You've been cooped up indoors for the past half-decade surfing the Internet. Your hair has grown down to your feet, the pizza delivery guy is your only source of direct human contact, and your mother has been telling her friends that you're on business in Europe. We don't blame you; we blame your awful desktop computer.

Your PC-addicted existence is getting more pathetic by the day, but you just can't bear to tear yourself from the beckoning glow of your computer screen. Well, we've got the perfect suggestion for you - buy a laptop! With a laptop, you can actually be out in the sun as you're checking your e-mail on a minute-by-minute basis. And with a laptop, you can reclaim the life you once had.

Now, help us help you by reading this SYW on buying a laptop.

And, if you think choosing an apple involves a paring knife, you need more help than we thought. So, skip the steps and head straight for this how-to video.



A laptop (a.k.a. "portable") is a travel-sized computer that fits on top of your lap (hence its ingenious name) and makes you look like a cool and efficient person (or a workaholic). Laptops generally have Microsoft Word, Internet access, and all the other stuff that you've come to depend on every day. Smaller than a desktop computer, laptops usually have four distinct components: a monitor, a keyboard, a system unit, and a mouse. So as you can tell, laptops encompass all the components of desktops, yet still somehow manage to look pretty cute. Here are some other advantages to owning a laptop…


  • Portability. The number one reason why people get laptops is because they can bring it anywhere - the beach, on a trip, to church, to the bathroom (just don't email us from there… that's sick). If you're constantly on the go, a laptop will come in very handy.

  • Size and Weight. You live in an apartment the size of a closet. Are you gonna cram a hard drive, a 15-inch monitor, and a keyboard onto the ironing board you use as a desk? Laptops are lighter and much more compact than any PC or Mac system, so they'll help you save tons of space. And when you're not using it, you can fold it up in a briefcase and stick it under your bed with ease.

  • Image. You can't help but be a little jealous of the woman pulling out a sleek black laptop on the train. She's cool.


Laptops sure are purdy, but they ain't perfect…

  • Technology. Because a laptop is pretty compact, the most recent technology that's been developed for desktops has yet to be made into tinier forms and successfully crammed into laptops. So laptops are always a step behind desktops when it comes to capability and efficiency. Laptop software isn't as fancy, and everything takes longer to load. Even saving a simple Word document is less than instantaneous.

  • Comfort perks. You're going to have to sacrifice decent sound devices, keyboard comfort, and your mouse for the sake of portability. The whole idea is to carry around as little as possible - and a subwoofer jutting out on one side of your laptop kinda defeats the whole purpose.

  • Upgrading (forget about it). If you're planning on adding stuff onto your computer, get yourself a desktop and not a laptop. While upgrading a laptop is not entirely impossible, anybody who knows anything about computers will tell you that it's impractical - bordering on boneheaded - to purchase a laptop with the intention of upgrading it. It's often impossible to add stuff like RAM and hard drives without shipping the entire contraption back to the manufacturer.

    Even if you do decide to upgrade, you're still limited in the selection of extra equipment; most laptops require that you install parts manufactured by the same company. It's elitist, it's blackmail, and frankly, we don't like it.

  • Image. You can't help but get a little peeved about that woman checking e-mail on the train. She's almost as annoying as that guy in the restaurant squawking into his cell phone.


A laptop is like a pet: you must pick out the right one for you or forever will it dominate your destiny with its demands. Think we're being dramatic? Just wait and see. So we've prepared a comprehensive list of special laptop features so that you'll know what to expect when you set out to buy one. Educating yourself on laptop features also protects you against unscrupulous salesmen who have no qualms about preying on technological innocents such as yourself.

Weight and size
Input devices
Other things to look out for

Weight and size

  • Weight. Most laptops weigh between 3 - 8 pounds, with the majority coming in at just over 5 pounds. When you're buying your laptop, ask yourself if you'll often be taking it outside your house. If the answer is yes, you'll want to buy a thinner, lighter laptop that will fit into your bag or briefcase. Maybe you can even attach it onto a chain and wear it around your neck for extra easy access (and as a snazzy fashion statement).

    On the other hand, if your laptop is going to inhabit your room for the majority of its existence, you might want to consider investing in a laptop that has more features; it'll be bulkier, but at least it won't fly off your desk when a strong breeze blows through the window.

  • Size. The most common screen sizes on laptops are 12.1, 13.3, and 14.4 inches (although some really tiny laptops feature screens that are as small as 8.4 inches). Again, a tiny screen is appropriate for frequent travelers, but it'd be ideal to have a larger, squint-free screen if you're willing to sacrifice convenience (and some extra bucks) to buy it.

Input devices

Instead of a hand-driven mouse, laptops come with other more cumbersome "input devices" for navigating a cursor around the screen. The good news is you can't get carpal tunnel from them, but the bad news is that you just might go berserk trying to edit a 10-page paper. Keep in mind, though, that all laptops allow you to plug in a standard mouse if you so desire.

  • Touchpad. A touchpad is a square-shaped surface located below the space bar of a laptop keyboard. It is touch-sensitive and you navigate the screen by moving your finger around the box, as if you were drawing. The majority of laptops sport a touchpad as their input device. A touchpad can be a bit tough to get used to (you have to be careful not to let your thumb fall on it while typing, or it'll move the cursor), but they work quite nicely.

  • Pointing stick or rubberized nipple. Sounds titillating, but this is one pointing stick (or nipple!) you'll wish you never touched. This input device is a tiny rubber nub that sticks out of the keyboard right between the G, H, and B keys, and it responds to pressure from your index finger. So you navigate the cursor by applying pressure in the direction you want the arrow to go (sorta like a joystick). Sounds easy, but most people find pointing sticks very frustrating to use - the slightest touch causes the arrow to go flying across the screen. We suggest you go with the touchpad instead.


