Networking and Expandability
As far as network connectivity goes, pay attention to wireless networking, Bluetooth and actual wireless Internet access.
For wireless networking, I have a hard time recommending anything with less than 802.11n support. While it's true most networks are still stuck on 802.11g, n offers better and faster connectivity for home networks and the price has come down substantially. This shouldn't be a make-or-break decision, but I wouldn't go for less than n.
Bluetooth is a matter of taste. The chief uses are for wireless headsets, syncing with phones and wireless mice. It's your call whether you'll use it or not, but it's something to keep in mind.
Finally, there are wireless internet services from companies like Sprint and Verizon that require a monthly fee. Some notebooks have hardware built in to access the services, but you still need an account to join the network itself. Free-to-access wireless networks are fairly common, but if you're a road warrior that needs Internet access wherever your cell phone could get it, one of these services might be up your alley.
I'd also like to point out that all of these can be later upgraded through USB dongles, but the question is whether you want them integrated from the get go or if you want to buy the add-on later.
As for the remaining connectivity, it's going to be a matter of need, so I'll highlight some major ports and how you'll use them.
HDMI: Used to connect to external monitors and especially to HDTVs. If you plan to use your notebook as a media center to watch movies, an HDMI port is very useful.
56K Modem: If you need dial-up Internet access or a means to fax, there's definitely a case for having a modem in your computer. They are starting to disappear, but you can also buy external USB modems if the model of notebook you like doesn't offer it.
eSATA: This is ideal for backing up large amounts of data to an external hard drive, as eSATA is much faster than regular USB. Many notebooks come with a combination port that works as both eSATA and USB.
FireWire: At this juncture, the port is used almost entirely for digital video. If your video camera (or potential future video camera) uses FireWire to connect to the computer, you'll need it.
ExpressCard: This slot (which isn't found on most notebooks anymore) is a means of expanding the number or types of ports available on your laptop through add-in cards. If you need more USB ports, a FireWire port or an eSATA port, this is your best bet ... but today the ExpressCard slot is usually limited to mobile workstation business laptops and high-priced custom gaming notebooks.
Most manufacturers offer at least a 90-day warranty if not a full one-year. Most ASUS notebooks, when ordered online, offer a two-year warranty along with a one-year accidental damage warranty standard.
Upgrading your warranty is going to be a personal decision, but it's worth mentioning that retail outfits tend to make a lot amount of money from selling extended warranties, and I haven't seen one yet that merits it. At the end of the day, you're buying an insurance policy and peace of mind, whether you extend the warranty from the manufacturer or from a retailer. There's conventional wisdom that suggests that if a notebook doesn't fail during its warranty period, it's not liable to fail anytime soon, but I've seen a lot from some manufacturers that have bit the dust within weeks of the warranty expiring.
Take a look at our latest warranty guide for more information about warranties.
Ultimately when you purchase a new machine, it's about choosing what suits your needs first, and what fits your budget second. In some cases, a higher price means a better peace of mind. You don't want to outright sell the machine and buy a new one later on or worse, try to get by with a computer that isn't as productive as possible.
Making that purchase can be very tough, too. Manufacturers don't make it easy, and I'm not a big fan of a lot of what's on the market right now, at least aesthetically. Interface is important, too; the keyboard, touchpad and screen are how you interact with the computer, so whenever possible -- even if you're ordering online -- go to a local store and get a feel for the machine or at least something fairly comparable. I can't stress enough how important the user experience can be.
Finally, I'd like to reiterate advice I've offered in the past: don't wait for "the next big thing." It's always going to be around the corner. Buy when you need it. If you can afford to wait, the only reason I'd suggest waiting for the next sea change is because old technology gets marked down on the eve of the new stuff. But technology is constantly changing and it?s not worth trying to keep up with it. Get what you need when you need it.
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