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How to Choose a Laptop (When You Know Nothing About Computers)

Buying a laptop is a big investment. As we spend more and more of our time online–working, socializing, learning, and relaxing–it’s important to choose the right machine. If you don’t know much about computers, however, that can be a daunting task.

Here’s a quick overview of what to look for as you shop.

Tablet, Netbook, or Laptop?

The first decision you need to make is what type of device to buy. If we’re talking portable computing products, then you have three basic options: tablets, netbooks, and laptops.

Tablets include the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy. They don’t have a built-in keyboard; you’ll need to type on the screen or buy a separate keyboard. However, they’re very light and many of the latest models rival traditional laptops for speed and power.

Netbooks aren’t as popular now that tablet operating systems have gotten more powerful. Netbooks are very lightweight, both in terms of actual weight and the features they offer. They’re a good budget choice for students or travelers. The HP Stream is less than $200–just don’t expect to do much more than browse the web or write documents.

Laptops range from basic models to advanced gaming rigs. How much machine you need depends on what you want to do with it. For home office use, Lenovo is one of the most trusted brands. However, the MacBook Pro from Apple makes a strong case for its high-end performance. Most laptops weigh between 4-5 lbs, making them slightly less portable than tablets.

Buy a Little More Than You Need

It’s a good idea to get a slightly bigger hard drive and faster processor than you think you need. Even if a machine works for you today, you want it to be able to grow with you. That means paying a little extra now for more speed and storage.

Laptops and especially tablets are more difficult to upgrade than desktop computers. As games and media become more sophisticated, they use up more memory. Choose a machine with more RAM (random access memory) to ensure that your device doesn’t become obsolete in a couple of years. Look for devices with a minimum of 8gb of RAM–but 16gb is better.

Consider Support and Care

Laptops and tablets break. It’s just a fact of life. Buying from a company that offers great support can be a real lifesaver. Apple rules the pack for customer care, with their popular “Genius Bar” available for troubleshooting at retail locations. Dell also rates high on support. Make sure that you understand the warranty on your machine–and don’t forget to register it.

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