Laptop Buying Guide

Protips to buying a laptop (and some pitfalls to avoid, too)

First off: Why buy one?

Laptops are small enough to go around with you yet powerful enough to perform demanding programs. Notebooks are the perfect tool for conducting serious work or playing , whether at home, on the go, or in a college classroom. For these reasons, we've developed lists of the best business laptops and best college laptops , in addition to our best laptops rankings for the majority of users.

Computers have grown significantly more portable in recent years due to the availability of more powerful—and relatively inexpensive—mobile components. Laptops have grown in popularity in both the professional and personal markets, outselling conventional desktop PCs since 2008. Desktop PCs currently account for fewer than 20% of all computers sold. Despite the tremendous increase in tablet possibilities, classic laptops account for around 40% * of all computer sales .

Laptops have several advantages. They are compact and light enough to be portable yet still capable of running complicated, demanding programs. They provide features and utility not present in even the greatest tablet or smartphone .

With an almost infinite number of alternatives for a wide range of use cases, selecting and purchasing the correct laptop, tablet, or mobile device may be a difficult and perplexing task. While standalone tablets and smartphones continue to be popular, most people recognize that everything from drafting a research paper to crunching films to gaming works better on a laptop. So, which laptop should you buy?

There is a vast range of sizes, features, and pricing, making it difficult to choose the finest laptop.

Identifying who you are: What will the laptop do for you?

The first step in selecting the correct laptop is determining who will use it and what they will use it for. There are several popular user identities available today:

Knowledge Employee/In-Office User

Office employees require Internet connectivity as well as productivity tools such as Microsoft Office. The correct client OS version is essential if their machines will be connected to a domain and access a server. Portability is beneficial, but not to the same extent that a business traveler or student demands. As a result, office professionals may choose a bigger laptop with an easier-to-read screen display. If the laptop will be used largely at one desk, you may want to consider purchasing peripherals such as speakers and a high-quality mouse, a more ergonomic keyboard, and a bigger monitor to boost user productivity in the office.

User on the Move

Users that are continuously on the road, telecommuting, or need to be always on have comparable demands to the Knowledge Worker/In-Office User, but with a few additional requirements to make their continual travel simpler. Laptops for this user type should be lightweight, thin (to save space), have an all-day battery capacity, and even built-in LTE connection.

Innovative User

Graphic designers, picture and video editors, and filmmakers are among the laptop users in this group. To put it simply, they require a lot of processing and graphical power. NVIDIA and AMD provide excellent graphics card alternatives for creative laptop users.

Creative users will desire a big display and maybe dual-monitor support, as well as extra RAM.

A stylus is also recommended for a tablet or convertible 2-in-1. And, as with certain users, if this is a buy for a creative user, you may profit from investing in a touchscreen. Also, remember that too much strength and capacity is preferable to too little.

Apple has a well-deserved reputation for producing excellent laptops for creative professionals, but Dell and Microsoft also provide viable options.

Engineer and Scientist Workstation faculty

These users require a high level of computational capability comparable to that of a typical workstation. As a result, 8GB of RAM is recommended, as is a 1TB hard drive and a separate graphics card. A strong CPU, a high resolution screen, and a big, clear display are also essential.

Portability will be less of a problem in this category than it would be for students and travelers, so feel free to splurge in a larger unit with additional features if your budget allows. And keep in mind that in this computing category, having too much processing power is preferable.

Applications in the military, industry, and construction

Rugged or ruggedized laptops are the operative words for these harsh usage and situations. The advantage is that these specialist computers can withstand abuse while still performing their functions. They are designed to be utilized outside in harsh situations.

Rugged laptops often include heavy duty metal chassis, reinforced displays, sealed ports, and shock mounted components.

When looking for the most rugged computer, there are a few criteria to consider. One example is the MIL STD-810G military standard from the United States, which includes 2 harsh tests ranging from falling to soaking to exposure to intense heat.

The IP (Ingress Protection) rating is the second thing to check for. The first number in this category, which ranges from zero to six, shows the amount of dust, dirt, and sand protection. The second number specifies the amount of water resistance of the rugged laptop.

A laptop that passes these two tests will undoubtedly be robust and durable!

Expect these tough versions to be far more costly than most of their indoor-use competitors. They will also be significantly heavier than traditional laptops. Also, don't anticipate the same choice of capabilities and applications as other laptops. A robust laptop, for example, will lack the graphical capabilities required by graphic designers and video editors.

Gaming User

Because gaming is such a time sensitive usage of a laptop, it needs a large amount of memory and powerful computin capability. You also want a huge screen with a clean, clear display. If your RAM is overloaded, your computer must rely on your hard drive, reducing speed and negatively impacting your gaming experience.

