When shopping for a PC laptop or netbook, buyers are faced with an intimidating list of product specifications. At first, it may seem difficult to make sense of them, and to gauge which ones matter most. However, with a little savvy, buyers can quickly learn which specifications to pay attention to, and what they say about the model's performance and portability. Windows 10 offers a great range of both laptops and netbooks suitable for all your needs.
Before setting out to buy a PC laptop or netbook, buyers should establish their specific set of needs. What do they most frequently need and expect to do on their computer? Are they focussed on basic tasks like email, Internet use, and word processing? Are they avid film-watchers or gamers, or do they have other professional applications, such as for engineering or graphic design? Next, they need to think about portability: where and when do they expect to use the computer? Finally, they should establish a firm budget. Having these things in mind helps them interpret product specifications so that they are meaningful for them.
One of the most basic ways in which laptops and netbooks are grouped is by screen size. Expressed in inches (in), screen size is the length of the diagonal line running across the screen, from one corner to another.
Screen Size and PC Laptops
Screen size can often be indicative of other things about a PC laptop, such as portability, power, and speed. The following chart outlines characteristics for screen size groups.
Screen Size Range
11.5 - 13 inches
Very light and portable; usually well-designed; long battery life; may run more slowly than larger-screen models; tend to be more expensive
13 - 15 inches
Also called notebooks, these laptops combine a convenient size with decent battery life; less-expensive versions may lack design quality and speed; many affordable options in this range
15 - 17 inches and larger
Multimedia or desktop-replacement laptops; superior graphics, extra memory, and high-speed; preferred by gamers and graphic designers
There are, of course, exceptions to these guidelines, so buyers need to follow-up on the additional specifications to get a full sense of a given laptop's capabilities.
Screen Size and Netbooks
Screen size takes on a different meaning when shopping for a netbook. Most netbooks on the market have 10.1-inch screens, and these small PCs are attractive precisely because of this compactness, as well as an impressively long battery life and low price. The tradeoff is that they have much less power and memory than their laptop counterparts. Still, when basic applications like email, Web surfing, and music listening are all that is needed, netbooks are a good option.
The central processing unit (CPU) is the hardware that runs various software programs, carrying out the necessary arithmetical, logical, and input-output operations as instructed by the program. Processor specifications are important when assessing how fast a computer is, and also how much multitasking it can do.
Dual-Core or Quad-Core Processors
A dual-core processor means that there are two CPUs on a single microchip in the computer, and a quad-core features four. Most PC laptops have dual-core processors, and netbooks may have a single-core or dual-core processor.
While dual-core processors run faster than single-core, quad-core processors are likely to run more slowly than dual-core for the majority of applications. However, users who work with video-processing, engineering programs, or sophisticated computation may find that a quad-core processor is the better choice for them.
There are two main CPU manufacturers for computers: Intel and AMD. Intel processors tend to be somewhat pricier, but there is not much difference between the two. Intel processors feature a number in their name, such as Intel Core i5; according to this system, the higher the number, the more powerful the processor.
Processor chip speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). This speed indicates how quickly the CPU computes, which determines how fast programs open and run on a computer.
PC laptops should have speeds over 2GHz, while more intensive applications like gaming and watching high-resolution video content need faster processors. Netbook processor speeds are usually at least 1GHz, but some faster models have 1.6GHz or 1.7GHz.
Slight differences in speed for the same type of processor are unlikely to be very noticeable; for example, the difference between a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor and a 2.3GHz Core i5 processor is probably unnoticeable in most cases. Buyers may want to think twice before paying more for a negligible difference.
Memory (RAM) Specifications
RAM (random access memory) determines how fast a laptop or netbook runs. Data from the hard-disk drive, or long-term storage, is retrieved and sent to RAM for processing in the CPU. Too little RAM can cause problems when running programs, as data must be sent back to the hard drive to make space for the data being currently processed.
The bare minimum for laptop RAM is 2GB, while 4GB is more acceptable for performance-demanding users. RAMs of 6GB or 8GB are also available. Netbooks usually have 1GB of RAM, but models with 2GB can run multiple windows at once without slowing.
Hard Drive Specifications
The hard drive is the primary storage space on a computer. The amount of available hard-drive storage indicates how much data the computer can hold: this includes photos, music, movies, and more. Buyers should opt for a little more storage space than they need; however, given the increasing options for online cloud storage and relative affordability of external hard drives, in many cases consumers do not need a tremendous amount of space on their hard drive.
Hard Drive Storage Space in Laptops and Netbooks
Hard drive space is expressed in gigabytes (GB), or, in some cases, terabytes (TB), where 1TB equals 1,000GB. The amount of memory on most laptops is a minimum of 250GB, which may be less than satisfactory for many, and can range up to 1TB, which is probably more than most consumers need. Netbooks, too, tend to have over 250GB of hard drive space, with better models featuring up to 500GB.
PC Laptops: Solid-State Drives or Spinning Hard Drives
With PC laptops, buyers have a choice between solid-state drives (SSDs) and spinning hard drives. Solid-state drives are less common, but are considered to be faster, more energy-efficient, and more durable; however, they usually have less storage space and can drive up prices significantly. Spinning hard drives offer a much more favourable price-storage ratio.
