A Guide to Laptops for
By Graeme Houston
I just naturally assumed that every writer had a laptop. I blame the media; they
portray us, cigarette in hand, poring over our first tentative line, such as,
"The night was humid" (usually staring at it in horror). In the films, it will
either be on an old fashioned typewriter or a laptop so sexy it is beyond the
purchasing power of us mere mortals. The more writers I've come to know though,
the more I've had to reassess my unfortunate, media-driven preconceptions. It
turns out that many writers don't have a laptop, but they are considering buying
one in the near future and would like some advice-- preferably in English.
All this advice assumes that the laptop in question is for writing, using the
Internet for research, some Photoshop work, and web design-- all the things
writers will likely need to do. Some older games (nothing like "Doom 3" or
"Half-Life 2") would not be out of the question either.
The first rule of buying a laptop (this applies to any computer) is to get as
much RAM (memory) as possible, even if this means making do with a slower
processor. You see, there are very few occasions when the processor actually has
to work at full capacity and most of the time it will be ticking along somewhere
between three to twenty-five percent of its maximum capability.
Everything the processor needs to work on in the foreseeable future is held in
RAM. The RAM works at close to the speed of the processor, and therefore can
keep the processor fed, which in turn gives the computer the feeling of speed
If you don't have enough RAM, then the computer will use the hard drive as
virtual memory. When this happens the computer will run in a sluggish manner,
which is horrible for the user. It occurs because the processor has run out of
food and the RAM is unable to feed it, because it is itself waiting for an arm
inside the hard drive to physically move into position and then take out the
extra data which would not fit in the RAM.
Obviously, the next most important aspect is battery life. Get the one that
lasts the longest-- something that lasts long enough to allow you to watch one
DVD whilst on the battery would be ideal (just don't use one of the uncut Lord
of the Rings films as your benchmark for this or you'll never find a suitable
battery). Starbucks are never far from hand, so wherever you are you can always
nip in and give your laptop a quick recharge while you recharge yourself with a
coffee. But, to keep your battery in a healthy state it is advisable to fully
discharge it and then fully charge it as much as possible, otherwise it will
lose some of its capacity over time.
The laptop should have built in Wi-Fi capability even if you think you will
your life use Wi-Fi; just get it anyway because you will use it and it does not
add any significant amount to the cost of the laptop.
Some screens have a poor viewing angle, which means that if you tilt your head a
few inches in any direction, the colors start to go funny until you're seeing
the image in negative. Get one with a good viewing angle so that the colors stay
pretty solid no matter which angle you're viewing from. This will save you a lot
of head bobbing and annoyance when you're looking at photos (or trying to decide
which cover looks best for your latest book).
Also be on the lookout for damaged pixels. The law in most countries state that
up to four damaged pixels are acceptable on an LCD screen-- however if they are
in the middle of the screen they can be really annoying, check the display
before you buy to be on the safe side. There are many types of bad pixels, but
to keep things simple I will merely say that you should watch out for rogue
pinpoints of white on a black background, and rogue black pinpoints on a white
background. It may be worth reading about this further before you buy.
You're going to need a way to back up your data. CDs are the best way to do
this, and most modern laptops will come with a CD burner as standard.
To have at least three USB ports is not unreasonable. It's nice to have a small
USB mouse handy for use with your laptop. A USB pen drive will take up another
slot from time to time, and in cases where you're using a USB pen drive and your
mouse, that gives you one extra port for something else.
Once you get your laptop, don't drop it! I'm serious; my father had his for
three days before smashing it irreparably. It would have survived, but he had a
mouse plugged into the USB port. The laptop landed on the USB interface which
was driven through the port, smashing the innards to pulp.
This brings me to my next point; most people think a laptop can be shifted about
when it's turned on. Unfortunately this is not the case; since laptops are
merely modified PCs, shoehorned into a thin case, they retain the hard drive
common to all personal computers. Inside a hard drive are numerous disks piled
on top of each other and these spin at 7,200 revolutions per minute-- that's 120
revolutions per second! The read/write head is sitting stationary, above that
surface, supported by a cushion of air. Bumps cause the read/write head to crash
into the disk, obliterating portions of the surface. Eventually the hard drive
fails because too many portions have become corrupted. Bear this in mind and
hopefully whole novels or days of work may be safe forever.
On the protection side, it is best to have firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware
installed on your computer. Update each of them every day; otherwise you'll
leave yourself open to newer threats. Back up your files constantly.
Well, that's everything covered. The rest is preference. What's most important
of all is that you have fun. Laptops are liberating, you can go out and write
anywhere-- from that little café at the beach to the local Starbucks (and do
make the most of the little café at the beach; while it's not a Starbucks,
but because that might not last long!). You can watch as stories unravel before your
very eyes, and write them down in a snap.
Of course, there is still some romance in the use of a pen and paper. J. K.
Rowling, for example, recently posted a message on her website, saying that she
had run out of writing paper. Fans sent her paper by the truck load. Is she
still writing in cafés, on paper, or is it merely that she would like to
maintain this image, for the sake of the romance? Who's she trying to kid? Or
perhaps she has been waiting for my guide...
Graeme Houston is a freelance writer
who comes from Scotland and is now living in Kuala Lumpur, with his lovely
Malaysian wife. Formerly an in-house writer for lifestyle and business
magazines, he recently left to enjoy the perks (and hardship) of freelance
writing. He has completed one science fiction novel, which he hopes to publish
in the near future, and enjoys writing short fiction of almost every genre. To
find out more please visit
www.etheral.co.uk or e-mail