Consider the fact that 4GB of RAM used to be more than enough for a pleasant gaming experience. Not any longer. Since then, gaming technology has seen several upgrades and developments, necessitating increased computational power. Even though your RAM is plenty now, it may not be sufficient for gaming in the near future.

It's better to have too much capacity today than too little later when it comes to visuals. One of the most crucial considerations you'll make when selecting a gaming laptop is the graphics processing unit (GPU).

The majority of gaming laptops include Nvidia GeForce GTX or RTX GPUs. Nvidia's top-tier RTX 20 GPUs are now available in laptops. They are an expensive choice. Today, the Nvidia RTX 10-series is still a good pick for most games. Gaming relies on visual processing rather than the CPU. Consider a laptop with a powerful GPU, a mid-range processor, and a bigger, higher resolution screen.

Student User

A laptop computer is a must-have tool for today's college student and is handy, if not mandatory, for many younger pupils. Every student laptop should contain at the very least basic word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, such as Microsoft Office. In addition, the laptop must have Wi-Fi capability. Chromebooks are ideal for basic student users.

What will the laptop be used for aside from the basics? Students enrolled in hardware-intensive engineering and design courses demand more powerful graphics, as well as quicker RAM and CPU.

Students spend a significant amount of time lugging their computers. Make sure your selection is portable and tiny enough to fit within an average-sized backpack.

One step at a time: Now that you know who you are, find what you need.

First, select an operating system.

Before you start looking at laptops, you need choose which operating system (OS) is appropriate for you. Thinking about what software you need to run and which operating systems that program supports will assist you in determining the hardware you require.

There are four primary operating systems for computers. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Here's a rundown of each:

Windows

This veteran operating system doesn't receive much attention anymore, but it gets the job done. If you require Microsoft applications such as MS Office, Access, or Outlook, this is the best option. There are also more Windows laptops available than any other operating system.

MacOS

Apple's is more user-friendly than Windows, but it is tightly integrated with the company's hardware. If you don't have an iPhone or iPad and your alternatives are restricted to MacBooks, it's probably not your first pick.

Chrome OS

A fantastic choice if you can accomplish the majority of your laptop chores in a web browser. Chrome computers (dubbed Chromebooks) are also among the least expensive (and least powerful) options available, thus the OS is worth considering if you're on a limited budget. The drawback is that software like as Adobe's Creative Suite and Microsoft Office will not work. Some software, most notably Office, have Android phone/tablet versions that you may be able to install on your Chromebook, but I've noticed that Android apps frequently do not perform properly.

Linux

If you don't require Microsoft Office and don't mind a learning curve, you can install Linux on almost any laptop hardware ever manufactured. The drawback is that popular software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe's Creative Suite will not work. However, there are free, open-source alternatives like as LibreOffice, Darktable (a substitute for Adobe Lightroom), and GIMP (Adobe Photoshop replacement).

Recognizing Processor Names (CPUs)

Once you've decided on an operating system and have an idea of what applications you'll be running, you can calculate the minimal hardware requirements. The processor, often known as the chip or the CPU, is the first item we recommend looking at. Laptop processors are primarily manufactured by two companies: Intel and AMD.

Processors from Intel

The Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9 CPUs are the most popular from Intel. The Core i3 processor is the least powerful, while the Core i processor is the most powerful. We frequently leave out the "Core" since it gets boring.

Within each of these chip lines, Intel employs cryptic sequences of numbers and characters that provide further information about the chip's capabilities and release date. Learning to interpret it will assist you in making better purchasing judgments. (Intel's model naming guide may be found here.)

The kind of CPU may be listed on the website of a laptop maker as Intel Core i5-10510U.

Let's dissect it. The initial numerals ("10") correspond to the generation; in this example, it's a chip from the tenth generation. The i5-9510U is a ninth-generation chip, meaning one that's at least a year old.

The following two or three numbers ("510") are performance-related. The higher these figures, the more powerful the chip. However, this is only true inside that chip line. The Intel Core i5-10510U is marginally faster than the Intel Core i5-10210U but much slower than the Intel Core i7-10350U. The i7 chip is always more powerful than the i5, and the difference is bigger than any other chip in the same chip range.

Intel's identifier for the chip's purpose is the letter at the end of the chip name ("U" in our example). The letters you'll notice at the end of laptops are Y, U, and H. The Y series processors, which are tuned for battery life, are the only ones to be concerned about. That's useful if you're regularly disconnected from a power source for extended periods of time, but the extra battery life comes at the sacrifice of some performance. H chips are performance-optimized, whereas U chips are "power efficient," but not "very" efficient like the Y series.


Processors from AMD

AMD's processor name is equally as perplexing as Intel's.

