Choosing the right laptop can be burdensome sometimes considering the broad range of products on the market and the comparative capabilities of mobile phones and tablets. If you plan on buying your next laptop soon, this buying guide will give you through the essentials you need to know.
The two basics types of laptops are Traditional Laptops and 2-in-1 Laptops.
Traditional laptops have a clamshell form factor, where the screen is hinged facing the keyboard. The keyboard and screen cannot be accessed with the laptop is closed. Some traditional laptops have touchscreen functionality.
Unlike the former, 2-in-1 Laptops always have touchscreen and non-traditionally hinged keyboard. 2-in-1 Laptops are of two types: Convertible and Detachable. 2-in-1 Convertible laptops are hinged such that their keyboard can be hidden either by sliding, rotating, or folding them out of view. HP's Pavilion x360, for instance features a foldable keyboard. 2-in-1 Detachable laptops can be completely unhinged from their keyboards. Sometimes, the detachable keyboard is sold as an optional accessory. Some detachable keyboards have a touchpad, a graphics adapter (in the case of Microsoft's Surface Book), a battery or additional Input/Output ports.
If you need a laptop on the go then a laptop between 11 to 13 inches, like the Lenovo Ideapad 100, is more portable. They fit in smaller laptop bags and weigh less. A 15 inch laptop is better suited if you would not be moving it around a lot, such as an office laptop which is moved around occasional. Bigger laptops, 17 inches and up, are the least portable and are better suited for applications like gaming. For example, the ASUS ROG G751JL-T7003H is a 17.3 inch gaming laptop.
The faster the processor, the faster you are able to run applications on your laptop. Laptop processors can be loosely classified as Low-end, Mainstream and High-end. Low-end laptop processors are better suited for running basic applications, like web surfing, and also conserving the laptop's battery life. AMD's E series, and Intel Pentium, Celeron, Atom, or M series fall under this range. Mainstream laptop processors offer the best price-performance combination. They are suited for running everyday applications and most people would find their performance satisfactory for their daily use. Processors like AMD A series and Intel's Core i3/i5 families are in this category. High-end laptop processors are found in gaming laptops and high productivity machines. These processors consume more power than the other two types but they perform better in computational tasks. Intel's Core i7 is an example High-end processor.
The most popular operating systems (OS) found on most laptops are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Google Chrome OS.
Microsoft Windows is the most flexible OS. You will have more options for tweaking and personalising it. Windows is compatible with a wide range of computing hardware and it also has largest software library (office productivity suites, utility tools, security software, entertainment applications, etc). The latest version of this OS is Windows 10.
Unlike Windows, which can be installed on off-the-self computing hardware, Apple is more restrictive on how the Mac OS is used, which is always released coupled with specific computing hardware. As a result, performance across Mac OS X laptops (the MacBook) are more stable and predictable. macOS Sierra is the latest OS version.
Google Chrome OS laptops are built mainly for running online applications and compatible Android applications. The idea is that many Chrome OS application and files are stored online ("in the cloud"), releasing to need to for installing bigger, more expensive hardware. However, machines built with Chrome are bottlenecked by your internet connectivity.The Google Chrome browser is the main user interface. Offline applications on Chrome OS include a media player and a file manager.
The main mediums of data storage on laptops are Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and Solid-State Drives (SSDs) HDDs use the older, slower storage technology. Data is stored on rotating disks (platters) which are coated with a magnetic material. The data is accessed or read electromechanically. On SSDs, data is stored on microchips. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no mechanical parts in the drive so data access is electronically. Laptops running on SSDs boot faster. It is also faster to copy files or load applications with SSDs. But HDDs have bigger storage capabilities, and they are much cheaper. For both HDDs and SSD, different drives have different speeds. For instance a 7,200rpm (revolutions per minute) HDD is faster than its 5,400rpm counterpart. Similarly, Single-level cell (SLC) SSDs are faster than multi-level (MLC) SSDs. To leverage on speed, cost, and storage capacities, some laptops, like the Asus ROG Strix GL502VY, have two hard drives: a smaller SSD for running the operating system and other primary applications, and a larger HDD for storing larger media files.
Bigger memory (or RAM) make applications run faster because it is faster to run an application from RAM than from a hard drive. The minimum RAM size on a modern laptop should be about 2GB although 4GB is more desired. RAM sizes of 6GB and over is better suited for gaming, video editing, and other RAM intensive applications like Photoshop and AutoCAD.
Unless you intend to have your laptop always connected to a power source, it is important to review how long the laptop battery may last with normal use (battery life). Generally, the bigger the screen the more power your laptop will consume. A six-hours battery life should be the minimum to look our for. Acer's Aspire One Cloudbook, for instance, is advertised as having a 12-hour battery life.
Laptops can have varying input/output ports. The most common port is the USB (Universal Serial Bus). These ports enable communication and power supply with various electronic devices like keyboards, mobile phones, printers and cameras. USB 3.0 ports have faster data transfer speeds than USB 2.0, and are backward compatible with USB 2.0 ports: both use the USB Type-A interface. Having a combined minimum of three USB 2.0/3.0 ports is essential on every laptop. USB Type-C is a newer type of USB. It uses a different connector shape, and it is meant to be compatible across several hardware devices including Notebooks, Tablets, Smartphones, Hard drives, USB flash drive, Hubs and Monitors. Some modern laptops may have a USB Type-C port. HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort are video and audio output ports, such as connecting the laptop to a television or another monitor. The Ethernet port is used for connecting the laptop to a network such as the internet. FireWire and eSata ports are meant for connecting peripherals like an external hard drive or a camera to a laptop. The Thunderbolt port also allows connection of peripherals to a laptop. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), while Thunderbolt 3 uses USB Type-C interface. Every modern laptop would most likely come equipped with a wireless adapter and an SD card slot; both are essential on every laptop. Ensure your new laptop has the minimum number and types of ports you need.
Laptop manufactures do design laptops to meet certain user needs. These laptops can be classified as being either Consumer, Business or Gaming Laptops.
Consumer laptops are targeted at the average user. They are built with looks in mind, such as with bright colours, a glossy display and a stylish looks. Out of the box, Consumer Laptops may have a lot of pre-installed software. Such laptops include the Toshiba Satellite and the Dell Inspiron Series.
Business laptops (Workstations) are built to be more rugged than consumer laptops. They may look less stylish but they may have better screen viewing angles, more pointing options, and biometric security features. Pre-installed software on Workstations are minimal. The Dell Latitude and HP Elitebook Series are example Business Machines.
Gaming laptops are built for high graphics video gaming and entertainment. These laptops may be built with higher-end computer hardware such as a dedicated graphics card, a faster processor and a bigger memory, a better cooling technology, a tougher keyboard, and a longer lasting battery. Instances of Gaming laptops include the Asus ROG and Lenovo Y series.
In terms of the operating system, Chromebooks are usually in a cheaper price range. Windows laptops cover the broadest price range, from very cheap very expensive. Mac OS laptops are generally more expensive than average. Consumer laptops are generally cheaper than business laptops. Gaming laptops are the most expensive. Traditional laptops also cost less than their 2-in-1 Counterparts. The higher the specifications and features the laptop has, the higher the price.