Sure, you can always plug your laptop into a wall. But you probably got a laptop to give you a bit of freedom, so if you're on a subway or in the park, you'll need a battery to give your computer some juice. There are three main types of batteries:

  • Li+. Most people get Lithium-ion (Li+) batteries. These batteries range in quality; batteries with a high milliampere (mAh) and high voltage measurements are best. Regardless of the quality, you're best off with one of these babies.

  • NiMH. If you're cheap, a nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery will do. However, be aware that they'll require you to recharge them every hour or so.

  • NiCad. This probably won't be an option, but if a dealer does try to sell you a nickel cadmium (NiCad) battery, run out the door screaming. NiCads are the worst batteries in existence (because of their requirements for recharging), and no decent human being should have to deal with them.


There are two types of displays (that is, screen images) to choose between: active-matrix (a.k.a. thin-film transistor or TFT) and passive-matrix (or dual-scan). Huh? Here's a translation:

  • Active-Matrix (TFT). Go for an active-matrix display if you've got some dough to spare. It'll be worth it. Pictures come out sharper and moving images play out smoother. In fact, nowadays most laptops come with active-matrix displays because they're so commonly preferred.

  • Passive-Matrix (Dual-Scan). This is the older and cheaper display. Images that run on this display react more slowly. It's not a pretty sight, but if you're strapped for money, it's tolerable. If you need a laptop purely for word processing, it won't prove disastrous.

To figure out what type of display you're dealing with on a laptop, move the cursor very quickly across the screen. If the cursor disappears while moving, the display is passive-matrix, and if you can keep your eye on it, it's active.

Other things to look out for

  • Keyboard. It's a guarantee that all laptops feature cramped keyboards, but at least try to find a laptop with a keyboard with which you can comfortably type. Also, consider getting a spill-resistant keyboard if you're of the klutzy sort.

  • Durability. If you plan on taking your laptop just about everywhere, you might want to consider a model with shock-resistant hard drive mounts. These are specifically designed to protect your laptop from bumpy adventures.

  • Compatibility. If possible, test-drive a laptop before purchasing it. As we'll repeatedly tell you 'til the cows come home, once you get a laptop, you're committed to it until one of you croaks. You can't easily replace an annoying keyboard, an irritating pointing device, or a poor display. So make sure that you're compatible with your laptop by playing around with it. If you're buying your laptop online, try to find the same model in a store and test it out there first.


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.


And now that you're all psyched about getting a new laptop, it's time to shatter your dreams and hopes by informing you on how much you'll be spending. (We're evil like that.) You can get a decent laptop for $1,500. And the best kind out there cost a mere $6,000. Mwahahahaha!

But think about all you'll be getting! A laptop might look small, but it still is a computer, and you can still use it to read your precious e-mail or spellcheck the best-selling novel you wrote. In addition, laptop prices are constantly dropping due to the fact that their popularity is increasing dramatically and vendors are in fierce competition with each other.

If the thought of blowing over a thousand bucks on a hunk of (granted, very smart) metal (especially when you've been saving up for that adorable feral midget) is still making you swoon, consider these suggestions:

  • Make a budget: Don't get sucked in by shady suggestions to buy more than 64 MB of RAM, a flux capacitor, or a glow-in-the-dark mousepad (especially when you're not even getting a mouse!). You can save a lot on your laptop purchase by writing out a budget of exactly what you need and want and sticking to it.

  • Get a used laptop: Of course, you run the same risk as when you buy any second-hand product: crappiness. But if you do your research and check out stores for refurbished laptops, then you just might luck out with a really wonderful model for under a thousand dollars.

  • Bargain: If you make the trip down to your local computer store, you might find the opportunity to haggle. Nothing is set in stone at Mom and Pop's Laptops and it never hurts to try to bargain the price down (assuming that Pop doesn't whip out a pitchfork after hearing your insulting price suggestions). Just make sure you check out the store with the Better Business Bureau before making the trek, just in case. There's no point in trying to swindle swindlers.


All right, the time has come for you to make the purchase! But before you go running to the nearest computer store, we've got some more lecturing to do. First off, there's no need to run to the nearest computer store. It's actually recommended that you do your shopping online because there is much more variety and you'll find better deals.


You can visit online computer stores like CDW, Office Depot,, and CompUSA, or you can go straight to some top computer manufacturers (listed alphabetically):

Before settling on a purchase, it's a good idea to compare brands at sites like or, which are designed to give you unbiased opinions on quality and price. And check out this article for some general safe online shopping tips.


You could run out of the store with laptop in hand and never look back, but you could also run around naked in a lightening storm. We suggest you do neither. Instead, always remember to ask for a detailed written explanation of the company's warranty, especially if you're shopping at a Mom and Pop's Laptops. The warranty should cover details like who installs replacement parts, who pays for return shipping for major repairs, and for how long your computer is covered.


When buying something as expensive as a laptop, it's always a good idea to pay by credit card. If there's a problem with your purchase or delivery, the Fair Credit Billing Act states that buyers have 60 days from the occurrence of the problem in which to report the details in writing. It's not the end of the world if you come across a problem with a purchase you made by check, money order, debit card, or (gulp!) cash, but it's easiest to enforce your rights as a consumer if you pay by credit card.

And now you have a solid laptop computer. Now you can run around naked in a lightning storm. Just don't bring your new laptop… we wouldn't want to see it get hurt.