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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.
Connect the docks
A docking station quickly turns your notebook into a desktop. You connect your peripherals (monitor, keyboard, mouse) to the dock, which stays at your desk. Simply attach the notebook to the dock, and you instantly get the conveniences of a desktop without having to unplug everything when it's time to go.
Another advantage of a docking station is increasing the number of ports your laptop has, whether it be extra video connections, more USB ports, or legacy ports like serial and PS/2. Thunderbolt is likely to shake things up here. For instance, Apple's recent Thunderbolt Displays, through one cable not only offers a monitor, but more USB ports, a FireWire port and gigabit Ethernet for your MacBook.
If you don't need all of the features of a dock, but could still use the extra connectivity, check whether the notebook maker offers a port replicator, which is basically a pared-down version of a dock.