A couple days ago, I broke down 10 tips to factor in when you’re contemplating upgrading your old PC. Then I went on to give you some starting points for things to consider when you’re on the market for a new desktop. So, it’s time to once again check into HP’s virtual store. This time, though, we’re gonna eyeball a couple laptops. I picked out a couple different types of notebooks you might consider buying and how to stack them up so that your new machine will last you a while.
The Basics You Need to Know (That You Probably Already Know)
Every HP laptop at this point is upgradable after-the-fact to a small degree. Want to plug in a bigger / replacement hard drive? No problem. Time for more RAM? Go get it. Just make sure that it’s the exact RAM stick you need (not all RAM is created equal). The other day, I wrote about all the handy ways to get info on the components on your machine.
To save you a link jump, I clipped a couple of the important lines for you here:
“You can call up the BIOS page when your PC starts (you have to usually hit the “esc” or a function key with lightning-fast reflexes on boot up), you can crack the case and try eyeballing parts, but I prefer to use a free downloadable app called, CPU-ID. It gives you tons of detailed information about your computer including Motherboard info, RAM specs and a whole lot more in a pretty easy-to-read format. The only real curveball might be getting more detailed info about your hard drive. What I usually do is go into windows explorer and on the C drive (or whatever hard drive it is you want to replace), right click, select “Properties” then click on the “Hardware” tab. Then, I take the name of the drive (like, “st9500420as”) and then do a search on vendor sites. That tells me everything I need to know about the drive. With that info in-hand, it’s your head-start for finding new parts.”
Not all laptops give you an option to upgrade the graphics. After all, these portable guys can only accommodate so many things. In some cases, that’s an intentional move to give you a balanced, budget friendly choice (the pavilion dm1). In other cases, they give you a jolt for a great experience playing games a-go-go (like on the Envy 14). But if you see a laptop with the upgradable graphics option, I’d say seriously think about it. This isn’t something you can go in and change after the fact very easily. If at all. As an addendum to this graphics card madness, I know it's tough to make sense which graphics card is on top of the heap. I found this incredibly handy Graphics Card Hierarchy list at Tom's Hardware. Check it out!
The CPU is another one of those set-in-stone decisions. You’re making a life-long commitment to whichever CPU you choose. Now as a guy that has high-performance aspirations, but a bargain-basement budget, I go for a good middle-ground setup. Take the Envy 14, for example. I’d load that guy up with an Intel Core i7-2630QM for a reasonably-priced, hyper-threaded performance boost in some software. Add some RAM whenever you want to pay for an extra boost and you’re golden.
There are some unmentionables as well. Screen size, brightness, audio quality….and something most people take for granted: The keyboard and mouse. These are all subjective things that you need to test for yourself on your own terms to make sure that they work for your body.
A quick thought on hard drives and storage…..
It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at a closed all-in-one PC or a highly configurable desktop tower, you still need some kind of hard drive to contain little things like, say, the operating system. You can never predict how big files will get in the future – or how much space you need. So the way I see it, you can go nuts and grab the largest, fastest hard drive around…or you keep your PC lean-and-mean with a smaller hard drive and cherry pick what you install on it. If you’re considering the later, here’s one crazy idea to throw out at you: External home networked storage. Think about it. At work, you have multiple computers sharing the same content on a server. Why not try doing the same at home? One device can hold and share all your photos, videos and MP3s between all your PCs, tablets, game consoles and whatever else they invent. (I did a story with Josh Schoonmaker about this ages ago….). Or, at the very least consider how you might also use “THE CLOUD” in your favor grabbing files as you go from your favorite storage site.
I’ve said this before…and I’ll keep saying this: Factor in hard drive speed when you’re buying your machine! 5400rpm drives are a little cheaper and run a little cooler. But that is because they run slower. If speed is a big deal for you, then at least look to a 7200rpm drive in your rig. Trust me on this, I know that hard drive space is precious on a laptop, but you’re really selling yourself short in the long run if you value space over speed. Especially in these days where most of your content and be living up in the aforementioned cloud.
(If you want to go even faster 10000rpm drives are pricey….but they exist. As do Solid State Drives, a.k.a. SSDs.)
Also, a little pro-tip for you: Keep in mind that if you DO plan to replace your hard drive down the road, make sure that you also have a backup copy of the system restore partition. That varies from machine to machine (but I’ve seen them be as much as 25GB) and, more important, that is vital to restore a faulty PC to factory-fresh condition.
All right, with that out of the way, how’s about we just rip through a couple Laptops and how I’d spec them out?
....And Now A Couple Laptops for You...
HP Pavilion dm1 (affordable and super-portable) I really do love this machine for its solid portability….and affordability. Because it’s so tiny, be smart about what you can cram in. But don’t think that it’s a replacement for a powerful PC
Processor: AMD E-450 + AMD Radeon HD 6320M – you’ll need this power. Go for it.
RAM: 4GB – This can always get beefed up later if you think you need it. On the bright side, RAM prices go down with time.
Hard drive:500GB 7200rpm. Good size, good speed. Be careful with larger-sized, slower hard drives. Solid State Drives are also an option. They are SUPER fast, but also SUPER expense (and don’t hold nearly as much data).
HP Pavilion g6s (A bargain hunter’s student machine) Maybe you’re looking to get the kid something to handle the basics in school and have enough juice that your student might want to use after class as well. Maybe they’ll like the g6.
Processor: Intel Core i5-2410M – It gives you a good performance jump without tacking too much onto the price.
RAM: 4GB – This can always get beefed up later if you think you need it. On the bright side, RAM prices go down with time. Also keep an eye on the number of DIMMs that the RAM comes on. If it says “2 DIMMs,” it means that you’re probably going to have lose some RAM before you can buy more. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you buy a laptop with 6GB of RAM split across 2DIMMs. That means you probably have one RAM stick with 2GB and one with 4GB. If you want to boost the system memory, you’re gonna have to ditch 2GB to make room for a bigger stick.
Graphics:512MB or 1GB Radeon HD 6470M. Depending upon how much you’re expecting to use graphics – whether it’s games, video, PhotoShop or PowerPoint. (Me? I’d highly recommend 1GB)
Hard drive:500GB 7200rpm. Good size, good speed. Be careful with larger-sized, slower hard drives.
HP Envy 14 Beats edition (Desktop replacement power, portable package) I like desktop replacement-class machines, sure. problem is when you need to pick them up you need to get a back brace. or wheels. or whatever. Point is, you want it all power and something that won't put you in the hospital. And if it looks awesome, I won't be against that either.
Processor: Intel Core i7-2630QM – It costs a LOT more to jump up to the next level of processor.
RAM: 8GB – This can always get beefed up later if you think you need it. On the bright side, RAM prices go down with time. An interesting wrinkle here is that you also get the option to go for RAM that runs at a slightly higher speed. Meaning: if you have 8GB running at 1600MHz vs. 1333MHz, it’s like a turbo version of the RAM. And it’s a minor price bump.
Hard drive:580GB Dual Drive (80GB SSD + 500GB 7200rpm HDD). With this setup, you get your main system on the SSD for fast boot times and great in-app performance. Then, you can stash everything else you need (music, videos…whatever) on a reasonably fast 7200rpm drive.
Got all that? Are you ready to march out into the world feeling a little better about knowing what to upgrade next? The important parts here: Be honest with yourself about what the computer will be used for and planning ahead. Keep some of these tips of the back of your mind and you’ll have a great leg up when picking out your next notebook.
Darren Gladstone (@Gizmogladstone) TNB's Blogger-in-Chief geeks out over games, gadgets and hot laptops.