Hey there Noob Alliance!
One of the most common calls for help I get from folks who trust my geeky abilities implicitly is : “Nadia, I need a laptop but I don’t know which one to buy! Please help!”.
I always respond to this with the greatest urgency and enthusiasm because it is soooooooo exciting when I hear that someone wants to add a new addition to their digital arsenal! And also because I don’t want to see them buy something that they are going to have to live with for the next couple of years and hate every second of the experience.
So that brings us to the juicy topic of this article – here I am going to attempt to help all prospective laptop owners form a good basis for choosing their new addition (without confusing the **** out of you)!
Asking The Right Questions
There are tons of websites that specialize in listing “the best laptops” regularly but just because they’ve stuck lists and lists of wonderful laptops up on showcase does not guarantee it is going to suit your individual needs.
And to be honest, it can be downright daunting reading through all the technical gibberish that makes any sane noob’s head spin.
>>>>Want to skip all the intricacies (not recommended) and just want to “buy a darn laptop for basic things” then referring to the “cost-versus-expectation” section and the “processor” section should be enough to help you make a decision.<<<<
So what is the best laptop and how to choose a laptop, you ask? Well Since you’re intentions can include a large variety of activities from watching YouTube videos to taking over the world, we first need to determine two things:
What all exactly are you intending to use the laptop for?
Be super thorough with answering this one because you generally can’t make it better once you’re stuck with it.
Laptops are not really upgradable – sure you can maybe swap out some minor things like memory and the hard drive – but these parts are not going to turn your laptop supersonic if supersonic is what you need!
That is why I always suggest a slightly higher spec than what people think they need and I haven’t had any unhappy folks trying to murder me with their charging cords yet – so I must be doing something right. 😉
Activities can include anything from simple web browsing and emails to gaming and video editing! And just these few examples require vastly different specs!
Check out my top 2018 laptop picks for web-surfing here.
How much are you prepared to spend?
It’s true that you get what you pay for when it comes to computers. The bigger your budget the more versatile of a laptop you’ll have.
Expectations – We All Have Them, But What’s Fair and What Isn’t?
Here’s a price guideline relative to capabilities:
$250 – Googling, YouTubing, emailing, Microsoft Excel & Word, social media sites, maybe some casual mini-games, listening to music and watching movies. Won’t be able to do many things at once – one or two windows open at a time – plenty patience and understanding will be required.
$350 – All the above but faster and can have a few windows open at the same time aka “multi-tasking”. The screen will probably be better and you’ll likely have more space to save documents and files. Less patience required.
$550 – All the above but quite a bit faster and having 10 windows open at the same time shouldn’t really phase this little beast. You’ll be able to play some newer games on low to medium graphics and some casual video editing can be achieved if desired. Minimal patience required.
$700 and up – All the above and then some! Can video edit and render faster, should be good with almost all apps and software and should be able to play the latest games on medium to high graphics. You’ll have better sound and probably a full high definition screen. It would be very odd if patience is required here.
Noob Tip: Don’t blindly choose a laptop based on it’s brand – though “brands” are good for things like after-sales support and warranties – it does not guarantee a “fast” laptop, if you want “fast” then it is what’s on the inside that counts!
Firepower To Tackle Expectations
Now let’s get into the heart of your new laptop – this is the mini-guide I recommend you sit with when you are laptop shopping – compare this list to the specification list on the product page. Then look at the price and compare it with the price range above which will give you an indication of what you can expect from it.
Without complicating things (and oh boy, can they get complicated even for the geekiest of geeks), here’s my attempt at briefly explaining how things work together and what to look for:
A laptop has a couple of parts on the inside that gives it life. Here’s a simple breakdown:
The Operating System (OS)
This can be considered the spirit of your laptop, the “ghost in the machine” – lol, I’m being dramatic – no ghosties I promise.
The OS is the main software platform that runs your laptop and all of the other apps installed on it. Nowadays they all have a built in “virtual assistant” that you can instruct with your voice to do certain tasks – like search the internet or set up a calendar entry! Choose between three:
Windows 10 – Most versatile, most support for different types of software programs, most support for external devices and a large variety of laptops available to choose from that have it installed. It comes with virtual assistant “Cortana”.
Apple MacOS – This only comes with MacBooks, has similar features to Windows but looks almost completely different. If you have other Apple devices, it can be handy to own one because Apple devices usually seamlessly integrate with one another. It comes with virtual assistant “Siri”.
