Laptop Buying Guide

Nowadays, personal computers have become a significant part of our lives. With the shift towards digital experiences, hardly will you walk into an office, home, or shop and fail to notice either a desktop or laptop. Tech companies are also working hard to meet demands for sleeker computers that offer excellent performances and portability.

However, thanks to ever-improving technology, there’s a lot of devices to choose from, making shopping for a new a challenging affair. Besides technology, other factors such as budget and purpose also come into play.

For those looking to buy a laptop, this comprehensive laptop buying guide is for you. So, here is what you should consider before you make your choice.

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Original Image by Santeri Viinamäki

Type of Operating System

The operating system (OS) is the software that allows you to interact with your laptop.

Technically, Windows and macOS have been the go-to operating systems of choice for most people. On the other hand, there are other operating system such as Google’s Chrome OS and Linux that are leaving a mark in the computing world.

While most Operating Systems serve the same purpose, there are some subtle differences in features which we will discuss in a short while.

Windows OS

According to Statcounter.com, Microsoft’s Windows boasts of an impressive 35.78% market share worldwide.

Earlier versions such as Windows 7 and XP are still very much in use. However, Microsoft security updates or technical support for the Windows XP operating system ceased as from April 8, 2014. As for Windows 7, security updates will be available up until January 14, 2020.

The latest rendition, the Windows 10 was released on July 15, 2015, to much fanfare. The latest Windows still uses the Registry to maintain configuration settings, meaning it offers backward compatibility for most applications developed for previous versions of Windows. This is a win for Windows 10 as it’s competing operating systems.

Besides that, this latest version brings you Cortana, the powerful AI virtual assistant who will help you interact with your Windows laptop better.

Windows 10 boats of excellent features such as;

  • Rich and intuitive graphics.
  • Fast start-up.
  • It offers excellent gaming experience, especially with its Game mode feature.
  • Get to experience association with iOS and Android devices.

macOS

Apple’s macOS is also common but doesn’t match the popularity of Windows. The reason why is because unlike Windows, Apple hasn’t licensed its products to third parties. What this means is that the macOS is available only on Apple MacBook Computers.

The latest edition of Apple’s macOS, Mojave, is something else. It is packed with some pretty decent features such as:

  • New Mac apps influenced by iOS designs.
  • Magnificent Dark Mode.
  • Media-management features built into QuickLook.
  • Stacks feature to help you create a neater desktop.

As a Mac user, you’ll get to interact with Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. You can also reply to text messages and answer phone calls from your iPhone using your MacBook.

However, there’s some lows when it comes to using macOS. One downside is that it doesn’t support touchscreen because MacBook’s don’t have that feature. Secondly, if you are a gamer, there are fewer games available on the Mac platform compared to Windows (Windows is basically King when it comes to Computer Gaming).

Chrome OS

Chrome OS was developed by Google and uses the Google Chrome web browser as its primary user interface. Chrome OS is web-based; thus, it mainly runs web applications. The Chrome OS runs on Chromebooks, which are particularly cheap and highly portable with excellent battery life.

Since its inception in 2011, Google has been making massive updates on its operating system. The latest edition, the Chrome OS 68, supports a good number of android based applications. Additionally, Chrome OS is easy to use, which is a plus, especially for kids who are getting to know their way around computers.

Other excellent features of the Chrome OS include:

  • High-speed start-up.
  • It offers excellent integration with a host of Google Services.
  • Frequent security updates.
  • Stylus support.

Chromebooks are a bargain, especially if you need a laptop for light work such as browsing the Internet, sending and receiving mails, or for social media use.

Technical Specifications

Selecting a laptop with the right specs can be challenging, more so for non-techies. Things such as RAM, graphics card, and the processor may not make too much sense or may seem too technical.

However, worry not as we will discuss some of the vital technical aspects you should consider.

RAM

RAM stands for Random Access Memory and plays a significant role when it comes to your laptop’s processing speed and power. Commonly, most budget laptops come installed with 4GB of RAM, which isn’t that bad and the least recommended RAM size for any laptop.

However, for ultimate user experience and smooth running of your laptop, look for one with at least 8GB of RAM.

Determining the best RAM size heavily relies on what you intend to use your laptop for. For example, gaming or running heavy applications such as video editing software will require large memory sizes. As such, you can go for a laptop with a RAM size of between 16-64 GB.

With RAM, the rule is; the bigger, the better. However, one point you should note is laptops with bigger RAM sizes will cost more.

CPU

The CPU , Central Processing Unit as it is known in full, is the brain of the computer. It plays a vital role when it comes to your laptop’s performance. As a result, getting a laptop with excellent processing power is very important.

We will go through some of the essential aspects that come into play when choosing a CPU.

Clock Speed

A number that describes how fast the processor runs. It is usually denoted in Hz. (Hertz).

Nonetheless, high clock speeds alone don’t guarantee fast performance as it solely translates to more work cycles per second.

Factors such as the number of cores available will influence the CPU’s processing speed. For instance, a quad-core processor (CPU with four cores) will process four tasks simultaneously while a dual-core (CPU with two cores) will only process two.

Intel vs. AMD

The Intel vs. AMD rivalry has been ongoing for a while now with each tech giant trying to outdo the other. From our point of view, both processors are excellent. However, your choice will lean towards your needs and preferences.

For example, if you want to play high-end games, an AMD-ATI CPU Graphics card combo will give you a better experience than its Intel equivalent.

To sum it up, AMD processors are slightly cheaper than the Intel counterparts. However, Intel processors slightly edge their AMD equivalents when it comes to processing power.

