View Full Version : 2012 Windows laptop: features to look for



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Ilya
02-09-2012, 12:03 PM
I am still on a quest for an ultimate laptop. And with the new generation of Ivy Bridge based computers about to hit the market in April-May, I figured it's time to start a new thread, similar to the one from last year (http://www.satelliteguys.us/computer-electronic-gadgetszone/229796-2011-laptop-features-look.html).

Although some of this discussion may also apply to Macs, I do ask Mac fans not to derail this thread, as it is intended to be about Windows laptops. And as last year, I suggest we focus mostly on features, rather than specific brand recommendations.

Ok, let me start by sharing my thoughts and recommendations and you all are welcome to share yours!

RAM
Memory is cheap these days! Although 4GB might be enough for most people, I do recommend 8GB, especially if you run RAM-intensive programs or multiple virtual machines, as I often do. Ideally, I would like to have a possibility to expand to 16 GB down the road. (Remember, you need 64-bit Windows to take advantage of RAM above 4GB!)

USB 3.0
This is a must have in 2012! USB 3.0, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0, has a lot of hardware already available: hard drives, flash drives and adapter cards, etc. Most importantly, USB 3.0 is backward compatible with all older USB devices. Intel is finally supporting USB 3.0 in the upcoming chipset, so this should become standard in the next wave of laptops.

CPU
The talk of the day is the new "Ivy Bridge" line of CPUs from Intel launching in April-May. Similar to last year's "Sandy Bridge", but smaller (22nm production process), faster, more power efficient and with a much better integrated graphics.

Video
Although a good video card might still be required for gaming enthusiasts and graphics designers, the newly redesigned integrated graphics in the Intel Ivy Bridge architecture might be quite sufficient for most of us.

Display
I find 15" adequate for most professional applications, without requiring an external monitor. I would be looking for nothing less than full HD resolution. If you require accurate colors, look for IPS displays. IPS (stands for In-Plane Switching) is an LCD technology which aligns the liquid crystal cells in a horizontal direction. IPS technology provides more accurate colors with no color distortion from any angle.
Update: It might be a good idea to look for touch-screen capability in preparation for Windows 8.

Form factor
The latest buzz is "Ultrabook", a term trademarked by Intel. Light, less than 0.8-inches thick, with good battery life, but mighty and with bigger 13 or 14" screen (think 13" MacBook Air). Some ultrabooks are already available, much more will show up later this year with Ivy Bridge. Although ultrabooks are excellent for travel and make much more sense than underpowered netbooks, I suspect they will still be too limited in features and upgradability. We'll see!

Hard drive
As far as I am concerned, the bigger, the better! 750 GB 7200 RPM would be my starting point. But I am also intrigued by the SSD technology - just wish it was more affordable. One great option offered by some computer manufacturers is a dual drive configuration: a small system SSD drive and a bigger hard drive.

SATA III (6.0 Gb/s)
Perhaps not so important for HDD, but for the latest SSD drives this faster SATA interface can make a big difference.

SDXC card reader
It is very convenient to have a built-in card reader to transfer photos and videos and also as an external storage. SDHC is limited to 32 GB. The new SDXC spec breaks that limit and supports cards up to 2 TB.

Other common features
These features are pretty standard these days: HDMI output, built-in webcam, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (preferably 3.0), ideally a backlit keyboard.

rockymtnhigh
02-09-2012, 03:47 PM
Yeah, the ultimate laptop would have a 512gb or bigger SSD drive. It would be like like launching your laptop into warp speed. But dang, the tech is not cheap.

What is the cost breakpoint for your "ultimate" windows laptop? Or is price not an issue on the ultimate machine?

