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How to choose the best laptop for you : 10 things to consider

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How to choose a laptop

When it comes to buying a new laptop, there’s a lot to consider and it gets very complicated with the array of brands and models out there. The tech market is constantly evolving, with lots of new models coming out every day, so finding the best laptop for your needs can be overwhelming.

In order to help you through your search, we’ve decided to write this buyer’s guide to help you find the best laptop for you. This guide is aimed at those who are buying a laptop for the first time, as well as advanced users who need a laptop that fits their specific needs the best.

This guide is pretty long as we tried to cover all of the aspects that you should look at when buying a new laptop. And while we tried to keep things as simple as possible to make this guide accessible to novice users, this guide is up to date and “in-depth” enough for advanced users too.

So let’s begin with the question that everybody asks: how to choose the best laptop?

  • How to choose the best laptop for you?

This is undoubtedly the first question that everyone asks when looking for a new laptop. And one of the best ways to choose the right laptop is to ask yourself these questions: What do you need this laptop for? What tasks do you need to do on a daily basis?  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? Are there any specific programs that you work with? And most importantly, what is your budget?

Asking yourself these questions will help you narrow down your search and focus on your priorities. For example, a student will most likely need a laptop that fits easily in a backpack, and one that has good battery life. On the other hand, someone who is into video editing or gaming will probably need a desktop replacement laptop.

Almost all laptops have the same parts: a screen, keyboard, processor, memory, a storage drive, battery, ports…etc. And while two laptops might look the same from the outside, there can be a huge difference in their performance. Getting the most expensive laptop, or one with the latest generation processor, or the biggest display…etc doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re getting the best laptop for your needs.

So, you should first make a list of your needs and requirements, and of course planning your budget. To help you understand how important each component is, here are ten things that you should look at carefully when buying your next laptop.

  • Choose your operating system : Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

Windows:

Windows is by far the most commonly used operating system, and provides compatibility with most programs. Windows is also available on a wide range of laptop computers, from cheap notebooks, to high end premium laptops.

Microsoft also officially introduced windows 11 on the 5th of October 2021, and is rolling out the update in phases with the goal of reaching all compatible devices by mid-2022. This new update brings numerous new features and improvements to help streamline your productivity:  a redesigned interface, a new simplified start menu, virtual desktops, and also support for android apps through the new Microsoft Store.

Also, if you’re a gamer, then Windows is by far the best option for you. Apart from the wide range of components available on PCs, most games are usually optimized for windows and sometimes not available on any other OS.

MacOS:

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 both home and professional users. On the other hand, macbooks are usually not suitable for gamers since they are limited in terms of hardware and most games don’t support Mac OS anyway.

Linux:

Linux on the other hand is an open source and free operating system originally started  by Linus Torvalds in 1990. Unlike other operating systems, there are more than 200 different variations of Linux, called distributions. Common Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora. Ubuntu is arguably the third operating systems after Windows and Mac OS when it comes to laptops and desktops.  Ubuntu comes with everything that you are looking for in an operating system. And although it’s free, it’s suitable for organizations, schools, and home use.

Chrome OS:

Introduced in 2011, Chrome OS is actually based on linux, and is only available on hardware from Google’s manufacturing partners. It is a limited operating system, since it only supports web applications that rely on cloud storage. This means that the laptop should stay connected to the internet in order to use it.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, fast, and offer 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. In addition to that, most Chromebooks made after 2017 can run android apps.

In the table below, we have listed the main pros and cons of each operating system:

OS Pros Cons
Microsoft windows
  • Most used Operating system
  • Biggest selection of programs and games
  • Variety of brands to choose from
  • Easy to use
  • Security issues
  • System stability issues
Apple MacOS
  • Excellent hardware-software integration
  • Easy to use interface
  • Very secure

 

  • Only available on Apple devices
  • Limited choice of programs and games

 

Linux
  • Free
  • Many distributions to choose from
  • Extremely flexible
  • Very secure

 

  • Can be difficult to use for non-experienced users
  • Software compatibility issues

 

Chrome OS
  • Affordable laptops
  • Simple and easy to use interface
  • Can run android apps
  • Very secure

 

  • Needs high speed internet access
  • Limited computing capabilities

 

  • Screen size , resolution and display type

When buying a new laptop, the display is one of the things that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, most people usually only check the size and resolution, when there are a few other things to consider.

