A laptop is as personal and unique as its owner. These questions will help you pick a laptop that is definitively you. From nimble mobile versions to gaming laptops, this guide will help you find the best laptop, hardware and extras.
What kind of laptop user are you?
Deciding what kind of laptop to buy depends on how you use computers. If you’re a light user, simply browsing the web and chatting it up on social media, you shouldn’t have to wade too deep into specific computers to find a decent device to suite your needs for $300-$400. If you’re a serious gamer, you’ll need a powerful workhorse like an Alienware-powered PC, but be prepared to pay $1,000-$1,800. Graphic designers and video editors are well served with a creation-based Mac, but those can run you anywhere from $1,000-$2,000. Thankfully, there are laptops designed for very specific types of users, so be confident that the perfect combination of price, size, speed, and storage is out there waiting for you.
How mobile do you plan to be?
Laptops are ideal for the mobile-minded, so whether you’re tweeting from the Wi-Fi-friendly skies, web surfing at the beach, or browsing in bed, a laptop is the way to go. Just keep in mind that size does matter for your most common destinations. If you want to travel a lot and you’re going to be far from a plug outlet, get something smaller like a netbook. If you’re replacing your desktop, or you want a gigantic screen, plan to spend a lot of time tethered to plug outlets in coffee shops. Screen size is the biggest determinant for battery consumption, so pick based on this first.
Are you Mac, PC, or Open Source?
The age-old question. If you’re used to a Windows environment, most PC’s will have you covered. If you’re used to the different flavors of Macintosh, you’re not entirely locked into Apple products, but the software works best on a Mac. All laptops can be made to run the various flavors of Linux and if you prefer to mix it up, most laptops can be coaxed to dual-boot into different operating systems.
If you haven’t picked an operating system yet, Windows has more moving parts but allows for more tinkering. Most computers will come with some version of this pre-installed. Apple computers are simpler and designed to work right out the box. Linux is user supported, extremely customizable, and more stable than it’s more popular counterparts. It’s also free.
What are the different laptop categories?
Netbooks – Small, affordable, simple.
Netbook batteries last about twice as long as most laptops (around 8 hours) and are great for all of your basic computing needs. They don’t have much in the way of power, memory, or extras, but they can still browse with the best of them. The 10″ Acer Aspire is a good example. Price range: $300-$500
Ultra-portables – thin, lightweight, but powerful processors
Ultras are meant for all-day use (batteries go for 3-4 hours), and are ideal for travelers and students. MacBook Air is a prime example. Price range: $700-$1,000
Mid-size – customizable, powerful, popular
This is your standard sized laptop with 13″-15″ screens and the whole host of feature versatility. Companies Dell and HP specialize in these kinds of be-all-you-can-be laptops. Price range: $500-$800
Desktop Replacement – Large screens (15″-17″), top-of-the-line performance, not mobile, expensive.
Expect to keep these laptops plugged in all the time. These mainstream laptops aren’t meant to be mobile (their batteries only last 2-3 hours) but they are perfect if you need an anchor for your house or work-life. Business-specific laptops will be security-centric while gamer-specific laptops will focus on graphics and processor power. Video-processing laptops will prioritize screen resolution and file storage. Price range: $1,500-$2,000
Which ports should you have?
Make sure your laptop comes with multiple USB ports. These will power all of your peripherals and have remained the standard for accessories over the past decade. Look for a VGA port if you’ll want to connect to a spare monitor or projector. HDMI ports are not as common on lower-end laptops, but are great for video and audio applications. Rare on all but the best laptops, look for A/V outputs if you are going to play movies or shows on your television.
What are your feature priorities?
Each laptop will prioritize certain features at the cost of others, so decide which features are most important to you. You can always pay to have more features, but for most affordable computer combinations, you’ll have to pick 3-4 of these: Speed/memory/graphics/capacity/ports/battery life
Will you need a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray optical drive?
The growth of cloud storage and streaming/digital movie services has minimized the need for a drive, and many computer types leave them out to save on space and cost. If you want one of these drives, you’ll have to think bigger before buying.
How much disk space do you need?
Most laptops come with 60GB-250GB internally, which is enough to get light users by, but if you are saving big movies or tons of high-resolution pictures, look into external drives. They are available for as high as 1TB or more and are great for backing up your important data.
What accessories will you need?
Find a bag that can protect your laptop from the elements, has plenty of extra pockets for accessories, cables, etc. If you aren’t so comfortable with a touchpad, consider a wireless mouse. If you need to share data with others or you want to move information between several computers, get a USB flash drive for file storage. There are also several data-cloud alternatives if you wish to save money here.
Laptops are only as good as their battery. Consider a spare battery if you’re going to be sans-plug frequently. If you want to walk peace of mind leaving your laptop in a public place while you run to the bathroom, look into a locking security cable. Most laptops have a special slot for keeping your precious PC from traveling prematurely.
Do you need an extended warranty?
Unless you work on computers for a living, plan to hardly use your computer, or expect to buy a newer model in the next year or two, seriously consider purchasing an extended warranty. Laptops are notorious for breaking. Get the 3-year full-coverage warranty from your computer vendor, but check online customer reviews first. Best Buy’s Geek Squad is a prime example.
Are solid-state drives worth the extra cost?
Give it a few years though and most computers are going to have these by default, but for now solid-state drives (SSD) are new-ish and very expensive. They are less likely to die on you though, so if data security is a high priority then look into them.
Will you want to upgrade components later?
Most components in laptops are unchangeable, unless you purchase a mid-size. If you want to keep your laptop for a long time, consider its upgradability. Netbooks in particular become obsolete quickly and generally the only thing upgradable is the internal memory. High-end computers tend to track with build quality though so, as a rule, expect the more expensive laptops to last longer.