Nancy C. Muir is the owner of a writing and consulting company that specializes in business and technology topics. She is the author of more than 100 books, and she has taught technology courses online.
Buying a Laptop
IN THIS CHAPTER
Understanding what you can do with a laptop
Getting an overview of the hardware
Understanding the difference between desktops and laptops
Choosing a laptop
Selecting a version of Windows
Determining your price range
Getting more out of your battery life
Using USB ports for storage or DVDs
Choosing features for faster performance
Determining how you'll connect to the Internet
If you've never owned a laptop and now face purchasing one for the first time, choosing a laptop can be a somewhat daunting experience. There are lots of technical terms to figure out and various pieces of hardware (the physical parts of your laptop such as the monitor and keyboard) and software (the programs that allow you to use the computer to get things done, such as creating documents and playing games, for example).
In this chapter, I introduce you to the world of activities your new laptop makes available to you, and I provide the information you need to choose just the right laptop for you. Remember as you read through this chapter that figuring out what you want to do with your laptop is an important step in determining which laptop you should buy. You have to consider how much money you want to spend, how you'll connect your laptop to the Internet, and how much power and performance you need from your laptop.
Understand All You Can Do with Laptops
Congratulations - in your life you've been witness to a remarkable revolution. In just a few decades, computers have moved from being expensive behemoths that lived in corporate basements to being personal productivity and entertainment tools. They empower people to connect around the world in unprecedented ways, and they make common tasks much easier to handle.
The following list walks you through some of the things your laptop will enable you to do. Depending on what activities are important to you, you can make a more-informed purchasing choice.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. The Internet makes it possible to communicate with other people via email; share video images using built-in video recorders or webcams (tiny video cameras that capture and send your images to others); and make phone and video calls using your laptop and Internet connection with services such as Skype. You can also chat with others by typing messages and sending them through your laptop using a technology called instant messaging (IM). These text messages are exchanged in real time, so that you and your grandchild, for example, can see and reply to text or share images immediately. Part 3 of this book explains these topics in more detail.
- Research any topic from the comfort of your home. Online, you can find many reputable websites that help you get information on anything from expert medical advice to the best travel deals. You can read news from around the corner or around the world. You can visit government websites to get information about your taxes and Social Security benefits, and go to entertainment sites to look up your local television listings or movie reviews.
- Address greeting cards, letters, or home inventories. Whether you're organizing your holiday card list, tracking sales for your home business, or figuring out a monthly budget, computer programs can help. For example, Figure 1-1 shows the Jacquie Lawson e-greeting card site with lots of options for creating electronic cards to send to your friends' email inboxes.
- Pursue hobbies such as genealogy or sports. You can research your favorite teams online (see Figure 1-2) or connect with people who have the same interests. The online world is full of special-interest discussion groups where you can talk about a wide variety of topics with others.
- Play interactive games with others over the Internet. You can play everything from shuffleboard to poker and even participate in action games in virtual worlds.
- Share and create photos, drawings, and videos. If you have a digital camera or smartphone, you can transfer photos to your laptop (called uploading) or copy photos off the Internet (if their copyright permits it) and share them in emails or use them to create your own greeting cards. If you're artistically inclined, you can create digital drawings. Many popular websites make sharing your homemade videos easy, too. If you have a digital video camera or smartphone and editing software, you can use editing tools to make a movie and share it with others via video-sharing sites such as YouTube or by email. Steven Spielberg, look out!
- Shop online and compare products easily, day or night. You can shop for anything from a garden shed to travel deals or a new camera. Using handy shopping site features, you can easily compare prices from several stores or read customer product reviews. Websites such as
www.nextag.com list product prices from a variety of vendors on one web page, so you can find the best deals. Beyond the convenience, all this information can help you save money.
- Manage your financial life. You can do your banking or investing online and get up-to-the-minute data about your bank account, credit card balances, and investments. And if you're online savvy, you can do this all without fear of having your financial data stolen (see Chapter 15 for more about online safety).
Overview of Hardware
Your computing experience is made up of interactions with hardware and software. The hardware is all the tangible computer equipment, such as the body of your laptop containing the monitor, central processing unit, touchpad, and keyboard.
Your laptop hardware consists of
- A central processing unit (CPU), which is the very small, very high-tech semiconductor chip that acts as the brains of your computer. The CPU is stored in your laptop along with the other nuts and bolts of your computer.
- A monitor, which displays images on its screen such as the Microsoft Windows screen, a video you watch from an online entertainment site, or a document in a software program. Today, more and more laptops sport touchscreen monitors, which allow you to use your finger on the screen to provide input to the computer.
- A keyboard, which is similar to a typewriter keyboard. In addition to typing words, you can use a keyboard to give the computer commands such as selecting, copying, and pasting text.
- A touchpad, which you also use to give your computer commands. This little device offers a more tactile way to provide input. You move a pointer on the screen by using a built-in pointing device, which might be in the form of a touchpad, or a small button. Slide your fingertip around the touchpad. This moves the pointer around onscreen. You position this pointer on an onscreen button or menu name, for example, and then click the left or right side of your touchpad, which causes an action. You can also tap and drag your fingertip to select text or an object to perform an action on it (such as deleting a file or making a line of text bold). You also have the option of attaching a physical wireless mouse to your laptop; a small transmitter that you place in a USB port on your laptop enables the mouse input.
- Peripherals, such as a printer, speakers, webcams, wireless mouse, and headphones. These may or may not come with your laptop when you buy it. Your laptop comes with slots (called ports) where you can plug in various peripherals.
Software is what makes the hardware work or lets you get things done, such as writing documents with Microsoft Word or playing a game of solitaire. You can install software (also known as programs, applications, or apps) on your laptop or use a version from an online website. Here are a few basics about software:
- You use software to get your work done, run entertainment programs, and browse the Internet. For example, Quicken is a financial management program you can use to balance your checkbook or plan for your retirement.
- Software used to run your computer is called an operating system. Some examples of operating systems are Apple's OS X for Mac computers and Microsoft Windows. This book deals mainly with Windows 10 Creators Update and the programs it runs.
- Some programs come preinstalled on your laptop; you can buy and install other programs as you need them. For example, a computer always has an operating system because the operating system runs all the other programs. Also, some programs are included with a Windows computer, such as WordPad, a simple word- processing program, and Music and Video apps.
- You can uninstall programs you no longer need. Uninstalling unwanted programs helps to free up some space on your laptop, which helps it perform better.
- Software programs called utilities exist to keep your laptop in shape. An antivirus program is an example of a utility used to block or spot and erase computer viruses from your system. Your operating system also includes some utilities,...