It’s 11 PM, you’ve spent the past two hours scouring the internet for options, and now you’ve given in to Googling “Laptop buying guides” to figure out where you go from here. We’ve all been there at some point, looking for tips and tricks to make the decision-making process just a little bit easier when the confusing names and the many laptop features cease to make sense. You might have some general laptop selection criteria in mind but there are so many factors at play that a few laptop-buying tips might be just what you need to make the final decision on which one is right for you. 

Laptop buying guide

Laptop Buying Guide: How to Choose a Laptop That Won’t Let You Down

If you’re in a rush to buy a new laptop to keep up with your responsibilities whether that’s college classes or your 9-to-5, the pressure to pick quickly without overspending can be burdensome. A laptop buying guide may not have all the answers, but it should be able to help you determine what to prioritize and how to choose a laptop that can serve your needs. Before you get into narrowing down your laptop selection criteria, you may have to set a clear vision of how you plan to use the device.

For graphic designers, digital artists and those who work with 3D computer models, a good display will be paramount, but a powerful CPU is just as essential to support all the demanding rendering work that will go into their tasks. A larger RAM will also be beneficial to handle the many data-heavy projects. If you’re a writer and don’t want too many distractions—you just need a cheap device that you can carry everywhere, a low-priced Chromebook could be sufficient for your minimalistic needs. Pondering over complicated laptop features is unnecessary for you.

Understanding your requirements is the first suggestion in this laptop-buying guide. Make a list of all the reasons you will be using the laptop in order of priority, and then you can look at the specs that meet your preferences. Any additional features after that are just a reward. Now if you have your list ready, here are some tips on how to choose a laptop:

  • Determine which operating system works best for you
  • Make a note of how much storage you require with RAM consideration
  • Understand processors and how they tie into your requirements
  • Explore your graphics needs with the GPU
  • Assess whether you require multiple external drives and connectivity options
  • Ask yourself if a touchscreen is a “want” or a “need”
  • Check battery life if you’re likely to use it for long hours without a power source
  • Compare sizes and see what works best for you—bigger is not always better
  • Consider all your other miscellaneous preferences like audio and camera quality

1. Laptop Buying Tips: Start with Choosing the Right OS

A laptop is just a fancy brick without its operating system. Choosing the right OS can make your purchase worthwhile but getting it wrong can cause you to struggle with a lot of relearning and breaking into software that isn’t designed for your device. If you’re familiar with using MasOS devices and know your way around it well, there’s no hard in opting for another Apple device just to make things easier for you. If you don’t mind switching between operating systems, the next thing to consider is the compatibility with the software you intend to use. 

Final Cut Pro is a great video editing app but it is exclusively available on Mac devices. If you’ve become an expert on using Pinnacle Studio, then you will find that it does not work on MacOS devices. If you are aware of the software you need to use, check compatibility and ease of transfer to ensure your work is not interrupted. 

WindowsOS: Offers the largest range of devices to choose from as the majority of PC makers design laptops that ship with Windows OS.

MacOS: Provides a premium quality experience and has its own efficient collection of apps and software but restricts you from purchasing an Apple product which is generally more expensive.

LinuxOS: Open source OS that requires a lot of experimenting with tech to perfect but is believed to be superior to other operating systems in terms of security. Many apps and services require additional layers to support compatibility.

ChromeOS: A Linux-based cloud-first OS that does not support major apps or create room for game downloads, but gives you the cheapest laptops or “Chromebooks” on the market.

These aren’t the only operating systems available for laptops but other OS available online require a keen understanding of technology to install and use. Corel Linux, MenuetOS, and Haiku are examples of operating systems that you can install yourself on your devices.

dell Inspiron

Image: Dell Inspiron

2. Understand RAM and Storage Options

RAM or Random Access Memory refers to the short-term memory of your system. It refers to the space available on your device to process tasks as you go. The larger it is, the better it is for you as it clears up space for your laptop to keep up with your 30 tabs and multiple applications running in the background. 8GB RAM is standard on most devices and is sufficient for a majority of tasks. 

If you intend to use your laptop for attending meetings and working on Excel sheets, 8GB is sufficient for your needs. For gaming and other applications that have high demands on your laptop and its processor, it’s better to choose a device with 16 GB RAM, or 32GB if you’re willing to spend on more expensive alternatives. If you don’t work with heavy applications, going overboard with the RAM will only be wasteful.

Again, you can consider these laptop-buying tips and go back to the software and games you plan to run on the device and see if they have any specifications mentioned for a smooth experience. Adobe After Effects, for example, requires 16GB RAM but recommends 32GB or higher for 4K videos. DDR4-type RAM memory modules are preferred for most tasks and applications and should be the standard that you look out for.

Also, Check the Storage Option For All Your Files and Applications

Consider the storage options as well to decide how much you’re going to be storing on the device. The Adobe After Effects program requires 8GB of space constantly in order to download the application. Without it the software won’t download onto the device. Our smartphones now offer 128GB and 25GB as standard storage and a laptop usually needs more than that to perform well so a 512GB storage minimum is your best bet and 1TB is a good place to stop. 

Considering the storage type on the device is also recommended if you’re looking at this laptop buying guide for clarity. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are faster and more efficient than Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) but you can get a higher capacity HDD for cheaper. Again, a 512GB SSD is a good place for most people so you can choose to stop right there unless you specifically have files and games that you know will take up more space. 

Check if your laptop has slots for memory upgrades or if you can upgrade the internal drive. Such laptops give you room to increase the storage—at a cost of course—at a later date.

