Laptop, Notebook and Netbook Buying Guide

Today, laptops are considered to be synonymous with everyday business, educational and entertainment lifestyles. While the past was dominated by desktop computers due to low cost and power, laptops have drastically dropped in price and opened up new options for any type of user. It is very important to consider exactly your purposes for buying a laptop before doing any research. Each laptop is designed for a specific purpose - even everyday casual use. If you do not choose a laptop that is tailored to your individual needs, you may end up very disappointed with your purchase. We will use this laptop buying guide to compare some of the most popular laptop lines and operating systems to help you in your choice. However, it is very important that you do additional research before making such a sensitive and costly choice.

The Different Types of Laptop Users

The types of laptop users can generally be broken up into five distinct categories - student use, computer gaming, business, casual and multimedia (pictures and video). Each of these categories must weigh their options carefully and choose the laptop that is right for them - not just the most expensive option available. You might be surprised at how little money you actually have to spend to buy a solid performing laptop for your needs.

Laptops for Student Use

There are two primary categories that a student should be concerned about with purchasing a laptop -  cost and convenience. Students seldom have a large budget during their first year of school but need a high quality laptop that performs well in the dorm, library and classroom. Parents purchasing a laptop for their child heading off to college should be less concerned with whether the student can play all the online games they want and more concerned about them having a laptop that is both reliable and portable. A solid option for the general college student is to trust in a laptop from the Netbook line. These 7 to 10 inch display screen laptops are quite small and cost efficient while having more than enough hard drive space and RAM to function as a great note taking device.

However, there are some fields of college study that will require a much more advanced laptop so keep that in mind. Students in a degree field such as film, photography, music and medicine will likely require a very solid laptop for their needs. The program's requirements will likely detail what you need to purchase for a computer or might even provide their students with computers themselves. Additionally, the freshman year of any four year degree program does not normally require very intensive study. If you simply don't have a minimum $1,000.00 budget, you might decide to purchase a Netbook at first and plan to save for a better quality laptop at the beginning of their sophomore year.

Laptops for Business Use

Although traveling business people will often note the benefits of a Netbook, most are simply not powerful enough to allow for successful business programs and often do not feature the required management and security features that help make the business person successful. Of course, the weight and size of the laptop should not be ignored as it could be your primary business tool during long flights and your home office in one package. One of the most impressive business laptops on the market today is the Dell AX-3600GSL Adamo XPS 13.4-Inch Laptop with outstanding and exciting security features and capabilities for any possible business need.

Ever wanted to feel like a spy? The Dell Adamo series includes a very interesting security feature - facial scanning locks. The laptop will not power on without first scanning your face and verifying that you are the one sitting in front of the laptop. If you use multiple computers at home or work, the Dell Adamo can also allow you to access all of your files in one location using Dell Remote Access. All your data is also automatically backed up on Dell's secure DataSafe Online so, if your computer ever crashes or loses power right before an important presentation, you can easily access all of your backed up files and download them onto another laptop. The Dell Adamo series come stocked with the powerful business focused operating system, Windows 7.

Computer Gaming Laptops

One of the inherent problems with computer gaming is how quickly the games tend to evolve. Unlike console gaming where games must be designed to fit a single system's specifications, computer games can often exceed the current capabilities of most casual laptop users and soar into the future. Most computer gaming enthusiasts will trust in desktop computers due to their customization ease or even build their own computer, there are some very powerful computer gaming laptops that include all of the features that you need to stay up to date with current games. Best of all, these super laptops can function very well in almost every function but are designed to remain in a single location while being easily portable.

When buying a computer gaming laptop, you will need at least 8GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. Of course, the faster the processor, the better and a very large screen (around 17 inches minimum) are both desirable. Widely considered as the best computer gaming laptop line and accomplishing so much more than the minimum requirements are the Alienware Gaming Laptops. Of course, with the best, you can expect to spend a great deal of money and Alienware gaming laptops generally start around $1,800.00 for a high quality model. However, you certainly get what you pay for and cannot expect a solid laptop for computer gaming at a cheap price. For example, the Alienware M17x-2857DSB (17 inch display) starts at around $1,979.99 and features an illuminated keyboard, facial recognition security features, 3D graphics through 1 GB of discrete graphics memory and HDTV 1080p output.

