Ultimate Notebook Computer Buying Guide: All Notebook Computer Features Explained

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Consumers and companies could expect to replace their computers every three years on average until approximately 2010 because technology evolved so rapidly that anything older seemed like a dinosaur. However, since then, the update cycle has become longer and longer, and many users now have notebooks that are old enough to be used in elementary school.

Notebook Computer

Easy-Open Lid

The display hinge on most laptops we evaluate is rigid to the point that we have to hold the chassis down with one hand while opening the lid with the other. It’s helpful if the lid can be opened with one hand, thanks to the hinge design. In reviews, look for mentions of this. Apple’s MacBook series, such as the MacBook Air, is recognized for delivering this convenience (2016).

On a similar topic, check for a bit of lip at the top center of the display; it will simplify opening the lid with your finger.

Conveniently Located Ports

When looking for a new laptop, most people neglect the port placement. Look at where the ports are situated on a laptop if you want to utilize an external mouse. If most of the ports are on the right side of the chassis and you’re right-handed, the cables for some of the devices you put in may protrude and obstruct your ability to use a mouse.

Knowing where ports are located by feel may also make using a notebook more convenient. As a result, ports on the laptop’s edges are more likely to be useful since they are more apparent. For example, ports on the back of the notebook may need you to close the lid and potentially move the notebook to see what’s on the other side.

USB Type-C

The USB Type-C connector, often known as USB-C, is quickly gaining a reputation as the future port. It has yet to see significant adoption in the consumer electronics sector as early 2017, although that is unlikely to last long.

The rectangular USB Type-A port is set to be replaced by USB Type-C. That is, at least, the theory.

The advantage of USB Type-C is that it can connect to a broad range of devices, and it can even replace HDMI and DisplayPort for visual output. (The latter is contingent on the notebook maker’s inclusion of that feature.) With Windows 10, if the notebook has Thunderbolt 3 compatibility, it can even handle an external graphics card. This is great news for gamers since it means you won’t have to worry about upgrading your graphics card on your laptop.

While USB Type-C isn’t a must-have, it’s worth considering for your next notebook, especially if you expect to keep it for a long time. One example of a contemporary notebook using it is the Dell XPS 15 (2016).

Touchpad Center-Click Functionality

An external mouse may allow you to center-click with the mouse’s scroll wheel, but what about a notebook’s touchpad? In today’s world, most notebooks include what are known as button-less click pads, which allow the user to push down on the pad’s surface at any place to generate a click. Traditional touchpads, comprised of a pad and then actual left- and right-click buttons nearby, have mostly been replaced by these. We’d occasionally see a center-click button on bigger workstation versions like the old HP EliteBook 8730w, but it’s been a few years.

Software may be able to provide center-click capability on a click pad without buttons. This is generally done by designating a gesture, such as tapping two fingers together. If you’re looking for this type of feature for a specific laptop, you might want to post a question on our forums.

Power Adapter Plug and Size

When purchasing a laptop, the power adapter is sometimes overlooked. We want a power adaptor that is as compact and portable as feasible. When the power adapter is larger and heavier than it needs to be, it practically negates the purpose of purchasing an ultra-thin notebook.

Another item to consider is the power adapter’s wall connector. Notebook power adapters in North America are generally two- or three-prong adapters. At least in its consumer-class versions, Lenovo laptops like the Yoga 710-11 typically utilize a two-prong adaptor. The fact that the two-prong connector was incorporated into the adapter itself was something we didn’t like about that specific laptop. When plugged in, the adaptor may obstruct one or two outlets. It was, on the good side, relatively compact.

Backlit Keyboard

Backlit keyboards are more common than ever, although they still don’t appear on every laptop. Before you get your next laptop, double-check the spec sheet because unless it specifically states that it has a backlit keyboard, it doesn’t.

Backlit keyboards are usually always seen on gaming laptops, such as the Asus RoG Strix. However, with a low-cost detachable tablet like the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 310, you’ll be hard-pressed to locate one. In typically, entry-level laptops lack keyboard backlighting; you’ll have to upgrade to a second-tier or higher model to have the feature.

