what laptop should I buy - Laptop buying guide guide

Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide 2020 – What Laptop Should I Buy

How to Pick the Best Laptop that Fits Your Needs

You are in the market for a new laptop. With too many choices available, you ask what laptop should I buy? How do you know what is the best laptop to buy?

Is it how a laptop looks and feels? Yes, “look and feel” is important but it is only one of the factors that determines your selection. Is it price? Price could be a factor but there are hundreds of laptops that sell for the same price but are widely different in quality and performance.

There are hundreds of different laptop brands and models with different configurations and options. But how do you make the right choice and find the laptop that is best for you and your needs.

When my laptop broke, I wanted to buy a laptop right away. Every computer store I shopped at had some featured models with various price ranges.

Price is not the only factor that determines your choice. At each price point there are many different laptop components and configurations.

So you need to understand what each of these components does and see how important it is to have it.

We have prepared this laptop buying guide to help answer these questions and more, and help you make an informed choice as to the best laptops that fit your computing needs.

laptop buying guide
(Image credit: Dell))

Before you buy

Before you head out shopping for a new laptop, ask yourself the following 3 questions. What is my budget? What tasks I ‘ll be doing most with my new laptop? and where will I be using it?

This will help you narrow down your choices and keep you looking in the right direction.

What’s your price range?

Laptops vary in price. They can range from $200 for a Chromebook to over $2000 for a high-end machine. You can still get a great laptop for under $1000. Determine what your budget is, and we can help you find the best laptop within your budget, that fits your needs.

What do you need the laptop for?

Do you need it for everyday computing tasks, such as surfing the web, social media, or office software? Or do you want to use it for photo/video editing, or Auto CAD software? Or may be you need it for gaming!

Each of those scenarios need a different machine. For example. gaming and video editing need a more powerful processor and a better graphics chip. This translates into a higher-end more expensive laptop. For engineering, 3D modeling and design you may need a more powerful laptop for engineering.

Determine what you need the laptop for. Try not to pay for upgrades and features that you do not need.

Where you’ll use it?

Where will you be using the laptop? If you only use it at home, in your office sitting at a desk, then you might do with a heavier laptop. This will save you money. The lighter and smaller a laptop, the more costly it will become, all things being equal.

But if you travel a lot, or have to change buildings or offices during the day, then you might need a portable laptop.

What laptop should I buy?

In this guide, we will go deeper in explaining the various options and features of modern laptops. We will also compare the different choices you have to make based on your needs. This will give you a clear idea on what kind of laptop is the right one for you. 

For students majoring in engineering see: 5 Best Laptops for Engineering Students

What to Look for in a Laptop

Laptop buying guide 4

A Laptop's Interior

The internal components of a laptop are like the engine of a car.

It is what you do not normally see in a laptop, but is of crucial importance to how the laptop performs.

 
Processor (CPU)

The CPU or Central Processing Unit is the main components of a computer. It is the first thing that you should check when shopping for a laptop. This is the “brain” of a computer.

 
The two major brands of CPUs are Intel and AMD. Both companies have a range of processors that vary in power and performance.

Again it all depends on what tasks you want to perform on the machine.

Intel Processors:

The new and latest CPUs from Intel are Ice Lake and Comet Lake.

Intel Core i9

is Intel’s latest high-end processor. It is suitable for power users who need the raw power and performance that this chip provides. You see the Core i9 on gaming laptops and workstations.

Intel Core i7

The i7 series of processors which have four cores, also power high-end systems. The latest are the 10th generation Core i7 processors. If you are looking for a great laptop for college, then opt for the Intel i7, they are fast powerful and will last you at least through your college years.

Intel Core i5

The Core i5 is a popular processor and widely used especially on consumer laptops. The latest are the 10th Generation Quad-Core i5.

Those are less in price than the i7, but still perform well for everyday computing.

 

See our recommendations for best laptops under 600

Intel Core i3

i3 is on the lower end. You see it on cheaper laptops, for non-intensive use such as web browsing, and productivity applications. They are great laptops for students on a budget.

Intel Celeron & Pentium

Are slower processors for low end basic laptops. They are good laptops for

students or writers for word processing, internet access, email and the like.


AMD Processors

AMD Ryzen 4000

The AMD Ryzen 4000 series are the new AMD processors similar in performance to Intel’s i5 and i7. They are less expensive than their Intel counterpart.

AMD A, FX or E Series

These AMD processors are at the lower end of the AMD spectrum, they are good for web surfing, and basic software.

 

 See our recommendations for cheap laptops under 400

RAM Memory


RAM or Random Access Memory, is where your apps are  stored during computer use. The more RAM your computer has, the more applications can be open at the same time. 

 

How much RAM do you need?

4GB

This is the least amount of RAM that we recommend.

8GB

Get 8GB of RAM for multitasking and better performance. You will notice a big improvement in load times and efficient operation over 4GB.


16GB

Get 16GB of RAM if you are a power user. You can breeze through applications and games, and multitask.

 

32GB or more

Get 32GB of RAM if you are a hard core gamer or if you do a lot of video editing or working with large files.


GPU and Graphics

GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. It is a separate processor designed to manipulate memory to display graphics. 

