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Laptop Buying Guide – 11 Important Tips Before Buying a Laptop

For most people, buying the right laptop is quite important because it’s a huge investment and they will probably use it for at least two to three years.

There’s a lot to think about when buying a new laptop. In this article, I will talk about everything you need to know when buying a laptop. 

Money/Budget

The foremost thing to consider before buying a new laptop is being smart with your money. As tempting as it may be, I would suggest probably not selling a kidney to get the latest and most fancy laptop because there’s no such thing as a fully future-proof laptop. 

New and better laptops come out every year. Most of the time, there is only a 10% to 20% performance increase, and sometimes you can get more value for your money if you go for last year’s model. 

On the other hand, buying newer versions will mean it’ll last a little longer before you need to upgrade. Most laptops are released in the first half of the year, and there are several sales at the end of the year when you can buy last-year models at a discount.

Also Read: Best Budget Gaming Laptops under $800

Resolution

4K vs 1080p

When it comes to the screen, we have to think about its resolution and, if you’re a gamer, the refresh rate too. Many of the laptops use a full HD 1080p resolution, and for most people, this is enough.

However, many high-end laptops have 4k screens that are much sharper because of four times as many pixels. 4K screens have better color accuracy, which is important if you’re doing color-sensitive work. 

Higher-resolution screens are great, but there is a trade-off when it comes to battery life and performance. The last thing you want unless you have a super-duper powerful gaming laptop is to have a 4k screen because it can impact the frame rate.

If you’re thinking about getting a laptop for productive work and looking for a 4k screen, it will probably halve your battery life compared to the full HD version. 

If portability or getting the highest frame rate is your preference, you should stick with full HD 1080p.

I think Apple has a good balance because their resolutions/retina screens are kind of halfway housed between full HD and 4k.

Some of the brand new models for 2021, including the ASUS RG G15, now comes with a Quad HD resolution, that’s not something we’ve seen very often on laptops. It’s a good balance between the 165-hertz refresh rate and Quad HD.

So, you gain sharpness and performance without having to go up to 4k.

The last thing when it comes to screens is that laptops these days are coming with a 16:10 aspect ratio compared to the more traditional 16:9 ratio. With 16:10, you will get a little bit extra room on the top and bottom. 

Specifications

A good spec to aim for as an all-rounder laptop would come with an Intel Core i5 or an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, eight gigs of ram, 1 TB or 512 gigs of storage, a 1080p screen.

If you’re doing more intensive graphical work or playing games, then obviously a dedicated graphics card. 

Processors/CPUs

Intel vs AMD vs Apple

Intel vs. AMD

In the last couple of years, I have recommended Intel chips on your laptops. With AMD’s 4000 series chips the previous year, and brand new 5000 series this year, things have changed.

While Intel’s 10th and 11th gen processors are fantastic in performance and battery life, we’re seeing a shift to AMD. It looks like they are winning at the moment. 

If you are going to buy the latest laptop or one from the last 12 months, I’d recommend you get one with an AMD processor.

M1

In late 2019, apple entered the game with their latest M1 chip, which kind of blew everyone away. 

They released the new Macbook Air and Pros with the M1 chip, which is a supercharged version of their iPhone mobile chip, and it outperforms a lot of regular processors and improves battery life at the same time. 

If you are looking to buy a new Apple laptop, I would recommend the Air or the Pro with the M1 chip.

Now one question, I get asked a lot is should I go for the Air or the Pro? I think for ninety percent of people out there, I’d recommend going for the Air, and money saved can be used to upgrade the RAM or the storage.

Integrated Graphics Card vs Dedicated Graphics Card

Integrated Graphics Card vs Dedicated Graphics Card

Integrated GPUs

Most entry-level laptops don’t use a dedicated graphics card instead of relying on the integrated graphics built into the CPU. These are fine for watching videos, some light photo editing, and maybe even basic gaming.

Onboard graphics from both Intel and AMD have gotten much better to the point where you can play a bit of Rainbow Six Siege Overwatch or League of Legends pretty well, even without a good graphics card. 

These much faster-integrated graphics are only limited to the most recent generations of processors like 11th gen Intel or AMD 5000. However, 10th gen Intel and AMD 4000 are still pretty good, but the newer, the better when it comes to integrated graphics.

Dedicated GPUs

If you’re really into gaming, now is a great time to upgrade because we’ve got NVidia’s new RTX 3060, 3070, and 3080 laptop graphics cards and offer a significant boost in performance. 

We’re looking at 40% to 50% increases even over the previous RTX 2000 series. With these brand new laptops, we’re getting a combination of new AMD processors and new Nvidia graphics cards in a system that’s also got improved battery life, better cooling, and a little bit of a refined design. 

Remember! Don’t expect the same performance from a laptop graphics card as a desktop because heat, power, and chassis constraints are all limited.

RAM

RAM

The more RAM you have, the more programs and browser tabs you can have open at once without it starting to chug or slow down.

Eight gigabytes is fine for casual or office use. Gamers will benefit from having 16 gigs, but power users such as designers and editors can benefit from 32 or even 64 gigs of RAM, depending on how demanding your workload is. 

You can check out “How much RAM do I actually need?” for a detailed guide.

If you’re on a budget, then eight gigabytes of RAM is fine, but if you want to make it future proof, then I would suggest you go for 16GB.

