Laptop processors, storage and memory

Laptop processor (CPU) 

Laptops are normally described in terms of the processor speed and type. Usually made by either Intel or AMD, the CPU is the main brain of your computer.
It performs the millions of calculations your laptop makes every second. Processor speed is generally expressed in gigahertz (GHz).
For example, an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz laptop has a chip made by Intel, that is dual core and runs at 2.26GHz.
Most laptop CPUs are now dual core, which means they are actually two processors on one chip that share the workload between them.
Some current desktops come equipped with quad-core CPUs, and it’s only a matter of time before these reach the laptop market.
Processor speed plays a big part in the performance of your laptop, so if you’re looking for a high-performance machine or you're after something that'll last you for a few years, go for a faster processor.
Balance this with your laptop’s Ram, though, as between them, these two parts play the biggest role in determining the speed of your laptop. There’s no point in having a fast processor if you don't match it with a decent amount of Ram.
Some of the mini-laptops or netbooks now available boast Intel’s Atom chip. Atom chips are designed specifically for mobile devices and aim to give you more computing power while increasing battery life.

Laptop memory (Ram)

Ram (random access memory) is your laptop's short-term memory. It's used to store information while you're using the laptop (the hard drive is used for long-term file storage). Consequently, the amount of Ram your laptop has determines how many different tasks it can accomplish simultaneously.
Aim to have as much Ram as you can afford – ideally at least 2GB. This will make it easier to rip music while you're surfing the net, updating your security software, and sending and receiving emails.
It’s usually possible to add more Ram to your laptop, but this is more complicated than adding Ram to a desktop PC, so you may need to get an expert to do this for you.

Laptop hard drive (HDD)

The hard disk drive provides long-term memory for data storage – measured in gigabytes (GB). This is where the operating system and applications (programs) are stored, as well as files such as music, photos and documents.
We recommend getting a minimum of 250GB hard disk space, as storing video, high-resolution photos, music and software uses up a lot of space. If in doubt, go for more hard drive space if you can afford it.

Solid-state drive (SSD)

Some laptops – such as netbooks or mini-laptops – use solid-state storage rather than a conventional hard drive to store data. This uses less power and, since it has no moving parts, is more rugged.
The size of SSDs hasn’t yet reached the capacities offered by hard drives, so you may have to compromise on storage space.
If you’re only doing general office tasks, this shouldn't be a problem, but large files, such as video clips, could soon use up the space. Capacities are generally up to about 20GB – fine for many users’ needs.

Laptop optical drives

Most laptops come with a CD/DVD drive of some kind for playing CDs and DVDs, and will often allow you to burn your own discs, too.
Many laptops come with a multi-format burner, which can record to a variety of different DVD formats (DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM) as well as CDs (CD-R and CD-RW).
All but the cheapest models include DVD burners, and we recommend opting for one if you can.
A DVD drive is useful for making your own videos, as well as for backing up large amounts of data, since DVDs can hold much more data than CDs.
The very best laptops include a Blu-ray drive so you can watch high-definition (HD) films on the move. Slot-load drives are preferable to tray-mounted drives, as they’re less prone to breakage when on the move.

Bluetooth, USB and Wi-Fi for laptops

Networking a laptop 
Wired ethernet networks 

Most laptops include a socket for connecting to a wired (Ethernet) network. This is referred to as a 10/100/1000 LAN RJ45 socket. The fastest ethernet connection is known as gig ethernet and transfers data at 1000Mbps.

Wireless network connectivity (Wi-Fi)

Most current laptops include built-in wireless connectivity.
This means that you can connect them to your existing home wireless network or go online at a wireless hotspot while out and about.
The best laptops will boast the latest and fastest wireless 802.11n protocol, though you’ll find that many models still use the older 802.11g protocol.
Your wireless cable or ADSL router will also need to be capable of using the 802.11n protocol for you to take advantage of higher speeds.

Laptop sockets

USB and Firewire

Check that your chosen laptop has enough USB and Firewire ports for connecting peripherals such as digital cameras, camcorders, printers, external keyboards, mice and hard drives. Faster USB 3.0 ports will work with USB 2.0 devices, although you won't get the faster speed.


If you want your laptop to communicate wirelessly with Bluetooth devices, such as mobile phones or wireless mice, then ensure that it has Bluetooth built-in. The alternative is to buy a separate USB Bluetooth ‘dongle’.

Expresscard slots

Expresscard slots enable a variety of accessories to be plugged into a laptop. These include external hard and solid-state drives, wireless network (Wi-Fi) cards and TV tuner cards.

Where to buy a laptop

Buying laptops

It's important to do your research before buying. Start with a price comparison tool, such as our compare laptop features and prices page, to track down the best deal.

Buying a laptop on the high street

The main advantage of buying your laptop from a shop is you can try out the model you're interested in and make sure you like the feel of the machine.
Features such as the keyboard and the touchpad can differ quite considerably between machines, so even if you end up buying your chosen model online, it’s worth going along to a shop to try it out first.

Buying a laptop by phone

Buying by phone can mean you can ask for advice and often get a more competitive price than from a shop. Use to find cheaper geographical numbers and avoid paying for expensive customer service lines.

Buying a laptop online

Online is where you'll find the real savings, but the downside is you'll have to navigate the computer jargon yourself to get a cheap laptop deal. Plus, you don't get to see your chosen model first hand.
There’s also the potential to save extra money (up to about 5%) by clicking through from a cashback website. Some manufacturers, such as Dell, used to only be available direct from their own website or by phone, but can now be purchased from high street retailers.

Customising your laptop

Many computer manufacturers let you customise the machine you want to buy, particularly if you buy online.
It can often pay to increase the spec of your computer above the bare minimum, as this might help you get a bit more life out of it. So be prepared to spend a little more, but look for your ‘sweet spot’ in terms of value for money.
If you are looking to customise your chosen machine, opt first for upgrading the Ram and the processor.
Keep an eye on costs, though, as you're sure to reach a point where to boost processing power just a tiny bit will cost you a hundred pounds or more – a high price to pay for what is likely to be a barely noticeable increase in speed.

Laptop problems

Laptops are easier to damage than desktop PCs, and often harder and more expensive to mend. 
High-risk laptop parts include the screen, which is unlikely to survive if dropped or sat on, and the keyboard, which won't cope with liquid spills. Over time, dust build-up on the cooling fan can cause a laptop to overheat. 
In-store, check things like the hinges to get an idea of the build quality of different brands, and to find a laptop that’s rugged enough for your lifestyle. 

Laptop warranties and insurance

For peace of mind, most laptops have at least a one-year warranty. Laptops are often classed as high-risk items on home insurance policies, so make sure you’re covered, especially when travelling with a laptop.
And check how your insurance company will deal with repairs or replacement in the event of an accident or theft.

Laptop protection

To protect your laptop there are a wide range of covers (often called skins), bags and backpacks.
There are cushioned neoprene fabric sleeves to offer basic protection from knocks and scratches, and other options include hard-shell covers or waterproof zip cases.

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