Battery life, the estimated amount of time a fully-charged battery can run before requiring recharging, has a big effect on portability. Laptops and netbooks with a long battery life free users from the hassle of having to search for a mains outlet when they are using the computer on the go.
Some netbooks, though by no means all, can boast upwards of 10 hours of battery life; this is one of their most attractive specifications. PC laptops vary significantly, but better models tend to have five or six hours of battery life.
Shoppers should note that battery life depends on many factors, such as screen brightness, the type of applications running, the number of applications running, and more. Actual battery life is likely be shorter than that reported by the manufacturer, particularly for battery-intensive programs, such as those involving high-resolution video content.
PC-users spend hours looking at their computer screen, which is why screen specifications matter. Quality screen graphics affects everything from the readability of basic applications to picture quality on high-resolution video programs. In general, sharper screens are easier on the eyes, and certainly have a better aesthetic quality.
Screen Resolution and Type
A screen's resolution expresses its total number of horizontal and vertical lines, or the number of pixels (p) it is capable of displaying. For high-definition media, HD-capable netbooks have a resolution of 1,366p by 768p. Full HD laptop screens have a 1080p or 1,920p by 1,080p resolution.
Screens with LED (light-emitting diode) backlighting tend to have better contrast and sharper graphics than LCD (liquid-crystal display) screens. Some laptops boast 3D graphics for watching 3D video content.
Laptop Graphics Cards and Chips
A high-powered graphics card or chip on a laptop enables consumers to watch HD video content or play graphic-intensive video games. Netbooks do not feature graphics cards, as they are not powerful enough to run such programs. There are several different graphics cards or chips on the market, and with technology ever-evolving in this realm, buyers for whom gaming is a priority are advised to research the latest choices.
A computer comes with installed software that organises and allocates information, allowing the user to communicate with the computer. This is the computer's operating system (OS). The main competitors for laptop operating systems are Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac, and each regularly releases newer versions of its operating system. However, the very term "PC" implies that a laptop runs on Windows rather than Mac. Netbooks feature Windows or Google Chrome operating systems. Less common is the open-source Linux operating system, which was standard in earlier netbooks, but has been replaced with Windows in many cases.
Other Dimension Specifications
There are a few other dimension specifications that are relevant to ease-of-use and portability, including keyboard size, weight, and dimensions.
Keyboard size can make a big difference when working all day on a computer. Laptops with screen sizes over 12.5 inches feature full-size keyboards, whereas smaller laptops and netbooks may have either full-size or smaller keyboards.
Consumers who plan to carry their laptop or netbook to and from work or school on a daily basis should pay attention to weight, which is expressed in grammes. What seems like a small difference on paper may feel like a big difference in reality.
Width, height, and depth are also important where portability is concerned, especially if looking to find a PC that sits on the seatback tray in an airplane, or fits comfortably in a particular case. These dimensions are expressed in millimetres (mm).
Wi-fi connectivity is standard on both laptops and netbooks. Bluetooth technology is also quite common, and allows the user to combine other wireless Bluetooth devices, such as headphones, in tandem with the computer.
Built-in webcams and microphones enable video chat. A Blu-ray Disc drive lets users watch Blu-ray video on the laptop, while HDMI ports offer connectivity to larger, high-definition monitors, such as an HD television. USB ports allow users to connect a range of other devices, such as digital cameras, smartphones, external hard drives, and more.
How to Buy PC Laptops and Netbooks on eBay
If you're on the market for a new, used, or refurbished PC laptop or netbook, eBay is an excellent place to shop, where you can take advantage of an extensive product selection, competitive prices, and new listings every day. To begin your search, go to eBay's home page and enter keywords, such as "14-inch laptop&", into the search bar. Once you have your original search results, you can narrow them by specifying your price range, manufacturer preferences, and more.
Once you've found a PC you're interested in, check the full listing for vital information about product specifications, item condition, and postage fees, where applicable. If you have any questions about the item, you can contact the seller through eBay.
It is also a good idea to research the seller a bit by looking at their feedback score and browsing comments by previous customers, preferably those who also bought a laptop or netbook from them. Top-rated sellers complete a high volume of transactions with excellent customer service.
With so many PC laptops and netbooks on the market, and so many specifications for each, buyers familiar with important specs are at an advantage: they can more easily assess what is sufficient for their personal use, and comparing models is more straightforward.
Screen size is one of the most defining specifications, as it indicates things like portability, power, and graphics capabilities. This also tends to be a dividing line between laptops and their compact, netbook counterparts. Processor specifications deal with how much information is processed, and how quickly, which in turn affects the speed of programs and the ability to multitask. Likewise, RAM capacity influences the speed at which a computer runs applications. Hard drive storage tells users how much space they have to store data on their computer. Graphics specifications indicate how well graphics are displayed, from basic applications to high-definition media. Most PCs run on a Windows operating system, although there are a few other options. Finally, things like dimensions and additional features tell shoppers more about the model's portability and versatility.
Informed buyers who have a clear idea of their own requirements can interpret product specifications to help decide which PC laptop or netbook is right for them.