Laptop Buying Guide: 8 Essential Tips

Laptops are compact enough to carry with you, yet versatile enough to run demanding applications. It’s the best tool for doing serious work or play at whether you’re at home, on the road or in a college classroom. While standalone tablets and smartphones are always popular, most people realize that everything from typing a research paper to crunching video to gaming works better on a laptop. So what type of laptop should you get? We put together a laptop buying guide to help you out.

There’s a wide variety of sizes, features and prices, which makes choosing the best laptop a challenge. That’s why you need to figure out what your needs are.

  • 12.5 to 14-inch screens offer the best balance between usability and portability. Larger screens are fine if you don’t travel much and smaller models are great for kids.
  • If you’re spending over $600, shoot for these minimum specs:
    • Core i5 CPU
    • 1920 x 1080 screen
    • 8GB of RAM
    • SSD Storage instead of a hard drive.
  • 8+ hours of battery life is ideal if you plan to take your laptop anywhere at all.
  • Consider a 2-in-1 laptop if you want to use your laptop as a tablet. If not, a standard clamshell notebook may be a better choice.
  • Chromebooks are good for kids and their functionality is expanding rapidly. Windows laptops and MacBooks both offer plenty of functionality; which platform you prefer is a matter of personal taste.

1. Pick a Platform: Mac, Windows or Chrome OS?

This is not an easy question to answer, especially if you’re not familiar with both Macs and PCs. But this quick overview of each platform’s strengths and weaknesses should help.

Most laptops come with one of three operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS or MacOS (for MacBooks only). Choosing the right one is a personal preference, but here’s a quick summary of what each offers.

2. Decide If You Want a 2-in-1

3. Choose the Right Size

4. Check That Keyboard and Touchpad

5. Pick Your Specs

CPU: The “brains” of your computer, the processor has a huge influence on performance, but depending on what you want to do, even the least-expensive model may be good enough. Here’s a rundown:

RAM: Some sub-$250 laptops come with only 4GB of RAM, but ideally you want at least 8GBon even a budget system and 16GB if you can spend just a little more. For most folks, 32GB or more is overkill while 64GB and above is reserved for power users.

6. Don’t Skimp on Battery Life

7. Plan Based on Your Budget

8.Mind the Brand

Your laptop is only as good as the company that stands behind it. Accurate and timely technical support is paramount, which is why Laptop Mag evaluates every major brand in our annual Tech Support Showdown. This past year Apple came in first place, followed by the big story of the year: Razer, while Dell rounded out the top three.

Support is only part of what makes a notebook brand worth your money. You also have to consider how the manufacturer stacks up to the competition in terms of design, value and selection, review performance and other criteria. In our 2019 Best and Worst Laptop Brandsreport, HP placed first, followed by Asus and Dell. We’ve also rated gaming laptop brands, with MSI taking first place and Acer and Alienware rounding out the top three.

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