Whether you’re in the market for an affordable college laptop with plenty of memory or a secure work laptop with all the latest gadgets, choosing a laptop to suit your needs is never easy.
In fact, technological improvements that allow for 2-in-1 tablet and laptop options may have even made buying a laptop more difficult in recent years. And that’s before you consider specs such as RAM, storage, and graphics, or which operating system you prefer.
Luckily, we’re here to help steer you in the right direction and make sure that your next laptop is exactly what you need and more. Keep reading to learn our top laptop-shopping tips!
1. Compare Product Types
Before considering the specs and design features, you’ll need to consider which type of laptop you want. Often, this depends on what you plan to use it for since you’ll find different specs, extras, and the like with, say, a gaming or business laptop compared to a personal laptop. Here are the main laptop options:
This is a straight-up laptop that doesn’t convert into a tablet, doesn’t have extra features for gaming, and isn’t thin and powerful like an ultrabook. But, as they don’t have any of the extra features that can increase the price, basic laptops also tend to be more affordable. This makes basic laptops ideal for anyone looking to drop a little less cash on a solid model with good specs.
Two-in-one models are fast becoming one of the most popular laptop options thanks to their versatility. Serving as both a portable tablet and a desk-style laptop, 2-in-1s are perfect for everything from watching TV in bed to working.
As this resource explains in further detail, ultra-slim, portable, and lightweight laptops can be among some of the most powerful. These ultrabooks are best-suited to those who want a powerful work laptop they can take on the go.
Gaming laptops focus on performance, making them thicker and bulkier than most models. But, with all that extra space, gamers can enjoy more powerful processors, larger batteries, better displays, extra ports, and dedicated graphics chips.
While 2-in-1s and ultrabooks can both make great work laptops, specific business laptops usually try to strike a balance between durability, performance, portability, and storage.
2. Know Your Operating Systems
Once you’ve decided between those laptop options, it’s time to consider different brands and the operating systems they use. So, Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS? While all have their advantages and disadvantages, one likely has more of the key features that you’re looking for:
The current Windows incarnation, Windows 10, is the most flexible operating system, running on more computer models than the other two options. This availability and its wider variety of apps and games make it the most popular too, especially for gamers. As for other users, although Windows isn’t the most secure, this platform is easy to use and adaptable. So, unless you have a preference for macOS or Chrome OS, Windows will likely be your first choice.
All MacBook laptops come with Apple’s latest operating system, macOS Catalina. Many people find Catalina more user-friendly than Windows 10, while loyal fans will appreciate being able to sync up your other Apple devices. That said, macOS doesn’t come with as many apps and games, while there are no touchscreen MacBooks.
Google’s operating system is secure and simple but more limited than macOS and Windows. Everything on the Chrome OS interface runs through the Chrome browser, meaning that some apps don’t work well offline. Although, newer models now run Android apps for a smoother user experience. Despite these limitations, Chrome OS is a good solid choice for casual users.
3. Prioritize the Processor
The processor or CPU (central processing unit) is crucial for responsive performance, making it one of the most essential computer features to consider. Even if you’re only in the market for a personal laptop for basic functions, opting for a decent processor means a much smoother experience.
The efficiency of a processor depends on a combination of the clock speed and the number of “cores”. Clock speed determines how fast a processor runs, but a higher clock speed won’t always mean faster performance. This is because more cores mean your laptop can process more things at a time.
4. Decide on Screen Size
Laptop screen sizes range from 11 inches to 18 inches. But, how you plan on using your laptop will determine the right screen size for you. For example, if portability is a priority, a larger screen will make it more cumbersome to carry around. In contrast, anything less than a 15-inch laptop screen will be too small for a gamer.
Most agree that a screen measuring around 13 or 14 inches offers the best balance of usability and portability. Although, if you plan on using your work laptop at a desk most of the time, you might find a larger screen more comfortable.
5. Consider the Picture Quality
Larger screens are only worth the extra if the resolution provides a sharp picture.
At present, the lowest screen resolution available is 720p resolution (1280 x 720), also known as HD Ready or standard HD. Ideally, you’ll want at least 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080), also called Full HD. Higher-end laptops can have screens with 2560 x 1440 pixels (2K), 3840 x 2160 (4K), or even 7680 x 4320 (8K). These all provide amazing picture quality, but consume more power, meaning less battery life for laptops.
Color and brightness also come into play when it comes to image quality. For the perfect picture, make sure to go for an sRGB color rating over 100% and more than 300 nits of brightness.
6. Maximize the RAM
RAM (random access memory) determines how much space the laptop has to store files for immediate use. A higher RAM allows your laptop to handle more information at the same time without sacrificing speed, even if you have several browsers, apps, and tabs open at once.
In general, more RAM is better. Although a faster RAM can have a negative effect on battery life, as well as the price tag. Most people find 8GB of RAM to be just right, although as always, how you use your laptop will be a deciding factor. Any less than 8GB of RAM could be the way to go if you’re looking to save money on a personal computer for casual use. But those of you wanting to edit photos or play games will need more RAM.
7. Select the Right Storage Capacity
When it comes to storing photos and documents on your laptop, alternatives such as The Cloud don’t mean that local storage is no longer important.
While some laptops still rely on hard disk drives (HDDs), most newer models feature solid-state drives (SSDs). Although SSDs are more expensive, they’re worth the higher price tag. Laptops with SSDs are more efficient, durable, and at least three times faster than those with HDDs. So, even if you have to go low, go for an SSD, then you can always top up your storage capacity with a cloud storage subscription.
8. Investigate the Battery Life
If you’re looking for a gaming laptop for use at home by an outlet, battery life won’t be a concern. But for most users, a longer-lasting battery is an important feature when choosing what’s meant to be a portable device.
While a battery life of around seven hours is desirable, bear in mind that longevity depends on several factors. Most of all, your own personal usage habits. For example, streaming Netflix takes up a lot more battery life than writing a Word document. Not to mention, a brighter screen and a higher image resolution also drain the battery faster.
As manufacturers tend to list the maximum possible battery life, make sure to read reviews before buying a laptop as these often give a more realistic idea of the true battery life.
9. Check Out Any Extras
Graphics chips, optical drives, the number of ports, and the clarity of the webcam might not be big priorities for everyone. But if you plan on playing 3D games, editing high-res images, connecting your laptop to your TV, playing CDs and DVDs, or video conferencing, these issues are going to be more of a concern when buying a laptop.
10. Take the Weight into Account
Last but not least, you’ll need to consider whether the weight of your chosen laptop fits your needs. If you’ll only ever be carrying it from your desk to your bed, a few extra pounds might not be a concern. But if you’re looking for a super-portable work laptop you can use on your commute, the lighter the better.
As you’d expect, the size of a laptop is the biggest determiner of weight. Laptops with a 13-inch screen tend to weigh in at between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds, while a 15-inch screen laptop can weigh anything from 2.5 to 6 pounds for an extras-packed gaming laptop.
Tips for Choosing a Laptop to Suit Your Needs
As this guide to choosing a laptop shows, your individual needs are the biggest defining factor in how suitable a laptop is for you.
This makes it imperative to consider exactly what you plan on using your laptop for before you buy it. After all, just because one person might rate a laptop for its bigger RAM or sharper graphics, your priorities might not always align with theirs.
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