Here are the main things to consider when it comes to the display:

Display Size:

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 will be.  Small (under 14 inches) laptops provide more portability and offer great battery life, while a larger display (17 inches or more) is usually reserved for powerful machines meant to replace a desktop computer, or for gaming laptops.

Most people prefer 14 or 15 inches laptops, which provide the best balance between size power efficiency, and ease of use. However, it’s all up to your personal preferences.

Choose a laptop screen size

Display resolution:

Screen resolution is also very important. It is the number of pixels the screen can display horizontally and vertically. Most laptops nowadays come with Full HD displays, which means that screen has 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. A full HD display 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. Some cheap budget laptops still come equipped with 1366 x 768 screens, aka “HD resolution”. And this resolution is a little higher than the original HD standard, which is 1280×720 pixels, in my opinion; laptops with this type of displays should be avoided, unless you’re on a tight budget. 1366 x 768 screens don’t provide enough display real estate, and it’s especially noticeable when displaying web pages, editing documents or multitasking. In fact, on a 1366×768 screen, you get only 51% of the pixels that you would get on a 1920×1080 screen, thus resulting in poor user experience.

Some high end laptops come with Quad HD or Ultra HD displays. Quad HD or 2K displays have a resolution of 2560X1440 pixels, while 4K or Ultra HD displays have 3840X2160 pixels. A 4K display has 4 times the number of pixels that you’ll find on a full HD screen, and can be very useful, especially for video or photo editing.

The tables below lists the main screen resolutions available today, as well as the PPI (pixels per inch) by laptop screen size:

Non 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

 

PPI by laptop screen size and resolution:

13,3 inches 14,1 inches 15,6 inches 17 inches
Non HD: 1366X768 117 111 100 92
HD+:1600X900 138 130 117 107
Full HD: 1920X1080 165 157 141 129
4K Ultra HD: 3840 x 2160 331 314 282 259

 

Display type:

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.

Nowadays, some high end laptops come with OLED displays. Unlike LCD panels such as VA, TN and IPS, OLED displays don’t need a backlight to produce the image. Instead, they emit their own light. This allows for an infinite contrast ratio that results in deeper blacks and stunning image quality. OLED displays are perfect for graphic design and video editing, but are not suitable for gaming.

Another thing to look for is the display coating, or in other words, the way the surface of the display is treated: 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 finish that helps prevent reflections. This is very helpful if you need to use your laptop outdoors, or work under strong or direct light. However, matte screens can be less sharp in comparison to glossy displays.

Display brightness:

Display brightness is simply how bright the display can be, but it is often an overlooked factor when buying a new laptop. In fact, many manufacturers don’t even indicate the display brightness.  A bright display is easily visible outdoors or in bright rooms.

Display brightness is measured in “nits”. Generally, most laptops have an average brightness of 250 or 300 nits, which is enough for most users. However, if you use your laptop outdoors or in very bright room,  it is recommended to check if the display has at least a brightness of 500 nits or more.

Refresh rate:

In order to make fluid motion possible, a display must produce many pictures every second. The number of images each display can produce per second is called the refresh rate. The standard refresh rate for most laptop displays is 60hz, this means that the screen shows up to 60 images per second, or frames per second (fps).

Some new laptops, especially gaming laptops, have screens that go beyond 60Hz. These High refresh rate displays can go from 120Hz to 300Hz. In theory, a high refresh rate display will display more fluid motion, assuming that the content was produced at 120fps. Another thing that goes along with Refresh rate is Response time. Response time is how quickly each pixel can change color. For example, gaming laptops usually have displays with response times of 5 milliseconds or lower. Refresh rate and response should be looked into together, especially if you’re looking for a gaming laptop. A display with a high refresh rate, but a slow response time isn’t good for gaming, as fast motion scene will suffer from “ghosting” effect.

So, do you really need a high refresh rate display? The answer is yes, if your laptop’s GPU can produce as many frames per seconds to match the display’s refresh rate. This depends on the graphics card you have, as well as the game you’re playing.

Is it worth it to get a laptop with a touchscreen?

Touch screens are nowadays considered the future of laptop technology.  In fact, many laptops (Windows and Chromebooks) have touchscreens, or can even be converted into tablets.  For example, a touch screen is excellent for drawing and note taking: it’s quick, intuitive and easy to use. However, a touch screen is not really a necessity in a laptop, and for many people, touching the screen can be inconvenient and offers no functional advantages over using a touchpad or a mouse. In addition to that, a touch screen is usually more expensive, and will noticeably increase the price of the laptop. There is also the fact that touch screens consume more power than regular displays, which will cause your laptop’s battery to drain faster.

