How to Choose a Laptop

I have been intrigued by hacking computers from a young age. In middle school I tried setting up a boot with Windows XP and Ubuntu, but I screwed up, corrupted my Windows installation, and ran out of an operating system. After three days, at the mercy of How-To Geek and Super User, I finally fixed it. Just as I was so scared to almost damage the home computer, so I also enjoyed fixing it and continuing to hack it.

I studied in a technical and vocational high school Computer Technology. I took computer repair classes to prepare for the CompTIA A + certification exam and classes for certification in Cisco CCENT Systems Network Management. Unfortunately for me, our school ran out of vouchers for me to take these exams, so I never got certified but I was able to learn a lot and worked as a computer technician for the college’s Technology Department during my last school year.

I also started my own business from my computer repair house to raise money for college. Choosing a college laptop was easy for me because I knew more about the specs than thinking that “bigger numbers” mean a better computer. I bought a new Lenovo 11s Yoga for $800 and it was as good as the computers recommended by MIT technical support, but at half the cost.

My laptop served me pretty well until this year when it started burning pixels, leaving ghost images on my screen. This happens when an image is constantly left on the screen for too long. The warranty I had bought for my laptop was close to expiring so I took it to the Geek Squad in early July. They gave me an estimate of two weeks repair time.

Five weeks later, I received a phone call from them saying that one of the parts needed for the repair was no longer for sale. Luckily, they gave me store credit to buy a Best laptop for MBA students. Now I am writing from my new Lenovo Yoga 2, which is twice as good as my old computer and it only cost me $100 more than the credit the store gave me.

I have received many questions from MIT parents about which laptops are good for their children. I have compiled below all the tips I have given to my friends and customers when buying a computer. Hope it helps you make a more informed decision.

Laptop Warranties

Most, if not all, laptops come with a manufacturer’s warranty that says they will repair your computer if a part is found to be defective. But manufacturer warranties do not cover falls, spills, or thefts. Check your store’s computer protection plans to see if they’re convenient for you.

Look for a warranty that protects you in the event of spills, falls and theft, especially if you are going to carry your laptop on the university campus. Some stores, like Best Buy, even give you money back as store credit for a new computer if they can’t fix the old computer.

Software warranties covering antivirus scans and backups are not necessary. You can easily learn those things by yourself. I had to buy a software warranty when I bought my Yoga 11s two years ago and never used it.

Mac or PC?

The question on everyone’s mind and the answer that everyone hates is: it depends.

A Laptop and a Macbook can work exactly the same, and the Macbook will cost extra, no matter what, just because it’s an Apple product. Apple strictly controls its software and hardware. The Macbook is thinner and lighter than most laptops. It feels better and is stronger, with aluminum coverage and a sleek design. In the case of the laptop, because its parts have to be compatible and interchangeable, they tend to be bulky and heavy.

Mac may become viruses, now that hackers are getting smarter and Macs are becoming more common. With a Mac you still need a good antivirus.

Some software programs used on the laptop do not work on the Mac. Students in Mechanical Engineering Course 2 should be aware of this, such as Solid works modeling software that only works on laptops.

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The CPU processes and gives the instructions it receives from the computer’s program code. People refer to it as the computer brain as a simple analogy, but it is more of a powerful central calculator.

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Look for an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor. If you can get the i7 better, it’s faster but more expensive, this one will be good for future updates although the i5 works just as well. Any processor below this may be usable but will be obsolete in no time. If you are buying a new laptop, get your money’s worth with a good i5 or i7 processor.

Now there is the Intel Core M in some of the new Surface Pro tablets. This is a less powerful processor than the i5. Because it doesn’t heat up that fast, you don’t need your own fan and this allows the tablet to be slimmer and quieter.

Choose this option if you agree to have a tablet / laptop with a small difference of less performance capacity in exchange for a slimmer and quieter design. The speed difference of both is imperceptible for daily tasks.

AMD processors are a convenient budget option. Prices are cheaper, but Intel UPCs are generally more powerful.

Laptop RAM

RAM is the amount of main memory that computer programs have available for use. A computer with 4 GB of RAM means that it has approximately 4 billion bytes of memory to be used by programs. More RAM does not mean that programs will run faster, just that more programs can run at the same time.

If you are 4GB and you are running a heavy program that needs 6GB then it would be a great help to add more RAM as it gives your program more memory to work with. But if you have 4GB and your program only uses 2GB, adding more RAM will not make it run faster, it will only allow you to run more programs simultaneously.

That being said, if you are going to buy a new computer, you must look to the future and buy as much RAM as you can comfortably afford. As the years go by, the same old programs need more and more memory to work as they become more complex.

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Therefore, today there are a large number of computers that are very slow even though they do not have many installed programs. It’s just that programs generally require more memory to run today than they did in the past.

4GB of RAM has been the norm for years until now that conventional computers have been moving into the 8GB territory. High powered computers and computer games are now even using 16GB.

Laptop Hard Drive

Hard drives are the ones that store your data. Inside the hard drives are small drives. To read the data, the motors rotate the physical disks under the magnetic read / write heads. Having these physical parts moving inside the hard drive is what limits their speed and makes them break more often than other parts.

There are also solid state drives or English SSD (Solid-State Drive). These hard drives have no moving parts. Instead they use electronic circuits built by semiconductors to store data. This makes them more shock resistant and faster than regular hard drives.

When buying a computer, the small information card usually tells whether the hard drive is an SSD. If it does not say, it is assumed that it is not an SSD.

SSDs are much more expensive than regular hard drives. But they are a technology that is much better and that will replace hard drives soon. So I would go for a 128GB SSD instead of a normal 500GB hard drive, if the price difference wasn’t much.

If having an SSD is too expensive, look for hybrid drives. They combine both technologies together into one disc for a cheaper price.

For the size of an SSD, 128GB is usually enough. But now that 256GB is becoming more accessible, evaluate the amount of storage space you will use and save large files such as movies and others on USB flash drives or external hard drives.

If you decide to stick with traditional hard drives, get the most value for your money and buy no less than 250GB of space. Even 1TB can get super cheap these days.

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