ChromeOS – found on “Chromebooks” which are inexpensive laptops with very good battery life but not very powerful. It is more limited in the sense that the apps that can be installed don’t always work so well offline. Good for web browsing, emails, online chat and for social networking. They are brilliant for kids because it is hard to infect this OS with malware and viruses. It comes with virtual assistant “Google”.
The Processor – Super Important
Also known as “the brain” or CPU is a small square chip (not a potato chip) that is in charge of handling all the instructions that you as the user throws at it.
There are two main brands that make these and you may have seen the names while laptop browsing. “Intel” and “AMD”.
There are a lot more laptops with “Intel inside” and they seem to perform better than their counterparts so my advice would be to go with Intel for your new laptop.
Intel “brains” can be identified by these strange terms “Atom, Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5, i7, Xeon”. I’ve listed them in the order of firepower from weakest to strongest and therefore also from cheapest to most expensive.
If you go with i3, i5 or i7 (and I wouldn’t recommend anything lower than this unless your budget is really stretched or unless the lappy purchase is a first-timer for kids or seniors) choose only a laptop whose processor model ends in “U” and is in the 8000 range for example “i5-8250U”.
“U” models gives a good balance between performance and power consumption and “8000” means it is an 8th generation model which is currently the latest technology.
The Memory – Second Most Important
This can be compared with “desk space” – the bigger your desk the more things you can have out on it at the same time without creating confusion and slowing you down. It is also called “RAM”.
No files are kept in memory permanently – when the power goes off the memory is cleared.
The more the merrier! Don’t go for anything under 4GB – I beg of you! Don’t be tempted! – In fact I always slyly add in another 4GB to make it 8GB when helping my dear techno-noobs because I know in a few years only 4GB won’t cut it anymore.
The Hard Drive – Details
Think of this as a bookshelf or filing cabinet – humans take books/paperwork off of the shelf and put them on the desk to work on, and when they’re done they put them back in the cabinet or on the shelf.
Now in geek that sentence sounds like this : the computer takes the data (photos, music, documents, games etc) from the hard drive and puts it into memory to work on it and then places it back onto the hard drive when you do things like click “save”.
If you plan on keeping a lot of “data” on your laptop, I suggest 1 Terabyte (TB) and above.
If you’re just going to browse and not going to go overboard with saving videos and photos and music, 500 Gigabyte (GB) should be perfect.
If you want an even faster laptop experience invest in a hard drive called “SSD” aka Solid State Drive. They are somewhat more expensive but super fast – imagine your books being warped and teleported to your desk instead of you walking to and from your desk.
If you have an old laptop it may be possible to upgrade it with an SSD which can magically transform it from a “snail” into something closer to a “cheetah” (of course it will still have its limitations but you won’t have to wait aeons to open a word document).
The Graphics Card – More Details
This is another chip inside your laptop that handles all the pretty images that gets displayed on your screen – most lower priced lappy’s have “on-board” graphics – which means the “brain”/processor takes on this task as well as all it is other usual tasks.
So naturally when you try throw a graphically intensive game at it, or try to use fancy video editing software it might go on strike and everything may feel laggy.
Small mini-games or games on low settings should work just fine though with processors “i5” and up.
If you need more power here, you are going to want to look for a laptop with a “dedicated” graphics card.
It will usually be a “Nvidia” branded graphics chip that they stick in there. Here are the graphics card Nvidia models to compare:
- GTX 1050 lower end but still much more powerful than “on-board”
- GTX1050 TI or 1060 is mid range
- GTX 1070 and 1080 is high end
Other Things To Consider
Now that we have the main components sorted, here are some more things to think about before making your final decision:
This is a laptop after all and the whole point of having one is so that you can comfortably use it wherever you want to without being glued to a wall socket.
The ideal amount of time your laptop should give you when running off the battery is around 8 hours.
If battery life is important to you then I strongly advise that you Google reviews on the laptop model you are considering to buy and then scroll to the battery life section to see real-life results. (The number of hours advertised on product pages are not always accurate).
Size of the laptop
- 11 to 12 inches – very portable and lightweight.
- 13 to 14 Inches – still lightweight but with more screen to work with comfortably.
- 15 inches – the most popular size, carrying it around everywhere all the time might not be so practical but of course it can be done – after all it is still a laptop.
- 17 to 18 inches – Usually heavier and nice for gaming and watching movies but not so great for carting everywhere with you.
