What to Look For When Buying a Laptop

Close-up view of hands on a laptop keyword, the screen displaying colored computer code over a black background.

The benefits of Windows versus Mac is always cause for a spirited discussion among loyal fans, but finding the best laptop involves far more than just the operating system. 

When your computer dies or you are just ready for an upgrade, you need to know how to buy the best computer for you. 

People of all ages and from all places regularly use laptops at home, at school, and at work in a world of evolving BYOD technology, but not all needs are the same.

There’s much to consider when determining which is the right laptop for you. Before you invest in your next laptop, this is what you need to know.  

What Kind of User Are You?

How you plan to use your laptop will greatly determine which computers are a good fit for you.

Laptops for Business, Remote Work, or Freelance

Freelancer and professionals should consider:

Laptops for Students

Student laptops should include:

Laptops for Families

The family laptop will likely need:

Laptops for Gamers

If you are a gamer, consider:

Operating Systems

There is an enormous difference between Windows, Mac, and Google Chrome operating systems.

Google Chrome OS

ProCon
Perfect for web browsingLimited storage
Extra security plug-insWeb-based apps in lieu of software
Among the more affordable optionsSatisfactory screen display

Google Chrome OS is far from the workhorses offered Mac and Window models with only 32GB of storage. If you plan to use Microsoft Office programs, you’re limited to web apps instead of installed programs.  

Chrome communicates with your Google account, so information like your bookmarks and passwords are always available when you are browsing or checking email. Chrome is also considered by many to be the most secure browser with two-factor authentication.

Google Chrome isn’t great for businesses or digital nomads that need a ton of storage, and its average screen display will do nothing to excite gamers. However, if you plan to use your laptop for streaming and browsing, Google Chrome OS could be a great fit for you and at a better price, too.

Apple macOS

ProCon
Significant security enhancementsUsually the most expensive
Stunning picture displayLimited compatibility
Fast processorsExclusive ports

Apple’s macOS received top scores in ACSI’s 2018-2019 customer satisfaction study, and it’s not hard to see why.

Apple macOS has an incredible processor for both novice and expert users alike. Software capability is far more limited than Windows, but as Apple’s popularity grows, so do your options. Security is fantastic with regular updates to keep your computer safe. 

Connectivity remains a challenge for many, with Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports requiring very specific accessories. There’s an excellent picture with crisp detail, but the systems often are not with many of the newer games. You can run Windows through Apple Bootcamp, but it may not work as fluidly as it does on other platforms.

Apple is great for business owners and creatives who appreciate excellent graphics and extra processing power, but gamers may want to look elsewhere, given the limited accessibility to ports and software. 

Microsoft Windows

ProCon
Wide price rangeWeaker security
More frequent updatesSubpar technical support
Software compatibilityPoor remote capabilities

This is the most common among PCs, so there’s also much flexibility with options and prices. As the traditional OS, Microsoft lets you custom-choose your laptop features. 

There are also more frequent updates, but Microsoft fails to offer many of the cutting-edge security solutions and integrations that Apple and Google offer. Technical support is lacking, and customers report trouble with the overall system

Still, Microsoft offers compatibility with most software programs where Apple and Google may require the installation of a separate app. For many, Microsoft is the conventional choice for laptop use, but its limited tech capabilities can pose a problem for more serious users.

Laptop Hardware

No matter what kind of laptop you choose, all laptops contain basic elements that include these features. 

CPU

The central processing unit (CPU) is the brain that controls your entire computer and its operations are measured in gigahertz (GHz). If you are looking for speed, consider laptops with higher GHz speeds and multiple processors.

Graphics

Graphics can be handled one of two ways: through an external graphics card or through an integrated Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU. Gamers who need superior graphics should look for excellent GPUs and graphics cards.  

Audio

Because of the compact design, laptops don’t often carry impressive speakers and sound. However, external sound cards are available if you want to give your sound a boost, something in particular that musicians recommend for work.

Memory

Random-access memory (or RAM) operates multiple programs and tasks simultaneously and is something that can be added later. Businesses and professionals especially can benefit from more RAM when running multiple heavy programs at once.  

Storage

Hard disk drives store enormous amounts of data but can be hot, heavy, and loud, while a solid-state drive is lighter and quieter but has far less storage. If you work remotely or carry your computer around with you a lot, a solid-state drive offers a more lightweight and slim design. Regardless of what system or hard drive type your last computer used, it is possible to rescue data from your old laptop and transfer it to a new storage system.

Touchscreen

Some models include a touchscreen with controls like swipe, hold, drag, and pinch-to-zoom. This is especially great for business professionals who work closely with customers or artists with design work.

Screen Size

A laptop’s screen size can vary anywhere from under 12” to 16” and higher. Laptop screens, like television screens, are measured diagonally, and larger screens can be a major benefit to those performing intricate work or playing games on their computer.                                                       

2-in-1 or Convertible Laptops

A 2-in-1 convertible laptop combines all a laptop’s power with a tablet’s mobility. You can detach for a tablet design whenever you are on the move and need a more travel-friendly format.   

Keyboard and Touchpad

It’s important to consider comfort when you look at a laptop’s keyboard and touchpad. Space, depth, and layout can all make a massive difference in how you work, such as the inclusion of a 10-key area for accounting and data entry.

Resolution

Laptops offer a wide array of resolution options, including 4K Ultra HD for realistic graphics and images, Quad HD (QHD or QHD+) that provides stunning detail for gamers and photographers and lower HD resolutions for watching movies and casual streaming. 

Ports

Connectivity is a major consideration because laptops set up their ports so differently. HDMI and USB-A ports are the traditional standards, but now laptops are featuring newer ports such as Apple’s USB-C and Thunderbolt requirements. Consider what devices you will need to plug in, so you know which ports you will need.

Battery

Unless you plan to simply check emails and do some light browsing, you will likely need a solid battery to keep your laptop powered up. There are a number of items that can drain the battery, such as a power-hungry processor or a bright and detailed display. 

Choosing a Laptop for Your Budget

With so many different features and options available, pricing can vary significantly, too. 

When shopping for a new laptop, you will find that pricing is split into three main categories.

Laptop TierAverage Pricing
Entry-Level$150-$600
Mainstream$600-$900
Premium$900 and above

Entry-level laptops tend to be more streamlined models with basic options. If you are looking for a high-performing machine with superior graphics, fantastic audio, extra security, and a fast processor, you will definitely find yourself shopping with the premium models that easily run up to $1,000 and more.

There are mainstream options, too, that offer the best of both worlds. These laptops generally include a powerful processor with an impressive display and adequate audio, although they may lack some of the features of higher-end models.

No matter what you choose, take the time to choose your laptop carefully.  

Your laptop could become your greatest companion, your solution to success, rest and entertainment, so it’s important to choose not just the best laptop on the market, but also the very best laptop for you.