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Ilya
02-09-2012, 03:53 PM
FYI: Here is some clarification on Ultrabook specs from Karen Regis, Intel's Director of Ultrabook Marketing Strategy as posted at pcmag:

The Ultrabook program is based around four "experience pillars," Regis said. The first of these is "mobility without compromise," which includes things such as long battery life and seamless connectivity. The second is "expression of self," meaning the laptops should be sleek and stylish, with great aesthetics. Thirdly, it should also allow for "flow," or responsiveness and performance—not so much peak performance levels as simply working without any interruptions. Finally, it should allow the user to feel "in control" through security and context awareness features

The initial specifications are now out around the company's "Huron River" platform, based on the Sandy Bridge platform and the Cougar Point chipset, sold under the 2nd Generation Core platform label. Only these "Core" processors—Core i3, i5, and i7—qualify as Ultrabooks. (The less-powerful Pentium or Celeron-branded chips that use the same chipsets aren't eligible.)

Under the current Ultrabook definition, a machine needs to be less than 18mm in height and have a display less than 14 inches. (Most of the machines I've seen with the moniker have 13.3-inch or smaller displays.) Systems with 14-inch or larger displays can be up to 21mm (0.83 inches) thick, in part because larger systems often have optical drives, Regis noted. In addition, an extra 2mm of thickness is allotted for touch-screen laptops, hybrid, or convertible designs, as touch-enabled screens are thicker.

One big requirement is that the machine must have a "fast resume," moving from a near-zero power hibernation state to the point where users can type on the keyboard in less than seven seconds. To do this, Regis said, most manufacturers will implement Intel's RapidStart, which uses a non-volatile NAND flash memory cache in addition to the main disk drive. Effectively, this stores the contents of the system's memory on a fast solid-state drive (SSD) cache that can be quite small—just the size of the system DRAM. Most Ultrabooks will use this cache in addition to a traditional hard disk drive, though some will use a full solid-state drive.

What's In An Ultrabook? (http://forwardthinking.pcmag.com/laptops/293910-what-s-in-an-ultrabook)

Ilya
02-09-2012, 03:58 PM
Yeah, the ultimate laptop would have a 512gb or bigger SSD drive. It would be like like launching your laptop into warp speed. But dang, the ech is not cheap.

What is the cost breakpoint for your "ultimate" windows laptop? Or is price not an issue on the ultimate machine?

Personally, I haven't decided on the exact price point yet, but I am pretty sure that a 512GB SSD would be out of my budget! :D
A dual-disk system (say, with a mini-card SSD) would be an option though.

harshness
02-09-2012, 04:16 PM
The question that remains is whether or not any new computer without some manner of touch screen (built-in or retrofit) is forward thinking enough.

Ilya
02-09-2012, 04:31 PM
The question that remains is whether or not any new computer without some manner of touch screen (built-in or retrofit) is forward thinking enough.

True, especially with Windows 8 coming out later this year, that would significantly benefit from touch-screen. I am sure, most computer manufacturers are getting ready to offer touch-screen displays, at least as an option.

Speaking of Windows 8. Microsoft has officially announced that hardware requirements for Windows 8 will not exceed those for Windows 7. This is good news for most of us: no need to upgrade our computers once the new version of Windows is released. But touch-screen display is indeed one feature that you may want to start looking for in preparation for Windows 8. Let me add it to the list.

isaacmorseMI
02-09-2012, 04:51 PM
I don't know if I would use a touchscreen display. On a PC I like the accuracy of a regular keyboard and trackpad/mouse.

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JAG72
02-09-2012, 05:44 PM
Your initial list hits pretty much of hits most of my wish list in a laptop as well. The only difference is I prefer the form factor of a 13" screen but that is 100% individual preference on my part.

I also would stay away from touch screens on a laptop right now until they are more mainstream and the price point drops. If I want a touch screen, I will use a iPad or Android tablet.

stardust3
02-09-2012, 05:49 PM
What you described sounds like my dell xps. It is an awesome machine, purchased new this past may.

Ilya
02-09-2012, 06:16 PM
The only difference is I prefer the form factor of a 13" screen but that is 100% individual preference on my part.
13" screen is ok, but I do prefer 15" for work, especially at full-HD resolution.

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