Multimedia Use Laptops

Laptops designed for editing pictures and video are not difficult to find. Many of the same features important to computer gaming laptops are also very important for photographers and videographers. However, simply choosing an Alienware gaming computer is not the best option. Luckily, you will find that you do not typically have to spend anywhere near as much money as laptop computer gamers. High resolution display is vital with an either 15 or 17 inch screen. In addition, videographers will need a minimum of 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. It is important to note that, regardless of the size of your native laptop hard drive, serious videographers will need to invest in one or two external hard drives to store sometimes massive video files.

By far, the best laptop line for Multimedia users is the Macbook Pro line. All Macbook Pros come stock with powerful programs that you will need for video/photo editing and music such as iMovie, iPhoto and Garage Band - an easy to use music creation system. The Apple MacBook Pro MC371LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop (starting around $1,700.00) is designed for multimedia applications and includes 4 GB of RAM (can be upgraded to 8 GB), a 320 GB hard drive and dual graphics processors including the vastly powerful NVIDIA GeFore GT 330M. Most experts will agree that Windows operating systems are simply not equipped to handle multimedia applications as strongly as Macintosh operating systems. If you are a photographer, videographer or musician, your best bet is to invest in a Macbook Pro.

Casual Laptops for Everyday Use

Even those laptop buyers shopping for a laptop to be used at home or while on the road for general purposes will want a laptop that is solid and can perform a variety of functions well - but is priced for the family. While many casual computer shoppers will turn to a home desktop computer, do not forget that laptops are not what they used to be. Today, they can perform just as well as high quality desktop computers while adding a crucial benefit of portability. The casual laptop should function as a recipe database in the kitchen during dinner, to help the children with their homework before bed and be able to play DVDs and online media for parents that stay up a little later. In general, look for laptops with at least 2 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard drive and around a 15 inch display screen. Having a DVD burner is also a very nice addition.

Two laptop lines function very well for the casual user while remaining very affordable for the family or those on a tight budget - HP Pavilion and Dell Vostro. Both lines offer a variety of models but focus on overall performance rather than excelling in any one category. For example, the Dell VOSTRO 1510 Notebook starts at around $800.00 and features 4 GB of RAM, a 8X DVD burner and 250 GB hard drive. Each model comes equipped with Windows 7 and offers Microsoft Office and Vista Business. HP Pavilion Laptops run anywhere from $600 to $700. One model of note is the HP Pavilion DV6-2162NR (around $699.99) with a 15.6 inch display, 500 GB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM and Windows 7, Microsoft Office and Vista Business suites. For family video nights, the HP Pavilion DV6-2162NR also features outstanding 1080p high definition output.

Undecided Laptop Buyers

Still not convinced that you fit into any of the above categories? There are several key laptop lines that focus on several key elements to be powerful additions to any computer environment. Netbooks focus on portability and cost for the budget minded laptop buyer while the Sony Vaio series are often considered to be the PC answer to the power of the Macbook Pro's hold on Apple laptops. In addition, Sony Vaio X laptops are quite reasonably priced while being full sized laptops for any general use. Of course, Sony Vaio P laptops are the solid answer to Netbooks with very small laptops and solid performance features.


Netbooks are small laptops that are designed for portability. They normally feature a 7 to 10 inch display and adjusted keyboard to accommodate the small size. Netbooks can be perfect for people that want to  take their laptop everywhere. Feature rich laptops can also be quite heavy and bulky - limiting their convenience. It is important to remember that, although small, Netbooks are actually very good performers with 6 cell batteries, state of the art processors, large hard drives (often more than 120 GB) and typically around 1 GB of RAM. Compared to many casual laptops on the market, Netbooks are only different in the overall size of the display screen.

