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Topics Covered in this Section

1. Should I buy a used Computer
2. Size and Weight
3. Processor Speed
4. Memory
5. Hard Disk Drives
6. Display
7. Battery Life
8. Expansion Ports and Slots
9. Network and Connectivity
10. Disk Drives
11. Direct Input Options

1. Should I buy a used Computer
Used Computers can offer better value for money compared to a new computer without compromising on quality. Prices of new systems are artificially high due to the cost of the latest processing power. By not buying the latest technology, you can save hundreds of euro and still have a high powered computer for your money. Used computers are often ex-corporate computers that have been sold on because they have been replaced with newer models. Remember, cheap computers are not necessarily poor quality or under-powered, and as long as they have been professionally refurbished, they offer a great value alternative to a new machine.

2. Size and Weight of Laptops
There are several classes of laptops, organized by weight and size. At the lighter end, you'll find machines weighing just 2 to 4 kg. These models, from companies like IBM, Sony, Dell and Toshiba, are designed for sheer mobility and as a result often have less features. For example some lack internal Floppy, CD or DVD drives, though some companies, like Sony have managed to fit these drives into truly thin and light machines - at a price. Medium weight laptops are designed to replace a desktop computer while still being light enough for most types of mobile use. Often these models have more features, bigger screens and longer battery life than the ultra lightweight versions. Machines at the heavier end of the range, ranging from 4 to 6 kg are essentially desktop computers in the shape of a laptop. Most will have all the same components of a full size computer - internal CD-Rom, modems etc. While still portable, they can be quite tiresome if transported constantly.

3. Processor Speed
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) determines the overall power and speed of your laptop. Processors come in a variety of different speeds, types and from a number of manufacturers. Intel and Athlon are the two main processor manufacturers, both produce high quality processors for laptops and computers. Intel currently produce Pentium, Celeron and Centrino processors. Centrino processors are the latest and focus on wireless technology and mobility. They are currently the most expensive type of processors. Celeron and Pentium processors are much more common and affordable, especially when it comes to used laptops. The way to check how fast a processor runs at is to check its speed, measured in Megahertz (Million Hertz or MHz) and Gigahertz (Thousand Million Hertz or GHz). The latest laptops can be as fast as 3Ghz, but for most users this is more than is necessary. For running every day tasks such as word-processing, editing images, browsing the internet, sending emails, etc, even a 366Mhz laptop will suffice. If you intend to do more processor intensive tasks on your laptop such as watching DVDs, editing video, playing games, then a faster machine would be recommend. Anything above 600Mhz should be more than adequate for all but the most demanding of applications. But processor speed is not the only factor that will determine how fast a computer will perform. The amount of memory is equally as important, which we will discuss next.

4. Memory
Random Access Memory (RAM) is the temporary store for programs and other data. Your laptop stores all applications and program data you are currently using in this area. How much RAM your computer has will influence how fast your computer works and the number of programs it can run simultaneously. Some laptops will come with only 32 MB. But, given the needs of most modern programs, you should look at getting at least 64 MB. For more intensive applications, 128MB is recommended.

5. Hard Disk Drives
The Hard Disk Drive (HDD) stores files and any document you save to the computer. The size of HDD, measured in Giga Bytes (GB), determines how much data you can save. The more hard drive space you have, the more data you can store. The minimum space you should look for is 4Gb, but ideally 10 - 20Gb is recommended. Some high-end laptops have as much as 60 - 80Gb HDD, probably more space than you'll ever need.

6. Display
Laptop screens these days start at 12 inches and go up to 16 - 17 inches measured diagonally. A larger screen is more comfortable to work on but will contribute to the overall weight and price of your laptop. There are two types of display to consider: " Passive matrix - This is the older technology and is less popular these days. Passive matrix does not offer as good a display as active matrix, and doesn't allow you to view the screen from many angles though it is the cheaper option. There are two types of passive matrix screen: DSTN and HPA, with HPA being the superior. " Active matrix - This offers a faster screen refresh rate than passive matrix and allows you to view your screen from all angles. Superior image quality comes at a higher price however. The most common form of active matrix screen is TFT (Thin Film Transfer). Something else to consider regarding display is your monitor resolution. Resolution measures a picture's sharpness in terms of pixels, measuring the number of horizontal pixels by vertical pixels. The larger the number the sharper the picture. You should consider nothing less than 800 x 600, though 1024 x 728 is preferable.

7. Battery Life
Battery life will vary depending on the type of battery that comes with your laptop. There are three types of battery on the market today: " Lithium ion (Li-Ion) - This is the latest technology and is touted as superior to its predecessors. It is more durable and holds the charge for longer. It also tends to be the more expensive alternative. " Nickel cadmium (NiCad) - NiCad offers a shorter life than Lithium and seems to be falling into disuse. It is however cheap to replace and holds a charge well, though is doesn't react well to under- or over-charging. " Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) - NiMH offers 10% more power than NiCad, but does not hold a charge as well. You should note though that although Lithium ion is the superior battery, today's laptops are more sophisticated and thus demand more power. You will thus not experience much more battery life from Lithium than you would from an older model laptop running a NiCad or NiMH battery.

8. Expansion Ports and Slots
Expansion ports and slots extend a laptop's functionality and allow it to talk to devices like printers and external drives. Ports include serial, parallel and Universal Serial Bus (USB). While serial and parallel are pretty much standard, USB will allow you to run many external devices available on the market today. Most laptops also come with expansion slots, like PCMCIA for use with adapter cards which will allow you to add for example a modem or additional memory. Another way of adding ports to your laptop is via a port replicator.

9. Network and Connectivity
If you need to connect your laptop to a wired Ethernet network or a broadband network, you will need an internal Ethernet/network card. If you wish to go online via a dail-up connection, you will need a modem. Most modern laptops come with both network and 56Kbps modems built in, otherwise make sure it comes with a PCMCIA adapter slot to plug in a modem card.

10. Disk Drives
Most laptops will come with at least one bay built into the casing for removable disk drives like floppy, Zip, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, DVD-R(W) and CD-R(W). You can also attach external drives via one of the ports discussed above, as well as via a SCSI adapter plugged into one of these ports.

11. Direct Input Options
A laptop keyboard is somewhat smaller than that of a regular desktop PC, but the main difference between data input methods with conventional computers is the mouse substitute. There are currently three choices to consider: " Trackpad - This is the newest and now the most common mouse substitute. It consists of an electromagnetically sensitive touchpad that tracks your finger movements, moving the cursor accordingly. The trackpad is robust, but can take some getting used to as it can be sensitive and cause the cursor to move when your finger is merely hovering in the vicinity. " Trackball - This is a small embedded ball that moves the cursor when it moves. The trackball offers accuracy, but can be a pain as it needs to be cleaned frequently and tends to take up more space on the keyboard than the other alternatives. Trackball's are fast becoming obsolete " Trackpoint - This is a small rectangular button on the keyboard that often sits among the keys. The trackpoint offers accuracy, but can be slower to use than a trackpad. IBM laptops often feature a trackpoint with some models featuring both a trackpoint and a trackpad. Most laptops have ports to allow you to plug-in conventional mice and keyboards. If you are considering buying a laptop as a desktop replacement, it might be worthwhile buying an external mouse to improve productivity.
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