Dedicated Media Controls

On today’s laptops, dedicated volume up, down, mute, and playback controls like pause are hard to come by. Although a keyboard shortcut can provide this capability, it is not as handy or tactile as having a dedicated button.

On convertible laptops and tablets, such as the Lenovo Yoga Book, dedicated volume controls are popular. This feature is primarily intended to increase tablet usage, but it also works well when used as a regular notebook.

Function Lock

If a laptop includes a function called Function Lock, you might be able to take solace in the absence of specialized media controls. A sign on the Escape key in the upper left corner of the keyboard generally indicates this. To enable or disable Function lock on some Lenovo ThinkPads, such as the P50s, press the Function + Esc keys.

This feature allows you to specify the Function of the Function keys, the F1 through F12 keys. When you enable Function Lock on a laptop, the F1 through F12 keys become the primary press. You must press the Function key with those keys to access supplementary functions like adjusting the volume or changing the screen brightness. To disable Function Lock, you’d have to perform the inverse, pressing Function while pressing F1, for example, to utilize F1.

This functionality might be quite useful if you frequently utilize Windows shortcuts. Unless the notebook includes a Function Lock function that lets you adjust what’s main, you could be stuck performing an extra keystroke to obtain the shortcut you want if the F1 through F12 keys aren’t the primary hit. If you’re going to be a little more productive, check out our guide to Windows 10 Keyboard Shortcuts.

Most notebooks, it’s a fair bet, won’t feature Function Lock. The functionality of the F1 through F12 keys may be swapped in the BIOS of the laptop, but that’s a long shot. If you notice an “FnLk” symbol on a photo of the notebook’s keyboard, it’s a good sign the notebook has the capability.

Good-Quality Webcam and Microphone

A better-than-average camera and microphone setup is a requirement if you use Skype or need to perform any type of videoconferencing. The microphone arrays on most laptops will be of reasonable quality. Look for little holes at the top of the display since this is generally where the microphone(s) are positioned. For directional sound, the best microphone systems will employ an array of two or more microphones.

The camera, on the other hand, is a different matter. It’s possible to get a notebook with a fantastic webcam, as well as one with the polar opposite. Today’s lowest-quality cameras on laptops often feature a 720p resolution or HD as it’s popularly referred to. If a camera is described as having an FHD or 1080p resolution, it is likely to be of higher quality, especially if it is rated at 30 frames per second (fps).

If you live near an electronics store with laptops on display, go there and try one out. To do so, go to the Start menu in Windows 10, enter “camera,” and select the Windows Store camera app. You’ll be able to view what the camera sees as a result of this.

Status Lights

Old-school users may remember the blinking status lights that bordered the edges of notebooks. The status lights were made up of LED indicators that showed Wi-FiWi-Fi, power, and storage drive activity, among other things. Unfortunately, you’re only likely to find a power indication today.

We’re missing the activity light on the storage disk. If this is blinking, you can be sure the laptop is working. The Eurocom Tornado F5 is an example of a laptop with a complete set of status lights recently evaluated. These aren’t necessary for a notebook to function correctly. It’s comparable to a car’s voltage and oil temperature gauges. In most contemporary automobiles, they aren’t essential, but they give you a feel of what’s going on under the hood.

Higher-Resolution Screens

Even if you spent a lot of money on a laptop, most of them came with 1366 x 768 resolution screens in recent years. Not only are photos grainier at this low resolution, but there isn’t enough text to fit on the screen, forcing you to scroll a long way to view Web sites or edit documents.

You can now get an inexpensive system with a 1920 x 1080 or greater quality screen that will allow you to see more of your work at once while watching movies the way they were intended to be watched. For example, the Acer Aspire E 15 with a full-HD display costs only $349. If you’re prepared to spend a little extra, you can get a laptop with a 4K ultra-HD display with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. The Dell XPS 15’s 4K configuration starts at $1,599.

OLED Displays

You could be forgiven for thinking your laptop’s display looks drab and lifeless after looking at your smartphone. The finest phone screens on the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy Series and Google Pixels, employ OLED displays that cover well over 100% of the sRGB color gamut, making images on the screen seem better than in real life.

