Multimedia Laptops Buyer’s Guide

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Although just about any modern notebook can be used for multimedia, some are better at it than others. We go through the essentials of what makes a true multimedia notebook in this buyer’s guide.

Lenovo-Y50-frontDisplay Size and Quality

The display on a multimedia notebook carries greater importance than it does on other kinds of notebooks – you want videos, photos, and other media related activity such as photo and video editing to show with well-saturated colors with plenty of detail. There are three basic specifications of a display to note when buying a notebook for multimedia use: size, resolution, and quality.

Size

The leading driver of how small or large a notebook’s display should be is portability. Notebook displays are measured diagonally in inches from opposite corners. It takes little to imagine why a notebook with a 17.3-inch display is more cumbersome to transport than one with a 12-inch display. A 15.6-inch or larger screen is generally preferred for multimedia notebooks because the display is sufficiently large to sit back a few feet from and still be able to make out content. A larger display is furthermore less confining to work on for extended periods of time especially for photo and video editing.

Resolution

Resolution defines the dimensions of the display in pixels. Pixels are small squares arranged in a grid that make up the display and allow it to produce a coherent image – each one can display one of many millions of colors. Look closely enough at any display and you may be able to see the pixel grid. Generally speaking the more pixels a display has the better since more detail can be displayed if there are more pixels. Resolution is listed as the horizontal pixels measurement by the vertical pixel measurement. A 1920 x 1080 display has 1,920 pixels spanning horizontally and 1,080 vertically. Multimedia notebooks with 15.6-inch and larger screens should have a 1920 x 1080 (also known as 1080p or full HD) resolution to properly display full HD content and be able to effectively edit HD photos and videos. Some of the latest notebooks are available with 4K displays which have an astounding 3840 x 2160 resolution.

Quality

A display’s size and resolution don’t necessarily correlate with its picture quality. Displays with higher resolutions (1920 x 1080 and up) tend to have better picture quality than lower resolution displays but this isn’t a reliable rule. The least expensive type of display is a TN panel which is found on most notebooks. Better displays will use IPS panels which have a number of benefits over TN panels including better color reproduction and nearly unlimited viewing angles (the picture won’t wash out when you view the screen from an angle). The type of panel on any given notebook may not be listed in the computer’s specifications – ask the notebook maker when in doubt or consult the experts in our forums.

One other specification that may be listed with a computer’s display is its gamut or color range. This is listed as a percentage of a given gamut such as NTSC or Adobe RGB. A display that covers 90% or more of the Adobe RGB gamut is considered excellent for a notebook.

Multimedia notebooks typically have branded speakers

Multimedia notebooks typically have branded speakers

Audio Performance

Notebooks typically aren’t known for having good sound quality though multimedia notebooks will make the best of it by including name branded speakers. Lenovo currently uses JBL, HP uses Beats Audio and Toshiba uses harman/kardon. Two speakers will be used at the minimum and some of the larger multimedia notebooks will include a small subwoofer on the underside of the chassis to add perceptible bass. You could hook up headphones or external speakers as with any notebook but it’s convenient to have a notebook that doesn’t require an external device to produce meaningful sound.

System Performance

We’ll break this section down into four general areas: memory, processing power, storage and graphics.

Memory (RAM)

Random Access Memory is a computer’s short-term memory. More of this is generally better for system performance. 8 GB of RAM is sufficient for most usage but for video and photo editing, consider going with 16 GB or more. RAM can usually be upgraded later on; take a look at our memory upgrade guide here for an overview of the process.

Processing Power (CPU)

The Central Processing Unit is the brains of the computer and a primary determinant of overall system performance. Most modern notebooks have more than enough power for everyday tasks but for photo and video editing, consider opting for a notebook that includes a processor listed in the high-end category below.

Classification

AMD

Intel

Usage

Entry-level

A6

Celeron, Pentium, Core i3

General tasks; HD video watching

Standard

A8, A10

Core i5, i7 (dual-core)

The above plus minor photo or video editing

High-performance

Core i7 (quad-core)

All tasks including HD photo and video editing


Storage

The storage drive is where data on the computer is kept including documents, media and the computer’s operating system and programs. There are two basic types of storage drives: traditional hard drives and solid state drives. It’s preferable to have an SSD for performance reasons however they tend to be far more expensive per gigabyte of space. An SSD is more important in multimedia terms for video editing when files may need to be read or written quickly.

Take a look at our comprehensive comparison between hard drives and SSDs for additional explanations of storage technologies.

GTX980M_3QtrGraphics

Most notebooks sold come with integrated graphics, also called onboard graphics. These are the most basic kinds of graphics processors available and suffice for nearly all usages save for 3D intensive activities such as gaming (think Call of Duty). In the case of the latter it’s best to have a dedicated graphics processor by Nvidia or AMD with at least 2 GB of its own dedicated memory.

It can also be beneficial to have a dedicated graphics processor if you’re into video editing; some video editing software can use the graphics processor which greatly decreases the amount of time it takes to encode a video compared to just using the computer’s CPU. Those shoppers looking for a great PC for video editing may in fact find lower-cost options by skipping mid-range multimedia notebooks (like the HP ENVY 15 or Dell XPS 15) and instead consider the purchase of an entry-level gaming notebook (like the HP OMEN 15 or Lenovo IdeaPad Y70).

Check out our recent article about why people who don’t play games should consider buying a gaming laptop, if you’re looking for more information on that subject.

Other Considerations

This section lists minor topics of interest for potential multimedia notebook buyers.

Some multimedia laptops can flip into tablet mode for easier use of the touchscreen

Some multimedia laptops can flip into tablet mode for easier use of the touchscreen

Touch Technology

It’s becoming more common to see touch-enabled displays included on notebooks. Touch can be very convenient especially if you have kids or use programs designed for touch. You may also wish to consider a notebook with a 180-degree hinge that can flip into “tablet mode” if a touchscreen is important to you. It’s common for notebook makers to sell touch and non-touch versions of their models – evaluate the price difference and decide whether it’s worthwhile for your usage.

Volume Controls and Dedicated Shortcut Keys

Keyboard shortcuts (usually accessed by pressing the [Fn] key in conjunction with an F-row key) are usually available on any given notebook to control volume and access other functions but it can be more convenient if there are dedicated buttons on the notebook to raise or lower the volume, for example.

Intel-WiDi-Logo-269x300Wireless Display Technology

Notebooks that include wireless display technology can connect without wires to an external TV or monitor. You may have to connect a dongle to the external display device but nonetheless WiDi can still provide a level of convenience.

Conclusion

The goal of this multimedia notebook buying guide is to help you find the best laptop for everything from HD content viewing to creation. The most important aspect of a multimedia notebook is the display needs to be of better than average quality both in terms of resolution and picture. Additionally, we looked at the performance angle and how it’s important to have more processing power for intensive tasks like video editing. Lastly we covered minor topics such as audio performance and touch technology.

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