The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Laptop: 8 Essential Tips

Are you know what is the laptop buying guide? Laptops are small and portable, yet versatile enough to run even the most demanding applications. Whether you are at home, on the road, or in a classroom, a notebook is the best tool for doing serious work or for playing. Therefore, we’ve compiled lists of the best business laptops and best college laptops, as well as our rankings of the best laptops for most users.

In spite of the popularity of standalone tablets and smartphones, most people realize that everything from typing a research paper to watching videos to gaming works better on a laptop. Which laptop should you buy? Check out our laptop buying guide.

There are a lot of options available when it comes to laptop sizes, features, and prices. Determine what your needs are before choosing a laptop. Additionally, you might want to consider buying a refurbished laptop.

Here Are Some Quick Tips

When buying a new laptop, these are the most important factors to consider. Below are more details.

  • A screen with a size of 12.5″ to 14″ offers the best balance between portability and usability. If you don’t travel often, larger screens are fine; smaller models are great for kids.
  • If you’re spending over $600, consider these minimum specs: Core i5 or Ryzen 5 CPU 1920 x 1080 screen 8GB of RAM and SSD storage instead of a hard drive.
  • If you plan to take your laptop anywhere at all, having a battery life of at least 9 hours is ideal.
  • If you want to use your laptop as a tablet, look for a 2-in-1 laptop (either a feedback or detachable model). A clamshell notebook may be a better choice if not.
  • Chromebooks are great for kids and students, and their functionality is expanding rapidly. Windows 10 laptops and MacBook offer plenty of functionality; which platform you prefer is a matter of personal preference.

1. Choose a platform: Windows 10 vs. Mac vs. Chrome OS?

If you are unfamiliar with both Macs and PCs, this isn’t an easy question to answer. This quick overview of each platform’s strengths and weaknesses should help.

Laptops typically come with one of three operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS or MacOS (for MacBook only). It is a matter of personal preference, but here’s a quick summary of what each offers.

Windows 10

Windows 10, the most flexible operating system, is available on more laptop models than Chrome OS or MacOS. From under $150 to several thousand dollars, Windows notebooks offer a variety of features from touch screens to fingerprint readers to dual graphics chips. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, provides a number of improvements over Windows 7 and 8, such as the ability to switch between tablet and desktop modes, a revamped Start menu with Live Tiles and the Cortana digital assistant.

Windows 10 has also added a number of improvements since its July 2015 launch, including the ability to ask follow-up questions to Cortana and search your email using natural language. Windows 10 laptops are great for students, researchers, and business users, but they’re the only machines gamers should consider.

Apple macOS

Apple’s latest desktop operating system, macOS Big Sur, comes with every MacBook. The operating system offers similar functionality to Windows 10, but it uses an apps dock at the bottom of the screen instead of Microsoft’s Start menu and taskbar. Mac users get Siri instead of Cortana. Apple Watches can also be used to make payments with Apple Pay, make calls or send texts directly from their phones, and unlock their laptops.

Because no MacBook comes with a touch screen, macOS isn’t made for touch. The new macOS Big Sur operating system brings iPad apps to Mac (and iPad and iPadOS apps can run natively on M1 Macs), as well as improvements to the Safari browser and Siri.

Chrome OS 

Chromebooks such as the Samsung Chromebook 3 are inexpensive and have this feature. While Google’s OS is simple and secure, it is more limited than Windows or macOS. There is an application menu, a desktop and the ability to drag windows around, but the main application is the Chrome browser. Unfortunately, many of the “web apps” you use don’t work well offline. All new Chromebooks, including the high-end Google Pixel Book, can now run Android apps.

As a device to browse the Web, check email, navigate social networks, and chat online, Chromebooks are highly portable and tend to offer good battery life at a low price. Moreover, they are also extremely popular with schools and parents because they are difficult for kids to infect with malware and more functional than most tablets. Choose a Chromebook with at least 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage if you need one. In general, a 1920 x 1080 resolution is preferred, and 4K is better, but it is very rare. If you plan to use Android apps, consider a 2-in-1.

