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Picking a Performance Laptop

Pick a notebook

Defining a “budget” for a performance laptop can be tricky, so we’re going to be dealing with laptops that pack quite a punch on both performance and your wallet. Also, no Macs. Some people may disagree, but you can’t have performance and Mac in the same line. They’re polar opposites.

Now when you buy a desktop rig, you can customize everything to fit your dastardly needs. From choosing the perfect CPU to make most of your processes lamb chops, to selecting the graphics card that will give life to your games, the control over that configuration lies squarely in your hands. Sadly, laptop users aren’t quite so lucky. Since laptops are rarely upgradable, you need to choose one that has everything you need right out of the box.

Before we talk about the internal guts, there are a few guidelines you need to keep in mind when picking a laptop, performance or otherwise:

1. Don’t buy too much laptop

While there are certain laptops that offer full on customization, after a certain price point, it’s retarded to spend so much on a laptop. Take the Alienware M18x R2 for example. Once it’s fully maxed out, it costs about 4000$. That’s like over Rs 520,000 for a laptop you can barely lift. Why not build a desktop rig that can run circles around it instead? Bang for buck people, bang for buck.

2. Do you even lift?

How many days per week do you plan on carrying your laptop around with you? The keywords here are performance and laptop. What we mean to say is that you need to consider laptops that are both powerful and not too heavy to be carried around. The answer to that is determined by what screen size your laptop should have, which largely defines the system size and weight. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the laptop, the more powerful the components. The more the components increase in power, more the heat. More heat? That leads directly to a bigger cooling system. All of this combined makes sure the laptop gets heavier. Laptops with screen sized of 15 inches are ideal for portability. 17 inches are okay, as long as you can handle the load on your back.

Bottom line: A laptop coupled with the charger shouldn’t weigh more than 5Kg. After that, it’s nothing close to portable.

3. Design is king

Yes, design. Think about it. If you’re going to be doling a small fortune on a laptop, why not pick one that’s a majestic beast? Think of your laptop as a very visual extension of your personality. Like any personal accessory, such as a watch or a pair of glasses, you should choose a laptop with a style and design that works for you, as well as one with a keyboard and touch pad you find comfortable and easy to use.

How does the track pad feel? Do your fingers glide over it easily, or is the mouse hard to move?

Does it have a dedicated scroll bar, or is it multi-touch capable?  Is the keyboard big enough to comfortably type on?  Are there any keys in non-standard places that would make typing awkward for you (think of the backspace, shift, enter, and control keys here)? Don’t forget to check out the laptop hinges to see if it opens and closes smoothly. Try it for yourself and read reviews to see how they hold up over time. A laptop is a huge investment that you’ll probably have to live with every day. You want one that will last you for years into the future, not one that you’ll have to hold together with duct tape as soon as the warranty runs out. If it comes down to choosing between a cutting edge design and a minor difference in specs, I’d point out that nearly all mainstream performance laptops are powerful along the same lines, so go with the great design.

Now that we’ve laid down the ground rules, let’s move onto the specifications.

1. Screen quality and resolution

Colors should be vibrant, and the screen should have a wide variety of brightness settings that you can tweak from the keyboard. As for the resolution, getting a 1920 x 1080 screen will work wonders for you. Whether it’s gaming or watching a movie, do it in high definition!

2. The processor

If you’re looking at a laptop in Sri Lanka, chances are it has an Intel CPU in it. So let’s just stick to Intel. The new chips, which launched in June 2013, are easy to spot, as most have a part number that begins with the number 4.

The performance difference between last-gen and current-gen CPUs are modest, but Haswell offers significant battery life improvements. So basically there’s a real-world battery life payoff in seeking out a Haswell-equipped laptop. If top-of-the-line performance is what you’re looking for, get a quad-core i7 Haswell CPU. This should give you more than enough power for performance demanding tasks like gaming, photoshop and video processing.

Pay careful attention to the number of cores – most laptop i7s and i5s are just dual-core chips.

3. The graphics

Intel’s current version is called HD 6XX, and while it’s not for serious gamers, you should be able to get away with playing casual or older games, or even newer games if you keep the visual settings set to Low. But if that’s enough for you, you wouldn’t be buying a performance laptop now, would you?

