Help Buying A Laptop
Whether you are just browsing the web, need to type a research paper, work on video production, or play some of the best PC games, it's all best done on a laptop. So how do you know what to look for in a laptop? Well, we've put together this laptop buying guide to help answer that question for you.
help buying a laptop
The most flexible operating system, Windows 11, runs on more laptop models than Chrome OS or macOS. Windows notebooks range in price from under $150 to several thousand dollars and offer a wide array of features from touch screens to fingerprint readers to dual graphics chips. Windows 11, the latest version of Microsoft's flagship operating system, provides a number of improvements over Windows 10, including the revised interface, the new Microsoft Store, handy features like Snap View.
Since its launch in October 2021, Windows 11 has also added a host of improvements, including Focus Sessions and a Do Not Disturb mode. The 22H2 update also came with notable performance and battery optimization enhancements. Windows 11 laptops are great for students, researchers, and business users, and they're still the only gaming laptops anyone should consider.
All MacBooks come with Apple's latest desktop operating system, macOS Ventura. Overall, the operating system offers similar functionality to Windows 11, but with a different take on the interface that substitutes an apps dock at the bottom of the screen for Microsoft's Start menu and taskbar. Instead of the Cortana digital assistant, Mac users get Siri. They can also perform transactions with Apple Pay, take calls or texts from their phones, and unlock their laptops with an Apple Watch.
However, macOS isn't made for touch, because no MacBook comes with a touch screen. While Apple did bring iPad apps to its laptops starting with macOS Big Sur (iPad and iPadOS apps can run natively on M1 and M2 Macs), you have to rely on a touchpad or mouse to navigate them. Ventura also brought Apple's Stage Manager for handling multitasking, which is a useful feature, although it can take time to adjust to it.
Found on inexpensive Chromebooks such as the Samsung Chromebook 3. Google's OS is simple and secure, but more limited than Windows or macOS. The user interface looks a lot like Windows with an application menu, a desktop, and the ability to drag windows around, but the primary focus is still the Chrome browser. While newer Chromebooks, like the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook can run Android apps, they still aren't always optimized for use in a laptop form factor.
If you need a device to surf the Web and check email, navigate social networks and chat online, Chromebooks are highly portable and tend to offer good battery life at low prices. They are also extremely popular with schools, parents, and increasingly businesses because they are hard to infect with malware. For educational use, they offer something closer to a full laptop experience and are more functional than most tablets. If you need a Chromebook, look for one with at least 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. A screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution is preferred and you can now find 4K and OLED models, like the aforementioned IdeaPad Duet 5.
Many PC laptops fall into the category of 2-in-1 laptops, hybrid devices that can switch between traditional clamshell mode, tablet mode and other positions in between such as tent or stand modes. 2-in-1s generally come in two different styles: detachables with screens that come off the keyboard entirely and convertible laptops with hinges that bend back 360 degrees to change modes.
Most of these systems are much better at serving one purpose than the other, with convertibles being laptops first and detachables offering a superior tablet experience. However, if you don't see the need to use your notebook as a slate, you'll usually get more performance for your money with a traditional clamshell laptop.
The most impressive specs in the world don't mean diddly if the laptop you're shopping for doesn't have good ergonomics. If you plan to do a lot of work on your computer, make sure the keyboard offers solid tactile feedback, plenty of key travel (the distance the key goes down when pressed, usually 1 to 2mm) and enough space between the keys. If you're buying a Windows laptop, be sure it has Precision touchpad drivers.
Look for an accurate touchpad that doesn't give you a jumpy cursor and responds consistently to multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. If you're buying a business laptop, consider getting one with a pointing stick (aka nub) between the G and H keys so you can navigate around the desktop without lifting your fingers off the keyboard's home row.
RAM: Some sub-$250 laptops come with only 4GB of RAM, but ideally you want at least 8GB on even a budget system and 16GB if you can spend just a little more. For 99% of users, 32GB is more than enough, while 64GB and above is reserved for professional power users or high-end gamers.
Storage (SSD): As important as the speed of your CPU is the performance of your storage drive. If you can afford it and don't need a ton of internal storage, get a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than a hard drive, because you'll see at least three times the speed and a much faster laptop overall.
Among SSDs, the newer PCIe x4 (aka NVME) units offer triple the speed of traditional SATA drives. Sub-$250 laptops use eMMC memory, which is technically solid-state but not faster than a mechanical hard drive.
Display quality is about much more than resolution. IPS panels range in color and brightness, so read our reviews to find out if the laptop you're considering has a good display. We typically look for a DCI-P3 color rating of over 85% and brightness great than 300 nits. If you want the very best picture quality consider an OLED display or miniLED, but read reviews of these models carefully as there can be battery trade-offs.
Touch Screen: If you're buying a regular clamshell laptop, rather than a 2-in-1, you won't get much benefit from a touch screen and you will get 1 to 2 hours less battery life. On 2-in-1s, touch screens come standard. If you still want a touch screen, check out our best touch screen laptops page.
Ports: While the absence of ports is usually not a deal-breaker when choosing a laptop, it's helpful to get the connections you need right on the system, rather than having to carry a slew of dongles. However, many mainstream laptops now only offer USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 4, or USB4 ports that are USB Type-C compatible. Having legacy USB 3.0 ports, an audio jack, an SD card reader, and HDMI can be useful, but depending on the type of laptop you are considering these features are growing harder to find.
Connectivity: If you need to use your laptop on the go, consider buying a 4G LTE laptop or 5G laptop. You'll have to pay for a data subscription plan, but this will allow you to access the internet away from a router. If you want a laptop with the latest and greatest connectivity options, find one with Wi-Fi 6 support. Wi-Fi 6 offers increased theoretical throughputs and a more stable connection than 802.11ac.
DVD/Blu-ray Drives: Very few laptops come with optical drives, because all software and movies are downloadable, though we've kept track of the laptops with DVD drives. However, if you really need to read/write discs we strongly recommend leaving this off the wish list for your laptop and buying an external DVD drive.
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 9+ 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.
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.
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 Razer came in first place, followed by Apple and Lenovo in a tie for second place, while Dell and Asus settled for a shared third-place finish.
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 2020 Best and Worst Laptop Brands report, 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. Look out for updated versions of those reports in the coming months.
In this guide, we explain what you should look for in 2022, and what you need to avoid. There are many options available to you for both Windows 11 and Chrome OS, whereas Apple limits its MacBooks to a limited number of configurations. Continue reading to find out which laptop is right for you, and be sure to check out our list of best laptop brands before you get started.
However, hardware choices are also much more varied today than in the past, with powerful offerings, like the Pixelbook Go, which perform and look very much like premium Windows and MacOS laptops. There are even 2-in-1 options like the HP Chromebook x360 14.
There are several laptop categories, manufactured with a certain use or audience in mind. When shopping for a laptop, decide what you primarily intend to use the laptop for and seek out a category that aligns with those interests. Here are some broad categories and a couple of our favorites for each. 041b061a72