How to choose a laptop: 10 things to consider

Whether it’s for home or office use, choosing a new laptop is not always an easy task. The tech market is constantly evolving, with thousands of different computers and configurations out there and new models coming out every day, which makes it even harder for novice users to pick the best laptop for their needs.

One of the best ways to choose the right laptop is to ask yourself these questions: What do I need this laptop for? Is this going to be your main computer? Do you need a laptop that you can carry around with you on a regular basis? How long are you planning to keep this laptop? And most importantly, what is your budget?

To help you make the best decision, here are ten things to look for in your next laptop:

  • Choose your operating system : Windows, Mac, or Chrome OS

 

Windows is the most commonly used operating system, and provides compatibility with the most software.  Windows is also available on a wide choice of makes and models, from cheap netbooks, to premium laptops.

Microsoft also introduced numerous new features and improvements with Windows 10:  a reinvented start menu,  Cortana  – Microsoft’s voice-controlled digital assistant – , improved multitasking with virtual desktops,  and also a new feature called “Continuum” which basically adapts  the interface between a classic desktop  interface  and a touch mode, depending on the device .

Also, if you’re a gamer, then Windows is by far the best option for you, pretty much any game is available on windows, and you will have much more choice on the hardware front too.

MacOS is Apple’s desktop operating system, and it is exclusively available on Mac hardware.  Macs are generally more expensive, but Apple’s OS is a well-polished and easy-to-use platform. Security is also one of the main reasons a lot of people prefer Macs.

Another advantage of buying a Mac is that they come with a number of useful programs included, which can be very convenient for home users.

ChromeOS  was introduced in 2011 and is only available on hardware from Google’s manufacturing partners.  It is a limited  operating system, since it only supports web applications, which means the laptop should stay connected to the internet in order to use a specific app.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, fast,  and have great battery life, which makes them a perfect suit for people who only use their laptop to browse  the web,  send email, blogging, and social media.

 

  • Screen size , resolution and display type

 

Laptop screen sizes range from 10 to 18 inches, and choosing the right screen size is essential, since it will determine how portable your laptop is.  Small (under 14 inches) laptops provide more portability and offer great battery life, while a larger display (17 inches or more) is always used on powerful machines meant as a desktop replacement or for playing games.

Most people prefer 14 or 15 inches laptops, which provide a balance between size and efficiency.

Screen resolution is also very important. It is the number of pixels the screen can display horizontally and vertically. Most budget laptops come equipped with 1366 x 768 screens, aka “HD”, which is more than enough for browsing, word processing, emails, and most regular tasks. However, if you need a laptop with a good picture quality, you should go with a higher resolution.

The table below lists the main screen resolutions available today:

HD: 1366X768 Web surfing and basic tasks
WXGA+ : 1440X900 Gaming, watching videos
HD+:1600X900 Gaming, watching videos
Full HD: 1920X1080 Gaming,  watching HD DVD or Blu-ray
Quad HD: 2560 x 1440 Photo editing, high definition games/movies
4K Ultra HD: 3840 x 2160 Photo editing, high definition games/movies
Apple’s retina Display: 2304 x 1440, 2560 x 1600 and 2880 x 1800 Photo editing, high definition games/movies

 

Display types

Other than the screen size and resolution, another thing you should pay attention to is the display type. There are mainly two technologies in laptops screens today: TN screens, and IPS screens. TN displays are cheaper, but they don’t offer as much color accuracy as IPS panels and they suffer from limited viewing angles. However, they have a high refresh rate, which means better response time.  IPS panels are on the other hand pricy, but offer better viewing angles, and generally a better color accuracy.  It is not a question of which technology is better, but to choose the proper display type for your needs: for example, if you’re a designer or a video editor, then choosing an IPS panel is the better option. If you will be playing FPS games on the other hand, go for a TN display.

 

Another thing to look at is the display coating: matte or glossy.  Both use the same LCD panels,  but screens with a glossy finish often  provide more vivid colors , while matte displays benefit from an anti-glare coating applied to them, so they’re much better at preventing reflections. This is very helpful if you need to use your laptop outdoors.

 

What about a touchscreen?

Nowadays, a lot of laptops (Windows and chrombooks) have touchscreens, or can even be converted to tablets.  Touch is quick, easy, and intuitive, but it’s not a necessity, since most laptops that come with touch screen are quite expensive.  Another thing is that touch screens are also power, which means that your laptop’s battery may not last that long.

  • Processor and RAM

 

The processor is without doubt the most important component that you should look at in a laptop. It has a huge influence on the overall performance, and also on your laptop’s price.

Most laptop manufacturers use Intel processors, but you can also find laptops with AMD processors.

Intel offers an array of processor brands and models:

–  Intel Atom: This type of CPU is usually found on netbooks and cheap laptops.  The performance is very basic, but they are cheap and offer a good battery life.

– Intel Pentium / Celeron: Mostly used on budget laptop, the performance is slightly better the previous ones.

Intel Core i3: Faster than Pentiums and Celerons, and can use Hyperthreading, which means that you have two logical processors for every physical core. If you do not need a strong machine, getting an i3 laptop may save some money; but if you want a balance between performance and price, we recommend getting an i5 processor.

– Intel Core i5: These processors can contain either 2 or 4 cores depending on the model.  Models with HQ in their name have four cores (HQ standing for High performance graphics, quad core), while models that have U or Y indicate low power consumption.