2. Make a decision if you want a 2-in-1

Most PC laptops fall into the category of 2-in-1 laptops, hybrid devices that can switch between traditional clamshell mode, tablet mode, and other positions in between, such as tent or stand mode. 2-in-1s generally come in two styles: flexible laptops with hinges that bend back 360 degrees to change modes, or detachable with screens that come off the keyboard completely.

In general, these systems are better suited to serving one purpose than another, with bend-backs serving as laptops first, and detachable offering a superior tablet experience. As a result, if you don’t intend to use your laptop as a slate, you’ll usually get better performance with a traditional clamshell laptop.

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3. Make Sure You Get the Right Size

The first thing you need to do is determine how portable you need your laptop to be before looking at specs or pricing. Laptop displays are usually classified by their size:

  • The thinnest and lightest systems have screens that range from 11 to 12 inches and weigh 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.
  • 13 to 14 inches: Provides the best balance of portability and usability, especially if it weighs under 4 pounds.
  • The most common laptop size, 15-inch laptops weigh 4 to 5.5 pounds. Think about this size if you want a larger screen and don’t plan to carry your notebook around often. Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro could start a trend with its 16-inch display.
  • 17- to 18-inch laptops: If your laptop sits on your desk all day, you could get the kind of processing power you need to play high-end games or do workstation-level productivity with a 17- to 18-inch system.

4. Verify The Keyboard and Touchpad

The best specifications in the world don’t matter if the laptop you’re shopping for doesn’t have good ergonomics. When you plan to do a lot of work on your computer, make sure the keyboard has adequate tactile feedback, plenty of key travel (the distance the key travels when pressed, usually 1 to 2 mm) and enough space between the keys. When buying a Windows laptop, make sure it has Precision touchpad drivers.

You should choose a touchpad that doesn’t give you a jumpy cursor and responds consistently to multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. Consider getting a business laptop with a pointing stick (aka nub) between the G and H keys so you can navigate around the desktop without having to lift your fingers off the keyboard’s home row.

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5. Choose Your Specifications

Even notebook aficionados can be confused by notebook components such as processor, hard drive, RAM, and graphics chip, so don’t feel bad if specs look like an alphabet soup to you.

You should pay attention to the following components:

CPU: The most important part of your computer, the processor has a huge impact on performance, but depending on what you want to accomplish, even the least expensive model may be adequate. Here are the basics:

Intel 11th Gen CPUs: Intel introduced the 1st Gen Tiger Lake processors for the next generation of laptops. Read more about these processors here. Overall, Tiger Lake – a 10-nanometer chip – offers improved Iris Xe graphics with up to 4.8GHz speeds as well as Thunderbolt 4 support. EVO sets parameters for top laptops, including a battery life of 9 hours minimum.

Core i9: Core i9 is Intel’s top-of-the-line processor, replacing the Core i7. It offers faster performance than any other mobile chip. Core i9 CPUs can only be found on high-end laptops, workstations, and gaming rigs if you’re a power user who uses the most demanding apps and programs.

Core i7: A step up from Core i5, models ending in HQ or K have higher power and four cores, allowing for better gaming and productivity. There are also Core i7 Y series chips with lower power and performance. Intel’s latest 10th and 11th Generation Core Series CPUs have a 10 in the model number and offer better performance.

Core i5: You should get a laptop with an Intel Core i5 CPU if you’re looking for a mainstream laptop with the best combination of price and performance. Most models end in U. Models with a Y in the name are low power and less effective, while those with an HQ use more power and are found in thicker gaming and workstation systems. Intel’s 11th Generation Tiger Lake CPUs have four cores, and a number of useful features, including Wi-Fi 6 support, Thunderbolt 4 integration, and better AI.

