Notebook Buying Guide : A Technical Approach


Aren’t all of us familiar with the usual sales tactics? So those cheeky sales people said “This processor is good! 1.8ghz, that one 1.6ghz only.” , “This one more RAM. Add more GB RAM, better for you.”, “Get this one la, 120GB hard disk space. that one only 60GB.” and so on so forth.

They told you it’s BETTER but they don’t tell you WHY is it better – being human, we’re just suckers for things that are said to be BETTER. So in the end we have lesser dough in our pocket, some stuff that we don’t utilize, and that cheeky salesperson got the most benefit out of the transaction.

In this article, I will be covering the technical aspects of buying a notebook that will not only help you in your decision making but also to help avoid the snares of cunning sales people.

For Your Consideration

Alright, it’s time for us to approach this matter in a more technical manner. Don’t worry, I won’t be flooding you with intricate details.


Generally any processor on a modern day notebook will be sufficient for any use, so unless you intend to use some application that relies heavily on processor, you shouldn’t waste time thinking too much over the processor issue.

Sure, one processor could be better than the other but it makes no difference when you’re not utilizing it. As a matter of fact, most people under-utilize their processor, even the processor of the lowest-end today is still more than sufficient for anyone’s use.

If you are not using a processing intensive application, then processing power doesn’t matter. A 5-year old processor could browse the Internet, play MP3s and DVDs without a hitch. Getting a processor that’s a step or 2 higher isn’t going to bring you significant improvement in computing experience.

Memory Size

While the most basic RAM size is sufficient for any use, you should also consider getting your RAM size a step higher.

Notebooks these days come with wide-screen and people have this tendency to run many application and open many tabs on their web browsers without realizing that it’s taking up more and more memory.

By having additional memory, it allows more memory space for the system to manipulate data thus improves the response time when you switch among applications as lesser hard disk access is required.

If you are not using RAM intensive applications, then RAM size doesn’t matter much. Nevertheless it’s always good to have a little more RAM for a more responsive computing experience. That doesn’t mean you should get as much RAM as you can either because having excessive RAM would mean that most of your RAM would not be utilized. πŸ™‚ As what I’ve mentioned earlier, the basic RAM sizes that come with the notebooks are fine. Perhaps you’re tight on budget and upgrading RAM is not an option, you can always add the RAM later on when there’s a need.

Networking / Connection Devices

  • LAN – All modern day notebook comes with it.
  • WiFi – Make sure your notebook that supports WiFi. It would be 802.11b or the faster 802.11g signals, either way it’s good enough for you to browse the Internet and connect to the LAN via WiFi.
  • Other connection methods – FireWire, Bluetooth, Infrared…… these are just some of the devices, if you’re reading this article 2 years after it was published there might be more devices for you to consider. For each an every device, you MUST consider whether you need such connectivity and whether you are required top up anything to get it.
Connectivity is a critical component in today’s computing. Your notebook would be connecting to WiFi hotspots for Internet access, or connecting to other medium such as cameras and phones for file and information transfers. Do not overlook connectivity issues.

Hard Disk Size

Before we proceed, let’s understand a bit about the unit of measurement used in computer storage. Lets go grab some “bytes”.

Since this is not an article to explain units of measurement, I’m going to make it simple.

  • 8 bits = 1 byte
  • 1,000 bytes = 1 kilobyte
  • 1,000 kilobyte = 1 megabyte
  • 1,000 megabyte = 1 gigabyte

In reality, 1 gigabyte would actually be 1024 megabytes = 1,048,576 kilobytes =1,073,741,824 bytes.

Now back to topic, a good quality full-colored JPEG picture at 800×600 resolution comes to about 300 kilobytes in size. So how many pictures could you save on a 1 gigabyte space? About 3,333 and that’s just 1 gigabyte. So essentially an 80GB hard disk with 20GB used for your operating system and other applications would still leave 60GB behind for you to store nearly 200,000 images.

Note, that’s 200,000 full-colored images, bear in mind that not all images vary in size and resolution so if the images you keep are of smaller size, there’s ample room for even more pictures for you to store.

