In this laptop buying guide, you will find some tips on how to choose a laptop and what to consider when buying a laptop. Either you buy a laptop online or in a store, it's easier if you use a laptop chooser before.
It is very convenient to compare laptops by specs side by side on such sites — laptop finders like laptopvslaptop.com, digit.in, or gizbot.com, including our laptop finder where you see the specifications right in front of your eyes and pick the right laptop for you. When you compare notebook computers or ultrabooks by seeing the actual figures, it gives you the basic information about them outright.
Before comparing laptops, keep in mind what you need your PC for. Your needs determine your future laptop’s design, performance, and price.
Technological evolution made today’s laptops prettier, thinner, lighter, and more powerful than they used to be. Still, different models are designed for different purposes. Some are good for business, others for playing games.
Either way, the operating system, hardware, and design of a laptop will help you understand whether it’s suitable for you.
- Choose the Operating System
- Pick the Right Screen Size
- The Best Hardware for the Best Laptop Performance
- Laptop Display
- Laptop Battery Life
One of the most important things to consider is the operating system since it’s the main software that manages computer hardware and supports its basic functions.
But what does it mean to YOU? Well, first, it should be user-friendly for your work to be more efficient because it’s the means of communication with your computer. And it should have all the options that help you achieve your aim.
Everyone knows the two main operating systems for laptops: Windows and macOS. Now we also have a new alternative — Google’s Chrome OS. And there is also Linux, which is not very popular, but you can find laptops with this OS too or install it on your laptop.
The dominant OS for laptops and desktop computers on the market is Windows because it has fewer limitations and there’s more software for it compared to other operating systems. Windows, thus, is perfect for gaming and business.
Apple’s Macs are known for their great support, user-friendly design, and a high price. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to use macOS. Even if a MacBook is your first computer, you’ll easily learn how to use it. However, you get less frequent hardware updates.
Chrome OS offers you a limited functionality because you can’t run desktop software on a Chromebook. You have access to plenty of Android apps though. But if you need a laptop just for browsing the web, watching videos and occasional typing, a Chromebook can save you a lot of money.
There are a few laptops with Linux pre-installed. Although you can buy a laptop and install Linux later, not every laptop has hardware compatible with Linux because it is a non-commercial free open-source OS. You have to do some research beforehand. For example, one of the best laptops for Linux is the Dell XPS 13.
So, why bother installing Linux? Well, it’s more secure, faster than Windows and all the software for it is free. This is a good OS for web developers and programmers.
Choose the right size for you. If you want your laptop to be more portable, the most common size is around 13 inches (33 cm). For more comfortable typing, a better choice is 15 inches (38 cm).
If you are not going to carry your laptop and will use it mostly at home, you can have a larger size. A gaming laptop, for instance, is bigger, heavier and not portable.
Laptop hardware will tell you what it’s capable of. More powerful hardware provides better performance and is more expensive.
The brain of every computer or laptop is its CPU (a central processing unit) which is also called a processor. The better the central processor chip is, the faster your laptop can work. Most laptops today come with Intel CPUs. But the model range is very wide. So, what should we consider, choosing a laptop according to its CPU?
All computers and even smartphones now have multi-core chips that allow better performance, parallel processes at the same time at lower energy. Four-core chips are mostly used in laptops today. Most CPUs have also a multi-threading technology, which creates virtual cores, not as powerful as real ones though.
So the more cores, the better.
Then, there is a clock speed or CPU frequency, which determines the number of instructions your laptop can execute per second. Modern CPUs have not only a base clock speed but also a boost speed — the maximum speed a laptop can reach for short-term tasks when it's necessary.
Most of the time, it runs at a slower speed because it would be unreasonable to overheat a laptop for basic tasks and drain its battery.
However, you can’t rely only on CPU frequency, while comparing laptop performance, neither can you compare the clock speed of CPU chips from different families or generations. This comparison will be inaccurate. The clock speed can’t increase forever. For this reason, multi-core technology appeared.
Another factor that influences your laptop’s speed is the CPU’s cache, the small amount of RAM on the CPU die to keep frequently used information for speeding up recurring processes. The bigger the cache, the faster the data transfer and the better the processor’s performance.
The most common laptop processors are the 8th generation Core i-5 and Core i-7, i-7 series is faster and more expensive. There are already laptops with 9th Gen CPUs like the Apple MacBook Pro and even with 10th Gen “Ice Lake” CPUs.
The newer CPU is faster and more energy-efficient. For heavy tasks like gaming, the 9th-generation H series chips are the best choice now. However, they are power-hungry, which means that a laptop with such a CPU has a short battery life or, if the battery is larger, it’s heavier and bulkier.
Avoid older CPUs, such as Celeron, Atom, Pentium, and C or E series.
Notebooks used to lag behind desktop computers in the matter of CPU power, as there is much less space inside a portable computer. But now the situation changed.
Most laptops have graphics cards, integrated into motherboards. So, make sure that your future laptop’s GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is suitable for your needs because it’s nearly impossible to upgrade it except for some cases with discrete graphics cards, that are more powerful and bigger — the perfect choice for a gaming laptop like the Alienware Area-51M R2.