Intel Core i3: Performance and price are just a step below Core i5. We recommend stepping up to a Core i5.

Intel Xeon: Extremely powerful and expensive processors designed for large portable workstations. You might need a Xeon if you do professional engineering, 3D modeling, or video editing, however you won’t get good battery life or a light laptop.

Intel Pentium / Celeron: These processors are commonly found in sub-$400 laptops, and they provide the slowest performance, but they are adequate for web browsing and light editing tasks. You would be better off paying more for a Core i3 or i5.

The Intel Core m/Core i5/Core i7 “Y Series” processors are low-power and low-heat, allowing fanless systems with these processors. The performance is better than Celeron, but a notch below regular Core U series.

AMD Ryzen 4000 and Ryzen 5000: New chips designed to take on Intel Core i5 and Core i7. Ryzen 4000 and Ryzen 5000 outperform equivalent Intel Core processors. A Ryzen 5 4500U CPU, for example, delivers about the same performance as an Intel Core i7 processor. As well as offering great performance and endurance, Ryzen 4000 and Ryzen 5000 laptops are typically less expensive than their Intel counterparts.

The AMD A, FX, and E series processors can be found on low-cost laptops. AMD’s APUs, which it calls APUs rather than CPUs, provide decent performance for the money that’s good for web surfing, media viewing, and productivity.

Apple M1: The first of Apple’s custom silicon chips, the ARM-based M1 chip crushes the competition in terms of raw performance and endurance. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have this feature.

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RAM: Many laptops under $250 come with only 4GB of RAM, but you should ideally get 8GB on even a budget system, and 16GB if you can afford it. For most users, 32GB or more is enough, while 64GB and above are for power users.

The performance of your storage drive is even more important than the speed of your CPU. You’ll have at least three times the speed and a much faster laptop overall if you get a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD), rather than a hard drive.

PCIe x4 (aka NVME) SSDs offer triple the speed of traditional SATA drives. Under $250 laptops use eMMC memory, which is technically solid-state but not as fast as a mechanical hard drive.

Display: The more pixels you have, the more content you can fit on-screen, and the better your display will look. Most budget laptops still have 1366 x 768 displays, as do some business laptops. However, if you can afford it, we recommend upgrading to a panel that runs at 1920 x 1080, also known as Full HD or 1080p. Laptops with screens that are 2560 x 1600, 3200 x 1800, or even 4K can look sharp but consume more power, decreasing your battery life.

Display quality goes beyond resolution. IPS displays come in a variety of colors and brightness, so read our reviews to determine if the laptop you are considering has a good display. Typical results should have an sRGB color rating of over 100% and a brightness rating of over 300 nits. Consider an OLED display if you don’t care about battery life and want the very best picture quality. Additionally, you should keep an eye out for upcoming display technology to hit laptops, such as mini LEDs.

Touch Screen: If you buy a regular clamshell laptop rather than a 2-in-1, you won’t benefit much from a touch screen and you’ll get about 1 to 2 hours less battery life. Touch screens are standard on 2-in-1s. Check out our best touch screen laptops if you want a touch screen.

Graphics Chip: If you are not creating 3D objects, playing PC games or editing high-definition videos, an integrated graphics chip (one that shares system memory) will do just fine. It is essential to have a discrete graphics processor from Nvidia or AMD if you have any of the above needs.

There are both high-end and low-end graphics chips. Modern gaming and workstation systems typically use Nvidia MX450 or GTX 1660 GPUs, while midrange models use RTX 2050 or RTX 2060, and high-end models use RTX 3070 or 3080 GPUs. From low-end to high-end, Nvidia maintains a list of its graphics chips.

AMD, Nvidia’s rival, is Apple’s supplier of graphics cards, even though you shouldn’t use a MacBook to play games. AMD released the Radeon RX 5600M and Radeon RX 5700M GPUs last year. The company also maintains a list of its graphics cards.

