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Power without the plug
While you might have a two- or three-year warranty on your laptop, your battery is generally only covered for one year.
Two specs to look for in laptop batteries are capacity (measured in milliamp hours, or mAh) and the number of cells. Typical batteries have an mAh rating of between 2000mAh and 6000mAh; higher is better. Cells are the actual compartments where power is produced, and can range from four to 12; the more the better. Keep in mind, though, that this may cause the battery pack to stick out from your laptop in potentially awkward positions.
Some laptops don't have easily swappable batteries, in an attempt to cut down on physical size and to lengthen battery life. Be aware of this — and when your battery dies, you may need to take your laptop in for a service rather than simply swapping the battery out yourself.
On the other hand, some can take a second battery, either by replacing the optical drive or by placing a shim on the bottom. Check your accessories before you buy.
Tiny, tinny sound
Laptops are notorious for having terrible speakers. While a lot of laptops these days are including some version of Dolby, THX, Beats or other sort of "branded" sound, this is done in software, and often paired with such tiny speakers that it doesn't make that much of a difference.
Our recommendation: get a good set of headphones, or a stereo or 2.1 speaker set. You can even get speakers powered by USB if you want something portable that doesn't require a power point.
Is it pretty?
Just because the laptop on the shop shelf may look a little dour, doesn't mean that there aren't any options. Many models these days sell in different colours, and Dell, for instance, even has a huge range of swappable back covers available for sale for certain laptops.
Going for the perfect drive
Notebook hard drives tend to start at the 64GB point, and work their way up to 1TB in size. If you have a choice, select a drive with a rotational speed of 7200rpm instead of 5400rpm. The faster it spins, the faster you'll get your files.
Solid state drives (SSDs) are also an option, bringing significantly faster sequential and random read and write speeds, and a much higher cost as a result. Disappointingly, most manufacturers won't tell you what brand SSD that they put in their laptops, and not all are created equal — in many cases, you're better off buying aftermarket so that you can ensure you'll receive an Intel, Samsung 830 or SandForce-based drive.
While they are diminishing in importance these days, optical drives of all kinds are available for laptops — from basic CD ROM units to Blu-ray/DVD±RW combos. We like DVD±RW drives for notebooks; they burn and play both DVDs and CDs. Blu-ray is a good choice if you're a movie buff, but make sure that your notebook can display a Full HD resolution (at least 1920x1080, usually only seen on desktop replacements), or can at least output the video to a screen that can — otherwise, you'll lose the benefits of all of that clarity.
When good notebooks go bad
Every notebook is susceptible to accidents and system failures. Keep an eye open for longer than usual warranties, and check to see if the manufacturer offers an international warranty rather than local — particularly useful for travellers.
We recommend, if available, paying for a good three-year warranty with express service. Try getting it direct from the manufacturer rather than dealing with in-store warranty extensions.
What's it made of?
Most laptop cases are still made from moulded plastic, but you can find some encased in metal, which dissipates heat better. Look for models made from light, strong metal alloys. If you're in the market for a desktop replacement, check that the case has adequate ventilation for the powerful (and hot-running) components inside.