The "3" in AMD Ryzen 5 3600X refers to the generation (how old it is; higher is better), and the "6" refers to its power. A "6" indicates a medium-powered chip, whereas a or 4 indicates a lesser chip (slower). The next two digits have no bearing on anything. The "X" at the end denotes exceptional performance. Another letter designation is U, which stands for ultra-low power.

Is there a significant difference between Intel and AMD processors. My experience, having tested hundreds of each each year, is that... it varies. Outside of extremely specialized testing, an Intel i5 is indistinguishable from a Ryzen 5.

When you're doing activities like browsing the web or editing documents, they're comparable. The same is true for the Intel i7 and Ryzen 7, as well as the Intel i3 and Ryzen 3.

Another area where you'll notice a difference is in graphics performance. In my testing, both in benchmarks and in real-world use, AMD's integrated graphics outperform Intel on graphics intensive applications like video editing and gaming. Intel's most recent chip series has dramatically narrowed the gap, but AMD still retains the upper hand. If you're a video editor or gamer, you could profit from purchasing an AMD system, but what you really need is a specialized graphics card.


What kind of processing power do you require?

We recommend a laptop with an Intel Core i5 eighth-generation or later CPU if you're a normal user who uses a web browser , Microsoft's Office Suite, and perhaps some picture editing software. This would be listed as "Intel Core i5-1245U."

If you can afford it, an Intel i7 CPU is a worthwhile update that will make your laptop seem faster . Extra power sometimes implies shorter battery life , so you'll have to weigh it against your demands. A gaming laptop , for example, would take an i7 (or i9) processor, although an i3 or i5 is normally sufficient for less demanding work.

Similarly, the AMD Ryzen 5000 series would serve for the ordinary user, but the Ryzen 7000 is a good increase at the expense of battery life.

Do You NEED Power?

If you're compiling software, editing video, or working with massive databases, you'll need more processing power than the rest of us. I recommend an Intel i7 or Ryzen processor. You should also load up on RAM, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Processors that are best for Chrome OS laptops

Chrome OS is based on Google's Chrome web browser, and most applications is executed directly in the browser. That is, it does not require large, powerful Intel CPUs. At least, that's the theory. In my experience, Chrome OS performs best with at least an Intel i3 CPU or, what I consider to be the best value for money in a Chromebook, an AMD Ryzen 4000 chip.

There are high-end Chromebooks with Intel i5 processors and even some i7 machines available, but unless you're completely committed to Chrome OS, you're better off purchasing a more competent Windows laptop.

What about a graphics card?

Technically, all laptops include graphics cards (also known as "discrete" graphics and GPU), however most are packed onto the motherboard alongside the processor. This strategy, known as "integrated graphics," is suitable for the majority of users. You'll be able to view HD movies and even play casual games without any problems.

If you're a gamer or do a lot of video editing, you'll want a laptop with a discrete graphics card—a separate and considerably more powerful graphics card. The majority of laptop graphics cards are manufactured by AMD and Nvidia.

Most Intel-based laptops will be coupled with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card, generally one of the Max-Q cards, which are Nvidia's power-efficient, laptop-friendly spin offs of their desktop cards. They are commonly branded with the card name followed by Max-Q, such as the GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q. The Max Q cards are often 15 to 25% less powerful than the desktop equivalents, although they are still enough for gaming and video editing.

AMD's GPU line is named Radeon, and it includes everything from high end Vega and RX cards to R-series cards that follow the Ryzen naming scheme, with the Radeon R9 series being faster and more powerful than the Radeon R7 series, which is faster and more powerful than the Radeon 5 series.


How Much RAM Do You Require?

The more, the merrier! RAM, or random-access memory, is what your laptop uses to store data while the CPU processes it. Consider RAM to be your workspace. Everything you're working on right now should fit on your desk. Things tumble off your desk if it is too tiny, and you can't work on them. Similarly, if your RAM runs out, you won't be able to open any more browser tabs or complete creating your film. Your laptop will eventually freeze and need to be rebooted.

The ordinary Windows user should be OK with 8GB of RAM, but increasing to 16GB will make your laptop much more competent (and is a necessity for gaming). Before you buy, look into whether the RAM is soldered to the motherboard . You will be unable to increase the RAM if it is soldered.

Again, if you're developing and creating software or editing video clips , both of which take a lot of RAM, you should have at least 16GB . If you can afford it, you'll probably be pleased with 32GB .

Chrome OS, like CPUs, requires less. In general, a Chromebook can get by with 4GB of RAM, but upgrading to 8GB will allow you to have more tabs open in your browser without slowing things down.

Choose RAM with the DDR designation. DDR is an abbreviation for double data rate. DDR4 RAM is fast and just what you need. DDR RAM is getting older and less widespread. Most laptops feature DDR RAM, but manufacturers will indicate the kind with the quantity on their websites, so double-check before you buy.