Ports: While the absence of ports is generally not a deal breaker when choosing a laptop, it’s nice to have all the connections you need right on the system instead of having to carry a bunch of adapters. The majority of mainstream laptops have USB 3.0 ports and HDMI video outputs. A growing number of laptops use USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports that are USB Type-C compatible.

You can use Type-C to connect to universal chargers and docks by getting Type-C. If you can wait, USB 4 is coming soon with faster transfer rates and the ability to daisy-chain 4K monitors. Other useful connections include SD card slots, headphone jacks, and Ethernet ports (especially for gamers).

Connectivity: If you plan on using your notebook on the go, consider one that has 4G LTE or 5G support. The data subscription plan will cost you, but it will allow you to access the internet without a router. Find a laptop with Wi-Fi 6 support if you want the latest and greatest connectivity options. The theoretical throughput of Wi-Fi 6 is higher than 802.11ac, and the connection is more stable.

Additionally, we recommend that you look for a laptop with Bluetooth 5, which offers improved connectivity with Bluetooth-enabled devices, like mice and headphones.

Optical Drives: Typically, laptops do not have optical drives, because all software and movies are downloadable. We’ve kept an eye out for laptops that feature DVD drives. If you need to read/write discs and your laptop does not come with a built-in DVD drive, you can always buy an external drive that connects via USB for under $20.

6. Battery Life is Important; Don’t Skimp on It

If you’re buying a large, bulky notebook or gaming rig that will only be used near an outlet, you shouldn’t worry about battery life. Even if you plan to use the laptop on your lap, even at home or at work, you’ll want at least 7 hours of endurance, with 8 or more being ideal. Don’t rely on the manufacturer’s claims about a notebook’s battery life. Rather, read third-party reviews from objective sources, like ours.

7. Plan According to Your Budget

In today’s market, you can buy a usable laptop for under $200, but if you have more money, you’ll get a system with a better build quality, stronger performance, and a better display. Here are what you can get for each price range.

  • Between $150 and $250: The cheapest notebooks are Chromebooks, which run Google’s browser-centric OS, or low-end Windows systems with minimal storage and slower processors, such as the HP Stream 11 and the Dell Inspiron 11 3000. You can either use these as secondary computers or give them to the kids.
  • In the $350 to $600 range, you can get a laptop with an Intel Core i5 or AMD A8 CPU, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, all respectable specs. At this price, most notebooks don’t have an SSD, a full-HD display or a long battery life. Acer Aspire E 15 and Asus Chromebook Flip C434 are notable exceptions.
  • From $600 to $900: The designs become more premium as you get above $600, such as metal finishes. Additionally, manufacturers add other features as you climb the price ladder, such as higher-resolution displays and SSDs. Lenovo’s IdeaPad 530s and Asus’s ZenBook UX333FA are excellent examples of laptops that offer all of these perks at a lower price.
  • Over $900: You can expect more powerful or portable notebooks at this price point. You can expect higher-resolution screens, faster processors, and possibly discrete graphics. The lightest, longest-lasting ultraportables, like the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13, cost more than $1,000 (although you can get the Dell for less if you don’t want a touch screen). A high-end gaming system and mobile workstation can cost upwards of $1,500 or even as much as $2,500 or $3,000.

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8. Keep Your Brand in Mind

A laptop is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Tech support needs to be accurate and timely, which is why Laptop Mag evaluates every major brand in our annual Tech Support Showdown. In the past year, Apple ranked first, followed by Razer, and Dell rounded out the top three.

Support is only one part of what makes a notebook brand worthwhile. Also, you have to think about how the manufacturer compares to the competition in terms of design, value, and selection, as well as review performance and other factors. Our report on the Best and Worst Laptop Brands for 2020 ranked HP first, followed by Asus and Dell. We have also ranked gaming laptop brands, with MSI taking the top spot and Acer and Alienware rounding out the top three.

Related Guide to Buying Laptop:

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Last update on 2022-11-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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