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Laptop Buying Guide. Part 1

Questions Asked

What kind of ports and extras do I need?

A couple of USB ports are a minimum. Most laptops now include at least two USB 3.0 ports, which are faster than the older USB 2.0 version, but only when used with compatible USB 3.0 devices, such as external hard drives. An SD card slot should be non-negotiable, as well as an HDMI video output (mini-DisplayPort is also becoming popular). Every laptop includes Wi-Fi now and will be compatible with virtually any Wi-Fi signal or router. Make sure to look for the current spec for Wi-Fi, which is 802.11ac.

The future may portend a single-cable world where everything is connected via USB-C (as in the case of the 12-inch MacBook), but that’s not common enough right now to be truly useful.

Do I need an optical drive?

The answer is almost always “no,” and nearly every laptop outside of a few 15-inch and 17-inch models now skip the optical drive. We haven’t missed it, but some people are definitely still tied to CD, DVD or Blu-ray as a storage or media playback format. Worst-case scenario: get an external drive for under Ksh 4,500.

Do I need a graphics card?

Unless you plan on playing serious PC games on your laptop (The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and so on), you can get away with using the graphics capabilities built into laptops by default. Intel’s current version is definitely not for serious gamers, but you should be able to get away with playing casual or older games, or even some newer games if you keep the visual settings set to Low and drop the in-game resolution. That said, both desktop and laptop GPUs are more powerful than ever, and a set of top-tier Nvidia Titan X cards can drive a desktop’s price up past Ksh 850,000.

What’s better, Windows or Mac OS X?

That’s a loaded question if there ever was one. Windows users appreciate the flexibility of that operating system, allowing for extreme tweaking and personalization. It’s available on a nearly limitless variety of hardware, and with Windows 10, Microsoft hopes to correct some of the missteps and negative buzz that surrounded the all-over-the-place Windows 8.

The new version of OS X is called El Capitan.

Apple’s operating system, on the other hand, is available only on a handful of desktops and laptops. That said, the joint hardware/software platform makes for a much more stable/predictable overall experience, and many prefer the user-friendly OS X layout and controls. The newest major update, called OS X El Capitan, was released on September 30th of 2015.

Finally, Windows has a much larger available software library, especially when it comes to free software and games.

Should I buy now, or wait for the next update/upgrade/CPU/etc.?

That’s the million-dollar question, and it applies to nearly every technology category. Every new piece of hardware is a step closer to obsolescence with each passing day, and there’s always a new version coming at some point in the not-too-distant future. Once you accept that, it’s a lot easier to just relax and buy a product you’ll enjoy using, without succumbing to upgrade envy.

But what happens to my Windows 8 machine now that Windows 10 has been released?

It’s important to note Windows 10 was made available from July 29 as a free upgrade (for the first year of availability) to existing Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users, so upgrading can be less of a hassle than in the past.

Windows 10 is a free upgrade for most.

Many PC makers are shipping new products just before the Win 10 release with Windows 8 still installed, with the expectation that buyers will download Windows 10.

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