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Thinking of buying a Laptop?


Russell James is Operations Manager at BJ Associates of San Antonio. They are an authorized service center for Toshiba systems. They are the laptop specialist and also handle system builds and parts for desktops. They can take care of any IBM compatible hardware, software or training problem that you have.

What do you need to know before you purchase a new laptop? The first question that you should ask yourself is what do you want to use the computer for? Laptops are the same as a desktop computer except that they are portable. Because of this you can expect to pay more for a laptop than you would for a desktop of comparable specifications. You can also expect to pay more for any parts or accessories that you would need to upgrade or fix a laptop computer. Most of the difference in price is due to the size of the laptop parts compared to the desktop parts. It is more expensive to make the parts small enough to use in the laptop systems. 

Most of the laptop manufacturers will have four categories of laptops. There are the entry level or value systems, business class, high end and the thin and light. Each of the categories has a distinct market of people that they cater to. There are several factors that will need to be addressed to make a decision on the type of laptop that would be best for your needs.

The first thing you need to know is the amount of money that you will be willing to spend on the computer. This is just like buying a car. You can get the Pinto or the Mercedes and any number of choices in between. You need to get a balance of what you need, what you can afford, and what you are willing to spend. You can spend anywhere from $1000 to well over $3000 for a laptop. I am sure that we would all like to have the top of the line model but in most cases that is not feasible or even necessary.

You will have to choose the type and speed of processor, screen type and size, hard drive size, amount of memory, type of video and sound card and the type of CD drive you would like. This would be the choice of a regular CD-ROM, DVD-ROM or a CD Writer. You also would need to know if you need a modem, network card, Wi-Fi, infrared and or FireWire on your system. You will also have the choice of how long of a warranty you want on the system that you buy. One other item that I feel is important has to do with the warranty of the system. Where do you need to take the system in the event of a hardware failure and who will be doing the work on the system? There are a number of systems that can be bought on the Internet that come with a 3 year warranty but you have to send the unit to the company for service. Depending on the arrangement, this could be an open-ended time that your system would be out of service. Find out what the warranty covers and who is able to perform the warranty service on your system. Is there an option for next day service and how much would that add to the price of the system? These are all questions that need to be answered before you buy a new computer.

So what type of system do you need? Are you a beginning computer user that wants to learn how to use the Internet, e-mail and some applications for writing letters? I would try to steer you towards the value or entry-level machines. These machines would give you the most power and performance for the least amount of money. They would have smaller hard drives and screens as well as slower processors and a smaller amount of memory to help keep the price down. 

The low-end laptops will take care of just about all of the basics that you need for using a computer. I will use the Toshiba brand for some examples since this is the brand that I know the most about. The entry level Toshiba is the Satellite 1800-S203. This model is available on the web for $1079. It is an Intel Celeron 800 MHz, 128 MB SDRAM, 13.3” Active Matrix screen, Trident graphics controller with 8 MB memory, 15-gigabyte hard drive, DVD-ROM, integrated V.90/56k modem and Windows Millennium Edition. This would be a good entry-level system for someone that would be learning how to use the computer, to browse the Internet and some basic programs for writing letters, spreadsheets, personal finance programs and e-mail. 

Are you a college student who knows how to use a computer and have some more advanced needs? How about an average home user that wants to install some software to handle the family finances, browse the Internet, e-mail, and some other programs? You could step up from the first machine that we discussed without moving all the way up to the next level. This would still keep you in the lower end of the price range but give you a little more power. 

The next level up from the entry level would be an Intel Celeron 1000MHZ, 256 MB SDRAM, the same screen, 16 MB video card, 20-gigabyte hard drive, the same DVD and modem, an integrated 10/100 Ethernet, and Windows XP Professional. This machine sells for $1299 on the web. As you can see there is a big difference in the two machines with only $220 difference in the price. This is not a machine for the gamers of the world, but it would definitely be a good machine for the beginning computer user or student who would like to have a little more of a boost from their system.

The next step in the food chain would be the business class. Toshiba’s answer for this class of machine would be the Satellite Pro 4600 series. This line of laptops comes with a Pentium III CPU instead of the Celeron. You would get a larger hard drive on this system as well. The 4600 comes with 20 and 30 gigabyte drives. The ram starts at 128 MB and is expandable to 512 MB. A modem and 10/100 Ethernet are integrated into the system. They also include the standard floppy drive and a choice of DVD or multifunction DVD/CD-RW drive. There are also the standard external ports such as USB, video, printer and serial. This line of laptop is available from $1600 to about $2300. The price is dependent on what you decide you need on your laptop.

Maybe you are a high end user that needs extreme power for your applications or games. Maybe you need to have the ability to burn CDs or play DVDs. All of the choices are a possibility with a laptop, just as they are with the desktop. The more you get, the more that you will have to pay. There are machines available that would rival some of the high-end multimedia desktops. These would be good machines for the gamer as well as the businessperson that needs to give presentations to a group or some other high end applications.

There are a number of units that would be able to satisfy the needs of the power user. One that has caught my eye is the Satellite 5005-S504. It is a Pentium III 1100 MHz with 512 MB of SDRAM, a 30-gigabyte hard drive and a DVD/CD-RW. It also comes with an nVidia GeForce2go graphics controller w/16MB DDR video memory as well as the integrated modem, 10/100 Ethernet and all of the standard ports. All of this for about $2100 and you have a machine that will rival some of the better desktops and also have the portability.

There are still the high end and the ultra light machines that we have not talked about yet. These systems from Toshiba are also in the high end of the price range because of the small size of the ultra lights and the performance and features that are offered on the Tecra series. These are systems that are for a special class of customer. There are certain people that spend a lot of time traveling and will only use the ultra light systems. Most of the other users find that they would rather have all of the devices integrated into the system than to have a machine that was in the ultra light category. The Portege series from Toshiba is in this ultra light class. In order to get the size and weight of the system down, most of the systems have external floppy and CD drives. They also will tend to have smaller screens that the full size laptops.

The Toshiba Tecra series is the high end of the laptop line as well as the high end of the tax bracket. You can expect to have the best system that money can buy but you will need to dish it out. These units start at about $2700. They come with a standard 3-year warranty as opposed to the 1-year for most of the other systems. 

There are about 26 different models that Toshiba offers for sale on their website. They have machines with processors up to 1100 MHz. You can get a machine with an 8MB basic video card or a 16 MB video card that most any gamer would be happy to have. The machines come with 128 MB of memory standard and some of the models are expandable to 1000 MB. Hard Drives range from 15 to 30 gigabytes. Depending on what you want to do with the system, and the amount of money you are willing to spend, you can get a laptop that will rival most of the desktop computers for power and speed. You will never be able to get the fastest processors on a laptop because of the size, but you can get pretty close.

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