The Alienware 13 and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga are the only laptops with OLED screens currently available. The bright hues of the 2016 models of both laptops wowed us. In 2017, we hoped to see even more OLED laptops introduced.

Intel Kaby Lake CPUs

Intel, the world’s largest PC chip manufacturer, has released a new generation of CPUs. These CPUs, codenamed Kaby Lake but formally known as Intel 7th Generation Core series, are not only quicker than the one in your three-year-old laptop, but they also offer considerably better battery life and the capacity to play 4K video. Check whether the CPU serial number starts with 7 to verify if the laptop has Kaby Lake (ex: Core i5-7200U).

SSDs (PCIe x4 a Plus)

A mechanical hard disk is most likely in your four-year-old laptop. Solid-state drives (SSDs) are 300 percent quicker than traditional hard drives, drastically altering your computer experience. An SSD allows you to boot up your laptop faster, wake it up practically instantaneously from sleep, and access your favorite programs in a fraction of the time. (For example, Google Chrome and Microsoft Word open in less than a second.)

A solid-state drive (SSD) used to add $300 or more to the cost of a new laptop, but SSDs are now more widely available, and SSDs are included as standard in some sub-$800 computers. PCIe x4 SSDs, often known as NVMe or just PCIe SSDs, are three to four times faster than standard SATA drives and are used in certain higher-end laptops. If you have the option, get a laptop with one of those.

Nvidia Pascal Graphics

Your three or four-year-old laptop will not cut it if you want to play recent games or utilize a virtual reality headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. A gaming setup with one of Nvidia’s Pascal processors is required. Look for a laptop with a ten at the start of the model number that contains an Nvidia GTX chip.

Pascal processors, which range in price from the GTX 1050 to the GTX 1080, allow you to play AAA games at desktop-class frame rates with the settings dialed up. Even the smallest of them can easily handle high-end VR applications. Don’t even think about buying a gaming setup if it doesn’t have Pascal.

2-in-1 PCs

There’s nothing better than your laptop’s keyboard and touchpad for sending emails, surfing the Web, or getting work done. However, you wish it were a tablet when you’re on a plane and want to watch a movie or in line at the shop and want to check Facebook. A new generation of 2-in-1 PCs provides you the best of both worlds: a laptop that can fold flat for productivity or a slate experience when the screen is detached. That’s something your three-to-five-year-old laptop can’t accomplish.

8GB of RAM or More

A laptop with more than 4GB of RAM was incredibly costly just a few years ago. Still, 8GB is becoming normal on popular devices, and 16GB is relatively inexpensive in many situations. You can multitask a lot better with 8GB since you can maintain hundreds of tabs open on your browser while watching a movie, playing a game, or editing email. Your computer will slow down if you have too many processes available and not enough RAM since it will use the hard drive or SSD as “virtual memory.”

802.11ac Wi-FiWi-Fi

Most new laptops now come with 802.11ac Wi-FiWi-Fi, a faster wireless standard that allows you to get three to ten times quicker rates than earlier wireless standards, especially as you get farther away from your network. You may need to upgrade your router to take full use of this protocol, but 802.11ac-capable access points start at less than $100. Because most smartphones launched in the previous two years support 802.11ac, your phone will benefit as well.

Infrared Camera for Windows Hello

You may now log into your Windows 10 machine simply by looking at it. A similar feature is Windows Hello. It requires either a laptop with an infrared or RealSense 3D camera built-in or an external webcam having these capabilities built-in, such as the Logitech Brio. When looking for a laptop, seek one with one of these cameras or with Windows Hello facial recognition expressly listed as a feature. You can also use a fingerprint reader with Hello, but it’s not as amazing.

Conclusion

As the adage goes, certain things can’t be measured on paper. This is especially true of ergonomics, but you may get a sense of or gain a basic concept of most of the elements covered in this article simply by looking at images of the notebook you want to buy. Without needing to view the laptop in person, features like port placement, keyboard layout and backlighting, and dedicated media controls may be identified. Others, such as the quality of the notebook’s camera, can be gleaned through expert or user evaluations. In the end, there’s more to a notebook purchase than what’s written on the spec sheet.

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