Lenovo LOQ 12th Gen

Image: Lenovo LOQ 12th Gen

3. Check the Processor Options

Processors are the brains of the laptop that keep things running and any laptop buying guide will tell you that they are one of the most critical components to consider. You will usually encounter an Intel chip, Apple M-series chip, or an AMD chip and the version of the chip will tell you how new that particular processor is. The newer the process, the higher the specs and the more able it is to match up to the latest tasks you set for it. 

The number and naming chips on the chip take some deciphering and it can get difficult to determine what to pick for yourself. When it comes to Intel, an i3 7th gen chip is enough for basic everyday use, but for more demanding tasks, it is better to look for a device with an Intel i5 8th-generation processor or higher. An Intel i7 chip promises the most comfortable experience of the lot. 

Similarly for AMD, the Ryzen 9 is the best for ultimate gaming performance, but a Ryzen 5 chip should be sufficient for casual gamers or those who don’t have too many demanding needs. It can be tempting to shoot for the “best” categories, but those versions mean more expensive laptops that may stray out of your budget.

4. Does a Graphics Card Feature in Your Laptop Selection Criteria?

For the most part, everyday users don’t have to focus on a graphics card in their laptop. Some version of a GPU comes integrated and you can watch movies and play basic games just fine without delving into the specs. However, a dedicated graphics card is essential for graphic-intensive tasks, especially with visually demanding games with high-quality specs. 

According to Lenovo, “It accelerates the graphics processing capabilities of your computer, enabling you to enjoy smooth and high-quality visuals in games, videos, and other graphics-intensive applications. The graphics card works with the central processing unit (CPU) to process and output visual data.” AMD and Nvidia are the main powerhouses you need to look out for, more specifically their Radeon RX and Nvidia RTX chips. 

5. Prioritize Connectivity Among the Many Laptop Features

Internal storage is one thing but external hard drives also make life easier. The more slots your laptop has for USB connections, the easier it is to manage your connected devices. Especially if you intend to use a Bluetooth mouse for extended periods of work, you will find one USB-C slot permanently occupied. If you use a laptop-powered USB-C ring light during your meetings, that’s an additional port that you have to keep open. Connecting an external monitor is also a set-up factor you need to consider, so keep in mind the kinds of ports that you need on your device, otherwise, all the accouterments will have to fight for a spot on your device. 

Additional slots like an HDMI port or a DisplayPort will make it easier to set your presentations up if you travel to different locations to present and need to connect your laptop to projectors regularly. Headphone jacks are still available on many laptops if that is a priority for you. An SD or microSD card reader could also be useful if you regularly need to download data off these cards. 

HP ZBook Studio

Image: HP ZBook Studio

6. Ask Yourself If a Touchscreen Is a Want or a Need

If you were considering a touchscreen laptop before you looked up this laptop buying guide, then you need to ask yourself if you really need a touchscreen. These touch devices offer great flexibility in how you use your device and they’re very convenient to move things around when you don’t want to constantly use a mouse. The intuitive interface is fun to use and it can guarantee a smoother workflow when you need to zoom in and out of things repeatedly. 

The major drawback of a touch screen laptop is that they are usually more expensive, and repeatedly touching the screen can drain the battery faster while also affecting the device’s lifespan. Some reports indicate touch laptops are heavier but there are lighter alternatives available if you’re inclined to look. 

Unless the touch laptop feature is something that ties into how you work, you’ll find the feature going unused most of the time, especially when you have your hands on the keypad typing away as you work. For a better touch experience, an iPad with a magic keyboard is often more convenient, so if you’re just in pursuit of a device you can draw and type on alternatively, you might as well buy a tablet instead. That may not be what you had expected to hear in a laptop-buying guide, but that’s the way to go.

7. Don’t Forget to Count That Battery Life among the Laptop Selection Criteria

Laptops require a lot more power to function compared to smartphones so they rarely guarantee a full-day battery life. If you work with your device plugged into a power source at all times, the battery life will hardly matter and it doesn’t have to be a laptop feature you prioritize. But if you work in public spaces frequently or have to move between locations, reliable battery life is essential so you don’t get interrupted halfway between reading through important files.

Check the battery life if you’re likely to use it for long hours without a power source. A 21-hour battery charge is the longest we’ve seen with the Apple MacBook Air 16 but a 10-11 hour average is doable with many of the devices on the market. How to choose a laptop? Determine how it can work for you. 

8. The Laptop Size Can Make A World of Difference

Traveling around with a heavy, large-screen laptop can get cumbersome after a while. However, giant screens make it so much easier to enjoy a video or work with a split screen. Depending on your comfort levels and priorities, considering the size of the device is another laptop buying tip to keep in mind. A 14-inch laptop is a comfortable in-between that you could opt for, or scale higher or lower depending on how and where you intend to use the device.

The last few considerations in this laptop buying guide are elements like the audio and camera quality. The emphasis on these sorts of elements doesn’t have to be as considerable since you will likely use earphones or an additional speaker to listen to audio and you already know that the camera will never be “good.” If the camera on the device doesn’t satisfy your needs, a webcam purchase can resolve the issue if you consistently find it underperforming in comparison to your expectations.

The design and style of the laptop could also be considered but be forewarned that a majority of budget laptops have very basic designs that do not spark joy. If you want to add some pizzazz to it, you could always cover it with stickers or slap on a nice laptop skin. Take all of these elements into your purchase consideration, prioritize the laptop features that matter to you higher on your list, and Voila! You now know how to choose a laptop.