The endless options in today’s market can make shopping for a laptop overwhelming. Ask these questions like a pro to speed up the search and find a system that matches your needs.

Weight or Screen Size: A Trade-Off

As electronic gadgets shrink, asking “how small is too small?” becomes increasingly relevant. Establish what is most important: screen size or weight.

Desktop dynamo? Go big for increased screen size (read: productivity) and get a docking station. Laptops are powerful these days, and the option to take them on short trips is handy, especially for 10-key users.

Need laptop, will travel? As a rule of thumb, plan on a laptop with a 13 or 14 inch screen size or less for increased mobility. We like the Asus U30Jc-!a, the Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y460 and the Dell Inspiron 14R-1898MRB.

A word to the wise: screens smaller than 13 inches may require the user to pack reading glasses. Fingers can also get cramped using keyboards on smaller systems.

Operating System

Windows users will find the Windows 7 operating system (OS) a refreshing change. Pick the Professional version for a business environment. Otherwise, Windows 7 Home Premium works well.

Mac users will continue to encounter obstacles when exchanging files, performing presentations on the road, or networking with a group of other computers that aren’t Macs. On the other hand, Mac laptops are beautifully engineered and Mac OS X tends to be more intuitive. Bonus for creatives: Macs have fantastic feature set for graphics intensive applications.

Processor Chips

Only word processing or web browsing? Opt for a slower processor to save money and battery life.

Will the laptop be your primary computer? Pick a powerful processor that won’t slow you down. What you will sacrifice in battery life, you’ll gain in performance. The Core i3, i5 and i7 are very popular Intel options with high performance and surprisingly economic battery use.

Battery Life

The more battery “cells” you have, the longer your computer will last on one charge. Standard laptop batteries are usually six cells. A nine-cell battery may be an option and can increase battery life 25%-35%. Larger batteries are usually associated with a higher weight, but may be worthwhile if you need a computer to last through the day.

Paper or Plastic? Aluminum or Carbon Fiber?

The more a laptop is moved around, the more durable its casing should be. Plastic is the most popular and least expensive option, but the least durable. Light and showy, aluminum is showing up more in Apple Macbook, HP Pavilion, Toshiba, and Acer product lines. Magnesium alloy is another metal in business laptops noted for high durability. The most expensive and longest lasting? Also the rarest? Carbon fiber.

Details, Details, Details…

Two or three USB ports are standard. It may also be worthwhile to look for a USB port that doubles as an eSATA port, giving you the option of adding extra storage space.

When it comes to projecting PowerPoint slides or other media from your laptop, VGA is still the most common connection, but new technologies like DisplayPort and HDMI can output higher quality images and audio. Pick the higher quality for a presentation laptop.

DVD burning drives are pretty much standard in laptops now, but it may be helpful to look for a laptop that can burn dual layer discs. These hold twice the amount as the single layer discs and can save you money. Blue-ray drives are also available.

Want to Skype? Look for built-in webcams and microphones. Take lots of photos? Make sure that you can download them to your laptop with a digital card reader. These options shouldn’t increase the price tag of the laptop much, if at all.

Warranty Options

If the warranty is more than 15% of the value of the computer, you might as well put that money into backup capabilities to decrease downtime if something does go wrong.  Unless you’re really accident prone.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the way you plan to use your laptop should influence your decision the most.  If you are a frequent traveler, a small, light laptop with long battery life will work to your advantage.  If it will mainly stay in one location, you can get a bulkier laptop with a big screen and faster processor.

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, Inc. TekTegrity is an IT Strategies and Management firm that provides premium IT services to businesses, government, education and non-profit organization in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Monterey and Kern counties. TekTegrity’s goal is to become your organizations long-term strategic partner by supporting your IT infrastructure with your bottom line in mind. Some of TekTegrity’s services include System and Workstation Installation, Virtual Hosted Servers, Priority Backup, Off-Site Data Replication,, and Total Systems Management™ (TSM). TSM is an industry-leading managed services model that emphasizes proactive and preventative IT support at a predictable fixed monthly fee. For more information about TekTegrity, you can reach them by email at info@tektegrity.com, on the Web at www.tektegrity.com, or by telephone at 805-596-0135.