Operating System

which operating system to choose

You probably know the answer to this one. What kind of laptop do you want? Do you want a windows ten machine, or do you want an Apple MacBook running macOS or a Chromebook? 

You’re probably just going to stick to what you’re used to using. But there are some good reasons that you may want to switch.

Most laptops run Microsoft Windows 10, and it’s a great option. If you want a laptop that does everything and runs a massive range of software and, of course, has the biggest library of games. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Windows laptops to choose from. You have options from basic to thin and light ultrabooks to proper gaming laptops. 

On the other hand, we’ve got macOS, MacBook Air, and Pro laptops. These devices make perfect sense if you’re an iPhone user, as it all works seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem, including my messages, Airdrop, and face time. 

The macOS also handles drivers and updates behind the scenes making it easier for non-techy people to use. MacBook’s are also lovely to use. But of course, you will have to spend more than a thousand dollars for the MacBook Air to get that MacOS experience. 

Apple devices are expensive, but they do hold their value longer than most Windows laptops. If you want to sell your laptop in a couple of years, you’ll get a bit more money back for your mac.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Chromebooks. These are great if you want a basic laptop for browsing, watching movies, and doing office or schoolwork.

Chromebooks are ideal for students, and they’re usually cheaper than regular Windows or Mac laptops. ChromeOS won’t run windows or mac applications, but most of the major apps are available in the Chrome Playstore.

Also, most recent Chromebooks can run Android mobile apps and games. With a Chromebook, you’ll be mostly working within the cloud. 

There’s also the Linux operating system, but that’s for more advanced users who like to tinker. 

There’s no right answer, and it’s up to you, whatever you’re more comfortable with and what kind of apps and programs you’ll be using.

Learn more about What are the Best Operating Systems for Gaming?

Size/Design

Laptop Sizes

Hybrids

Two-in-one hybrids offer more tablet-like experiences and versatility with detachable keyboards or 360-degree hinges, which means you can flip the screen around and then use it in a variety of different modes, including as a tablet.

They also have touch screens, so you may want to use a stylus which makes them great for illustrators and designers. Although, they tend to cost more and sometimes come at the expense of battery life and performance.

Dual Screen Laptops

ASUS Zenbook Duo Dual Screen

We also have dual-screen laptops, these are still rare, but we’ve got the likes of the ASUS ZenBook Duos, which have a big second screen underneath. It helps with multitasking, and you can open Premiere Pro Project files down there, or when you’re gaming, you could have your discord or twitch stream. 

These laptops are pretty expensive, but they can be handy too.

Standard

However, most laptops come in this more traditional clamshell design with sizes ranging from 13 to 17 inches. 

With recent design upgrades, the bezels on laptops are much thinner. You can get a 17 inches screen in what probably used to be around a 16-inch chassis with screen sizes of 13, 14, and 15.

In general, the smaller the screen, the lighter and more portable a laptop will be. However, bigger laptops are more likely to have the option for more powerful processors and GPUs.

Tablet

Image by Dan Masaoka

Alternatively, if you’re thinking all these laptops feel a bit old-fashioned and you want something mobile, you could consider an iPad Air or an iPad Pro and pair it with one of Apple’s magic keyboards.

With a magic keyboard, you can simply detach it and then use it as a tablet again or magnetically put it back on. The magic keyboard has a separate USB-C port and a TrackPad. 

It can get quite expensive. The prices can be the same as a Macbook Air, but depending on how you use your laptop, this could be a better option.

Although, you can’t have any of those desktop applications either you get on a Windows or Mac laptop. This is much more mobile-oriented.

Storage

Well, bigger drives mean more room for your files, your photos, and your games. I think 512GB is acceptable and pretty standard, but 1TB means you won’t have to worry much about deleting things and uninstalling games to make room.

RAM and storage are two components that can be upgraded by yourself when required.

USB portals (I/O)

Talking about the connectivity, the only port that matters right now is USB-C, especially if it’s USB-C that supports thunderbolt three. The latest thunderbolt three and four are the fastest and most versatile types of type C port.

The latest laptops are now supporting USB 4, which still uses this type C connection. Thunderbolts are becoming a little bit less of a must-have because you can do everything you need with USB 4.

A lot of laptops these days, including Macbooks, only have USB-C. So, if you do have an older USB-A peripheral like a mouse or a dongle, then you’ll probably need an adapter, or you can choose a laptop that has more ports.

Battery Life

In the pursuit of the perfect laptop, there’s always this balance between performance, screen resolution, and battery life. 

When we talk about the battery, it all comes down to the laptop’s specs, what settings it is running on, and the size of the battery. The more powerful the laptop is, the less battery life you’re going to have. 

The claimed battery life figures are often carried out in idealized conditions that aren’t that reflective of real-world use.

Things are getting better or at least more realistic, especially with laptops under Intel’s new EVO branding because they have to give battery life figures based on more real-world scenarios like watching an online video rather than local video playback.

In my experience, if a laptop says it has 12 hours of battery, you can expect seven or eight hours. 

With the latest hardware in some good laptops, now it is possible to get ten to 12 hour battery life.

I love gaming and i have been playing since the Atari and Sega were released. My love for gaming made me build this website where i talk about everything related to gaming.

GPCD