If you're thinking of buying a laptop
for your church then Richard Armiger offers some advice.
Where do we start?
This is not a cop out question: it is more
a statement of fact. Doing a simple search on the Internet shows
that there are hundreds of laptops available to buy. Different brands,
different models within brands, all offering slightly different
options and specifications.The prices
for laptops can range from £600 through to over £2000.
So where do we start?
We could have selected a limited number
of laptops and simply rated them against various areas of functionality.
However there are hundreds of variations in brand, make and model
of laptop and so we have decided to take you through the decision-making
process of deciding on what laptop is the right one for you.
Through this article we will take you on the
journey towards making the decision of what laptop to buy in terms
of specification and features leaving you the choice of exactly
what make of laptop to buy. We will consider a number of questions
along the way to making a decision to buy a laptop.
This may seem like an obvious question to ask
and you may be thinking ‘I already know that I need a laptop
so why ask me why?’ Well the danger is that the answer may
simply be ‘because I want one’. If that is the case
I would suggest that you think again and work through the real reason,
and in fact need, for a laptop.
The danger is that we do not think the reasons through prior to
purchasing our laptop. I remember being in a well-known computer
store and overhearing a customer asking for advice on buying a laptop.
I heard the member of staff ask the fatal question ‘How much
do you want to spend?’ and continue to tell the customer why
they needed the most expensive laptop in the shop. Whilst I know
that this may not be the approach that all shop staff take, it is
one to be wary of. The starting point should always be:
Why do I need a laptop?
It is sensible to take time to write out the
reasons why you need a laptop as this will help you on the way to
deciding what laptop to buy. These are in effect your motive for
buying a laptop. The only person who can truthfully answer why you
need a laptop is yourself. If you are tasked with buying a laptop
for your church ask those who have approached you ‘why do
we need a laptop’ and you will again have the starting point
for deciding what laptop to buy.
Good examples might be:
are about to buy a church video projection system for use in worship
and for mid-week activities in our church premises
need to have a portable system that can be moved from room to room
also want the flexibility to operate the computer from the front
and rear of the church.
This may well be a situation where a laptop is better suited rather
than a desktop PC as the laptop will provide the portability required.
Also as a follow on to this it will not be essential for the laptop
to be ultra lightweight as it will not be moved/carried on a daily
basis. One of the areas that can significantly increase costs for
laptops is the weight – the lighter and more portable the
laptop, the higher the price.
What do I want
to use the laptop for?
After answering the ‘why’ question,
the next step is to consider what it is that you want your laptop
to do. Think through the work that the laptop will be used for:
and editing music.
If in answering this question you only require
the laptop for the first three uses above then you will almost certainly
not require a high-end laptop and an entry model will suffice.
If you are planning to use presentation software such as PowerPoint
which will include pictures, graphics, sounds, movies, or for playing
DVDs or manipulating digital photos then you will require a mid-range
laptop with sufficient processing power and memory to cope with
these additional demands. You will also need a DVD-Rom drive on
the laptop to play DVDs.
If you want to be able to carry out video editing or multimedia
authoring on the laptop then you will most likely require a high-end
laptop otherwise you may find it grinding to a halt! You will also
need suitable interface connections such as IEEE1394 or ‘Firewire’
ports to enable you to ‘capture’ the video for editing.
When choosing a laptop for presentation or multimedia use, the following
output options should be considered:
monitor support – this is present in a large number of laptops.
This enables you to display separate information on the 15 pin VGA
output of the laptop than on the LCD screen of the laptop. There
are normally 3 display options that you can select on your laptop
– Disabled (turns off the VGA connector on the back of the
laptop), Simultaneous or Mirrored (projector or second monitor connected
to VGA connector shows the same thing as the laptop's screen), and
Dual or Extended window (the VGA connector is the same as using
a second video card and the windows desktop is extended onto this
laptops have a 15 pin video out connector – however this
does not guarantee ‘dual monitor’ support so you should
always check before you buy!
the laptop you have chosen does not have dual screen support you
will need to buy a PCMCIA VGA card such as the 'Display To Go'
card by Margi. Costs for this type of card vary but would normally
cost between £150 - £200.
out – denoted by a yellow coloured ‘phono’ socket
on the rear of the laptop – usually provided on the higher-end
models.· Firewire (IEEE1394) – used for fast access
to external devices as well digital video formats.· Audio
in/out – usually provided through a small 3.5mm stereo jack
socket available on all laptops.
do I need?
