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Shopping for a Laptop, Monitor or Wi-Fi? Here's a Must-Read

Posted by Loren VonLintel on Dec 2, 2020 3:12:13 PM

Buying a New Monitor

Everything you do on your PC may seem a bit off if you are not using the right monitor. Whether you are immersed in spreadsheets or running around in Call of Duty, your monitor has a big impact on your experience. Different display specifications have flooded the market recently and it could be a bit confusing choosing the right one.

Here are some quick tips to help make that decision.

  • Determine the monitor’s main purpose. You might be a gamer and want to make sure the refresh rate and low response times make for a crisp clear experience. For general use, a VA monitor would fit your needs. For professionals, color accuracy might be your main focus (no pun intended).
  • Resolution does mean a better picture, and more is better. 1080p is the minimum you should get. You also might see 1080p advertised as 1,920x1,080 pixel count or Full HD. Higher resolutions are QHD and 4K. QHD pixel count is 2,560x1,440 and 4K is 3,840x2,160. 4K is also sometimes advertised as Ultra High Definition.
  • Pixel density related to the size of the screen matters too. This is a measurement of how many pixels the manufacturer squeezes into the screen and is measured in pixels per inch (ppi). Smaller pixels and cramming more of them in make for a clearer image when viewed up close. Anything more than 110 ppi should be just fine. This is also why TVs generally make for poor computer monitors. The pixels are big and when you put the TV close to you, you can see the outlines of the pixels on the screen and your eyes will feel the strain.
  • Refresh rate – you want more. We’ve all seen this when looking at the monitor settings of our PC or laptop. Right near the resolution is the refresh rate. It’s usually ignored unless there’s a problem. This is a measure in Hertz (Hz) of how often the pixels on the screen change. Higher refresh rates make for smoother moving images on the screen. Anything 60Hz and above is great for general use. Gamers want to set this as high as they can so movements on the screen aren’t ghost-like.
  • Response time – you want less. This is simply a measure of time in milliseconds that it takes the pixels to change. Response time usually isn’t an issue unless you are gaming. Most of us can’t type fast enough in Word to notice the response time in our monitor causing a problem.
  • There are different types of panel technologies and you want to choose the right one.
    • TN – Great performance with low response times and high refresh rates. Colors may not be the best and might not look great when viewing from the side. Good for gaming and usually very affordable if you are on a budget.
    • VA – Longer response times and higher refresh rates. Good viewing angles, contrast and color. Great for general use.
    • IPS – Better than VA in response times and refresh rates. Best color and viewing angles. Probably the most expensive of the bunch. These are for professionals working in design and graphics.

There are other considerations to take into account as well. You definitely want to match up the monitor with the inputs that are available on your setup. You might have VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort to contend with. Make sure the monitor can plug into your rig. Not all monitors come with built in speakers if you need audio. Overall, be aware that making a monitor purchase decision is just as important as the PC itself. Your eyes will thank you every day if you make the right choice.

Buying a New Laptop

If you are looking for a new laptop in this work-from-home new normal or just need something to watch funny cat videos on YouTube, there are some basic requirements you should consider when seeking out that new portable PC. It seems right now there are more choices than ever when looking for a new laptop so you should be able to find what need.

  • Take a bit of time to analyze what you are going to do with the device. If you are needing this for business, make sure you pick something from the business line of laptops. Manufacturers build their products with varying quality of components. Business laptops are generally a bit more expensive compared to consumer models for various reasons. For example, a business laptop would have support for multiple monitors and a docking station. Business laptops are also built to higher standards for hot/cold environments, impact, electrical shock, and dust and dirt resistance. There are also business security features built into these devices to help keep important company data secure. Maybe you just need something simple. If that is the case, you might look at the consumer lines you find at the big box stores. Another option might be a Chromebook. Chromebooks are perfect if you need a simple, safe, secure, and affordable device.
  • Is battery life important? This could make the difference between buying something useful or buying something that constantly has to be near a power outlet. Manufacturers usually list battery life in the specifications but take that with a grain of salt. Those measurements are not all based upon the same standards of usage so your mileage may vary. Look for those that advertise 8-10 hours of battery life.
  • How portable do you need the portable PC to be? Laptops with a screen in the 11-13-inch range will be the smallest and lightest to choose from. Chromebooks and hybrid 2-in-1 options (laptops that can be transformed into a tablet or set on a table in ‘tent’ mode or have a detachable keyboard) fall in this size category as well. The 14- and 15-inch screens are the most common sizes for business laptops. Features will vary depending upon the size of the screen and most noticeably the size of the keyboard. Anything above a 15-inch screen would be in the gaming, workstation, and consumer model realm and not be considered very portable.
  • Specifications are all over the place. Trying to keep up with what the newest processor, how much RAM, how much storage space, etc., etc. can be challenging since all those things seem to change from week to week. The two main processor manufacturers are Intel and AMD so make sure the machine comes equipped with one of those. Intel and AMD make processors designed in conjunction with the laptop manufacturers to get the most out of the battery, cooling, screen, wireless, and all other items that use power. As long as you stick to a major manufacturer you should be good. Two minimums I would suggest - first, no less than 8 GB of RAM and second, make sure it has an SSD for storage. SSD drives are much, much faster than older spinning hard drives and also use less battery power.
  • Ports and connectivity are important. If you plan to connect any type of peripheral, be aware of what type of connectivity is needed. USB-C is fast becoming the new standard for connectivity so make sure it has at least one of those ports. Older legacy ports like VGA and even ethernet might be important so look at the fine print.

Obtaining a new laptop is most often a personal experience as those devices are not often shared. Put a little thought into what you need up front and the experience you have can be greatly improved over the lifespan of that next machine you get.

But...My Phone Says I have Wi-Fi!

One of my jobs here at Nex-Tech is to evaluate wireless coverage and design wireless systems in buildings for our customers. I hear all the time that people have problems with their wireless at work or at home and more often than not, it's not an issue with the wireless technology. It's an issue with expectations.

The expectation I'm talking about is that if my phone, iPad, laptop, etc. shows that it's connected to the wireless access point (AP) or router, it means communication is happening. Unfortunately, that little connection icon on your screen can be deceiving.

For your wireless to be working correctly, both the AP/router and endpoint device must ‘hear’ each other. It's no different than talking to someone. If both sides can't hear the conversation, then communication isn't happening.

The problem is that devices don't talk at the same wireless ‘volume’ or power. Your AP/router is plenty powerful. It's got big antennas. It's like someone talking with a bullhorn and can be heard from a long ways away. That means your phone or tablet can hear it and will connect to it (or try to...or was when you were in the house earlier).

Your phone or tablet can't talk that loud though. It only has the power of a regular speaking voice compared to the AP/router so it might not be heard by the access point as you get farther away or move to another room. Your phone or tablet thinks it's connected and is trying it's best to send a signal back but, unfortunately, that brick wall between you and the router/access point is blocking communication. Blocking it one way. Your phone or tablet still thinks it's connected because it can still ‘hear’ the access point/router. Now you don't have connectivity even though your device says you do.

Unfortunately, you can't increase the radio power in your device (phone/tablet) nor would you want to. Your battery would drain a LOT faster. We can't make radio waves go through brick or metal walls any better either - radio signals have their limits. Just be aware that your device is the weak link in this partnership, simply because of how loud it can ‘talk’ back. The little Wi-Fi signal meter on your phone is only telling you how loud the other end is talking and that's only half the story.