What about files such as Microsoft Word documents? Well a 5 page text-only Word Document file takes about 40 kilobytes space (size depends on content.) and that’s about 7 times smaller than those JPEG files mentioned in the example above – so yeah, you get to keep about 1,400,000 of them if your file size remains at 40 kilobytes and you get to store even more should your files be smaller.

If you’re person who loves hopping on P2P networks and getting all the shows you can get, then no hard disk size will satisfy you. It’s either you control yourself by downloading sparingly, or delete what you have downloaded or…… (read the next section : Optical Drive)

Notebooks these days come with huge capacity hard disk, most people don’t even fill up 20 gigabyte space despite countless years of using the same hard drive. In my opinion, there’s NEVER a right sized hard disk for you. If you don’t know how to fill up the hard disk space, you’re left with plenty. If you know how to fill up the hard disk space, then you’re definitely running out of space as time goes by.

Optical Drive

It started more than 10 years ago, I remember those days a 2X CD-ROM could cost a few hundred MYR – these days 52X CD-ROMS go for less than 50 MYR and toping up a little bit could get you optical drives like CD-RW, CD-RW/DVD, DVD, DVD-RW drives. Ok enough nostalgia, let’s move on.

Optical drives are something you should take note of, not so much of the speed but rather what it can do. Aim for a notebook that comes with an optical drive that is able write (or some call it “burn”). This means that they would be able to write contents unto optical storage mediums such as CDs, DVDs and whatever else that comes our way in the future.

Optical storage mediums are great, not only for backing up your data but it’s also helpful in making more space on your hard disk. πŸ™‚ Let’s say you recently downloaded a whole bunch of TV series like Battlestar Galactica, Mission Impossible, The A-Team, Air Wolf, MacGyver and it’s really hogging your disk space – how do you keep these files without having to delete them? MOVE THEM!! To an optical storage medium of course. πŸ™‚

Graphic Card

The graphic system is something that people shouldn’t even bother about UNLESS they intend to play some games on the notebook and when I say games, I don’t mean Minesweeper or those games found on Yahoo!. I’m talking about games that actually utilize the processing and graphical ability of a system, like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for example.

If gaming was your intention, then you’ll need a notebook that comes with a graphic system that can handle 3D games decently. Prepare to fork out more $$$ for the notebook to have such feature. I personally wouldn’t recommend people to buy a notebook just to play games unless money is not an issue to them.


So there you have it, a guide that works even a few years from now. For a non-technical approach, head on to Notebook Buying Guide : A Simple Approach – the first part of the Notebook Buying Guide. πŸ™‚

I’ll update both articles from time to time if some good ideas come up. If you have any way to improve this guide? Leave a comment or contact me. I’d love to hear what you have in mind.

31 thoughts on “Notebook Buying Guide : A Technical Approach

  1. Simple yet informative. How dare u I was about to create one of notebook buying guide as I see a lot of repetitive question on notebook recommendation thread. Haih u shud let me do it first u know.. :p

  2. I need to have a notebook for the purpose of:-
    -using Adobe softwares
    -storing/managing database (using Oracle)
    -Java programming

    So, any advice on notebook requirement to get?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  3. In your case, I’d say focus on the RAM cos more RAM does help when it comes to Adobe’s softwares like Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere. and of course HDD space too.

    As for JAVA programming, I did Java compiling even on 1ghz days and it was pretty fast back then so I think it should be fine for you on any processor. πŸ˜€

    Not sure about your oracle database part. I used to run far lower spec machine with Oracle database + OC4J running for JSP application development. So machines these days should be fine.

    My only concern would be the OS, many come with Vista. Some say Vista works fine with Adobe products but as for Oracle and Java related stuff – I’ve no idea. πŸ™‚

  4. Well done dude~~
    This is a very good guide on buying notebook for people like me.

    I just would like to know that if I plan to use graphic design software a lot such as AutoCad or Solidworks, would I need a bigger RAM size for it and is 1.8GHz processor is sufficient for it ?

    Thank you.

