The process of buying a laptop is no longer easy in today’s jam-packed laptop market. Thankfully, there are a couple of things we can look in order to end up with what we want.
In this post, I’ll provide a simplified guide on the features that matter as well as how to weigh them.
But before that, it’s essential for you to consider how you intend to use the laptop you’re buying.
The light user will: surf the web, organize and share photos, engage in social networking, and send e-mails.
The average user will: create documents and spreadsheets, store and stream media (music and movies).
The demanding user will: multitask with multiple tabs and programs, edit photos and videos, play games, and use programs that require advanced graphics.
The power user will prefer everything high-end. It’s likely they’ll want to invest in the fastest processor, highest screen resolution, and bigger RAM and storage.
The portability of a laptop depends on the size of screen and built-in devices it comes with. Laptops with many secondary devices (such as DVD drives) tend to be weightier. Today, laptops are much more thinner than they used to be a decade ago.
Below are three common weight categories for modern laptops:
3 Ibs (1.36kg) or less: Laptops in this category are streamlined for travelers and students who value portability over other features.
4 -5 Ibs (1.81- 2.26Kg): The mid-range category balances portability and performance to give you enough power to work from restaurants, airports, and elsewhere.
6 Ibs (2.72kg) or more: These laptops carry more processing power larger screens. If you are looking to play games or perform more demanding tasks without moving a lot from your desk, this category is an excellent choice.
Users who value portability should consider Ultrabooks, Chromebooks, or 2-in-1s.
Design and sturdiness
Though everyone has their own idea of a good laptop design, you need to ensure that your selection looks and feels right. To do this, handle the laptop by yourself. Start by inspecting the body and hinges carefully. Are they firm enough to endure daily use?
Next, proceed to check if the keyboard spacing and depth allow for easy typing. Check the mouse pad and buttons as well – they should allow for solid clicks, scrolls and zooms.
Users who rely on 10-key to enter data should confirm that the keyboard includes a numeric keypad. If you are planning on buying the laptop online, read lots of reviews and seek expert advice.
The Operating system or OS is the most important software in your laptop. It manages all computer resources including hardware, programs, memory, files, and processes. It also enables you to interact with your laptop visually without the need of having to learn computer language.
There are four common operating systems in use today:
Owned and operated by Microsoft, Windows is the most widely used OS. The latest version comes with a host of features including touchscreen support, which lets you combine the power of a desktop computer and the usability of a tablet. It also boasts “remote media streaming” and “Play To” which means you can play your laptop’s media on other nearby devices.
Windows is quite universal, meaning you can install it on a variety of hardware.
Mac OS X
Mac OS X differs from Windows and other operating systems in that it only works on Apple computers (Macs). While new Macs come with pre-installed OS X, you must spend more in order to use newer versions.
One key feature of OS X is its usability. The latest version includes a “resume” feature that allows you to open applications in the same way you last closed them. It also includes a “Mission Control” feature that gives users the ability to see all open files at a glance.
Based on the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, Ubuntu is a free and open source OS. This means that anyone can alter its code as they wish. Ubuntu receives an update every six months.
Many Ubuntu-compatible programs are also free and available online. However, if you are unfamiliar with Ubuntu, be sure to do some research before trying it on your laptop.
The Chrome OS is exclusively designed for Chromebook computers. It’s great for easy tasks like surfing the web, reading e-mails, and sharing photos.
In the modern age, nearly all laptops come with preloaded operating systems. So unless you want a particular version, don’t fret.
Because of portability, laptop screen sizes mainly fall in the range of 11 to 17 inches. Laptops with bigger screen sizes are ideal for entertainment, gaming, editing photos and videos, and viewing documents side by side. But as exciting as big screens are, they can make your laptop bulky and power-hungry.
The resolution of a screen is measured by the number of pixels on the horizontal dimension against the ones on the vertical dimension. Screens with high resolution display rich and vibrant graphics.
HD: 1366 × 768 resolution is common in mainstream laptops. It is good for basic computing tasks like surfing the web and managing email.
HD+: 1600 x 900 is good for movies casual and gaming.
Full HD: 1920 x 1080 resolution is great for watching Blu-ray movies and playing games.
QHD (Quad HD) and QHD+ have 2560 x 1440 and 3200 x 1800 resolutions respectively. Screens with these resolutions have a high pixel density that allows you to perform professional video or photo editing tasks, watch high definition movies, and play graphics intensive games.
4k Ultra HD: 3840 x 2160 resolution is four times as clear as Full HD and allows you to view ultra-rich colors and lifelike images. It is perfect for high-end gamers and video editors.
Retina display: Apple has its own set of screen resolutions: 2880 x 1800, 2560 x 1600, and 2304 x 1440 resolutions are found in Apple’s 15.6”, 13.3”, and 12” laptop displays respectively.
