Back To Work & Uni Laptop Buying Guide: The Specs That Matter

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It's a new year — time for a fresh start, and some fresh tech for work or uni.

Laptops are becoming increasingly versatile, powerful and thinner. The market is flooded with options and it can be tricky to pick what will be right for you.

That's where the specs come in. If you're not quite sure what all those letters and numbers mean, here are the most important ones.

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Storage

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One of the first things that people look for in a rig is how much storage it has. You might see this called a hard drive, or in a laptop it could be a non-volatile storage format called flash memory.

You basically want to make sure you have enough room for all the things you'll end up downloading, as well as your go-to programs.

Classic hard drives are being replaced by solid state drives (SSD) in a lot of newer laptop models due to their speed. This can often improve the importance of the entire machine.

If you're ever worried that you won't have enough room — fear not! You can always get yourself an external hard drive down the track if necessary. They're getting smaller every year and are easily transportable between home and the office/class.


Dimensions

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Unless you're buying a desktop replacement, dimensions should be integral to your laptop choice — they determine how large and heavy it is.

15-inch machines tend to be the most popular in terms of balancing portability and functionality. They're a nice middle ground.

11-12 inches are the thinnest and lightest you're likely to find, and great if you need to travel or commute a lot. You will have to sacrifice other specs for them though. At least for now.

Smaller laptops are definitely becoming more powerful and you'll see them (especially 2-in-1s) become the go-to choice in the near future.

On the other end of the scale, 17-18 inches are also options, but should only really be considered if you never plan on moving it.


Ports

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Ports are important, especially for work and uni.

You're going to want to determine what other devices you use and if they're compatible with whatever laptop you have your eye on.

For example, SD readers and HDMI video-out ports are being phased out in newer models. You'll find that Thunderbolt 3, USB-C and 4K monitor support is becoming more predominant instead.

You don't want to realise the morning of a presentation that you need a HDMI connection and don't have one. You can often buy dongles to add in ports that you're otherwise missing, though.


Display

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Pixels are important. The more your laptop has on its display, the more information it can fit on its screen — and it will look nicer.

1920 x 1080 is generally a good middle ground for a screen in the 13- to 15-inch range, and probably the dimensions you're most used to seeing. There are others though!

You'll find 2560 x 1600, 3200 x 1800 and 3840 x 2160 in high end rigs, whereas many on the lower end of the market will have 1366 x 768.

If you're doing a job or course that requires a super-sharp display, you may want to look at the higher pixel options. Otherwise, sticking to the middle will be just fine.


CPU

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The CPU or Central Processing Unit determines the performance of your laptop. That may sound intimidating, or that you absolutely need the best one available. But that isn't necessarily true. It depends what you'll be using your laptop for.

For high performance workstations, Intel's quad- and dual-core Core i7 are great, especially high-powered HQ variants. But if you're looking for more of an all rounder in terms of performance and price point, you're most likely going to be looking at Intel i5s and i7 Us in the market.

It's worth mentioning that the likes of AMD also do high-end and mid-range CPUs, but you're far more likely to see Intel processors when you wander into stores.

You can probably also get away with Intel i3s but the performance will begin to noticeably drop.

If you're on a tight budget, you could consider Intel Atoms, Pentiums and Celerons. AMD also have cheaper options in their A, FX and E Series. These really are only good for light browsing, word processing and program use though.


GPU

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If you're a fan of things looking pretty, this is the section for you. It's all about the graphics.

Most laptops have onboard graphics cards built into the motherboard. However, you'll find that high end rigs will have dedicated graphics cards. They ain't cheap though.

Unless you plan on using your laptop for high-res video editing or some hardcore PC gaming, you don't need to worry about this.

If you do though, you're in for some fun. Check out some of Nvidia and AMD's different options.


RAM

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RAM, or Random Access Memory, is what your laptop will use to store and retrieve information.

This is important for opening programs — each time you open one it's loaded into the memory. You may notice that if you have lot of different things open simultaneously everything will slow down. Programs may even start crashing. This tends to happen to people who never shut their machines down.

The more RAM you have, the more your laptop can take at once. 4GB is a minimum benchmark, but probably want to look at getting 8GB or more if you plan on doing anything other than basic browsing and word processing.

If you want something a little more hardcore, 16GB and more is where it's at — but it'll cost you and probably isn't necessary for a work rig.

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