– Intel Core i7: Found on gaming and high-end laptops, they offer the best performance. Most Core i7 processors are quad-core chips with Hyper-Threading enabled (which is not available on i5s).

– AMD Processors: They are mostly found on budget laptop and are less expensive than intel processors. They provide decent performance, and are an excellent alternative if you do not need power.

Ram:

RAM, for random-access memory, is also very important. It is always preferable to choose a system that has at least 4Gb of ram. Some budget and entry level models only come with 2Gb however.

If you’re not sure whether you need lots of Ram or not, you should check the software and applications you intend to use with this laptop. Each program has its own minimum system requirements.

Another thing is that some models come with a free ram slot, which means you can add more ram if you need to. However it’s not the case for newer models (especially  ultrabooks),since the ram is soldered to the motherboard.

 

  • How much storage capacity do you really need?

 

There are two types of drives available today:  Hard Disk Drives (HDD), and Solid State Drives (SSD).

Hard Disk Drives:

They are the most affordable, and offer larger storage capacities. They rely on magnetic storage to store and retrieve digital information using one or more rigid rapidly rotating disks.  Since these drives are mechanical, they generate noise and heat and need more power compared to SSDs. For laptops, you can find 5400 rpm or 7200 rpm drives, which is the speed at which the platters of the drive spin.  If you will be transferring and copying large files often, you should definitely choose a 7200rpm drive.

 

Solid-State Drives:

They are way faster than HDDs, more power efficient, and since they don’t contain mechanical parts, they don’t produce heat or noise. However solid state drives are more expensive per Gb, and thus offer less storage capacities.

 

Hybrid drives:

Some laptops have hybrid drives, which combine a traditional mechanical drive with a solid state drive offering the best of both worlds.  Usually the laptop has a program that determines which files should be stored on the SSD and which ones should go the regular drive: The operating system and applications are usually stored on the SSD to benefit from fast start-up and application launch time, while other data such as videos or other files go on the HDD.

 

  • Graphic card

 

All laptops come with an integrated graphics chip, but some have dedicated graphic cards too. For most people, an integrated chip is more than enough; they can even run a good number of games with no problem.

If you are a heavy gamer or you will be editing videos or working with 3D software, you should get a model with a dedicated graphic card (GPU). Nvidia and AMD are the main GPU manufacturers.

 

  • Keyboard

 

The keyboard is the main input device on any laptop, and if you plan to type a large amount of text or do productive work, you really need to pay close attention to your keyboard characteristics.

For the sake of creating thinner and smaller machines, laptop manufacturers choose to misplace, make smaller, or even discard certain keys: if you already have laptop or if you are used to a regular keyboard, this means that it will take you some time to adapt.

Tactile feedback and key travel are also very important. Your typing experience will be more comfortable on a keyboard that has at least 1.8mm of vertical travel, and which gives solid tactile feedback when the key is pressed. It is however hard to find out if laptop has a good keyboard based on pictures or on the product’s sheet, and probably the only way to know is either to read other people reviews, or test it yourself before buying.

Some models also come with back lit keyboard, which can be very helpful if you need to type in dark environments.

 

  • Battery life and portability

 

The battery is what makes your laptop “portable”. Battery life depends on your laptop’s components and performance, and also the capacity of the battery itself.

Power consumption depends on your machine’s specs: processor type, screen size, presence of a dedicated graphic card, settings …etc, and that’s why powerful and gaming laptops don’t offer much battery life.  If you need to use your laptop outside, look for a model that offers 6 or 8 hours of battery life.  Some netbooks and ultrabooks today can even offer 10hours or more of battery life.

Although more and more models have non-removable batteries, the ability to remove or replace the battery is also a big plus.

 

  • Connectivity and ports

 

Ports enable you to connect your laptop to digital cameras, video cameras, televisions, external storage devices, printers and various devices.

Most laptops today come with USB ports, HDMI, Ethernet, and SD card slot. However, the built-in ports vary from a model to another. Most ultrabooks and thin laptops will only have two or three USB ports, and some of them don’t have an Ethernet port, or require you to use an adapter.

You should also note that more and more models don’t come with a CD reader, so if you need to play DVD or Bluray discs and don’t want to connect an external reader, you should check if you laptop has a built-in one.

 

  • Brand and Build quality

 

Not all laptops are created equal, and some laptop manufacturers and product lines are simply better and more reliable than others. Make sure that you read all the reviews you can about the model that you are planning to purchase, and also consider theHow to choose a laptop warranty that comes with it.

 

  • What is your budget?

 

If you are on a budget, you should have a clear idea of what you will be getting for each price range:

Under $250: Chromebooks and cheap windows notebooks. At this price don’t expect the build quality to be great, but if you only need a laptop for browsing and basic tasks, you can sure find some models that offer great value for the money.

Between $350 and $600: You can get decent specs at this price: an intel i5 CPU, good amount of RAM and storage which is more than enough if you are looking for a reliable machine for everyday tasks. However, don’t expect SSDs, Full HD screens, long battery life, or a dedicated graphic card.

Between $600 and $900:  You get more options like SSDs, aluminum designs and premium finish, great battery life, and graphic cards.

$1000 or more: It depends on what you are looking for; you can get powerful light-weight ultraportables and high-end convertibles with long lasting batteries, or gaming machines and mobile workstations that come with higher-end components.

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