New windows laptop considerations

What sort of factors do you look for when buying a new laptop? My friend needs something new but will only really use it for office apps, web browsing, and storing pics/vids etc, maybe a few games for her kids etc.

What is a decent spec 2012 laptop for such? And any preferences on things to look for in terms of manufacturer or components, with justified reasons why? They are comfortable with windows and office software side of things. You go into store and there are endless choices. I don’t want to just pay for the name but there must be reasons why certain manufacturers devices are more costly than others, what reasons are they. Who are considered the best nowadays?

Any do’s/dont’s to warn us about most welcome. Any advice welcome or a list of “consideration factors” would be great so we don’t get “sold” by the salesman.
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jostafewConnect With a Mentor Systems AdministratorCommented:
Callandor makes a very valid point, we can suggest hardware specs based on the intended uses above but the form factor is probably the important remaining variable which will be determined by user preferences and budget. The very best value out there are the 15.6" laptops as that is the highest selling size and therefore the cheapest to mass produce. If portability is important, 14" machines are pretty similar in cost and save a bit of space, but won't be significantly lighter. Battery life will be similar for both. If you get into higher end business machines you can have a fully featured 13" laptop but it will be expensive. Below 14" you are into the relm of ultrabooks (Apple aside) which are excellent machines but come at a much higher cost and usually omit certain features to make the target thickness such as optical drives for example. The do offer decreased weight, slim chassis and increased battery life.

In terms of hardware specs, right now I believe the good value is in a machine based on the i3 processor. They are very efficient having integrated the GPU and certain chipset components, and perform well. More CPU is great (i5 or i7) but for your intended uses I wouldn't bother. The really cheap systems with the AMD CPUs tend to be slugs. Not that AMD can make a good processor, it just seems that the current market is favoring Intel products. For the usual office apps, web surfing, e-mail etc. 4GB RAM is perfect. The biggest bottleneck in modern systems is the mechanical hard drive. A 7200RPM model will yield better performance but aren't always included in the lower end systems, instead including a 5400RPM model. If you have the money, spring for an SSD. Cost per GB is high, but it will turn an otherwise mediocre system into a snappy pleasure to work with. As for hard drive size, this again comes back to what you intend to use it for; if you want to stuff it full of music, large photos, and especially videos, then you're going to want 500GB or more. If not then take whatever's cheap. I'll second Thinkpadsuser on recommending the inclusion of bluetooth and webcam (pretty standard these days), and if possible an Intel wireless network adapter. I've found their driver support to be better. This was listed above, but you will want Windows 7 64bit. If it's just for home use and won't ever join a windows domain, don't bother with Professional; Home Premium is perfectly good.

To give you a little background, I purchase and install all the new systems at my company (20-30 a year) for various users and requirements. We are a Dell shop so that is what I am most familiar with and would recommend. On that note I think the deal to be had is on their Vostro entry level business machines, particularly the 3560. They're classy looking machines with solid specs and a good price tag. I usually recommend those to friends. That being said every manufacturer offers similarly spec'd machines in different form factors and we'll leave that entirely up to you. A couple things to keep in mind are the layout of the keyboard (some will mess with the location of the "\" key and split the left shift key which drive me nuts. Also, it's a bit of an extra step but before you pull the trigger on a machine hit the Mfgr's website, and under support try to find the page to download drivers for that machine. Make sure that exact model is listed. I've come across orphaned machines from unnamed brands where I had to dig through user forums and guess at which similar models might carry the same hardware that I could download drivers from.

The one thing I didn't mention was Netbooks. They can serve a purpose but I wouldn't recommend them as a primary computer in a household as they are limited in terms of performance and expandability. However as a kid's laptop or a cheap travel machine they make sense.
JohnConnect With a Mentor Business Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I use Lenovo Thinkpads. They are reasonably priced and good value.

Check the games out. Today, I only purchase 64-bit machines with Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. I get large, fast hard drives (7200-rpm, 300 to 500Gb) and occasionally SSD drives. I get at least 4Gb of memory. That combination will work very fast.

Beyond that, I get:

1. Good WiFi card (Intel)
2. Bluetooth pan (I use a Lenovo Blue Tooth mouse and like it).
3. Camera (for video calls and the like).

Such a machine will serve you well.

... Thinkpads_User
CallandorConnect With a Mentor Commented:
When you buy a laptop, the primary consideration is what you will be using it for.  If it needs to be very light, then you are restricted to ultraportables.  If you are making movies, then cpu power is the most important.  If budget is limited, then the more expensive laptops are out of range.  If battery life is important, then low power cpus and SSDs are the best choice.

You can choose between Apple, Lenovo, Sony, Asus, Dell, and Toshiba, to name a few.  The one you choose depends on the features most important to you.
chubby_informerConnect With a Mentor Commented:
nobusConnect With a Mentor Commented:
the laptop to choose depends on the user, and the use.
for normal internet/Office use, the cheapest models will do; just select a bit more than the very lowest in spec (eg, 4 GB ram, and a decent CPU)
for business use, better select business models (see DELL )
for use in severe environments (dust, shocks) select sturdy models

**nowadays, you also can go for laptop, ultrabook, netbook or ipad
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