How Much Laptop Do You Need?
If you’re buying a computer, size matters. Not just physical size, although both the very small (7-inch tablets) and the very large (17-inch laptops) have their ardent fans. The real question isn’t about physical size. It’s all about what’s under the keyboard.
Now, not everyone needs a mega-powerful beast of a machine. The flip side - buying just enough PC to get by - is even worse. Why? Let’s talk about needy computer programs.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Bare Minimum
If you’re an average user, you probably run Windows 7, 8.1, or 10, use applications like MS Office, have a security suite installed, and spend a fair amount of time online. According to the official system requirements pages of these programs, here’s the minimum computer specs you need:
1 gigahertz CPU (processing speed)
1-2 gigabytes of RAM (memory)
16-20 gigabytes available on your hard drive (information storage)
So you decide to run MS Office and security software on your netbook. It should be okay; your PC meets the minimum requirements, right?
Wrong. The problem with minimum requirements is that these are what each program needs to run at normal speed. So if you have Windows and MS Office both competing for that 1 gigabyte of RAM, neither are going to get exactly what they need. Result? A computer that runs like a pirate with two wooden legs: slowly, and jerkily. Add in your security software, and your system gets bogged down indeed.
And there is another reason why spending cash on the bare minimum of PC power is poor economics: updates. Each update you install takes up space on your hard drive. It may even slightly change how a given program runs. A few years of updates add up to a chunk of processing power and memory usage.
Why You Don’t Need a Professional-Grade Laptop
Do you need to run in the other direction and buy a octa-core, 100 terabyte hulk of a machine to keep up with the times? (A terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, by the way.) Not unless you’re a full-on gamer, a graphic designer, or a web development professional.
For most folks, a quad-core processor that clocks in around 2 gigahertz will provide more than enough oomph to multitask through your daily run of applications; 4-6 gigabytes of RAM should negate the run-like-a-pirate problem. Hard drive space is rarely a problem, since even budget-level laptops pack at least 320 to 500 gigabytes of storage.
If you can do without a few design extras, like brushed-metal cases and paper-thin bodies, you can find a decent laptop for well under $500. The amount of processing speed, memory, and hard drive capacity should see you through several years of streaming online video, socializing, and everyday computing. You’ll be able to save a few hundred bucks for something really necessary, like a road trip, a spa break, or dinner and tickets to the big game.