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How to Pick Out a New Laptop that's Right for You

Updated on March 27, 2013
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aa lite is a self-confessed geek and gamer fanatic who has put together her own gaming rigs for the past 15 years.

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Choosing a New Laptop is Far From Simple

Laptop computers are rapidly replacing desktops, for many people they are their primary PC. With so much choice on the market right now, the task of choosing a new laptop can seem overwhelming. For people who don't keep up with all the latest technology developments the advertisements full of gigahertz, megabytes, gigabytes, SSD, SATA, and other acronyms can be overwhelming.

To chose the right laptop for you, you really need to think about where and how you will use it. No single computer will excel at all the functions. If you want something that is super portable, you will have to sacrifice some functionality. On the other hand if you really need a powerful computer that will handle more than Microsoft applications and web surfing, and want to have a large screen, you might end up with a heavier device that is not easy to carry around everyday.


What is Important in a Laptop

  • The Processor (CPU): New laptops have 3rd generation Intel processors, Core i3, i5 and i7, with i3 being the least powerful,Speed is measured in GHz, the more the better.
  • The Memory (RAM) You shouldn't buy anything with less than 4GB. Intensive photo-editing, or playing modern computer games will need more.
  • The Hard Disk can be either SSD or SATA. SSD gives you much faster startup/wake/program loading times but doesn't come up with much capacity. SATA is slower but you should get at least 500 GB
  • Graphics: most laptops come with integrated graphics, which should be Intel HD 4000. This will not affect your everyday use
  • The Screen A full HD screen with a resolution of 1600x900 is nice, especially for larger devices.

A Mac or a PC?

First you have to choose whether to go for a mac or a PC? Actually most people do this automatically, you will most probably go with whatever computer you've used before.

However, just in case you are bilingual in computer operating systems, there are some decisions to be made. For example I have a PC desktop, which is really my gaming rig, but when I decided to choose a laptop I couldn't resist the lure of a macbook air.

There was a time when I was very dismissive about macs, seeing people who used them as victims of the style over function mentality, but no more. Mac computers have come a long way, and you can now be sure of getting a very solid machine. And they haven't sacrificed any of their fantastic looks in the process.

The new MacBooks Pro with Retina displays have one of the most beautiful screens known to man. The components are also great, including the newest generation Intel processors, lots of RAM and good dedicated graphics.

In my opinion Mac computers also have fantastic keyboards. This is hardly the most glamorous of components, but if you type a lot it can make a huge difference to your user experience.

In some ways, if you're not particularly attached to the windows operating system, it comes down to price. Apple products come at a premium and you often end up paying extra for the design.

Apple MacBook Pro MC975LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (OLD VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro MC975LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (OLD VERSION)

This is almost universally the top rated notebook. The 15.6" screen is awesome, the core i7 2.3 GHz CPU, 8 GB of RAM and Nvidia graphics card are very powerful components.

 

When to Get a Desktop Replacement Notebook?

You need to ask yourself where you will mostly use it, and how much shoulder pain you are prepared to tolerate from a carrying around a heavy laptop.

If you mainly want to use it at home, to replace your desktop, you won't mind a big, heavy laptop. In fact the larger monitor will make work easier, and watching movies more pleasant. You will also not care very much about the battery life, since you will always be within easy reach of a socket. Big laptops are usually more powerful than slim lightweight ones, and have more ports for better connectivity.

The MacBook Air, 0.68 inches of total awesomeness!
The MacBook Air, 0.68 inches of total awesomeness! | Source

Or...Do You Really Need an Ultrabook?

On the other hand, if you travel a lot or plan to use your computer mostly away from home, then an ultrabook makes perfect sense. Ultrabooks are super thin and light, and have an extended battery life.

Apple Macbook Air MD231ll/A 13.3-inch Laptop (OLD VERSION)
Apple Macbook Air MD231ll/A 13.3-inch Laptop (OLD VERSION)

The flagship ultraportable computer. This model has a core i5 1.8 GHz processor, 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD .

0.68" wide and weight 3 pounds.

 
Vizio CT14-A0 14-Inch Thin Light Ultrabook Laptop PC (1.80GHz Intel Core i3-3217U Processor, 4GB RAM 128GB SSD Windows 7 Home Premium) Silver
Vizio CT14-A0 14-Inch Thin Light Ultrabook Laptop PC (1.80GHz Intel Core i3-3217U Processor, 4GB RAM 128GB SSD Windows 7 Home Premium) Silver

The Vizio thin and light comes with almost the same dimensions as the Macbook air, 0.68" width and 3.4 pounds. It has an excellent 14" full HD (1600x900) screen. The processor core i3 is less powerful. It comes with 4GB of RAM and a 128 SSD drive.

