Posted: Tue 21st Aug 2012
Nowadays, it seems, there's a device to suit every occasion and no doubt many of us are tempted to rush out and buy the latest thing whenever something new comes onto the market. But is it actually what you need? When it comes to updating your hardware, it helps to know what's going to fit the bill.
In this edited extract from 50 Top Tech Tools and Tips, David Sandy takes a look at the key differences between desktop computers, laptops, netbooks and tablets and considers which you should (or shouldn't) buy.
A desktop computer will be right up your street if the following sounds like you:- You going to be in a fixed location for most or all of your time. In this situation, a larger screen, full-sized keyboard, and plenty of room to swing a mouse could make working on a desktop faster than working on a laptop.
- You are on a tight budget. You will get more performance and a larger screen size for less money buying a desktop computer. Look out for these features
- If buying a bundle, does this include monitor, mouse and keyboard? Check the small print!
- Monitor size - these can look bigger in-store than on your desk. Consider a minimum of a 22-inch screen if you're going to be in front of the screen for prolonged periods of time.
- CPU - Intel's i5 or i7 processors for current best performance.
- RAM - a minimum of 4GB of RAM.
- Graphics card - avoid integrated graphics cards if you want improved performance for things like video and design work.
- Hard disk - 500GB will cover most needs, especially as an external hard drive is recommended for backing up your important data.
- DVI or HDMI output if you are planning on connecting it to a high-resolution monitor.
What you should expect to pay PC desktop computers vary greatly in price, from Â£350 for a basic model including a monitor, mouse and keyboard up to well over Â£1,000. Apple Mac Minis start from around Â£500 and are just the base unit - so you would need to purchase a separate screen, mouse and keyboard. Apple iMacs are well worth considering, starting from around Â£1,000, and have the base unit and screen integrated together. Desktop PC photo credit: YuMaNuMa
A laptop computer will provide you with similar basic functionality to a desktop computer, but it is compact enough to transport. Laptops aren't necessarily right for all types of business or business owner. But they are incredibly flexible - and ever-more powerful.
- Is a screen size of up to 17 inches going to be enough visual space for you to be productive?
- Are you seldom going to be out of your fixed office? If so, a desktop PC may be faster at the same price and more cost effective, and could be coupled with a smartphone for when you are occasionally on the move.
- How will you connect to the internet? All new laptops should be Wi-Fi enabled, but if you are out and about you may not be able to guarantee access to a Wi-Fi hot spot. A 3G card for your USB port, providing mobile internet, is your solution here. But don't forget to factor in this cost.
Look out for these features
- CPU - Intel's i5 or i7 processors for best performance.
- RAM - a minimum of 4GB.
- Graphics card - avoid integrated graphics card if you want to do video and design work.
- Hard disk - 320GB will cover most needs, especially as an external hard drive is recommended for backing up your important data.
- Webcam and built-in microphone - essential if you use video and call-conferencing services such as Skype.
- Battery capacity - will the laptop be able to stay off mains power for long enough to suit your needs?
What you should expect to pay PC laptops vary in price from around Â£300 up to Â£1,500. Apple's range of Mac laptops are of superb quality but range from Â£850 to over Â£3,000, depending on specification. For an average specification PC laptop with 15-inch display, 320GB hard drive, 4GB RAM and Intel i5 processor, you should expect to pay around Â£500-Â£600. Laptop photo credit: Simon Wicks
Netbooks can run full applications, just like a laptop, but are less powerful - so running multiple applications, power-hungry or graphically intensive programs is not really possible. The major benefit of a netbook is its portability and battery life. If you want quick access to your emails, internet and documents when out in the wild, this could be the solution for you.
Is a netbook right for me? Consider:
- Is the screen size going to be large enough for the applications you need to use? For example, do you do lots of work on spreadsheets?
- How will you connect to the internet? All netbooks should be Wi-Fi enabled, but if you are out and about you may not be able to guarantee access to a Wi-Fi hot spot. Again, a 3G card is the answer: don't forget the cost.
Look out for these features
- Being comfortable with the smaller screen is paramount with a netbook, especially as you may spend several hours at a time staring at it. Make sure you try before you buy so you know your eyes will be comfortable using it.
- How does the smaller keyboard feel to use? Are the keys sufficiently well spaced and comfortable for your fingers? Again, try before you buy! Many netbooks have close-to-full-size keyboards, so it's possible not to get annoyed by cramp.
- At least a 1.5Ghz processor for reasonable performance.
Netbook photo credit: Gilly Berlin What you should expect to pay Netbooks start from around Â£170 and go up in price to about Â£500, with Apple's Mac-equivalent to the netbook being the MacBook Air, which starts from around Â£850. If you are looking at a top-end netbook (sometimes called Ultrabooks), perhaps consider making the transition over to a laptop, which will be more powerful for the same money. If you are likely to be using a 3G SIM card / USB modem to connect to the internet with your netbook, depending on data usage it will cost you between Â£10 and Â£30 per month.
Tablet computers are touch-screen devices used either with your finger or a stylus (depending on the type of screen technology). They are less powerful than a netbook or a laptop, and rather than having full applications have smaller â€˜apps' instead.
All tablets run an operating system which provides you with the platform on which to install apps. The main operating systems are Google Android and Apple iOS (though look out for the new Windows 2012 operating system). It's worth trying out a tablet device with each of these on to see which you like working with the best. Is a tablet computer right for me? They're great if you are mainly going to be using email, internet and updating your social media accounts. But if you need to work on documents or multiple applications at one time, then look at a netbook, laptop or desktop computer. Look out for these features
- Does it have a capacitive or resistive screen? Capacitive screens can process input from multiple touches and gestures at once. Resistive screens are less laggy and more accurate, and work with a stylus, but only process input from a single touch-source at a time.
- Does the device have a front-facing camera (vital if you are considering using it for video calls)?
- How does the tablet connect to the internet? Is this just via Wi-Fi or a 3G SIM card?
- Does it come with a case or protective cover?
What you should expect to pay Expect to pay from around Â£150 for a low-end tablet computer with a small 4-7 inch screen up to about Â£700 for high-powered 10-inch Android tablets, and from Â£400 to Â£700 for an Apple iPad. Also, remember if you need to use the tablet on the move and guarantee internet connectivity, you will need a 3G SIM card. These start from about Â£10 per month depending on the amount of data you will be using. iPad Photo credit: Johan Larsson
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Main photo credit: Walter Rumsby