However, this power makes it pretty hefty, less portable, and less energy-efficient.
Nvidia and AMD are the main manufacturers of discrete mobile graphics. The best models, for now, are Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs. Intel also started producing dedicated mobile graphics cards. It has recently launched its first discrete GPU — the Iris Xe Max.
Random-access memory is a fast type of internal memory or system memory that temporarily keeps all the necessary data, which can be extracted immediately for a current task, while a laptop is on. The more memory a computer has, the more information it can process quickly.
So, the bigger, the better. The minimal amount today is 8 GB.
Most modern laptops have SSDs (solid-state drives) instead of HDDs (hard disc drives) because they are more compact, power-efficient, faster, and sturdier. A laptop with an SSD will work at least 3 times faster than a laptop with a hard drive.
Some laptops use eMMCs (embedded Multi-Media Cards) as internal drives. Although eMMC has smaller storage capacity and slower reading and writing speed than SSD, it is more affordable and the storage capacity of a laptop that uses eMMC can be expandable with an SD card. For laptops without SD card slots, you can use an external SSD.
Modern laptops tend to come with M.2 NVMe SSDs as they are more compact which makes them perfect for portable computers. Their speed is 5 times higher than the speed of SATA models.
As for the capacity, it depends on how much data you will store on your laptop. It’s better to have at least 256 GB so that there is enough place for all your photos, music, software, and other files. If you are a movie collector, you may need 512 GB. The more, the better, as usual, though more expensive.
Note that you can enlarge the storage capacity of some laptops with a MicroSD card, while others don’t have such an option and the only way to expand their storage capacity is to attach the external drive or to upgrade the internal SSD.
So, pay attention to whether your future laptop supports additional memory. And if it doesn’t, make sure it has enough internal memory for your data.
The most common screen size for laptops is about 15 inches (38 cm) and screen resolution is full HD (1920 × 1080). The higher the resolution is, the more power-hungry a laptop becomes that lowers the battery life.
I recommend at least a full HD resolution. Thus, you’ll have enough place on the display for comfortable work and a good picture and video quality. The higher the resolution, the more details you got on your screen.
So, if you work with high-resolution photos or videos or deal with detailed graphics, play demanding computer games, you may need a higher resolution.
While all notebooks used to have only touchpads, some modern laptops gain tablets’ feature — touchscreen, for example, so-called 2-in-1 hybrid laptops like the Lenovo YOGA 920-13 that flips 360 degrees or the Microsoft Surface Book 2 with a detachable keyboard and the best touchpad, by the way.
If you need a laptop for drawing, it’s better to have it with 4K resolution. Note that accessories for drawing are usually sold separately.
And remember, touchscreen laptops are usually more expensive compared to classic models with the same performance. So, you need to decide whether you need a touchscreen or, maybe, a laptop with a good touchpad will be sufficient for your needs. Although a touchscreen is convenient, you’ll probably have to wipe it more often.
If you need a laptop while traveling, then its battery life must be crucial for you. So, the longer the run time is, the better. But don’t take a manufacturer’s word for granted. Check the reviews to make sure that the battery life is sufficient for you.
The average laptop’s run time is about 8-10 hours, depending on how you use it. The battery of a power-hungry gaming laptop may last only about 3 hours.
Note that a laptop with larger battery capacity doesn’t necessarily work longer than a laptop with smaller battery capacity since they may have different performances.
If you want a long-lasting battery, don't buy a laptop with a 4K display because a screen is the most power-consuming part of a laptop.
You may need to connect your laptop to an external hard drive, optical drive, mouse, or other devices. If you don’t want to carry a bunch of dongles with your laptop, make sure it has all the basic ports.
There should be a minimum of 2 or 3 different USB ports on a laptop. Most laptops today are equipped with USB-C ports. Some modern laptops offer Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 ports that work as USB Type-C connectors, only they are more powerful and support speed up to 40 GB/s.
To minimize the usage of adaptors, it’s good to have also an Ethernet connection and an HDMI port on a laptop.
All laptops usually have a 3.5 mm headphone jack as well.
And if you don’t have access to Wi-Fi, it is great to enjoy the LTE connectivity without using your smartphone as a hotspot. Unfortunately, there are not so many laptops supporting this type of connectivity.
Well, now you know how to pick the right laptop. These are pretty much all the main things you should consider while buying a new notebook.
Ideally, it would be great if you did your research on the internet taking into account all the above-mentioned factors, chose a couple of the most suitable laptops for your needs, found them in the nearest store and tried them out, if possible, then, finally bought the best one.
But if the price for your favorite laptop in a local store is higher than in an online shop, you can always order a laptop online. When you choose notebook computers, I think the price is one of the most important factors, after all.
And don’t rely totally on a salesman, always do your own research first, select a laptop by features, and check the reviews. The article about the best laptops in 2021 may be helpful for you. A laptop is not a cheap toy. Remember, forewarned is forearmed. Or you can pick PC parts and build a desktop.