Laptop Buyers Guide - Choosing the Right Laptop Screen & Graphics Chipset

Written by:  • Edited by: Bill Fulks
Updated Aug 26, 2009
• Related Guides: Graphics Card | Windows Vista

Buying a laptop demands having a bright screen, graphics processor and sound system that can deliver the best visuals, audio and video for all your multimedia needs. Here we introduce buying a laptop by reviewing the importance of laptop screen technology and digital media output.

Screen Display

Of all the elements of a laptop PC the screen is arguably the most crucial. Such is the importance of a vibrant, bright display, the complex nature of build and the cost of replacement parts that it is seriously worth spending a bit extra on a laptop PC with a superior display and graphics capabilities.

Also important to know is that each laptop manufacturer produces screens with vastly differing LCD grades. Variations in resolution, color, contrast and brightness make a huge difference to a screens performance. Many cheaper models are designed such that only head-on use is possible. Others only work in unnatural lighting such as the home/office, and most are affected in some way by graininess which makes them impossible to use outdoors or on the move.

So picking a good quality laptop starts with the right screen. Herein lies another problem in that manufacturers rarely divulge the quality of their laptop screens. Therefore it is always best to test one out with your own eyes. Consider what purpose the screen is for, will it be viewed head-on only or by multiple users at variable viewing angles. Check how much color and visual clarity gets distorted as viewing angles are taken to extremes. Consider the resolution of the screen and whether the laptop’s configuration can be changed to deliver better visuals.

What you are looking for is optimum resolution for the size of the screen. If the resolution is too high, navigation may prove difficult due to the shrinking of icons and controls. Oppositely you don’t want such a low resolution that icons and controls appear blocky and do not optimize screen real-estate.

The ability to configure resolution is dependant on the operating system of the laptop. Windows Vista for example uses extensive 3D graphics and therefore demands a high resolution screen. A laptop PC with Windows XP however struggles with top end resolution, as such a high spec screen would be wasted. As a general rule, for laptops with 10"-13" screens look for 1280x800 resolution, for 15"-17" screens look for 1440x900 resolution, and for 17"+ screens you really want 1680x1050 as a minimum and 1920x1200 to optimize visual experience.

Graphics and Audio

Technically speaking, a graphics processor determines how many 3D graphics frames per second can be displayed on screen. The bigger the capacity the more seamlessly graphics appear on screen. As such the graphics card is an important component of any laptop PC, particularly one with Windows Vista and its memory intensive 3D graphics engine. Furthermore, it is absolutely crucial to a laptop that is to be used for gaming or advanced multimedia.

Graphics cards come in two forms, integrated and discrete. An integrated graphics chip is built into the CPU processor, thus sharing resources and memory with other components. This shared resource management results in reduced speed and responsiveness of graphics processing. However this is not going to be a major issue for most users as Windows Vista and most modern applications work seamlessly with the vast majority of integrated graphic chips. If you are wanting to free up graphics processing capacity for ultra smooth graphics and transitional representation such as that required for top notch video editing and cutting edge animation, there may be a requirement to install a discrete graphics card. As the name implies, this chip uses its own memory to resource graphics services in a seamless manor.

As for graphics card capacity, for basic graphics performance it is advisable to have a minimum 128MB graphics card and preferably 256MB. For advanced graphics performance, especially for those wanting to play high-tech games it is advisable to use a 1GB or more graphics card.

Next >>> Buying a Laptop PC for Windows - Weight, Size and Durability

 
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