SSD Storage or Hard Drive?

All of your data will be stored on the hard disk. Consider this to be the file cabinet next to your desk. A solid-state drive (SSD) is the most prevalent option these days, however some low-cost laptops still utilize spinning drives.

If you can afford it, get an SSD disk with at least 256 GB . SSDs are speedier, especially if they employ an NVMe connection, which transfers data in and out of hard drives far faster than the previous SATA standard. Laptops with an SSD with NVMe to run the operating system but an older SATA drive to store data are common. This provides you the best of both worlds: speed where you need it while remaining cost-effective.

We recommend a minimum of 256 GB of storage space. You might be able to get away with less if you save everything in the cloud or are considering Chromebooks, but it's better to have the capacity if you ever need it. If you want to install a large number of games or applications, or store a large number of images or videos, you will rapidly run out of space.

You may have observed that your hard disk never appears to have the claimed space. In Windows, a 512-gigabyte hard disk may appear to have just 490 GB accessible. You are not losing space; this is due to the variation in byte size computations between binary and decimal.

Look for Ports!

While the CPU, RAM, and hard drive have the most influence on performance, the number and kind of connectors on your laptop are also crucial . Ports are the numerous methods for connecting and charging your laptop, such as USB devices .

You'll need at least one USB-C , one USB-A , and a microphone/headset jack . Consider USB-C charging as well as an SD reader .

I recommend computers that support USB-C charging . On the website or in the specifications section, a laptop should state that it can charge through USB-C. This charging technique allows you to utilize a portable charger if you need to spend time away from a power source.

USB-C chargers are also less expensive to replace, and you may already be using them to charge your Android phone (or high-end iPad). Never buy those low-cost , no-name replacement chargers from Amazon . Simply do not. Spend a little more and get the manufacturer's charger or a well-known brand. I've ruined several laptop batteries by using shoddy chargers.

If you're a photographer who has to frequently download photographs from your camera, make sure your laptop has an SD or MicroSD card reader . Otherwise, you'll need to bring a dongle with you.

Make Your Decision

Once you've reduced your choices down to a few models, read some reviews and check at aspects other than specs, such as how the hinge holds up over time, how the keyboard feels, how the trackpad performs, and even how hot the bottom gets on your lap. Reading reviews is beneficial because specs won't tell you whether a hinge is poorly constructed or feels sticky, or if the lid scratches easily.

Your personal emotions are important as well. Do you want something that has a specific appearance? Nothing is wrong with it. Some people despise the concept of a plastic casing. Others would not be caught dead with anything except black plastic.

Design is significant in terms of both functionality and aesthetics. It's not pleasant to utilize a laptop that you dislike. What you appreciate about something might be difficult to articulate and may not make much sense on paper. As they say, there is no accounting for taste, so keep that in mind while making your selection.

Beware of making these mistakes!

No single laptop is ideal for every application. For example, the ideal laptop for a student or business traveler will be tragically insufficient as a substitute for an engineering workstation. A tough laptop is incredibly robust, however it is not appropriate for graphic artists.

Bottom line: there are several potential laptop purchasing blunders to avoid, including the following:

‣ Purchasing a laptop on the spur of the moment without contemplating how it will be utilized.

‣ Purchasing the lowest model available, or picking certain components solely for their lower cost. There is a distinction to be made between price and value. A low-cost laptop is inexpensive, but does it provide good value? Most likely not.

‣ Purchasing a laptop with a display that is too tiny for your requirements.

‣ Investing in insufficient computer power when it is truly required.

‣ Spending too much money on features and capabilities that you don't need or won't utilize.

‣ Not thinking about whether your laptop will be future-proof. It works perfectly now, but how will it fare in two to three years when more resource-intensive applications are released?

‣ Not ensuring that the laptop has the particular ports you want.

‣ Purchasing a laptop with a lot of battery-draining capabilities if you intend to use it in a way that requires you to go longer between charges.

‣ Purchasing for another user without first testing it.

Our take (and final advice)

Pay attention to details and thoroughly study the specs on each page to verify you're comparing the model with 8 GB of RAM to another model with 8 GB of RAM, and so on. I find it useful to jot down the configuration I'm searching for on a piece of paper and then compare it to each store's listing to ensure it's the same.

You may be wondering why it is so difficult to find what you are looking for. I'm curious as well. It would be ideal if each laptop manufacturer provided a single page for each device, with a variety of configuration choices that could be customized. That, unfortunately, is not the case.

Purchasing a laptop is an exercise in disorientation. Even if you know precisely what you want and what everything implies, finding it might be challenging. Even perusing the manufacturers' websites to try to purchase the model you desire is time-consuming.

We hope this tutorial will assist you in navigating the maze of current computers.