While a laptop is unique in its own way, it is still a computer and there are some basic features you should know about when buying any computer.

Hard drive
CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drives

Hard drive

  • What it is. A hard drive is your computer's main permanent storage unit. It holds large amounts of data and programs, and all the information stays put until you decide to delete it. The more space your hard drive has, the more stuff you can do.

  • Laptops and hard drives. Most laptops start with at least 4.3 gigabytes (GB) of hard drive space, but you might want to consider getting more.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

  • What it is. If your hard drive is your computer's "long-term memory," then the RAM is its "short-term memory." RAM stores information on your computer, but when you shut down the computer, everything that's stored on RAM is lost. Words that you type or a computer game that you're playing are stored in RAM unless you specifically request for the information to be moved onto your hard drive (by saving it). If it's your habit to simultaneously type a paper, play solitaire, browse for porno online, and e-mail your mom, you'll need lots of RAM. (The more applications you run at once, the more RAM you use.)

  • Laptops and RAM. You want at least 32 megabytes (MB) of RAM in your laptop, but 64 MB is highly recommended (again, because of the no-upgrading issue). Don't get more than 64 MB unless you're a graphic designer (in which case, why are you reading this article?).

Central Processing Unit (CPU or Processor)

  • What it is. The CPU is the brain of your computer; it does all the necessary thinking and runs the programs. While the CPU speed is not as important as hard drive or RAM space, get as much speed as you can afford because it does make a slight difference.

  • Laptops and CPUs. Get at least 233 MHz in processing speed for your laptop. There are a variety of CPUs to choose from (Intel Celeron, Pentium II, Pentium III, and AMD K6) but we're going to assume that if you're reading this article, you won't need to fuss too much with the type of CPU you're getting. Just make sure you get one. If you're really curious, though, here is some more information on CPUs.


  • What it is. A port is a slot through which you connect peripheral material such as microphones or cameras. You can also avoid using the laptop's uncomfortable keyboard or input device by connecting a desktop keyboard and mouse to the laptop through its ports.

  • Laptops and ports. Currently, all laptops feature a serial, a parallel, an infrared, and a universal serial bus (USB) port. When buying your laptop, try to get at least two USB 1.0 or 2.0 ports (2.0 being the more up-to-date and expensive port). The reason why there are so many different kinds of ports is because peripheral equipment corresponds with different types of ports, but USBs are quickly becoming the most popular port to use. In fact, in the near future, serials and parallels are likely to be completely wiped out.

CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drives

  • What they are. They're where you stick your CDs or DVDs - duh.

  • Laptops and these drives. While neither is completely necessary, it's a good idea to splurge for at least a CD-ROM drive (which is not a standard feature on laptops) because most software comes in CD form nowadays. However, if you get a DVD-ROM drive, you won't need a CD-ROM drive too because a DVD-ROM drive can read CD-ROMs. Another incentive to get the DVD-ROM drive is that if you're going to be traveling with your laptop, it'd be nice to be able to watch DVDs as you're waiting for your inevitably delayed flight to board.


  • What it is. The modem's main job is to turn the digital information from your computer into analog signals that your phone line can understand (and vice versa). As far as you're concerned, a modem allows you to use the Internet and check e-mail. They come in all types of speeds; better modems allow for faster downloading.

  • Laptops and modems. With laptops, there are two modem options:

    1. Internal modem: They're easier to hook up and gaining popularity, but you run the risk of getting stuck with a slow internal modem.

    2. PC card-based modem: Because this type of modem sticks out of your computer, you can fiddle around with it, replace it, poke at it, whatever. However, these external modems might require some configuring (telling the CPU that it's there and ready to be told what to do). So be sure that you have a tech support hotline.

      To stay competitive, many laptop vendors are offering a 50-hours or a month of free Internet service, just for plunking down a couple of grand on their table.