In my last several posts, I discussed–in brief–the operating system (“OS”) choices facing the typical consumer: Mac-run Mac OS’s, Linux OS’s, and Windows. For the typical consumer who does not have a fortune to spend on extras, I suggested going with a Windows computer; Linux is too complex for most consumers, and it’s extremely hard to find a laptop computer with Linux anyways. Macs are just too expensive, and in my opinion are not really worth the money for the average person. That leaves Windows, whose current OS is known as Windows 7. It is a great pity that Windows 8, the forthcoming OS from Microsoft, looks to be a very great let-down.
All this is subjective, of course.
What is not subjective is the hard drive. In general, the typical consumer faces only two general choices for hard drives: solid state, and the conventional rotating platter technology. Solid state drives are much faster and more efficient than conventional drives. Unfortunately, they also cost many times the price of conventional drives–and their capacity is far smaller. In other words, you as a typical (but informed!) consumer are going to buy a laptop with a conventional drive.
Conventional drives work, or spin at a certain rate measured in rotations per minute (RPM); the faster the rotation speed, the faster the hard drive can read and write data. For many laptops, this speed is 5400 RPM. This sounds fast, but it really is considered “normal” rather than speedy. 7200 RPM drives, obviously, are faster (and a bit more money). For what it’s worth, I feel a 7200 RPM drive is a non-mandatory, though worthwhile investment. You will notice improvement in speed; you may also notice slightly lower battery life. In short: either 5400 or 7200 RPM drives will fit most consumers’ needs.
The most important specification for a hard drive, of course, is the size of its memory, measured in gigabytes (“GB” or even “gigs“). Common sizes of hard drives nowadays include 500 gigabytes, 750 gigabytes, and 1 terabyte (somewhat analogous to 1000 Gigabytes, though the situation is really a bit more complicated than this). Despite the fact that laptops are acquiring larger and larger hard drives, many large retailers like Future Shop, Best Buy and the like are still selling computers with much smaller conventional hard drives. These are waste of money. Don’t settle for anything less than 500 GB if you are buying now.
Actually, with reference to hard drives, there is a curious phenomenon at work that is sometimes known as “Kryder’s Law”; basically, this observation states that the memory capacity of standard, conventional hard drives doubles every eighteen months or so. For example, when I bought my own laptop computer about a year ago, 500 gigabytes was considered normal, perhaps generous. Now, laptops are routinely sold with 750 GB drives.* In fact, even 1 terabyte (“TB”) drives are entering the market.
What can a person do with all this space? Well, with digital cameras, high-quality audio files, and high-definition video becoming ever more pervasive, space gets used up pretty quickly. Hard drives that are too full are apt to break down much more quickly than hard drives that have a lot of space left on them.
In short, in early 2012, get at least a 500 GB for your laptop. Don’t settle for anything less. If you can wait to buy your laptop, then wait another half year and see what happens!
*Some may note that the pattern hasn’t really held up, and that prices of hard drives, which usually continue to fall even as the products get better, haven’t improved at all during the last few months. This is due to the flooding in Thailand; the area that was flooded, as it turns out, produces much of the world’s hard drive supply. As factories continue to come online, expect the prices of hard disk drives to fall even while their memory capacity continues to rise.