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For Seniors: Laptop Buying Decisions — Which Features?

Just as there are many styles of shoes or mobile phones, you can find several styles of laptops. Some are smaller and more portable, whereas others are essentially desktop replacements with large screens and a bit of heft. Some use different operating systems, and some excel at certain functions such as working with graphics or playing games. Here are some features you should consider when choosing a laptop.

  • Operating system (OS): An OS is the software that allows you to start and shut down your computer and work with all the other software programs, manage files, and connect to the Internet. Windows is probably the most common computer operating system.

    However, Mac laptops from Apple are also very popular. These use Apple-specific software including the Mac operating system, and many software applications written for Windows are also available for the Mac. You can also set up your Mac to run the Windows operating system, which gives you the best of both worlds.

    Some computers run on a freely available operating system called Linux, which has functionality similar to Windows. Chromebooks from Google use the Linux-based Chrome operating system and come pre-loaded with lots of Google apps.

  • Computer design: A laptop is a portable computer, weighing anywhere from two to ten pounds. The thinnest and lightest ones (as light as two pounds) are called ultrabooks. Touchscreen laptops allow you to write on the screen with a special stylus, or use an onscreen keyboard. The monitor, keyboard, and touchpad are built in to a laptop.

    Note that if the monitor is damaged, you have to pay quite a bit to have it repaired, or you can hook it up to an external monitor.

    Laptops are perfect if you want to use your computer mainly away from home or you have little space in your home for a larger computer. Consider their design and weight when purchasing a laptop.

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  • Pictures and sound: If you work with a lot of visual elements (for example, photographs, home movies, or computer games), consider a laptop that has a good graphics card. Games often involve sound, so a high-end sound card might also be useful.

    Laptops with more sophisticated sound and image capabilities are often referred to as gaming or multimedia models, and they typically require a large-capacity hard drive to handle these functions. Because the capabilities of these cards change all the time, you should ask the person you’re buying the laptop from whether the system can handle sophisticated sound and graphics.

    One clue that the model has better support for higher-end graphics is if it has a discrete (that is, a card separate from the CPU) graphics card versus one built in to the CPU (called integrated graphics).

    Tablets such as iPad and Kindle Fire HD and Microsoft Surface offer many computing capabilities, such as reading and working on simple documents, connecting to the Internet to send and receive e-mail, playing games, listening to music, and so on.

    However, they have relatively small touchscreens (with a touchscreen, you provide input with your finger or a stylus), onscreen keyboards, which can be a bit challenging to use, no mouse, and often less in the way of file-management capabilities. If you just want to browse the web, read e-mail, listen to music, and play games, a tablet could be a way to go.

    If you want a broader range of capabilities with a larger screen size and can handle toting around a machine that weighs a few pounds, a laptop is the way to go. Many people have both a laptop and a tablet, and it’s easy to share files and settings between them. They do complement each other nicely if that approach fits your budget.

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