Q: I would like your opinion as I'm undecided about which of the following two laptops to buy: Toshiba, $579, 6 gigabytes of memory, i5 processor, 750 gigabyte hard drive, 15.6-inch screen, Windows 7; or HP, $479, 4 gigabytes of RAM, i3 processor, 640 gigabyte hard drive, 17.3-inch screen, Windows 7.
My wife and I mainly use the PC for email, some games, some photo downloads, and Microsoft Word and Excel. I would appreciate your opinion as soon as possible.
A: I'd go with the Toshiba but see if I could get an i3 processor instead of i5 and a smaller hard drive. Then I'd use the savings to max out the RAM at 8 GB. That'll make all the difference.
For what you and your wife will do, an i3 with lots of RAM would be just as good as an i5. This is especially critical if the computer comes with Windows Home Premium (64-bit), which is most efficient when it's working with RAM that is a multiple of four (which makes 8 GB of RAM more efficient than 6 GB).
While the HP's bigger screen size would certainly do your eyes a favor, a 17-inch laptop is going to weigh more and run hotter than a 15-incher. Plus, Toshibas are among the most reliable laptops available, according to Consumers Report.
But computers are more than the sum of their specs. If possible, visit an electronics store where you and your wife can type on HP, Toshiba and other laptops. Subtleties such as how the keys are spaced and how the track pad feel can sway your opinion to a different direction. A super-fast, priced-right laptop won't do you much good in the long run if it feels cheap or is a chore to use.
No matter what brand of laptop you choose, make sure it can hold 8 GB of RAM and fill it to the max. The more memory your computer has, the better it functions. Think of it this way: Your computer's brain, or CPU, is filled with all the tasks it has to do next, and RAM, or random access memory, is the short-term memory that helps the brain remember all the steps it has taken so far toward completing its tasks.
I know if I had more RAM, not only would I remember to go to the car to drive it to the grocery store to pick up groceries, but I'd remember where my keys were, what route to take to the store, and what groceries to pick up when I got there. The more RAM, the less time I'd spend hunting for my keys, sitting in the car till I could remember where the store was or staring blankly at the store shelves till it occurred to me I was there to buy apples.
So no matter what computer you get, max out the RAM to help max out your laptop's efficiency.