wireless signal and connects you to it. Our exclusive Hyperband Multi-Antenna utilizes three antennas deigned to find and connect to networks with ease. And to keep you moving quickly, available next-generation Wireless-N technology provides fast data transfer rates.

Graphics/video card

A video card* is a separate, dedicated expansion card that is plugged into a slot on the laptop’s motherboard. Video cards are designed to provide increased video performance over the standard integrated graphics processor (IGP) found in most laptops. Video cards are sometimes required for operating high-end graphics applications or running multiple monitors off one laptop. In most cases, IGP is sufficient.

USB 2.0 Ports

USB 2.0 ports allow you to connect to peripheral devices such as digital cameras, scanners, and printers. Originally, USB was intended to replace the multitude of connectors at the back of PCs, as well as to simplify software configuration of communication devices. Most peripheral hardware now connects to a laptop via USB 2.0 ports, so consider whether you’ll use an external mouse, keyboard, printer or other devices and select a laptop with a sufficient number of ports.

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