On the other hand, 2 in 1 and convertible laptops have been improving year after year. The first models looked pretty cool, but were quite thick and heavy and didn’t bring any real benefits. However, things have changed and newer models are very lightweight, and some of them come even have a detachable screen that can work as a tablet by itself. Also, more and more 2 in 1s have stylus support, and even come with a built-in stylus, which can be very convenient for artists, or for college students. So before getting a 2 in 1 laptop, you should first ask yourself if you really need the touchscreen feature, and in that case, if a normal tablet would be suitable for you.

 

  • Processor :

The processor is without a doubt one of the main components to look at when shopping for a new laptop. In fact, the processor is responsible for providing the instructions and processing power the computer needs to do its work, and has a huge influence on the performance as well as the price of the laptop.

When it comes to laptops, there are mainly two processor brands: Intel, and AMD. Intel is by far the biggest CPU manufacturer out there, with more than 75% market share for computer processors.  However; AMD processors are becoming more and more popular, thanks to its latest technological advances.

Let’s look at each one in detail.

Intel Processors:

Intel processors are the most popular CPUs for laptops and desktops worldwide. Intel processors come in different model families, with names such as Core, Xeon, Pentium, or Celeron. There are also multiple generations like 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th, also called Coffee Lake, Comet/Ice Lake, and Rocket/Tiger Lake. Intel is also currently launching their 12th generation processors.

Most laptops come equipped with intel core processors, or intel Pentium or Celeron for budget laptops. Each processor has a series of numbers and letters. Below is a short guide to help you learn how to distinguish product brands, brand modifiers, generations, SKUs, and product lines from Intel® processor names.

Intel processor naming
Source: Intel.com

The table below explains what each letter and number means when it comes to Intel processors. This is not a complete list, but covers the most processors found on the market:

Brand The Brand is the first word that you’ll find in an Intel processor. Today, the most common Intel® processor names begin with Intel® Core™, Intel® Pentium®, or Intel® Celeron®. Intel® As mentioned before, Pentium and Celeron processors are budget product lines created for price-conscious consumers. On the other hand, Intel® Core™ processors are considerably faster and have additional features not available in other models.

Intel also has the Xeon family, which are scalable processors offering a higher level of performance for servers and workstations.

Brand Modifier The brand modifier comes right after the brand, and Intel® only uses on their Intel Core™ processor series. Currently, there are four different ones and you’re probably familiar with them: modifiers i3, i5, i7, and i9. The higher the number, the more powerful the processor is. For example, an i7 processor will perform better than an i5, which will outperform an i3.
Generation Indicator Intel usually launch a new generation of their processor nearly every year, and you can find the generation number in all Intel® Core™ processor brands. In a four-digit processor number, the generation number if the first. For example, a processor with the digits 9800 is a 9th gen processor, while one labeled 8800 is 8th gen technology. Intel is currently at generation number 12.
SKU Numeric Digits The numbers that come after the generation number are called the SKU. Generally, this number indicates the order in which the processor was developed, in that generation, and may indicate that it has more features. But it’s not always the case however.
Product Line Suffix The Suffix is a letter that comes after the SKU number, and is an important indicator about the features of the processor.. For example, within the Intel® Core™ processor series, U indicates a processor that has been designed to consume less power, and thus be used for power-efficient laptops or 2 in 1s. Meanwhile, H means high performance optimized for laptops. Some processors from the 10th and above have “G” in the suffix, in addition to a number. These processors are optimized for graphics-based tasks and come with newer graphics technology. Higher numbers (e.g., G7) indicate improved graphics performance relative to lower numbers (e.g., G1).

Below is a list of all he suffixes that you can find on Intel laptop processors across all recent generations:

G: Includes discrete graphics on package

G1-G7 : Graphics level (processors with new integrated graphics technology only)

H: High performance optimized for mobile

HK: High performance optimized for mobile, unlocked

HQ: High performance optimized for mobile, quad core

U: Mobile power efficient

Y: Mobile extremely low power

 

 

For most people, choosing a processor usually means choosing between an i3, i5 or i7 processor. Basically, an Intel core i3 is faster than a Pentium and Celeron, and can use Hyperthreading, which means that you have two logical processors for every physical core. If you do not need a powerful laptop, getting a laptop with an i3 is usually more than enough and may save you some money. I5 processors on the other hand are a middle ground between i3s and i7 processors, which are designed for gaming or high end laptops.

