Laptops buying guide

Take the guesswork out of choosing your next laptop.
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05.Buying tips and Jargon Buster

These quick tips will help you pick a laptop that suits your needs. Our jargon buster is a useful reference if you encounter any complicated technical terms.

Buying tips

  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Don’t underestimate your computing requirements.
  • Don’t be tempted by expensive components unless you really need them.
  • Look to the future. Buy a laptop that will suit your future needs as well as your current ones.
  • Research all available options before going in, including PC and Mac alternatives.
  • Try before you buy. The keyboard size, layout, mouse type and key pitch (the distance from the centre of one key to the next) vary between models, and you'll find some more comfortable than others.
  • Consider buying from smaller retailers or online as well as national chain stores. Some smaller stores may have good deals.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal. You can get a good price if you buy accessories and software at the same time. See our accessories guide.
  • Ask the salesperson if the warranty is based locally. What's the turnaround time for repairs? Will you be able to get service while travelling? If your notebook has to be sent away for repairs, who covers the transit cost?
  • Be wary of buying extended warranties — they offer little extra protection over your standard Australian consumer rights.
  • Take your time. A laptop is an expensive investment that you’re going to use for the next three to five years. Don’t rush and choose a model that suits your needs and wants.

Jargon buster

  • CPU: Central processing unit, also called the processor or chip. Generally the higher the processing speed, the better your computer will perform.
  • DDR SDRAM: Double data rate synchronous dynamic random access memory. There are three grades available; DDR, DDR2 and DDR3. Higher grades offer better data transfer rates
  • Dedicated Graphics: A separate graphics processing card with memory, measured in GB, specifically allocated to graphics.
  • FireWire: High speed data transfer, capable of up to 800 Mbit/s. Still available on some models, this is being superseded by Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.
  • GB: Gigabyte. A measurement of data. 1GB = 1000MB according to international hard drive measurement standards.
  • GDDR: Graphics double data rate. Memory that’s optimised for graphics cards, currently available in version five (GDDR5).
  • HDD: Hard disk drive, also known as a hard drive, the storage hub for files and programs. Contains moving parts.
  • Heatsink: A heat exchanger that extracts the heat from internal components and dissipates it into the air.
  • Integrated Graphics: A chip on the motherboard that shares the video memory with the processor. These generally don’t perform as well as dedicated graphics cards.
  • Ivy Bridge: Current microarchitecture for the Intel line of CPU’s.
  • MB: Megabyte. A measurement of data. 1MB = 1024 kilobytes (KB)
  • Memory: Internal storage. Your computer has two types of memory: long term (hard drive) and short term (RAM).
  • Optical drive: A drive for CD/DVD/Blu-Ray. Available on most notebooks, and a few ultraportables.
  • PCIe: Also known as PCI Express, this is the most common internal connection slot on modern computers for attaching components such as dedicated graphics cards. The latest standard is PCIe 3.0, but 4.0 is in development.
  • RAM: Random access memory. This temporarily stores data required to run programs. When you are finished with a program, the RAM is wiped to make way for other programs. More RAM means more processes can run smoothly at once. You can run a program on its minimum amount of required RAM, but performance will improve if you have the recommended amount available. RAM stores information only when the computer’s power is on.
  • Retina: An display developed by Apple which claims to offer the highest pixel density that can be seen by the human eye at normal viewing distance.
  • ROM: Read only memory. Most often used to hold instructions for the computer rather than storing user data. ROM stores information even when the computer’s power is off.
  • Sandy Bridge: Microarchitecture for the Intel line of CPU’s. Superseded by Ivy Bridge in April 2012. A processor advertised with Sandy Bridge will not be the latest model.
  • SO-DIMM: Small outline dual in-line memory module. Physically smaller RAM designed for systems with limited space such as netbooks. Available in DDR, DDR2 and DDR3.
  • SSD: Solid state drive, similar to an HDD but with no moving parts. Usually offers greater speeds and stability, but at a higher price.
  • Thunderbolt: An external connectivity tool for high speed data transfer at 10 Gbps per channel over copper wire and 20 Gbps per channel over optical cabling.
  • USB 2.0 and USB 3.0: Universal serial bus. A very common port for attaching peripherals such as digital cameras, printers and music players. All current laptops are compatible with USB 2.0, but only some of the newer models have USB 3.0. Theoretically, USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than USB 2.0.


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