  5. Thank you Sky!

    As to your question, I’d go for bigger RAM. more RAM means the system has more space to fiddle around with data before having to resort to hard disk.

    so with lesser hard disk access, your hard disk would last longer and so would your battery. πŸ™‚

    1.8Ghz Core2Duo processor i suppose? πŸ™‚ Ghz race is over, a 1.8Ghz processor with the latest architecture would perform better than older generation 3Ghz processors.

  6. Hi again,
    First, thanks for the guide
    I might getting a notebook, but should i go for Vista OS or FreeDos?
    Nowadays, most notebooks come with Vista, and getting one with Windows XP is kinda hard, and plus, pricey
    As my previous post said, I worked mainly into Oracle and Java programming
    And, if I get a notebook with FreeDos, will installing Windows XP void its warranty?

  7. Hamiru, I’ve never used FreeDos but IMO Vista is the way to go for it’s support from Microsoft. πŸ™‚

    Regardless of what OS you get, I don’t think it’ll void warranty if you install other OS but just check with them anyway.

    How is Oracle’s compatibility with Vista? Last I used Oracle it was on XP. Just take note of the compatibility issues, as long as it’s fine then I think Vista is the way to go.

  8. In terms of upgrading hardwares in the notebook, besides the RAM and the hard disk what else can be upgraded?

  9. Hi goldfries, I’m thinking of buying a notebook as i’m going overseas to study.

    The purpose of having the notebook:
    -Playing games (main reason)
    -All sorts of programming
    -Some autocad usage as i’m a R&M student

    So, any advice on notebook requirement to get? I’m going to Australia so is it cheaper if i buy it there ? I heard they are more expensive >.<

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  10. As far as I know, getting it from Australia is more pricey.

    I’m not familiar with the electrical system (is that what you call it?) in AU but one thing’s for sure is that you SHOULD fine a brand that supports International Warranty.

    I hvae no particular notebook in mind, furthermore I have no idea how deep are you heading in AutoCAD. As for games, you’re gonna have to fork out a little more for decent graphic capability.

  11. I’m a robotics and mechatronics student which mainly do on programming and designing products using autocad and other software. So a notebook with a decent graphic card will be enough right? cause i’m not playing games in high detail. OK i will look for notebooks that support Internation Warranty. Thanks

  12. Now i wanna buy a laptop… Priced around 3.5k to 4k… Theres so many laptops in the market and i dono which 1 to choose lar… So i hope can get some smart recommendations regardless of brands… Err i want notebooks tt have powerful internet connection, nice resolution 15 inch will do, support multitasking, got some media playing stuff tt like can play music without switching on comps like tt, can play games wont jam,and got camera and built in microphone de, most of all it must be beautiful… Haha… Lol seems that i demand alot… I found a laptop to my liking, VAIO CR… But my friends said its kinda overpriced… Dono what to choose now… Any help pls? Thanks

  13. hi Goldfries,

    i’m a student who will go overseas soon and thinking of buying a laptop too. mainly for the purpose playing games to pass the time. i know i need a laptop with decent graphic card. which type of graphic card would u recommend for this year, 2008. i heard Nvidia brand and intel is good.

  14. How much are you willing to spend?

    Even the low range could support some games but generally you’ll need to get one with higher end card (and more costly) if you’re picky into getting more graphic details from your games.

    The Dell’s XPS range do comes with 8600 series graphic system if I’m not mistaken. Just managed to use my friend’s units a few weeks back.

  15. hi Goldfries,

    First of all…great article! πŸ™‚

    I’m looking for a lightweight (possibly small, 13.3″ – 12.1″) laptop with a decent performance. The budget is around 4.5K to 5K. Read about IBM Thinkpad X300 but the price is so steep. What about Vaio SZ…is it worth getting it? I’m a big time Linux user so a laptop without Windows OS would be great. Brand wise…IBM is the priority but HP and Sony will do too. Any laptop would you recommend to me? Thanks

  16. How bout processor vs. power consumption? You dint mention bout it… as i know amd grab more power than the intel one… choosing a rite processor for ur notebook is essential too(the battery life)^^…

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