So now that you have an idea about Intel processors and their naming scheme, let’s check Intel’s main competitor, AMD.

AMD Processors:

Just like Intel, AMD has many product lines and different types of processors. However, the Ryzen family is the most popular in laptops. Just like Intel, there are different categories of CPUs within the Ryzen family: the Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, Ryzen 9 and Threadripper.

For each processor, you will specific letters and number that indicate its generation, performance level, and features.

– AMD Ryzen 3 is the entry level processor of the Ryzen family. These processors have 4 cores and are more than enough for everyday computing tasks,  and are usually compared to intel’s i3 processors.

– Ryzen 5 CPUs are the mid-range processors of the Ryzen family, and they come with either 4 or 6 cores.  Unlike the Ryzen 3 category, Ryzen 5 processors have higher clock speeds and can handle intensive tasks.

– Ryzen 7 processors come right after the Ryzen 5, they are the main competitor to Intel’s i7 family, and they have 4, 6, or 8 cores. These processors offer excellent performance and are designed for demanding users who expect more for gaming and productivity.

– The Ryzen 9 CPUs are for advanced users and serious professionals. These processors are perfect for gamers, and creators who need top level performance. Ryzen 9 processors have a minimum of 8 cores for laptops and can go up to 16 cores.

AMD also has an even more powerful processor product line, called Threadrippers. Currently, there is no laptop that has an AMD Threadripper processor. In general, these processors are designed for a lot of multi-tasking, and professionals that require a lot of hyperthreading to run smoothly. They can be compared Intel’s Xeon family.

Also, just like Intel processors, AMD processors have many generations. The first gen Zen-based processors (AMD’s own microarchitecture) were released in March of 2017. So far, there have been 4 generations or series of the Zen microarchitecture. However, AMD’s naming scheme is a little messed up. For Example: an AMD Ryzen 5500U can either be considered gen 5 or 4. The Ryzen 5000 series is however the latest AMD has to offer.

You will also find a letter at the end of the processor’s name, this suffix may determine the CPU’s power or extra features, here is a short list of the suffixes you may find:

G: This indicates that the processor has a GPU

X: The X stands for Extended Frequency Range feature. Meaning that the processor can  boost its overall performance above the regular limits.

U: This means Ultra Low Power, and these processors are usually equipped in thin laptops.

H: This indicates high performance. These processors consume more power and re clocked at high speeds. They are generally in gaming laptops.

T: This suffix means turbo and high clock speeds. These processors have boosted performance.

What about ARM processors?

Until recently, Intel and AMD were the only laptop and desktop CPU manufacturers out there, and thus were the only option.  However, it should be noted that there are more than two CPU manufacturers in the world. In fact, Intel and AMD make CISC processors (Complex Instruction Set Computer) based on the X86 architecture, but there is another type of processors, called ARM processors, or RISC processors (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) that use the ARM architecture.

ARM processors are mostly found in smartphones, tablets, and also some cheap chromebooks and laptops. And while ARM processors were known to lack the necessary performance that most laptop users need, things have considerably changed in the last few years.

Currently ARM based processors such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G can be found on premium ultra-thin laptops, and in some cases outperform their Intel/AMD counterparts.

But probably the most revolutionary ARM processor out there is Apple’s new M1 chip. Macs equipped with the M1 processor are very fast, especially when compared to Apple’s Intel models. The M1 chip is actually a serious challenge to Intel!

The M1 needs a Rosetta translation layer to convert x86 code into something that it can execute. Despite that, the M1 can actually outperform Intel in some x86 workloads when it comes to legacy applications. But it completely wipes the competition when it comes to apps that are optimized for ARM. The future looks also very promising, considering this is Apple’s first generation!

  • Ram:

RAM stands for random-access memory; it is a very important component that have a huge impact on your laptop’s performance. Each time you open a program, the hard drive transfers the needed data for that program to the RAM, where it is easily accessible for the processor.

It is always preferable to choose a system that has at least 8GB of RAM. Some budget and entry level models only come with 4GB, but the good news, is that RAM is usually user upgradable.