 When shopping for a new laptop, you will find two kinds of graphics chips. Integrated graphics and dedicated graphics.


Integrated graphics are built into the CPU and share system memory (RAM). That’s why if you use your computer for gaming or other graphics intensive work, you need to get one with more RAM. The latest integrated graphics chip from Intel is the  Iris Plus graphics chip.

Dedicated graphics which are also called discrete graphics have their own RAM. Dedicated Graphics are necessary for gaming and image processing.

The two main players on the market are NVIDIA and AMD. 

The latest dedicated graphics cards from NVIDIA are  RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 for high end gaming. For mid-range graphics needs there are RTX 2050 and RTX 2060. Low-end NVIDIA chips are MX250 and GTX 1650.

 

AMD’s latest graphic chips for laptops are the Radeon RX 5600M and the Radeon RX 5700M.

 

Storage or Internal hard drive


A hard drive is where your your computer stores your files and applications.

When choosing an internal hard drive for storage, you have two options.

 
An SSD or Solid State Drive or an HDD or Hard Disk Drive.


SSD drives are twice as expensive as HDD drives. SSD drives are flash storage, they have no moving parts and are less likely to break. On an SSD the Operating System boots up faster than an HDD, as well as reading/writing to the drive.

 

HDD drives are less expensive, hence you can get more storage capacity for the same amount.

 If speed is important, you can get an SSD even if it has less capacity, and get an external HDD drive as a supplement. You can use the external drive to store large media files and other files and programs you seldom use.


This will allow you to enjoy a faster laptop, while having extra storage. You can get an external drive that is small and light-weight, which you can connect through USB.

Battery life

Opt for a laptop with the longest battery life, at least 7 or 8 hours per day. Understand the factors that have a direct impact on battery life. Hi-res screens, powerful graphics chips and other features, drain battery life. It is a balance between what features you need in a laptop.  

what laptop should i buy dell laptop

A Laptop's Exterior

After we checked the inside of a laptop, we will take a look at the exterior. We will check the screen, the ports, the design and the the look and feel.

Display

What screen size should you pick? 

Screen size affects the portability of a laptop. The bigger the display the heavier the laptop. But bigger screen sizes provide more screen real estate for your programs. 

Where will you be using the laptop most of the time? If you use it as a desktop replacement, and you’ll be working at a desk all day, then you might consider a larger screen. 

But if portability is more important for you, then you can shop for a smaller screen.

17 to 18 inches: 17 to 18 inches is good for gaming, design, photography and graphics  intensive apps.  It is also good for everyday computing and productivity software. We recommend a 17 inch screen especially if you use it as a desktop replacement and don’t mind the weight.

15to 16 inches: popular choice for everyday mainstream laptops. It is not too big, but still not as portable as smaller screen sized laptops.

13 to 14 inches: this is a balanced option between portability and functionality. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that is also portable, then this size is for you. See our recommendations for 13 inch laptops.

11 to 12 inches: these are light weight and portable, useful for frequent travelers and people on the go.

Resolution

Screen resolutions range from 1366 x 768 up to 3840 x 2160 (4K). We do not recommend anything lower that 1920 x 1080 or Full HD. 4K UHD gives you 4 times more detail than Full HD. Note that higher resolutions consume more power and thus shorten battery life. If you are not planning to use your laptop for gaming or video editing, Full HD is enough. 

Touchscreens

A touch screen is standard on 2 in 1 laptops. When you flip the screen, you can use your laptop as a tablet. Some 2 in 1 laptops come with a special pen. Touchscreens are also available on some of the traditional laptops. But unless you are getting a 2 in 1 laptop, then a touchscreen is not a necessity. Note that touchscreens consume more power than traditional screens.

Keyboard

Check the keyboard that it has a full size well spaced keys and offers tactile feedback. A good keyboard also has some key travel of at least 1.2 – 2mm when pressed. Some key boards are designed to be ergonomic to avoid strain on the wrists and fingers.

Touchpad

A good touchpad should be responsive and has a smooth cursor movement. Some laptops come with a pointing stick in the center of the keyboard to let you move the cursor, like a joystick.  This  will lessen the need to move your hand back and forth from keyboard to touchpad. 

Ports

When purchasing a new laptop, consider the availability of ports that you will need. If you have a lot of legacy peripherals, you might need USB ports or HDMI to connect them. The new standard is USB Type-C which is being use to connect newer peripherals. With USB-C ports you still can connect older USB devices but you will need special adapters to do so.


Laptop Weight

Consider the weight of a laptop but do not make weight a top priority. Be sure to look at all other important factors we discussed in this article. 

Overall design

The look and feel is important to you. Find a laptop that appeals to you. This is a personal preference.

Other Features to Consider

Most laptops come with a built-in webcam and a built-n microphone. Some laptops still have a built-in optical drive to read write CDs and DVDs. This should not be a factor in choosing a laptop, because you can always buy an external optical drive. 

Laptop buying guide

Final Thoughts

What laptop should I buy? In this article we covered the essentials for buying the best laptop for your needs. It all depends on what you need the laptop for. Whether you are buying a laptop for gaming, business or course work, you now know what to pick.

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