 

The ultrabook format was introduced by Intel in 2011 and there are strict specifications that a laptop must meet to qualify for the name. These include being less than 0.8" (21mm) thick, having at least 5 hours of battery life and having very fast startup.

All these properties make ultrabooks extremely portable, great if you travel a lot or use your computer mostly away from home. However that thin form does have some limitations.

Ultrabooks come with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than the traditional SATA hard drive. Although SSD drives are much faster, which accounts for the amazing startup and program loading times (which is really excellent, believe me!), they are usually very limited in capacity. Mostly they come in 128GB or 256GB, which fill up very quickly. This makes an external drive a necessity.

They also lack DVD drives, so are not the greatest entertainment computers. Although most people nowadays use services such as netflix, iTunes etc. for their movies and music so really that is not such an issue. Connectivity is usually also sacrificed on the very thin chassis, so there are fewer ports.

Ultrabooks don't come cheap, although there are now some good models out there that will not break your bank. My own macbook air is one of the more expensive examples out there, but I absolutely love it.

Can't Decide Between a Laptop and a Tablet? Get a Convertible

With the introduction of Windows 8, and touchscreens which allow you to operate without a mouse, a new form of laptop was introduced, the convertible. This is basically an ultrabook that can be converted, by twisting, folding and a variety of other ingenious mechanisms, into tablet form.

This is extremely useful if you want to watch a movie while travelling, or if you are giving a presentation to a small group, people don't have to bunch up behind your back to see your screen.

Several companies have produced convertible computers, with more joining in all the time. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13.3" is highly rated by users. The name comes from its amazing flexibility, the screen can rotate 360o around a hinge, allowing the Yoga to be converted into a tablet by folding the screen under the keyboard. It can also be used in the "tent" format.

The IdeaPad Yoga is 0.68" thick and 3.4 pounds in weight. This is very portable for a laptop but rather heavy for a tablet (the iPad has a width of 0.37" and weighs 1.4 pounds).

The least powerful (and cheapest) model comes with the newest generation core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD drive. This is sufficient for everyday applications such as surfing the web or using Microsoft Word or Excell. There are models with better specifications, but of course they are more expensive.

See the Lenovo Yoga in Action

How Powerful Do You Need Your Laptop to Be?

The price of a laptop is mostly determined by the components under the case. A computer with the newest generation Ivy Bridge i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card is going to cost a lot more than one with a a core i3 CPU and dedicated graphics.

The fact is, you don't need a huge amount of power to do most of the usual tasks on your laptop. Writing an email, surfing the web, watching a movie, or writing a report in Microsoft office will work just as well on the cheaper laptop. If that is the type of work you intend to do on your portable computer than you'll be wasting your money buying a more powerful machine.

Certain applications, like photoshop, high dynamic range photo editing or playing games are a lot more demanding. They will need better processors (at least a core i5), benefit from more RAM and, most importantly, need a dedicated graphics card rather than the integrated graphics found in ultrabooks and the cheaper computers. Serious gamers really need specialised, and very expensive, gaming laptops like Alienware or Asus Republic of Gamers, although it is possible to play older or not very intensive games on machines costing less than 500 dollars.

At the same time you want to future-proof your purchase, so it is worth getting a more powerful setup than what you absolutely need now. This is not something you want to buy on an annual basis.

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    • aa lite profile image
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      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks for commenting Linux Enthusiast. I must say I was curious about linux a while ago, and even thought of going installing it on my desktop...but I never got around to it.

      I think that is the problem with most people, they are so used to windows or Mac OS, that the activation energy of learning a new operating system, even a free one, is too much. I do actually believe you that it is probably easy to use, and I do know that there is a bunch of free applications that can probably do everything that microsoft office does.

      One thing that put me off, was the fact that there are so many versions of Linux out there, it is quite hard to know where to start. However, now that I have more time, I will actually try to get into Linux again!

    • profile image

      The Linux Guy 4 years ago

      Buy a normal notebook and give Linux a try. I find Ubuntu a lot easier than any version of Windows and most of Mac OS. And it's COMPLETELY FREE. Free as in free speech, and usually as in free beer as well.

      You may find it a little bit _different_ at first, but there is a HUGE community of active and helpful users and all questions get answered really fast (e.g. askubuntu.com).

      Once you get comfortable using it, you can go on to different Linux distributions, there's ton of them and every single one is unique. But still, Ubuntu offers probably the best set of applications for the general user.

      Just ask for an Ubuntu laptop/notebook/etc. at your local store. If they don't understand what you are talking about or they don't have any, they are just screwing you for money. Run away from that!