RAM is important if you do a lot of multitasking, play games, or do a lot of video editing for example.

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.  If you already own a laptop, you can also check the task manager to see how much RAM you use.

RAM speed is also important. The speed is measured in MHz. But there are also other things to take into account when talking about RAM speed, such as CAS Latency, which is the delay time of between receiving a command and then being able to issue it.

Most laptops nowadays come with DDR4 RAM. DDR4 is the abbreviation of ‘double data rate fourth generation synchronous dynamic random-access memory’. Thanks to increased transfer rates and decreased voltage, DDR4 is able to achieve higher speed and efficiency.

DDR5 is also on its way and is supposed to bring even higher speeds, and will hit the market next year.

Here’s a quick overview of our RAM recommendations:

4GB or less This is definitely not recommended unless you’re shopping for a Chromebook or a cheap laptop.
8GB to 16GB 8GB of RAM is the minimum recommended for most users, providing enough RAM for virtually all productivity tasks and less demanding games. 16GB is even better, and will give you a performance boost when running demanding applications.
16GB to 32GB This is recommended if you’re running heavy applications, work with video editing and CAD, or you’re a hardcore gamer.
32GB or more If you do intensive multitasking, work with programs that manipulate and render large files, then getting 32GB of RAM is definitely recommended.

 

  • Storage:

The storage device is where your data is stored, but it’s not just for that. Choosing the right type of storage can help in boosting the overall performance of your laptop. There are mainly two types of drives available today:  Hard Disk Drives (HDD), and Solid State Drives (SSD).

Hard Disk Drives (HDD):

Hard drives 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.

Hard drives have their advantages and drawbacks. They are cheap and offer lots of options when it comes to storage size. Their lifespan is also better when compared to SSDs, because SSDs have finite read-and-write cycles while HDDs are infinite.

However, HDDs are considerably slower than SSDs, which will translate into noticeably slower laptop performance. They are also bulkier and consume more power.

Solid-State Drives (SSD):

Solid State Drives, or SSDs have no moving parts and are considerably faster than traditional hard drives. Since they don’t contain mechanical parts, they don’t produce heat or noise. SSDs used to be very expensive, and didn’t offer enough storage space. But their price per GB has been dropping year after year. Their lifespan has also been improved.

An SSD will make a huge difference when booting your laptop, transferring files, opening files and applications, and because they have no moving parts, they consume less power and are less likely to be damaged from falls.

There are many types of SSD drives however, and not all of them are created equal.

SATA SSDs for example use the same interface as traditional hard drives, but are still considerably faster. mSATA SSD are the same thing, but in a smaller form factor. SATA and mSATA SSDs have a maximum speed of 600Mbps, which is actually limited by the interface they use. M.2 SSDs are another type of solid drives which  may look like a small stick of RAM. They are faster than SATA SSDs and can store up to 2TB of data.

PCIe SSDs have more bandwidth and offer 3 or 4 times the performance of SATA SSDs. This is possible because they are connected directly to the motherboard.

Another type of SSD storage is called eMMC. This type is found mainly on smartphone, and cheap laptops and Chromebooks. And while they are technically considered SSDs, their performance isn’t actually that good. These drives usually have 32GB or 64GB of storage capacity.

Hybrid drives (SSHD):

Some laptops have hybrid drives, which are made by combining a traditional mechanical drive and a solid state drive.  For example, that the drive can have 500GB of HDD type storage, and 16GB of SSD storage. The SSD storage is used to store the OS and programs files, and thus makes booting up and launching applications fasters. These drives usually have a program that determines which files should be stored on the SSD and which ones should go the regular drive. In practice, these drives offer a few advantages over traditional drives, but they don’t come close to SSDs.

 

  • Graphics processing unit (GPU)

The graphics processing unit is the part that is responsible for processing images, videos,  games, and anything related to graphics. There are two types of GPUs in laptops: integrated and dedicated. For most people, an integrated graphics card is more than enough, however, if you’re a gamer or if you do intensive graphic work, a dedicated graphics chip may be necessary.

Integrated Graphics Cards

These graphic processing units are directly integrated onto the CPU or the motherboard. In fact, every laptop has an integrated graphics chip.