Once you have been able to answer the questions
of ‘why do I want a laptop?’ and ‘what do I want
to use a laptop for?’ you can progress to considering what
specification laptop suits your needs.
I want to suggest the following minimum specifications for laptops
in three categories matched to the uses above.
Entry Level –
basic office applications
Celeron, Pentium 4-M, or desktop (Pentium 4) processors
least 128MB of memory
size hard drive (20-30Gb)
display or larger
or swappable CD-RW and/or DVD drives
and wireless networking
to use external keyboard and mouse
Windows XP Home
Mid Level –
basic office applications plus presentation software / digital imaging
and DVD playback
Celeron, Pentium 4-M, desktop Pentium 4, or PowerPC G4 processors
least 256MB of memory
hard drive to hold all those media files and large presentations
combined drive for playing DVDs and burning CDs
and wireless networking
to use external keyboard and mouse
Windows XP Home or Apple Mac OS X
Office XP Standard Edition or Office v.X for Mac OS
High Level –
video editing and demanding multimedia authoring
Pentium M, Pentium 4-M or desktop P4, or PowerPC G4 processors
to 1GB of memory
15-inch display or larger
graphics accelerator with 32MB or 64MB of its own memory
largest and fastest hard drive available (60Gb plus)
CD-RW and DVD recordable drives
connectors, such as S-Video, FireWire (IEEE1394)
keyboard and mouse
Windows XP Home or Professional, or Apple Mac OS X
Office XP Premium, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and more!
Whilst it is possible to argue about the exact
minimum specification required (sometimes this is specified for
you by the specific software applications) these outlines will get
you in the right area.
Do I need to buy a brand name laptop?
Another consideration is whether to go for a
brand name or not, e.g. Sony, Toshiba, Compaq, etc. The answer really
lies more in the reliability of the product than whether it is a
brand name or not. The likelihood is that a brand name will be more
reliable than a non-brand name but this is certainly not always
the case. If you already own electronic equipment of a certain brand
and are happy with the quality and reliability then it may make
sense to stick with that brand for your laptop.
The following software is provided with the operating system on
all laptops and may help in getting you off to a good start with
your multimedia requirements:
XP – Windows Movie Maker – simple to use video editing
software (Firewire/IEEE1394 port required to import digital video).
Macintosh – iMovie – simple to use video editing software.
Both of these built-in pieces of software whilst
simple allow you to create your own video material.
As I stated at the start of the article, we
were not planning to give you a list of laptops and run comparisons
between them as this would not enable us to cover the breadth of
choice that is available and there are places where you can already
get this information such as:
Both of these sites provide access to information on group tests
and more. Other sources of group test information are computer magazines
such as What
Once you have decided on why you need a laptop,
what you want to use the laptop for and what specification you require
and have checked out some of the group tests, the final decision
is where to buy the laptop from. This in itself may be an obvious
choice – ‘the cheapest supplier of course!’
Beware though the cheapest may not necessarily
be the best. You will need to consider support issues such as ‘what
do I do if my laptop goes wrong?’ It may be worth spending
a little more money to buy from a supplier who you trust and who
has a good reputation for support.
One final consideration is whether to buy new or second-hand. It
may be that the laptop you require does not need to be the latest
model and that a second-hand laptop would meet your requirements
as well as save you money. Think carefully about second-hand laptops
as the support and life expectancy of the laptop need to be considered
and balanced against the price saving. There are several sources
for second-hand laptops and again it is worth shopping around to
find the best deal. One possible place to start is on ebay.
Richard Armiger runs his own training consultancy
and media production company, Armadillos, and is a Co-Editor of
eChurch Active. Tel: 0845 2268507 or vist www.armadillos.biz