      I am not saying that everyone HAS TO go Linux, but people should at least give it a fair chance. If you do your research, you'd be amased to know how many of the applications you actually need are available in Ubuntu (and Linux in general).

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      This is a great article for helping one choose a new laptop. Although for anyone wishing to replace a desktop with a laptop (but still using it on a desk) could always hook it up to a regular monitor. I did that with my last laptop.

      If I ever get a laptop, it would be to supplement my desktop. Laptops are harder to fix when something goes wrong, and you can't add much to it once you get it.

      Thanks for sharing this with us, and congrats on HOTD. This is a fantastic topic that will most likely draw a lot of people to your site!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks tebo. I've not tried windows 8 yet. I know a lot of people hate it but some people really like it. I guess it needs some getting used to.

      I wonder whether you need to look at your energy saving settings? My laptop's screen is less bright when it is not plugged in presumably to save the battery, but it is definitely not so dark that I can't see it. Perhaps your settings are too extreme, and you just need to change them to resolve the problem? Of course it could be an actual fault with the laptop, in which case you should definitely send it back while it is still under warranty.

    • aa lite profile image
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      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thank you toytasting! Glad you found the hub useful.

    • aa lite profile image
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      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks for commenting livewirez!

    • aa lite profile image
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      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Hi yougotme,

      To be honest I've never consciously considered the brand of the computer related products I buy. I've never been particularly biased to towards a particular brand. I guess some brands might be considered more "reliable" than others, but if you look at the reviews there is always a lot of disagreement. Some people don't like Acer, while others swear they've never had a problem with it. I usually just look at the specs, and try to buy the best bang for the buck.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Sheri Faye. I am very honoured to have one of my hubs chosen as HOTD, and I'm glad you found the info. here helpful!

    • tebo profile image

      tebo 4 years ago from New Zealand

      A well deserved hub of the day. When I did buy a laptop recently and windows 8, which is somewhat confusing only because I am use to XP I wasn't sure whether I had made the right choice. It seems to be working out ok though apart from not being able to see the screen without the laptop being plugged in. I must check that out as it is still under warranty. I feel you explained all the options well and I thank you for this information.

    • Toytasting profile image

      Toy Tasting 4 years ago from Mumbai

      Hey aa, thank you for this useful information. It is of great help to me.

      Congratulations for HOTD, truly well deserved. Cheers! :)

    • livewirez profile image

      Romel Tarroza 4 years ago from Pearl of the Orient Sea

      In choosing a laptop, I think the best way to consider is the purpose why you want to buy that laptop. Some people would buy one just for doing office works using MS office and surfing net while others used would buy one for gaming. In this case you really need to choose the best laptop that suite you, thanks for this information this can be a great help.

    • yougotme profile image

      Renz Kristofer Cheng 4 years ago from Manila

      It was nice that you identified what we should consider when buying laptops! I had a total purchase of two laptops. And I always consider the brand. Maybe you can further explore on this (i.e. whether brands should be a priority in choosing, or if it matters at all).

      Nonetheless, great article and congratulations for being chosen as the hub of the day!

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 4 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Congrats on HOTD, it is a good one. I am considering a new lap top, so this was very helpful. Great Hub!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thank you Olde Cashmere. I've got a macbook air myself and really love it. I suspect I don't have the newest model, so its probably gotten even better. I do agree though that you usually end up paying a premium for Apple products, but they are very pretty, and really nice to use.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Stephanie, glad the hub was useful.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks. I guess when they first started producing convertibles they didn't get them quite right, this is often the case with "the first" of any technology. The new ones look very nice though.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks eurozulu. Ultrabooks are fantastic. They are a bit expensive though, I saved for ages before buying my macbook air.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      I'm a PC. lol. I've only used Mac in college. Didn't like it then, and haven't tried it since. That was over a decade ago. But I like your take on todays Mac. Wouldn't mind taking another look.

      Very interesting and informative article. Got a good video review of the Yoga. Thanks, and congrats on the HOTD award.

