make your laptop better

You Love Your Laptop, But it Could be Even Better…

I’ve used a laptop as my primary PC for several decades now. It’s not that I have anything against desktop computers, but for me, a laptop is the ideal solution. It doesn’t take up a lot of space on my desk, it’s powerful enough to do what I need, if the power goes out it stays on (for 12 hours) and most importantly of all, it’s portable. If I get tired of working at the desk, I can pick it up and go sit in the living room. Or on the deck. Or in a coffee shop.

However, I have learned through many years of experience that the laptop you get out of the box can always be improved upon. I put together a list of five ways you can easily improve your own experience, and make your laptop better.

make your laptop betterIf You Don’t Have an SSD, Install One Now

MacBooks along with most ultrabooks and convertible laptops now ship with SSD (solid state drive) storage as standard equipment. They need an SSD to stay slim and extend battery life. But they also get a big performance boost from using an SSD instead of a traditional hard drive. Many mainstream laptops still come equipped with a hard drive for storage and if you have one of these, installing an SSD is one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck upgrades you can make. It’s a sure-fire way to make your laptop better.

Boot times go from 30 seconds or more to near instant. Opening and saving files is lighting fast. Since so many operations involve reading or writing to the drive, your laptop is going to feel much speedier overall—like a new machine. As an added bonus you’ll see better battery life, less fan noise, and an SSD is more resistant to bumps than a hard drive, so less risk of damage during transportation. SSDs are more affordable than ever, they’re now available in 1TB+ capacity, and swapping out a hard drive for a solid state drive is a user-level upgrade for many laptops.

Make Your Laptop Better by Maximizing Your RAM

make your laptop betterMacBooks, ultrabooks and convertible laptops tend to have soldered RAM these days—another concession to thinness. However, many laptops still offer user upgradable RAM. And if your laptop is equipped with less RAM than it can handle, upgrading to the maximum RAM is an easy way to get a performance boost. In particular, you’ll find multi-tasking and running a web browser with many open tabs is a lot snappier with more RAM for the operating system to play with.

Check to see how much RAM is installed in your laptop, check the manufacturer’s website to see how much that model can use and if you have a gap, a memory upgrade is a possibility. If you’re lucky, there may be an empty slot you can use, but you may end up having to swap memory modules (for example, replacing a pair of 4GB DIMMs with a pair of 8GB DIMMs).

Invest in a Monitor

As much as I love my laptop, it has a 13-inch display and it’s not particularly high resolution. Since I primarily work at a desk, I always add a computer monitor to my laptop setup. The boost in productivity and reduced eye strain is well worth the investment, and if I happen to be playing a game or watching a video, why confine the action to that tiny laptop screen if I have the space for a monitor?

make your laptop better

My current configuration is a 13-inch MacBook Air connected to a 27-inch monitor. Despite the fact that the MBA’s display resolution is just 1440 x 900 pixels and it lacks a discrete video card, it is easily able to drive its own display plus the 2560 x 1440 monitor. One Thunderbolt cable connects the two, so picking up and leaving is easy and there is minimal clutter. The best part is that this setup offers two displays, so I use the laptop’s to keep e-mail and Messages running onscreen, while the main display is my work area. And as you’d know if you read my post on the subject from last year, multiple monitors make you more productive

As an added bonus, a computer monitor can offer benefits like additional USB ports and built-in speakers.

Add a Bluetooth Speaker to the Mix

Most laptops don’t do audio very well. There’s just not enough space for decent speakers and an amplifier. While the built-in speakers on a computer monitor are usually an improvement, you can get a lot better results with a Bluetooth speaker.

Why go with a standalone speaker instead of a specialized computer speaker system? If you’re going to be staying put and multi-channel audio is important then by all means, a dedicated system like Logitech’s Z906 is a great idea.

make your laptop better

I prefer to go with a good quality portable Bluetooth speaker instead. The UE Megaboom is one of my current favourites. With a Bluetooth speaker, you connect to your laptop wirelessly and set the speaker wherever you have the room. Leave it plugged in to a wall outlet and it’s always charged. Audio will be improved tremendously over the built-in capability, something you’ll quickly appreciate if you listen to music, watch videos or game on your laptop. And by going with a portable Bluetooth speaker, you don’t just make your laptop better. You can also use it to play music from your smartphone and take it to parties.

Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse

No matter how good your laptop’s keyboard and trackpad are, I can guarantee that a standalone keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) will make your laptop better.

make your laptop betterUsing the built-in is fine when you’re mobile, but when you’re camped out at a desk, you’ll find an investment in a keyboard and mouse quickly pays off. Besides offering enhanced productivity, it’s a much more ergonomic setup. You can position the laptop anywhere, and still have the keyboard and mouse in the perfect position for typing and scrolling—no awkward reaching required. With a keyboard in particular, you can upgrade to a full-sized model with a number pad, and even opt for advanced features like mechanical switches, programmable keys and LED backlighting.

Go wireless and avoid the cable clutter. You can also choose a compact Bluetooth keyboard and tuck it in your laptop travel bag. To learn more about computer keyboards (I’m kind of a nerd about these things), check out my guide here.

If your laptop is on its last legs, Best Buy has a huge selection of laptops, MacBooks and 2-in-1s to choose from as a replacement. But if your current machine just needs some extras to make it the perfect laptop, try my five suggestions to make your laptop better than ever. And if installing RAM and SSDs isn’t your thing, bring the laptop in to Geek Squad and one of their expert agents will be able to help you out.

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Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

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