Jul 13

What to look for in a new laptop

the right specifications for your computer for your charity

What specifications matter for a work computer?

I make no secret of being a geek, and whenever I hear about a new laptop I can genuinely get excited about CPU clock speeds, quad core processors and the amount of RAM the dedicated graphics card has.

But, if you are buying one for your work life, what should you really be looking for? What are the specs that matter?

Yes, this is about resource matching again.

So lets look at the specification on offer, and what it actually means to the user.


Hard drive

Did you know you can get 3TB hard drives now? That’s 3072GB, which is a lot for the average office worker. In fact, it’s a lot of data space for an average office!

So you need to consider how much you really need. Are you networked? If so, most of your work should be on the server. You probably migrate your work to your own computer to work on, but once it’s done you probably need to out it back onto the servers where its more secure and everyone who needs to can access it. Use cloud or SaaS? Most of your data is sitting there as it is, and not on your laptop.

Write speeds for hard drives are usually 5400 rpm or 7200 rpm, and while the later is noticeably more responsive, unless your work is particularly data heavy you don’t really need it.

  • SSD - An SSD, or solid state drive, is essentially a large flash drive, similar to what you find in a USB memory stick. These can really make a difference in boot speeds. These are slightly more pricey than their traditional hard drive brethren, but prices are dropping all the time. However, for office use, your’re rather spoiling yourself with this option at the moment!


RAM is probably the spec that most people look at. Its essentially the short term or working memory of your machine. If your running 1GB (you can check by right-clicking on your “My Computer” on the “Computer” icon and selecting properties) then you are probably struggling with running most modern software.

For most standard office applications, you can probably get away with 2GB. However, these days 4GB is better. Depending on what versions of Windows you’re using, with 2GB most of this will be used up running your operating system. Having more than a couple of other programs up and you’ll notice performance starting to drag.

And increasing your RAM is one of the easiest updates you can do to your existing laptop, and one of the most telling. Before you go for a 4GB RAM laptop, look at the 2GB version and see if it has ports for extra RAM. You can then buy the extra 2GB for about £30, sometimes less.

Graphics card

Your lunchtime YouTube break will run fine on the most basic integrated graphics card. Ignore.

Dual/Quad core

For most laptop users, dual core is all you’ll need. It’s only those running the most demanding programs that will actually start tapping into the processing power of a quad core. Most office applications won’t even touch it. However, you can expect that more and more programs in the future will be designed to make the most of quad cores, so it is something to consider.

CPU speeds

This is that spec that says your clock speed is 1.87 GHz or 2.2 GHz. And once again, its one of those specifications you don’t really need unless you undertaking some serious computing.

Battery Life

I’ve never read a manufacturers battery specification that has anything to do with reality. Knock a fifth of there ‘best time’ to get something vaguely closer to the truth.


If you travel with your laptop, then I would have to say that having a lighter, more portable laptop will make a considerable difference to your quality of (work) life! The flip side though is that if you go too small, the reduced screen size can make working a bit frustrating. It could be worth considering buying just a couple of smaller netbooks or ultrabooks to have around for staff to take to meetings or stay in touch via email and the like.

It’s one of the ironies of modern computing – as laptops become increasingly faster, more powerful and can cram in more memory than ever before, more and more of our computing is down via cloud software that runs in your browser!

Final point: Look into updating your current RAM, clearing out your old work (especially if its saved to your desktop – ugh) and getting rid of any unwanted programs. You may yet breathe new life into your old laptop yet!

We’ll be covering ways of reinvigorating old laptops in the future.

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net