In this laptop buyer’s guide, We will explain how each different component of a laptop affect its price. In part 2, we will discuss how other hidden factors such as a laptops condition, brand name, warranties etc. can also significantly affect price.
How Laptop’s Components Affect Its Price
A laptop’s processor, also sometimes called the CPU (Central Processing Unit), is the most important component affecting the price of a laptop. Processor speeds are measured in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz) with 1 GHz being equal to 1,000 MHz. In terms of brand names, virtually all pc laptops will come with either Intel or AMD processors. While Intel chips are far more common they do on average tend to cost a little more and as a result you can sometimes save money by opting for AMD CPU instead. If you opt for an apple notebook you won’t have to deal with this issue since they use their own distinct processors.
Overall, faster laptop processors cost more. For doing basic things, like word processing and surfing the Internet, the latest fastest processor is usually not required. Thus, the lower end and cheaper processors are often all you really need. However, you should be aware that the types of processors available do play a big role in the battery life of your laptop. For more information about battery life please see part 2 of the laptop buyer’s guide.
The amount of memory, also called RAM (Random Access Memory), a computer has also plays a big role in affecting a laptops price. This should not be confused with the storage provided by a hard drive, which is discussed below.
Memory, like the computers processor, also plays a big role in determining the speed of a laptop. It is usually sized in Gigabytes (GB) or megabytes (MB) with 1 GB being equal to 1,000 MB. For most basic tasks you do not need a ton of RAM, so you can save some money by choosing the basic amount offered.
A laptops hard drive is where all your files are permanently stored. RAM on the other hand is where you store files while you are using them. Think about it like the relationship between a filing cabinet and a desk. You take a file from your filing cabinet (hard drive) and work on it at your desk (RAM). When you are done you return it from your desk to the filing cabinet until you want to use it again. Of course computers do this all automatically so you don’t need to actually worry about it.
Today Laptop hard drives are measured in Gigabytes (GB) with higher numbers meaning more storage capacity (Think of it as a bigger filing cabinet). Generally speaking most people can make do with a smaller hard drive, although a laptops hard drive does not affect price to the same degree as its memory and processor. Thus, if you do plan on storing large numbers of music, picture and/or video files this may be the one area where spending a bit more money might be a good idea.
Another important component of a laptops price, which is often overlooked, is the size of its screen. Over the last couple of years, laptops screen sizes have been getting bigger. While this makes using laptops far easier than it once was, it has also added to their cost. Therefore, if you have the option and can cope with using a slightly smaller screen size you can save a significant amount of money (Not to mention have longer battery life, which I will discuss in greater detail in part 2).
Virtually all laptops sold today will come with either a CD-ROM drive or increasingly a DVD drive. The only real difference between the two is that a DVD drive can play both DVDs and CDs, while a CD drive can only play CDs. If you don’t plan on doing either, then opting for a CD drive certainly makes the most sense, since they are cheaper than DVD drives. However, I personally think that getting a DVD drive is worth paying the extra money, because it greatly enhances the versatility of a laptop.
Another increasingly popular option for CD and DVD drives is to offer the ability to make your own CDs/DVDs. They are usually listed as one of the following: CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and now DVD-RW.
The R in CD-R or DVD-R stands for the ability to create a read-only CDs/DVDs. This means once you have made it you cannot change it. The RW stands for the ability to make either read-only or rewritable CDs/DVDs, which means you can change the contents of the disk after you have made it. Generally speaking (although not always) DVD-R and DVD-RW drives can make both CDs and DVDs. CD-R and CD-RW drives on the other hand can only make CDs.
Overall, you certainly pay more for the ability to make your own CDS/DVDs. Personally, I often find that people tend to get laptops with this ability but then don’t really use it. So think about if you are realistically going to use it, since while it greatly adds to a laptop’s flexibility is also adds to its price. Finally, there is one extra thing to consider. If you plan to watch a large number of DVDs and/or make a large number of CDs/DVDs, you should plan on getting a little extra RAM memory and/or a slightly faster processor. The reason is that these tend to be a bit more advanced functions of a laptop and therefore, tend to take up more of its resources. Consequently, by increasing a notebooks memory and/or processor you can make these functions go more smoothly.
If you want to use your laptop to connect to the Internet you will have to get either a network card or a modem. If you have high-speed Internet and/or are using a network then you only need a network card. On the other hand if you use dial-up Internet service or need to ability to use dial-up service then you will need a modem. The basic options for either of these offered by most companies are usually more than sufficient.
One final thing to consider about connecting to the Internet is the proliferation, especially in big cities, of wireless Internet options. To use these you need to make sure that your laptop either has a Wi-Fi card or is configured to use wireless Internet connections. Again, this feature like all other features comes with an added cost, both from the card itself and the additional Internet charges that come from using the service provided by wireless Internet companies. Therefore, you have to think if this is something you are really likely to use or if it is just an added cost that you can do without.
The video card is the part inside your computer that transmits the information being performed by your processor to your screen. Unless, you plan on using your laptop for video intensive games you do not need to really worry about this function. Usually, the basic option offered by laptop companies is more than sufficient to meet the average users needs.
External Storage Drives
One more thing you might want to consider when getting a laptop is an external storage drive. This can include a regular floppy drive, external hard drive or USB memory Key. For most people an internal or external floppy drive is sufficient. On the other hand if you need to back-up or transfer large amounts of data then you should consider getting one of the CD-R(W)/DVD-R(W) device discussed above.
Again, keep in mind that all of these add to the cost of your laptop so only get what you think you will really need. This makes even more sense with external drives since you can always buy them later if you find that you really do need them.
The final components to think about when trying to get a cheap laptop are other external devices. This can include such things as an external keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, speakers etc. None of these devices is necessary for your laptop to work but they can make it easier to use over long periods of time. Overall they are good idea if you use your computer for long periods of time in one fixed location but are probably not necessary if you are constantly using your laptop in different places. Remember since they are external devices you can always buy them later if you are unsure about needing them.