These units share the same RAM with the CPU, and this means that when playing games or doing anything that stresses the graphics card, there is a significant part of the RAM taken by the GPU. Because of this, there performance is limited and they are not suitable for tasks that require lots of graphic power. Some of these tasks are playing games, video editing, photo editing, 3D modeling…etc.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t run games or edit videos on a laptop with integrated graphics. Integrated graphics have actually been improving year after year, and many PC games out run just fine on integrated graphics. But you won’t be able to run AAA games or recent title or play on max settings.

Integrated graphics are on the other hand power efficient, and that’s why ultrabooks usually have an integrated card only. An integrated card is also less expensive in comparison to a dedicated chip.

Since most laptops have Intel or AMD processors, integrated graphics are also made by these two companies. Some example integrated graphics cards are Intel UHD Graphics, Intel Iris plus graphics, Iris Xe graphics, and AMD Radeon Vega 3.

Dedicated/discrete Graphics Cards:

A dedicated graphics card is a completely separate processor from the CPU that is dedicated to anything related to graphics, and has its own dedicated memory (VRAM). Dedicated graphics cards use more power, are more expensive, but deliver better performance when it comes to gaming, video editing, or 3D rendering.

When it comes to laptops, dedicated graphics are usually found on gaming or some premium ultrabooks.

Just like processors, there are mainly two manufacturers of dedicated graphics cards: AMD and Nvidia. Let’s have a brief look at each manufacturer separately:

Nvidia graphics cards:

When it comes to dedicated GPUs, Nvidia is by far the leader, with more than 80% market share. Nvidia makes some of the most powerful GPUs out there, both for gamers and professionals as well.

Just like processors, Nvidia has a specific naming scheme for its GPUs product lines. Generally, Nvidia used to have two GPU families: GeForce, and Quadro. The former is designed for gaming, while the latter is mostly intended for professional users who work with CAD software, CGI and digital content creation (DCC) applications. However, the Quadro series currently sits in the Nvidia RTX series.

Nvidia’s naming scheme can be quite complicated, especially for those who are not 100% up to date with the new releases. To help you get  better understanding of Nvidia GPUs, here is a short list of some of the most popular Nvidia GPUs that you can find on the market today:

Nvidia Geforce RTX 30 Series: The RTX 30 is Nvidia’s current flagship series. The RTX 30 is the second generation of Nvidia’s ray-tracing-enabled GPUs. The RTX 30 series offer solid performance, and new AI features such as DLSS, which give significant FPS boost. When it comes to laptops, The Nvidia Geforce RTX 3080 Ti is the fastest laptop graphics card available today, and it’s based on Nvidia new Ampere architecture. The RTX 3080Ti has 16 GB of GDDR6 graphics memory.

Nvidia Geforce RTX 20 Series: The RTX 20 series was introduced in 2018, and was the first generation that introduced features such as DLSS. Some example cards are the RTX 2080 and the RTX 2070. These graphic cards are still very capable even today, and can handle 1080p or 1440p gaming. However, if you’re looking for a future proof gaming laptop, or if you like to play in 4K, you should consider an RTX 30 series card.

Nvidia Geforce GTX 16 series: These are Nvidia’s entry-level cards, and are some of the most popular card among cost-conscious gamers. Examples of these cards are the Nvidia GTX 1650Ti, and the GTX 1650.  These are great mid-range cards that come with 4GB of graphics memory that are capable of playing most currant games at 1080p. However, they don’t come with any new features such as Raytracing or Tensor cores.

Nvidia Geforce GTX 10 series: The GTX 10 series was once Nvidia’s top of the line product. However, they are quite old by now despite the fact that they are still available on some laptops.  In fact, Nvidia brought back some of these GPUs into production in order to fill the demand for affordable GPUs. These cards are based on the Pascal architecture, and while they are not recommended today; the truth is that their performance still holds up even today. Some examples of these cards are the GTX 1080Ti and the GTX 1050Ti.

Nvidia also offers entry-level graphics cards, such as the GTX MC450 or the GTX MX550. Their performance can sometimes be compared with the entry level GTX10 cards, such as the 1050Ti.

Nvidia RTX (previously Quadro) series: Nvidia used to call their professional-grade graphics cards Quadro. These are cards that are designed specifically for professional who work with 3D modeling software, VFX, graphic design…etc. Some cards are also certified by the software publisher too. However, Nvidia has changed its naming scheme, and the latest generation of these professional GPUs is now marketed under the RTX series. These cards are usually used in workstation laptops, and are more expensive. Examples of these cards are the RTX A5000, RTX A4000, and RTX A3000.