So let’s just brush past that and look for a laptop with a discrete graphics card. Like, say, a GTX 960M.

It should be noted here that the amount of Memory on that graphics card is not what you should be looking at. Rather, you should look at the model. There are different factors involved – architectures, core counts, speeds, memory bandwidth and so on – and the model of the GPU is the key to everything.

Anything starting from a GTX960M should do the trick. For lower resolutions, a GTX 940M ought to cut it, but at 1080p, things get demanding. Before purchasing that laptop, visit http://www.notebookcheck.net to check out how each GPU fares: they’ve elegantly tabulated each games FPS count for every GPU on the market. There you’ll be able to figure out if that laptop has the juice for what you need.

4. Hard drives and storage

Your new laptop is going to have a traditional spinning platter hard drive (HDD). But there’s a bigger player: solid-state drives (SSDs). Very powerful laptops generally sport a SSD. SSDs give super-fast boot and access times, but due to the cost involved, usually show up in 128GB or at most 256GB variants.

We suggest you go for a laptop that has the best of both worlds. Look for laptops with both an SSD and a HDD. While a bit more expensive than a normal hard drive, that SSD not only does this give you faster boot up times, it will also allow you load selected programs with close to zero waiting time. The cheaper HDD will give you the storage space you need.

5. Connection Ports

When it comes to the ports in your laptop, you’re going to be much more limited than on a desktop, so it’s important you know what you’re getting. How many USB ports do you want? Does the model you’re looking at have the much-improved USB 3.0? Does it have an SD card slot for your camera’s photos?
What about Ethernet for when your Wi-Fi goes down, or a VGA, DVI, or HDMI port for connecting an external monitor?
This kind of stuff can fluctuate a lot from laptop to laptop, and the smaller your laptop, the fewer ports it’s going to have. You can always get a USB hub if you need more ports at home or a USB SD card reader for your photos, but just know that the more ports you actually have on the computer, the more convenient it’s going to be. It’s advisable that you make sure you get USB 3.0 ports. While not essential, don’t forget to check for eSATA and Thunderbolt ports for faster data transfer.

6. Optical drive

A good number of thin, lightweight laptops now skip the optical drive. Since performance laptops accommodate bigger heat sinks, there’s more than enough space for an optical drive.

We haven’t missed it, but it’s safer if you have one. This way you can burn a backup or boot up from a disc in case of emergencies. Look for Blu-ray readers – they generally provide a cost-effective solution to those media needs without breaking the bank.

7. Memory

More RAM Means better multi-tasking.

Since you’ll be using this laptop for intensive tasks – tasks like gaming, Photoshop and video processing – look for a minimum of 8GB of DDR 3 RAM. That’ll let your programs run without a hitch. More RAM also lowers the number of write cycles to your SSD, theoretically increasing its lifespan.

8. Multimedia

At the end of the day, we all want to kick back and enjoy a movie in solitude. Or maybe you’re the kind who logs onto Skype and calls up a loved one. Either way, you’re gonna need your laptop to be well equipped. Most laptops come with decent speaker configurations and modest webcams, but this is a performance laptop you’re looking for. You should be on the lookout for dual-speaker configurations and HD webcams.

9. Battery life

The more power you can squeeze out of your battery, the better, unfortunately, battery life can be a quite difficult to measure. It’s varies from task to task. The battery life when gaming can be quite low, but you can get a lengthy battery life if you’re using Microsoft word and Winamp. Think about it, it’s not like you’re gonna game without a charger.
The best you can do is look at the manufacturer’s battery life estimations and read user reviews to see whether they keep their word.
Some components, like newer generation processors and solid state drives are particularly friendly to your battery life, too. You can do a little extra work to keep that battery working as long as possible, but the best way to get good battery life is to buy a laptop that already has it.
You should also make sure to treat that battery with care to keep its lifespan high.

A battery that’s well cared for will be usable for a maximum of 5 years.

TL:DR 

If you can’t tell, sorting through the currently available “ Performance laptops ”, there’s not a single one that stands clearly above the rest. They do have their differences as the prices vary.

But – All have potential things they do well, and all have potential concerns, be it heat production, design, performance, keyboard, screen quality, etc… It ends up being a question of choosing where you want to compromise, not to mention the price.

Performance VS Portability.

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