As with any computer, the hardware determines what the laptop is capable of. Higher-quality components will naturally be more expensive, so it’s important to consider the main role of the laptop and choose hardware suitable for this purpose.
A laptop bought, for example, for browsing the Internet or writing documents, does not require a high-performance processor or video card.
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Like any other computer, the CPU is the brain of the laptop and does most of the work. When a computer needs to access or modify data, the processor performs this task.
Better processors will be able to process more data at a faster rate. However, keep in mind that pure CPU clock speed does not necessarily mean high performance.
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The latest offerings from Intel are the Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 series in 10th and 11th generation models. You can see the generation in the part number of the chip, which is displayed immediately after the dash.
For example, the i5-9400H is a 9th generation processor. Meanwhile, AMD’s latest laptop chips are the third generation Ryzen 4000-series mobile processors, although they’re a bit harder to find in laptop offerings.
The graphics processing unit or GPU is the chip that generates all the images you see on the screen. Most low-end laptops come with integrated graphics, which means the component is installed inside the main processor.
For example, almost all Intel laptop chips have integrated graphics. AMD makes Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, which combine CPU and GPU cores on a single chip in a similar fashion. Other laptops have an additional graphics chip/module soldered into the motherboard.
These chips are called “discrete GPUs” and are usually non-replaceable. Nvidia and AMD are the main suppliers of these chips.
While some laptops offer sound out of the box (like the MacBook Pro), most laptops don’t have room for decent speakers inside the case. Most laptops have ports for connecting headphones or external speakers to get a more impressive sound experience.
RAM, often referred to as system memory, refers to dedicated hardware for temporarily storing and accessing information for immediate use. All ongoing tasks store data in RAM, as does the web browser that displays this guide.
Essentially, the more RAM, the more information a computer can request at any given time, and therefore the more things it can do at any given time.
However, unlike disk capacity (see below), RAM does not store data indefinitely. Once the RAM loses power, all stored data is lost.
How much RAM do you need? 8 GB is the ideal amount for most. However, it’s worth going up to 16 GB or more if you’re running demanding applications like video editors.
The amount of disk space on a laptop’s internal drive(s) is the amount of data it can store in total indefinitely. All data, from installed programs to downloaded music, is stored on the internal storage device.
These devices use either traditional platter-based hard drive technology or NAND Flash technology. Chromebooks tend to use the latter in small amounts.
Unlike RAM, data in storage does not have to be used. An installed program that is not currently active takes up storage space but does not take up memory. Many modern laptops now use solid state drives (SSDs), which are faster and more reliable than traditional hard drives (HDDs), but more expensive when compared to the same capacity.