AMD graphics cards:

AMD has always been considered a budget-friendly alternative to Nvidia’s GPUs. However, AMD’s latest Radeon GPUs are quickly closing the gap between the two competitors, in terms of performance.

AMD’s naming scheme is somewhat similar to Nvidia’s, although they have changed a little bit in the last few years. Here is a short list to understand AMD naming scheme when it comes to GPUs:

AMD Radeon RX 6000 series: this is AMD’s flagship series of GPUs as of today. Unlike Nvidia’s RTX 30 series, the RX 6000 series still don’t perform well when ray tracing is activated. Currently, their top of the line graphics card for laptops is the AMD Radeon RX 6800M, the “M” in the name indicates that it’s a mobile GPU, used for laptops. The RX 6800M uses the new RDNA 2 architecture, and has 12GB of graphics memory.

AMD Radeon RX 5000 series: These cards are based on AMD RDNA architecture.  Although these cards brought some increase in performance, they lacked hardware support for ray tracing. The AMD 5600M GPU is probably the most powerful laptop GPU when it comes to this generation, and can run games at 1440p with higher frame rates.

AMD also offers professional grade graphics cards, such as the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M which can be found in some workstation laptops.

 

  • Keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad are the main input device on any laptop, and while many people don’t really pay attention to them when buying a new laptop, it makes sense to consider checking them, especially if you need a laptop for writing, doing data entry, or even gaming.

While most keyboards have somewhat the same layout, some laptop manufacturers can choose to misplace, reduce the size or even totally exclude certain keys from the keyboard. This is due to the fact that laptops have become thinner and thinner, and it’s sometimes the only solution to fit the keyboard and touchpad inside.  This might not be a problem for most people, however, if you already have laptop or if you are used to typing on a regular keyboard, it may take time to adapt, or the typing experience on the laptop might not suit you.

When talking about keyboards, there are two things to consider: tactile feedback and key travel.  Tactile feedback as is its name implies, is the feedback or feeling user receives when typing.  The key travel is simply the distance that each key travels when being pressed. Usually, it’s is recommended 1.8mm of vertical travel, but it’s actually quite hard to find out before buying or testing the laptop, since these specifications are usually not indicated in the product sheet. In addition to that, most laptops nowadays have way less than 1.8mm of ket travel, in order to keep the laptop thin and lightweight.

Some premium laptops come with mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards provide enhanced tactile feedback, offering more of the “clickety-clack” sound, and they also last longer.

One feature you might also consider is a backlit keyboard. This can be very helpful if you like working in low light environments.  Some gaming laptops also come with customizable RGB keyboards.

The touchpad is another element that’s usually overlooked when buying a laptop.   A touchpad should be responsive and big enough to support gestures. The touchpad location is also very important, is order to avoid unintended activations. Usually, the touchpad is centered below the G and H letters. But some laptops might have weirdly placed touchpads, which can be annoying for some users. To simulate a mouse, some laptops might have two buttons (right and left) or a single bar, while others have no buttons at all, and instead use a clickPad.

 

  • Battery life and portability

Most people who choose a laptop over a desktop computer look for portability in the first place. If battery life is important to you, then you should carefully look at the spec sheet before making a buying decision. There are many factors that affect battery life, such as the screen size, processor, graphics card, display brightness and resolution, battery capacity, and also how you use your laptop.

In general, any laptop that can offer more than 8 hours of use is considered good.  But depending on your needs, you might need more battery life. Some laptops provide less than that, while others can offer more than 15 hours of use.

If you’re looking for a laptop with a great battery life, 13 and 14 inch ultrabooks usually offer the best compromise between performance and battery life. On the other hand, gaming laptops on the other have very limited battery life.

And while it is very difficult to estimate a laptop’s battery life based on the manufacturer’s claims or the specifications, there are a few things you can do to estimate its battery life. The first thing is to check online tests and reviews, to get an idea how much the battery lasts.