Quality of the Display
Most budget friendly laptops have HD Ready screens aka 720p or 1366 x 768 screens. They consume less power than their fancier looking counterparts.
That being the Full HD aka 1080p or 1920 x 1080 screens. This images on these look sharper and usually more vibrant with better viewing angles.
There are of course even higher quality displays but those come with a hefty price tag and serious power consumption.
Most new laptops come with USB 3 ports (USB 3 ports are usually blue in color and using them with a USB flash drive or external hard drive will result in much faster copy speeds than USB 2). Some laptops only have 2 USB ports and others have 3 or more – so make sure it has enough to accommodate all the devices you want to plug in at the same time.
I also always check to make sure it has an HDMI out port (usually standard nowadays) in case I want to connect my TV.
Getting one with Type-C ports is pretty handy because it allows you to connect universal chargers and docks.
Believe it or not but you actually get laptops that can fold and “convert” into tablets, complete with touch screen and all.
You have the option of owning a clam shell style lappy with a touch screen – but this will eat a couple of hours more of your battery than just a standard screen would.
A lot of laptops nowadays don’t come with these optical drives built-in anymore!
Don’t worry though, if you’ve found your perfect laptop but it’s missing an optical drive that you may need to play all your CDs or DVDs you can always buy an external one that connects with a USB cable.
Don’t Forget Your Extras!
Although completely optional – owning a few accessories can make your laptop experience a lot more pleasant!
Laptop carry bag – Keep your laptop safe from bumps and scratches when you decide to take it somewhere with you! Make sure to choose one according to the size of your laptop! Maybe it’s just my obsession with perfection but that first scratch on the lid is usually the most painful for my soul.
Wireless mouse – Touch-pads and I do not get along, so in my case a wireless mouse is my favorite accessory and it has saved many an innocent bystander from hearing words they cannot un-hear!
Desk stand/cooler – my second favorite, this has saved my back and neck and just made the whole laptop experience very comfortable! Be sure to choose an adjustable one so that you can set the angle just right. They also keep laptop vents nice and aired which helps prevent overheating. There are also handy little stands for those of us who enjoy laying down and computing in comfort.
Universal charger as a spare – the one I wish I had earlier – I can’t keep track of how many times a charger has been left behind by accident, if you have a spare and always keep it in the laptop bag you will never feel like kicking yourself.
Earphones – Not everyone wants to hear what you’re binge watching or binge-listening to – and maybe you don’t want the whole world to know either. Thus enter “the headset” or “earphones”. 😛
External Speakers – The sound that comes out of a laptop can sound awfully tinny and flat – and sometimes even worse…distorted. These will help add some bass and clarity to your world.
External hard drive – It’s a bad idea to rely on keeping all your files only on your laptop, you should be making backups regularly and keeping them on one of these for the sake of everyone’s sanity – including yours. Check here to see how.
USB hub – You might find your lappy’s built in number of USB ports just doesn’t cut it – this little device helps add some more and helps keep frustration at bay.
HDMI Cable – If you have an HDMI port on your laptop it can be used as a super smart media player! All you have to do is connect it your HDMI-enabled TV with this cable and boom! Your screen will be mirrored and you can watch Netflix (or anything you want to display) on a nice big TV!
Webcam – If you want to use video calling apps to keep in contact with friends and family or if you want to record videos for whatever reasons – your built-in webcam will most likely dissapoint you. An external webcam can help with this and not only improve the image quality but also the sound as they usually also come with built in microphones that are better than your laptop’s mic.
Power bank – A portable charger! This helps to lengthen your batterly life in the event that you have no access to a power outlet or if you’re just too comfortable where you are to move. Make sure to choose one powerful enough to charge a laptop as not all of them can.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated
As you go through this guide just write down the “spec” of each section that you think suits you best, then take that selection to your store of choice and only look for laptops that meet those requirements.
Amazon has a very neat filter where you can tick certain requirements and it will then only show you the laptops relevant to your selection.
Take your time with this, don’t rush it.
By the end of the exercise you will know so much more about what goes on in a laptop that you will be able to feel proud of your efforts and you most definitely will be happy with your choice!
Here is a short video that can also help:
>>>If you want to learn more about computers and brush up on your skills have a look here for no-fuss ways to get you going.<<<
Ever braved the huge territory of laptop-buying land? How did it go?
Still need some guidance? Comment down below and I’ll jump to you rescue as always! <33