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

      Solid and helpful article. I've been looking into getting a new laptop for a while and am leaning towards the macbook air. The price is a bit steep but I feel it would be perfect for me. Voting this up and rating useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Very timely for me as my laptop is on its last leg and I have been asking myself this very question! Pinning this to guide me in my decision-making. Thanks so much for sharing!!!! :)

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks renegadetory. I felt a bit stupid when I got my macbook air, because I do think that with a mac you pay a premium for an Apple product. But it is so nice......I don't really regret.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Hendrik, I change the inside of my desktop about every 2 years to be able to play the newest games. I hope my laptop will last longer since I mainly use it for writing and serving.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks for commenting mperrottet. I really like the look of convertibles, but I agree, they are very new, so might improve quite a bit in the future.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks FullOfLoveSites. It's easy to overlook the comfort of keyboards when there are so many technical specs to look at, but it makes a huge difference if you have a nice one, and you type a lot.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Appsthatpayyou, good luck with your purchase!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Randy, I resisted the lure of laptops for many years. Finally I got my macbook air a year ago, and now I can write while sitting in bed! This of course has made me even lazier, but is so pleasant!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

      This is useful information, for anyone thinking of buying a laptop; you've covered the differences between types well - I learned quite a bit! My husband has a convertible, but it doesn't work well (can't remember the make.) It's fairly old now so it probably was an early version and it looks from the video as if things have improved.

      I've been using Mac laptops for about 20 years and found it interesting that you used to think they weren't functional - the reason I started using Macs was because I found them so much easier than PCs.

      Congrats on your HOTD.

    • eurozulu profile image

      bradley brown 4 years ago from Harrow Middlesex

      Nice hub aa lite, well done on hub of the day, may just treat my self to an Ultrabook when i have bit of extra money congrats. just shared this on Pinterest.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

      Helpful hub, very, very, very helpful. I actually want a notebook because I only need one for my freelance work and therefore only an MS Office is fine with me; however, I'm also attracted to big screens. And I have used my brother in law's Mac. I agree with you about the keyboards; they're fantastic to type with.

      Up, useful and awesome. :)

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Congrats, aa! I'm due for a new laptop myself as this one is several years old.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Helpful review of what's available today. I'm thinking of getting a convertible for my next computer, but think I'll wait for awhile and see what they do with them. Voted up, interesting and useful, and congrats on hub of the day! It's nice to see a technology hub get that spot.

    • HendrikDB profile image

      HendrikDB 4 years ago

      Good! I started off with PC's (laptops were then still a rarity and too expensive). But all my PC's last only for a year (just waited for the guarantee to expire) and after uncountable PC's coming and going, I changed to laptops. My current 2 laptops are now 4 years in use, without any hitch!

    • renegadetory profile image

      Carolyn Dahl 4 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

      I noticed that a lot of people went with a Mac.. interesting. I'm still using my Dell desktop, but my husband has a laptop... I'm not sure if a laptop would be right for me, but this Hub is ideal for helping me decide if I ever went that route. Voted useful and voted up!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks pinot2011. If these people I am helping could then buy their laptops from this hub, that would seriously be helping me too :)

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Hi Santinketan and thanks for reading. I have a macbook air too, and I love it! You probably have a newer version than I do since I bought mine over a year ago, but it is excellent!

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      @CZCZCZ, many people have the same reaction to windows 8 as you do, but some really like it. It is hard to tell whether it is just something that needs getting used to, and that you will like once the initial learning stage is done. Or whether it is just a horrible OS that will not improve with age!

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Your hub is seriously going to help zillions of people helping them out from their confused state to take a concrete decision.

    • Santiniketan profile image

      luna Chakraborty 4 years ago from santiniketan

      Nice article and very informative to me because yesterday i bought one MAC book Air.

      MACBook Air and the wireless Mouse is AWESOME. It has lots of functionality that i have never experienced.

      I m very happy to have one.

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 4 years ago from Oregon

      Great videos for support in finding the right laptop. I always love getting a new machine, so many choices out there, but after playing with windows 8, I dont know what I would do for a new laptop if I was in the hunt for buying one, cause windows 8 was not a joy to play with in my mind.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks iguidenetwork! Buying a new laptop is always a lot of fun.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks for commenitng bdeguillo. I used to be pretty anti-mac, but then got my Air and I absolutely love it. I can understand how you are happy with your Pro, but I bet you wish you could get the pro retina. Apparently the screen is the best there is. But then apple always made beautiful monitors, but so expensive!

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      This is a very timely hub, I'm looking for a laptop and I can't decide which is which that will be worth the money I'm spending. Thanks for your tips. Voted up, useful, shared and bookmarked. :)

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi there aa. Interesting article. I went through this process a few years ago and decided on the Mac Pro Laptop. I haven't regretted the decision since. Thanks for the info, this will be very helpful to anyone thinking about a new computer.

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks wquindia, sadly I do love new computer technology, but right now I am mostly window-shopping!

    • wqaindia profile image

      Ashok Goyal 4 years ago from 448 Dalima Vihar Rajpura 140401 Punjab India

      Useful and voted up. Keep yourself updated with latest technology.