Apart from the size and resolution of the screen, the display type also matters. Different display types will give you different colors and brightness levels.
If you are a movie fan, consider an IPS panel display as it allows for wider viewing angles.
Glossy screens provide richer and darker colors, which make them ideal for indoor use. On the other hand, lusterless displays minimize glare in bright environments and are perfect for outdoors.
Some laptops have a touch-screen feature which makes navigation intuitive just as in smartphones and tablets. You can tap to select, hold and drag to move, pinch to zoom, and swipe to scroll.
If you want explore more on how to select the perfect screen, see our laptop screen buying guide.
Simply put, the processor is the ‘brain’ of your laptop. The type of processor determines the complexity and type of programs you can run, as well as how many tasks you can open at once, and at what speed they will run. Majority of laptops come with AMD or Intel® processors.
AMD has two primary categories of processors, namely (1) the FX and A-Series, and (2) the E-series.
The FX and A-Series incorporate a graphics processor in the same chip. They consist the following versions:
FX: Upscale top-of-the-line processor for high-end gaming and demanding multitasking.
A10: AMD’s star processor chip, fast and mighty in performance.
A8: Great for gaming in HD.
A6: Fantastic picture quality and smooth video streaming.
A4: Great in playing media and viewing photos.
E-Series: These are one and the same with Intel’s Pentium and Celeron processors. They are value-oriented and suitable for basic computing tasks.
They are found in mainstream windows laptops and modern MacBooks.
Core i7: Intel’s high-end consumer processor; Great for hardcore gaming, graphic design, video editing, serious multi-tasking, and other power-intensive tasks.
Core i5: Intel’s midrange processor is among the mostly used. It has enough power to handle nearly all computing tasks; particularly great for streaming and light multi-tasking.
Core i3: Intel’s entry-level processor; sufficient for daily computing tasks like browsing the web, reading e-mails, listening to music, and other productivity tasks.
Core M: Designed for ultra-slim laptops; Good for daily computing tasks and great for battery life.
You may also come across Intel’s Celeron® and Pentium® processors. These are sufficient for basic productivity tasks, but they lag behind the core family of processors in terms of performance and multitasking capabilities.
If you wish to run intensive tasks, select a laptop with a dedicated graphics card and video memory. These separate resources will guarantee faster processing and smoother performance.
Memory / RAM
Random Access Memory, commonly known as RAM, is a “working” memory that stores data for programs that are in use. A higher capacity of RAM gives your laptop the ability to handle a variety of tasks simultaneously. 2GB is the recommended minimum for basic computing tasks while 6GB and above is great for demanding tasks such as photo and video editing.
Most laptops come with 4GB to 8GB of RAM, though some have as much as 32GB. Laptops models with expandable memory capabilities are preferable.
There are two types of internal storage.
- Traditional hard drives provide larger storage capacity, but can be bulky and noisy.
- Storage state drives (SSDs) are lighter, cooler, faster, and noiseless. However, they provide less storage space and are more costly.
Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)
Traditional, mechanical HDDs are the most common type of storage because they offer more storage capabilities at a relatively cheaper price.
HDDs with standard speeds of 7200 rpm are much faster when it comes to data transfer than those with 5400rpm.
Nevertheless, HDDS can be weighty, noisy and bulky.
Solid-State Drives (SSDs)
SSDS or “flash storage” are typically faster than HDDs. They are compact, light, power efficient, and noiseless.
Mostly found in ultra slim and light laptops.
However, they are more costly per GB and offer less capacity.
Some laptops combine both types of storage to provide a blend of benefits.
For many laptops, battery-life usually falls in the range of 3 to 12 hours.
Laptops with higher processing power, larger displays, faster hard drives, and more inbuilt devices are likely to have shorter battery life.
Ports and Connectivity
Laptops come with a variety of ports and connectivity capabilities. It’s crucial to check these features because they determine how fast you can transfer data, sync other devices, and connect portable gadgets.
Modern laptops provide the latest Bluetooth and wireless standards to give you a range of connectivity capabilities. Frequent travelers should opt for laptops with 4G LTE connectivity in order to access the internet even when they’re out of Wi-Fi range.
The following ports are the most useful for connecting peripheral devices.
USB 2.0: Connects gaming controllers, external drives, MP3 players, smartphones, and a host of other devices.
USB 3.0: Has faster data transfer speeds than USB 2.0 when used with USB 3.0 devices.
USB Type-C: Features matching connectors at both ends of the cable; Provides lightning-fast data transfer speeds and multipurpose capabilities; Backward compatible and video-friendly.
Thunderbolt: Offers amazing data transfer speeds when used with devices that have Thunderbolt or MiniDisplayPort connections.
HDMI: Easily connects your laptop to a projector or a TV with the HDMI port.
Media-Card Slots: Good for transferring data from digital cameras or camcorders.
Don’t forget to check the warranty. Happy shopping!