Laptop Buying Guide 2010

Laptop Buying Guide: Selecting the Right Laptop for You

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All-Purpose Laptops

Models in the all-purpose laptops category are, well, all-purpose: They're large and powerful enough to serve as your everyday computer, but portable enough to accompany you when you're on the go. This category has more options than almost any other class of laptop. You can find durable ruggedized laptops for business travel, convertible laptops with reversible screens that turn them into tablets, gaming laptops, cheap notebooks, expensive and stylish laptops, and more.

Generally an all-purpose laptop is defined as a system with a screen from 14 to 16 inches, and weighing more than 4.5 pounds. Most of these models use full-power dual-core and quad-core laptop CPUs (as opposed to ultra-low-voltage processors or Intel's energy-sipping Atom CPUs), and you can expect even entry-level systems in this category to have about 4GB of RAM, often with options for up to 8GB. The weight can vary widely depending on the model and configuration, but 5 to 8 pounds is common.

You'll find a wide range of prices as you shop for a general all-purpose laptop. Low-cost models can be as cheap as $400, but piling on extra options or choosing a system with a sleeker body or a better processor and graphics configuration can drive the price to $1500 or more. Optical drives remain standard, and Blu-ray Disc drives are optional on many all-purpose laptops.

You can get an all-purpose laptop with almost anything you desire, if you're willing to pay for it. Some have integrated graphics, others have drastically more powerful discrete mobile GPUs that will let you play the latest 3D games. Want a Blu-ray drive and an HDMI output so that you can hook the laptop to your HDTV? Some models have those features. Looking for 1TB of hard-drive space? You can get that, too. A touchscreen? Check. The array of features and options is dizzying. Manufacturers sometimes prepackage sets of features into specific laptop models for sale, whereas companies such as Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and Lenovo give you some level of customization of your laptop, so you can buy a configuration that best matches your needs.

Larger screens and more-powerful processors mean shorter battery life, though. Most all-purpose laptops last from 2 to 5 hours on a charge, depending on the model and how you use it; playing games and using Wi-Fi drains the battery faster than light Web surfing does, and cranking up the display's brightness shortens battery life considerably.

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