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Today's laptop computers can give their desktop equivalents a serious run for their money, although you're likely to need a fair bit more of it, as portable machines still tend to be more expensive than desktop models for the same power and performance. That said, you should seriously consider both how much and for what you will be using your machine before you spend more money that you need to.

A budget laptop configuration is more than likely going to be enough for students and home users looking for an additional machine to keep the kids occupied or to sit in the garden writing emails. If you're a normal user using standard software, then a laptop with a 14-inch screen, something like a Mobile Intel Celeron processor, a 20GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, a built-in 56k modem, a CD-RW drive and an Ethernet port for network connection should see you fine without breaking the bank.

Going up to the next level, if you want to change your desktop for a laptop either because you want to take up less space or because you need computing on the go, then think carefully before you buy. With a 50% bigger budget, you should be looking at a 15-inch or 17-inch screen with widescreen display, a Pentium 4 processor, a 60GB hard drive, at least 512MB of RAM, a DVD-ROM CD-RW combination drive, and a 3D graphics card with dedicated memory - all in a laptop with a maximum weight of 3kg. Heavier models may cost slightly less, but, due to the amount of features packed into them, battery life on most of these kinds of laptops can be relatively short.

When you start looking at 'ultra portable' laptops, then lightness and size are what it's all about. These are aimed at the serious travelling computer user, and are designed for use on planes and trains, giving a good balance of performance, power consumption and mobility. Outside of the very expensive models, these are unlikely to have all the features of the heavier desktop-replacement models, but should be more than adequate for the normal business traveler, and include all options for wireless networking as standard. Higher priced models should also come with a built-in DVD/CD-RW combination drive. When comparing ultra-portables look out for the additional weight of items such as external drives and mains adaptors, which the manufacturers hardly ever own up to in their weight claims.

However good the model you choose may be, think about what you may want to connect it to. If there's only one USB port, for instance, that means that if you want to plug in a mouse and a digital camera at the same time, you've got serious problems. So check how many, and what variety, of ports are included.

Nowadays, most laptops use Lithium Ion batteries, which have a lifespan of about two to five hours between charges, depending on what functions you are using, so buying a spare battery is also well worth considering.

Author R. Germain
date added Fri 14 08 2009

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