It happens to all of us—looking to buy a new laptop, you find yourself wanting more of everything. Some of us, however, don’t want or can’t afford every feature offered by laptop manufacturers. Thankfully, they’re not all essential. Discrete graphics and extra memory, for instance, will increase the cost of your notebook and will likely remain underutilized unless you’re playing games or editing HD video. So what other features can you skip when buying a new laptop? Read on to find out.
Backlit keyboards are all the rage. For some laptops, such as the first generation Macbook Air, the lack of keyboard backlighting was a sticking point. A backlit keyboard, however, will decrease your notebook’s battery life and is generally only available on more expensive notebooks. If you can touch-type, or want the best battery life possible, consider skipping a backlit keyboard. In most cases, an overhead light isn’t far away.
Everything is going digital, from movies and music to games and software. As hard drives’ storage capacity increases and wireless connectivity expands—making large files such as HD movies and video games increasingly easy to transmit over the Internet and store on your notebook—the need for a dedicated optical drive dwindles. Who needs a Blu-ray drive when you can stream “Arrested Development” in HD on Amazon.com?
For gamers today, discrete graphics aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity. Without a GPU, such games as “Skyrim” and “Arkham City” are unplayable, and low-end games such as “World of Warcraft” stutter along. Video editors equally rely on discrete graphics to edit and manipulate footage in 1080p. If you’re not interested in playing the latest games or editing HD video, however, discrete graphics can unnecessarily increase the cost of your laptop; notebooks featuring high-end GPUs routinely cost $200 more than notebooks that use integrated graphics.
For some of us, the need for speed is insatiable, and Intel’s Core i5 and i7 processors offer some of the fastest speeds around. Others, however, are just interested in browsing the Internet, listening to music and word processing. For those on a budget or who just want the basics without the frills, the extra $100 spent on a Core i5 or i7 can be an unnecessary expense.
Laptop theft is a serious issue—just ask anyone who has stepped away from his or her notebook for a minute, only to return and find it missing. Enter the Kensington Security Slot, an anti-theft system that consists of a metal-reinforced hole on the side of the notebook, to which a lock and cable can be attached. While anyone who regularly takes his or her laptop to public places can appreciate the added security, it’s probably not necessary for the casual user. Less expensive notebooks typically forgo the slot altogether.
Some of us want the best of both worlds—the mobility of a notebook combined with the screen real estate of a desktop monitor. If you’re someone who can’t get a large enough screen, the ability to attach your laptop to a monitor or TV is non-negotiable—and until recently, that meant your laptop had to have a VGA port. The advent of HDMI and DisplayPort, however, has rendered VGA ports largely obsolete. Unless you need to connect to an older projector, you can get away with newer connections—or a VGA adapter.
In the days of yore, laptops couldn’t compete with desktops in terms of memory, network connectivity or storage capacity; to remedy this, manufacturers developed PC cards, universal peripherals designed to plug into a notebook’s PC card slot and function as hard disks, modems and network cards (among other uses). Modern laptops, though, boast integrated wireless Internet connections, huge amounts of memory and storage capacities that double every two years. The age of the ExpressCard/PC Card has passed—along with the need for a slot.
With more than 600 million registered users on Skype and competing services appearing from the likes of Apple and Google, it’s safe to say that the video communications revolution is in full swing. Laptop manufacturers, hoping to stay ahead of the curve, have begun to equip some of their high-end computers with HD webcams. Although they promise crisp images, HD webcams are of little use in densely populated urban centers or remote rural areas where limited bandwidth can put a stranglehold on video quality. Buying a notebook for an HD webcam will likely leave you frustrated when you can’t use it to its full potential.
If you’ve ever found yourself without wireless Internet access, an Ethernet port may seem like a godsend. In today’s increasingly wireless world, however, the chances that this will happen seem remote. Wireless connectivity can now be had in cafes, parks and airplanes; and mobile 3G and 4G hotpots such as the MiFi ensure that you’ll never be disconnected.
IEEE 1394 (FireWire) Port
Developed mostly by Apple in the 1980s and '90s, IEEE 1394 (commonly known as FireWire) has been largely replaced by USB as the industry standard for serial bus interfaces. While FireWire offers a number of advantages over USB—chief among them its ability to allow two FireWire-enabled devices to communicate with each other without the need for a PC acting as a bus master—nearly all laptops and peripherals today use USB.