Laptop Buying Guide: 8 Essential Tips to Know Before You Buy

Laptops are compact enough to carry with you, yet powerful enough to run demanding applications. They are the best tool for doing serious work or play whether you’re at home, on the road, or in a college classroom. 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.

Laptops come in 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.

Quick Tips

  • Screen Size: 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.
  • Specs: If you’re spending over $700, aim for these minimum specs:
    • CPU: Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5
    • Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080
    • RAM: 8GB
    • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Battery Life: 10+ hours of battery life is ideal if you will regularly be working away from an outlet.
  • 2-in-1 Laptops: Consider a convertible or detachable laptop if you want to use your laptop as a tablet. Otherwise, a standard clamshell notebook is a better choice.
  • Chromebooks: Excellent options for kids, students, or as secondary laptops. Their functionality keeps growing, so don’t rule them out if you just need web browsing, content consumption, and light productivity. For more powerful software and hardware needs, Windows 11 laptops and MacBooks offer plenty of functionality.

1. Pick a Platform: Windows vs. macOS vs. ChromeOS?

Windows 11

Windows 11 is the most flexible operating system, running on more laptop models than Chrome OS or macOS. It offers a wide array of features from touch screens to fingerprint readers to dual graphics chips. Windows 11 is great for students, researchers, business users, and gamers.

Apple macOS

All MacBooks come with Apple’s latest desktop operating system, macOS Sonoma. It offers similar functionality to Windows 11 but with a different interface. MacBooks are known for their build quality, display, and integration with other Apple products.

ChromeOS

Google’s ChromeOS is simple and secure, focusing primarily on the Chrome browser. Modern Chromebooks can run Android apps, and they offer a full laptop experience for educational use, web browsing, and light productivity.

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

Many PC laptops are 2-in-1s, hybrid devices that can switch between traditional clamshell mode and tablet mode. They come in two styles: detachables with screens that come off the keyboard entirely and convertibles with hinges that bend back 360 degrees. If you don’t need tablet functionality, a traditional clamshell laptop offers better performance for the money.

3. Choose the Right Size

Before looking at specs or pricing, figure out how portable you need your laptop to be.

  • 11 to 12 inches: Maximum portability.
  • 13 to 14 inches: Offers enough screen real estate while typically weighing 3 pounds or less.
  • 15 to 16 inches: The most common size, suitable if you want a larger screen and don’t plan to carry your laptop around often.
  • 17 to 18 inches: Best for desktop-like power and high-end gaming or workstation-level tasks.

4. Check the Keyboard and Touchpad

Ensure the keyboard offers solid tactile feedback, plenty of key travel, and enough space between keys. Look for a large, accurate touchpad that responds consistently to multitouch gestures. If you’re buying a Windows laptop, ensure it has Precision touchpad drivers.

5. Pick Your Specs

CPU

  • Apple M1, M2, M3: Excellent performance and battery life.
  • Intel 14th Gen CPUs: Latest and powerful for Windows laptops.
  • AMD Ryzen 8000: Expected to compete closely with Intel’s latest.
  • Intel Core i9, i7, i5: High to mid-range performance for various uses.
  • AMD A, FX, E Series: Decent performance for budget laptops.

RAM

  • 8GB is the minimum for budget systems, 16GB for better performance, and 32GB or more for power users.

Storage

  • SSDs offer the best performance. Avoid hard drives and opt for SSDs whenever possible.

Display

  • Aim for at least 1920 x 1080 resolution. Higher resolutions like 4K offer better quality but consume more power.

Graphics Chip

  • Integrated graphics are fine for most users. Discrete graphics from Nvidia or AMD are essential for gaming and high-res video editing.

Ports

  • USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 4, and USB4 are common. Legacy ports like USB 3.0, HDMI, and SD card readers are useful but becoming less common.

Connectivity

  • Wi-Fi 6e or Wi-Fi 7 for the best wireless performance. Bluetooth 5.3 for improved connectivity with devices.

6. Don’t Skimp on Battery Life

If you plan to use your laptop on the go, aim for at least 8 hours of battery life, with 10+ hours being ideal. Read third-party reviews for realistic battery life estimates.

7. Plan Based on Your Budget

  • $150 to $250: Basic Chromebooks or low-end Windows systems.
  • $350 to $600: Mid-range laptops with decent specs.
  • $600 to $900: Premium designs with higher-resolution displays and better build quality.
  • Above $900: High-end ultraportables, gaming systems, and mobile workstations.

8. Mind the Brand

Choose a brand with good technical support and a strong reputation for design, value, and performance. Apple, Razer, and Lenovo are top choices for support.

By following these tips, you can find the perfect laptop that meets your needs and budget. Happy shopping!