Intel Processors Series

Most laptops come with Intel processors.  Under the Intel core iSeries, there is the Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9. When picking between core iSeries processors in the same range, the best idea is to go for the latest generation. Also, the higher the Core i number, the better.

Storage Space: HDD vs. SSD

Right off the bat, you will need somewhere to save your documents, movies, or music files. Storage media are available in two versions, namely; The Mechanical Hard Drive (HDD) and the Solid-State Drive (SSD).

Over the years, solid-state drives are taking over as the go-to storage media for laptops. The reason why is because SDDs are much faster than the traditional mechanical drives. Besides that, SDDs are much lighter than their SATA drives equivalents.

The only downside when it comes to solid-state drives is that they are costly. However, if money isn’t an issue, then go for a laptop with SDD. You can go for one with 256GB or pick a 128GB SDD and boost it by getting a cloud storage account for extra space should the need arise.

A trend that is on the rise is to pick a laptop that has both an SSD and Traditional SATA port. That way, you can install an SSD to run your OS and Applications on, then install a SATA mechanical drive to store files such as Music, Games, and Movies.

Graphics Card

If you want to use your laptop as a gaming rig or for carrying out heavy multimedia tasks, then a powerful graphics chip will come in handy.

For starters, most laptops don’t come with dedicated GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) because GPUs take up a lot of room. In their place, most laptops come with CPUs that have integrated graphics processors.

With the latest trends in technology, AMD and Nvidia are releasing dedicated mobile graphic cards. Nowadays, you will come across a laptop with a built-in dedicated graphics processor.

If you are looking for a gaming laptop or one for running powerful multimedia editing software, then go for one with a built-in dedicated graphic cards chip. Also checkout some of the graphic processors available for Nvidia and AMD.

Display

When it comes to display, we will look at two things; one is the screen size and the other, screen resolution.

Display Resolution

Resolution revolves around how clear media will appear. High-resolution power guarantees a sharper display.  Low budget laptops come with a max resolution in the region of 1,366px * 768px. However, if you are not on a budget go for the highest resolution you can afford. We recommend getting a laptop with a resolution of at least 1920px by 1080px (a.k.a Full HD, usually referred to as 1080p)

Screen Size

Laptop screen-sizes is the physical size of the laptop’s screen. They range from 11.6 inches, all the way up to 17.3 inches. The bigger the screen, the bigger the laptop will be. You can go for a bigger laptop if portability isn’t an issue for you.

If you want what is considered a normal-sized laptop, go for one with a screen size of between 13-14 inches. Note that laptops with different screen sizes can have the same resolution. For instance, you can get a 13-inch and 17-inch laptop with the same resolution of 1920 x 1080p

Physical Size

When you are buying a laptop, size matters. One thing you should also keep in mind is, unlike other specs such as storage, processor, and RAM, laptop physical size isn’t scalable.

So, you must consider issues such as portability, screen size, and weight when shopping for a laptop. Below is a breakdown of laptop classes based on size and performances:

Ultrabooks

Ultrabook’s lean towards a trendy and more modern look. They are thin, and lightweight meaning most focus is towards portability. Examples of ultrabooks include the Asus ZenBook, Lenovo Yoga 730, and the Dell XPS 13.

Notebooks

Notebooks tend to give you the best of both worlds in terms of power and portability. Most notably, notebooks do come fitted with a DVD drive and in most cases an HDD, but also an SSD port, in case you want to add one. Read more on Notebooks vs. Ultrabooks.

Battery

Battery life is also another significant factor you shouldn’t overlook when buying a laptop. In some cases, the figures given by the manufacturer may not provide a clear picture of the battery’s performance. The higher the milliamp-hours (mAh) ratings, the longer each single full charge will last.

Many factors will come into play regarding the battery’s runtime and life span — things such as screen brightness, operating systems, and the type of applications running. Chromebooks and ultrabooks running the Chrome OS tend to offer better battery life compared to laptops running other operating systems.

If you use your laptop to run high-end games or to watch full HD movies, then your battery runtime will be much shorter than what’s quoted by the manufacturer. Good news is most modern laptops have a reliable running time to run you throughout your day.

Ports

Ports are still handy since you will at one time need to plug-in peripheral devices such as keyboards, mice, or a gaming controller.

USB Ports

There are several types of USB ports. The most common is Type A, and the most recent, Type C. Most modern laptops have ditched the Type A USB in favor of Type C, which is faster, smaller, and reversible.

There’s also a speed specification for USB ports. Definitely go for a laptop that has at least one USB 3.0 port. USB 3.0 ports give faster read and write speeds.

Display Ports

A display port will allow you to connect your laptop to an external display. There are various types of display ports, but the ones you should pay attention to are:

These two are basically the standard, and are widely supported by most modern external displays. Some mini-laptops often omit the full ports and offer mini versions like the mini-HDMI and mini-DisplayPort. Make sure to check for that and be ready to buy the correct cables.

Other ports that are worth mentioning are the audio out jack, ethernet port, and an SD card slot.

Conclusion

We have extensively covered the essential aspects that you should consider when shopping for a laptop. Some other elements, such as build, shape, and color, will pretty much rely on your personal preferences.

Another important feature is how much you are willing to spend. It is always good to strike a balance between your budget and the characteristics of your dream laptop.

Additionally, before purchasing one, ensure that the laptop will meet your needs. Ladies and gentlemen with this informative guide, we bet you will find a decent laptop that meets your needs and preferences.

Happy laptop shopping! Check our more of our Comprehensive Buying Guides

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