What laptop you should buy is not a question with a clear and obvious answer. No matter your price category, there are simply too many different types of laptops to choose from. More specifically, there is not a single best laptop because there is no single type of laptop user.
So when people ask us which laptop or brand of laptop is the best, we don’t give them an easy answer. We give them a list. A set of criteria that everyone should consider before splurging on a new device.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing an end-of-course paper, teaching a class, organizing a research project or simply surfing the web, you need the right laptop for your needs and budget. At first glance, the purchase process of the laptop may seem confusing. There are hundreds of different models available in various sizes, with at least three different operating systems and prices ranging from $ 150 to $ 5,000.
Fortunately, finding the right laptop is much easier and less expensive than detecting the Higgs boson particle. Here are collection of simple and easy tips to help you choose the laptop that suits your needs and budget.
These days, you can buy a usable laptop for under $200, but if you can budget more, you’ll get a system with better build quality, stronger performance and a better display. Here’s what you can get for each price range.
$150 to $250: The least-expensive notebooks are either Chromebooks, which run Google’s browser-centric OS, or low-end Windows systems with minimal storage and slower processors, such as the HP Stream 11 and the Dell Inspiron 11 3000. Use these as secondary computers only or give them to the kids.
$350 to $600: For well under $600, you can get a notebook with an Intel Core i5 or AMD A8 CPU, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, all respectable specs. However, at this price, most notebooks don’t have an SSD, a full-HD display or long battery life. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the Acer Aspire E 15 and Asus Chromebook Flip C434.
$600 to $900: As you get above $600, you’ll start to see more premium designs, such as metal finishes. Manufacturers also start to add in other features as you climb the price ladder, including higher-resolution displays and SSDs. The Lenovo IdeaPad 530s and Asus ZenBook UX333FA are great examples of laptops that offer all these perks for less.
Above $900: At this price range, expect notebooks that are more portable, more powerful or both. Expect higher-resolution screens, faster processors and possibly discrete graphics. The lightest, longest-lasting ultraportables, like the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13, tend to cost more than $1,000 (although you can get the Dell for less if you don’t opt for a touch screen). High-end gaming systems and mobile workstations usually cost upward of $1,500 or even as much as $2,500 or $3,000.
Pick a Platform: Mac, Windows or Chrome OS?
This is not an easy question to answer, especially if you are not familiar with Mac and PC. But this quick description of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform should help.
Most laptops come with one of three operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS or MacOS (MacBooks only). Choosing the right one is a personal preference, but here is a quick summary of what each one offers.
When it comes to laptops, size is really matters.
Depending on what you plan to be doing with your next laptop, you’ll want to make sure you pick the size that’s the right fit for you. Size isn’t like the RAM or ROM of a laptop, you can’t upgrade it later. You’re locked into whatever you select up-front, so choose wisely.
Before you look at specs or pricing, you need to figure out just how portable you need your laptop to be. Laptops are usually categorized by their display sizes:
11 to 12 inches: The thinnest and lightest systems around have 11- to 12-inch screens and typically weigh 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.
13 to 14 inches: Provides the best balance of portability and usability, particularly if you get a laptop that weighs under 4 pounds.
15 inches: The most popular size, 15-inch laptops usually weigh 4 to 5.5 pounds. Consider this size if you want a larger screen and you’re not planning to carry your notebook around often.
17 to 18 inches: If your laptop stays on your desk all day every day, a 17- or 18-inc
h system could provide you with the kind of processing power you need to play high-end games or do workstation-level productivity.
Pick Your Specs
Notebook components such as processor, hard drive, RAM and graphics chip can confuse even notebook aficionados, so don’t feel bad if spec sheets look like alphabet soup to you.
Here are the main components that you need to consider and keep an eye on.
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:
Intel Core i9: Supplanting the Core i7 as the new top-of-the-line CPU from Intel, Core i9 processors provide faster performance than any other mobile chip. Available only on premium laptops, workstations and high-end gaming rigs, Core i9 CPUs are only worth their premium price if you’re a power user who uses the most demanding programs and apps.
Intel Core i7: A step up from Core i5, which Models with numbers that end in HQ or K use higher wattage and have four cores, allowing for even faster gaming and productivity. There are also Core i7 Y series chips that have lower power and performance. Keep an eye out for CPUs that have a 10 in the model number (ex: Core i7-1060G7 for Ice Lake or Core i7-10710U for Comet Lake) because they are part of Intel’s latest, 10th Generation Core Series, and offer better performance. Note that Intel’s H-series 9th Generation CPUs are available now.
Intel Core i5: If you’re looking for a mainstream laptop with the best combination of price and performance, get one with an Intel Core i5 CPU. Models that end in U (ex: Core i5-7200U) are the most common. Those with the a Y in the name are low power and have worse performance while models with an HQ use more wattage and appear in thicker gaming and workstation systems. Intel’s newest 10th Generation “Ice Lake” CPUs have four cores, and a number of useful features, including Wi-Fi 6 support, Thunderbolt 3 integration and better AI. Read our benchmarking article to see how they perform.
Intel Core i3: Performance is just a step below Core i5 and so is the price. If you can possibly step up to a Core i5, we recommend it.
AMD Ryzen Mobile: A new set of chips that are designed to compete with Intel Core i5 and Core i7.
AMD A, FX or E Series: Found on low-cost laptops, AMD’s processors — the company calls them APUs rather than CPUs — provide decent performance for the money that’s good enough for web surfing, media viewing and productivity.
Intel Pentium / Celeron: Common in sub $400 laptops, these chips offer the slowest performance, but can do if your main tasks are web surfing and light document editing. If you can pay more to get a Core i3 or i5, you’d be better off.
Intel Core m / Core i5 / i7 “Y Series” — Low-power and low heat allow systems with these processors to go fanless. Performance is better than Celeron, but a notch below regular Core U series.
Intel Xeon: Extremely powerful and expensive processors for large mobile workstations. If you do professional-grade engineering, 3D modeling or video editing, you might want a Xeon, but you won’t get good battery life or a light laptop.
If you’re buying a large, bulky notebook or a gaming rig that you’ll use only on a desk near an outlet, you don’t have to worry about battery life. However, if you plan to use the laptop on your lap, even if it’s at home and or work, you’ll want at least 7 hours of endurance, with 8+ hours being ideal. To determine a notebook’s expected battery life, don’t take the manufacturer’s word for it. Instead, read third-party results from objective sources, such as our reviews.