IF YOU’RE SHOPPING for a new computer—
perhaps for a student about to head back into the classroom—you have more choices than ever before.
Traditional desktops are still around, and you’ll also
find slimmer, versatile laptops and laptop/tablet
hybrids called “two-in-ones.” Who knew PCs were
so good at dieting? Here’s a look at what’s trending.
Keyboards are still ideal for long-form typing,
but touch screens are far more intuitive for other
tasks. Tapping, flicking, swiping and pinching feel
natural, especially when looking at photos, reading
e-books and playing games. Windows 10 is finger-tip-friendly, and an increasing number of devices
offer this feature.
The two-in-ones are a growing category, as they
offer a lot of flexibility to meet a variety of needs. In
some cases, the screen bends back 360 degrees,
which tucks the keyboard underneath when you no
longer need it, and you can carry and use it like a
tablet. With “detachable” two-in-ones, you can
remove the screen altogether, leave the keyboard on
a desktop or table and bring the screen with you to
use as a tablet.
Thanks for the memory
When it comes to storage—that is, how many
files your device can hold—many computers offer
solid-state drive (SSD) memory, as opposed to hard
disk drive (HDD). If you can forgive the jargon
soup, SSD memory is like the flash memory in your
smartphone. It’s smaller, lighter and faster than a
hard drive, efficient in how it runs the computer
and, unlike a spinning hard drive, has no moving
parts. This makes it less prone to damage and much
easier on the battery.
The downside? SSDs cost more per gigabyte
than an HDD. But consider that you may not need as
much storage as you’ve traditionally had. Thanks to
the many streaming services like Netflix (movies and
TV shows) and Spotify (music), which don’t require
you to download files, it’s less of an issue these days.
Also, free cloud services can hold your files off-site
via a password-protected website or app.
Note that there are also SSD and HDD hybrid
systems, combining the best of both worlds.
Discs be gone
Another trend is to leave an optical disc drive
out of laptops, which enables the product to be
thinner and lighter. That means there’s no place to
insert music CDs, CD-ROM games and software,
or DVD movies—if you still own this kind of disc-based media.
Truthfully, you likely won’t miss it at all. Even if
there’s software you like on CD-ROM, chances are
you’ll be able to download it onto your new machine
(start with the software maker’s website). And as far
as recording data to a CD or DVD for archival purposes, you’re better off with an external hard drive,
USB thumb drive or cloud-based storage, as they’re
more reliable and hold more files.
Which one to buy?
Because of all the options available, it can be
over whelming to buy a new computer. The first step
is to decide on a form factor. Should you go with a
stationary desktop, portable laptop or two-in-one
that doubles as a tablet when and where you need it?
Ask yourself how you want to use the computer.
Is it for games, which require a certain amount of
processing power? Is portability important, for
school or travel? How big a screen do you feel comfortable with? Portable-computer screen sizes range
from 10 to 17 inches these days.
If you want to drill down farther, research the
specs for the various computers, such as processor,
screen size (and touch screen or no touch screen),
storage capacity (SSD or HDD, and how much), system memory (RAM), graphics performance and
And last, here’s a good rule of thumb: When it
comes to power, consider buying a little more than
you think you need today, so you’ll likely hold on to
the computer for a longer period of time. C
Marc Saltzman, a leading
high-tech reporter, contributes
to more than three dozen
appears on radio and TV,
and is the author of
15 books. He’s on Twitter
Saltzman will answer selected
questions in this column.
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questions cannot be
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