laptop terms explained
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Laptop lingo: Computer terminology explained

You shouldn't have to learn how to build a computer just to buy one. So if you're confused by the jargon you have to wade through to buy a new laptop, this simple glossary of computer technology will help you make the right decision for your family's needs.

Hard drive size

If RAM is kitchen counter space, the hard drive is how large your refrigerator is—it describes how much storage space you have. Hard drive capacity is measured in size, with average computers running about 320GB. However, if you shoot a ton of photos and video, paying for a 500GB or even a 750GB hard drive may be worth it. Your hard drive's speed is measured in rpm (or revolutions per minute). The higher the rpm, the more responsive the PC will be. A good starting point is around 5,400 rpm.

Solid-state drive

The newest technology in hard drives, solid-state drives combine the speed and energy efficiency of RAM with the storage capacity of traditional hard drives. Like RAM, solid-state drives use no moving parts, so they require much less energy—allowing for much longer battery life. This non-moving (or “solid-state”) architecture also allows for much speedier drive access, sharply cutting startup times and increasing overall responsiveness.

Multi-touch input

Multi-touch technology makes a traditional trackpad much more versatile. A laptop with multi-touch lets you do things like scroll through a page or zoom in or out without having to move your fingers from the trackpad. Some multi-touch trackpads are even programmable, to give you customized control over the functions you use most.


Most laptops feature "integrated graphics," which is a graphics chip that's built into the CPU. Integrated graphics is generally good enough for everyone except dedicated gamers. Gamers generally prefer a dedicated graphics chip for better, faster performance.

RAM (Random Access Memory)

Consumers often confuse RAM with how many pictures, videos and documents you can store on a laptop. But RAM is more like the amount of counter space you have in your kitchen: When you have too little space, prepping a meal becomes inefficient because you don't have room to work; while having too much space doesn't make the meal prep any faster (unless you're preparing a banquet). Current RAM capacities tend to range from 2 to 8GB, with the sweet spot at around 4GB; anything more is probably a luxury that will rarely be used.

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

This is "the brains" of a laptop. CPU makers today brag about the number of "cores" in them. A core is a shrunken-down CPU, so a laptop with dual cores has two "brains." You can get up to four cores in today's laptops, but unless you are editing a lot of video, a dual-core is more than adequate—just think about what you could do with two brains! Be aware that one chip maker's cores may be better than another's, so a dual-core chip from one company may be faster than a competing maker's four-core unit. The second measurement of a CPU is Gigahertz or GHz. The bigger the number, the faster it is (and the more expensive). Currently, laptops range from around 1.5 GHz up to 3 GHz (and higher). So you should shoot for a minimum of around 1.5GHz to ensure that your applications run quickly and smoothly.

So now that you've got your laptop lingo down, explore how laptops compare to their older and younger cousins: desktop PCs and Tablets.

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