There are four primary manufacturers of Netbooks on the market including Acer, MSI Wind, Asus Eee (the original designer of the Netbook) and Hewlett Packard. Acer Netbooks are among the most popular due to their high quality systems and low cost. In fact, the Acer Aspire ONE Netbook with a 1.66 GHz processor, 10.1 inch screen, 1 GB of RAM and 250 GB hard drive starts at around $309.00. This Netbook is perfect for most situations in student life and travel and performs well for both note taking and running standard computer programs for home and business. Some Netbook shoppers prefer the MSI Wind series because they are equally low priced and maintain the correct position of the right shift key on all models (important for typists). MSI Wind Netbooks range in price from around $244.00 to $283.00.

Sony Vaio Laptops

The Sony Vaio X series offers some of the widest variety of models based on your personal preferences and price range. For example, the modest Sony VAIO VGN-TZ395N/X 11.1 inch Notebook comes with a 64 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM and 1.33 Ghz processor. Another notable model in the Sony Vaio X series is the Sony VAIO Signature Collection VPC-X115KX/B starts at around $1,500.00 and features a 128 GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM with an 11.1 inch wide screen. This model is perfect for viewing DVDs or videos online and handles most computer games quite well. The Sony Vaio X series is often considered a little outdated when compared to other laptops but offers very strong features for the casual user and professional alike. All models come stock with Windows 7 Home Premium and built in web cam.

The Sony Vaio P series is designed specifically with portability and convenience in mind but sacrifices some speed and usability to accomplish this goal. However, you will find no smaller laptops on the market today. One model of note in the Sony Vaio P series is the Sony VAIO VGN-P530H/Q Lifestyle PC with an 8 inch screen, 2 GB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. The screen is back lit for those low light traveling situations and uses XBRITE-ECO technology for power saving while not sacrificing appearance. The Sony VAIO VGN-P530H/Q Lifestyle PC comes stock with Windows Vista Home Basic and uses an 1.33 GHz Intel Processor. This unit starts at around $799.99.

Laptop Computer Operating Systems and Programs

No laptop buying guide would be complete without a discussion of the two primary operating systems and Microsoft Office. Depending on the laptop that you choose, you will be generally bound to one operating system. This makes your choice of laptop operating system very important as far as usability and convenience are concerned.

Windows 7

Currently, the most recent operating system by Microsoft, laptops that are not manufactured by Apple are generally stocked with Windows 7. While most previous operating system updates from Microsoft have added new features (often making previously owned programs difficult to run), Windows 7 is designed to be a direct upgrade from Windows Vista that fixes many of its bugs and problems while still maintaining the overall feeling of the previous operating system and much of its compatibility. Windows 7 offers several key upgrades over Windows Vista including a new version of Windows Media Center, an upgraded task bar, handwriting recognition and unlimited customizability.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is often considered to be the leader in document creation technology for students and business people. Featuring programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, users can create and transfer documents into multiple types with the click of a button. For example, typed Word documents can be quickly exported to a Power Point presentation while spreadsheets or databases can be imbedded into a Word document to create fantastic eBooks or reports. Graphs and charts can also be easily be placed in Word documents and spell checked and customized instantly using the same engine that powers Microsoft Word.


All Apple manufactured computers come with the leading operating system OSX. Often regarded as the best operating system for laptop computers, OSX is not plagued by bugs and technical issues that often seem synonymous with Windows operating systems. OSX is also well known for its functionality for multimedia, business and gaming applications and comes stock with some of the best programs for multimedia creation and editing - iMovie, iPhoto and Garage Band. These programs alone can justify the price of an Apple laptop for multimedia users. With frequent updates, Mac OSX has been the operating system of choice for Apple computers since 2002. OS9 was the final classic Apple operating system before OSX. Classic Apple OS were in place on Apple computers from 1982.