You can also use a formula to estimate the battery life, based on usage. For that, you should divide the battery wattage in watt-hours, by the estimated usage in watt. For example, a laptop with a 97Wh battery, will last about 5 hours if you’re watching high definition videos online, but will last a little more than 1 hour, if you’re playing intensive games or rendering videos.  For each activity, you can find the average power consumption in watts below. But you should note that these are estimated average consumptions, and each laptop  can be optimized differently, and thus your  results may be different:

Intensive gaming, Video rendering, 3D software 65W or more
Light gaming 45W to 65W
Photo or video editing 35W to 45W
Watching videos online 25W to 35W
Watching videos offline, multitasking 15W to 25W
Web browsing, working with Office software 10W to 15W
Idle mode 5W to 10W

 

 

  • Connectivity and ports

 

Depending on your usage, ports and connectivity may or may not be important to you. Ports are used to connect your laptop to various devices, such as a mouse, external monitor, printer, and even to an external graphics card.

Nowadays, most laptops come with a number of USB ports, HDMI and a headphone jack port, which is more than enough for most people.

It’s also worth mentioning that more and more laptops have USB-C ports nowadays, which provide higher transfer speeds. Some laptops also offer Thunderbolt ports, which offer even higher speeds, and even be used to connect an external GPU.

You should also check the spec sheet if you would like your laptop to have any specific ports or connectivity option, such as an Ethernet port, a card reader, a sim slot…etc. However, even if your laptop doesn’t have these ports, there is still the possibility of connecting an external hub or a docking station.

You can also look at what the laptop has to offer in terms of wireless connectivity.  For example, you can check if it supports Wifi 6, which is the latest Wifi standard. Wifi 6 has faster data transfer speeds than Wifi 5, and performs better in crowded areas. Wifi 6 even helps reduce battery consumption. Of course, to be able to benefit from all the advantages Wifi 6 has to offer, the Wifi spot you are connected to should also support Wifi 6.

5G is also the next big thing when it comes to wireless connectivity. If you’re always on the go, and need a laptop that can connect to the internet anywhere, it’s worth looking if the laptop has 5G or even 4G LTE connectivity.

 

  • Reliability and build quality

 

As you know, not all laptops are created equal, and some brands are simply better and more reliable than others. In most cases, you already know which brand you will go with for your next purchase, but for people who are not into technology it might be difficult to decide which brand or model to get.

Make sure that you read all the reviews you can about the model that you are planning to purchase, and it’s also important to check the warranty and the product support options.

Some of the best and most reliable laptop brands are Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Apple. However, manufacturers have different product lines, and the reliability and build quality may be different from one laptop to another within the same brand. So it’s always important to check the reviews and tests before buying a new laptop, even if you’re already familiar with the brand.

To get an idea about the reliability and sturdiness of a laptop, you can look at the build quality, and if there are any flexes when typing or pressing the laptop. Heat dissipation is also very important, as it will make using the laptop uncomfortable, and also can hurt the internal components over time.

 

  • What is your budget?

 

For most people, the price is the most important factor when buying a new laptop. You should always try to buy the best laptop you can get, before spending your hard-earned cash.

In general, there are different price points, and by setting your budget first, you can already get an idea what type of laptop you will be getting. Of course, this applies to new laptops, and not refurbished, renewed, or used laptops.

Under $300:  At this price point, you can get a Chromebook or a cheap Windows laptop.  These laptops are usually not the best when it comes to build quality, and they only suitable for basic use.

Between $300 and $600: At this price range, you can find acceptable budget laptops that offer good value for the money. Of course, you won’t find a top of the line processor or a dedicated graphics card, but in most cases these laptops can be used for browsing and basic computing needs.

Between $600 and $1000:  These are considered mid-range laptops, and you have many options to choose from at this price range.  You can find laptops with features like fast SSDs, recent processors, great designs and premium finish, great battery life, and even laptops with entry-level graphics cards. You can also get a Macbook air at this price point, if you’re into Mac OS.

Between $1000 and $1500: You have plenty of options at this price range, including gaming laptops, premium ultrabooks, and even a Macbook pro depending on your needs.

More than $1500:  At this price range, you will find premium laptops and powerful gaming stations.  Depending on the specs sheet, some high-end gaming laptops and professional workstation can even be priced at $3000 or $4000.

  • Conclusion

As a departure note, buying a new laptop is always a tough decision. Not only there are so many brands and models to choose from, but you might anything that you will buy today will be outdated within the next few years. And that’s why it’s important to make an informed purchase and get a laptop that meets your needs best.

If you don’t need a powerful laptop, then it doesn’t make any sense spending extra cash on features that you won’t ever use. And vice versa, sometimes spending a little extra can saves more money in future!

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