One of the most common help requests we receive comes from customers who are looking to buy a new laptop but don’t know where to start. The range of choices, including manufacturer, style and size, can feel a bit overwhelming. We’ll walk you through the options and help you select the perfect laptop for your needs.
Start by deciding how much you want to spend. It’s important to consider the role of this computer in your life. If you are purchasing a primary laptop for work and life, you would be wise to pay more for higher quality, speed and reliability.
There is an inherent trade-off when it comes to laptop sizes. Smaller computers are lighter, more portable and have a longer battery life. Larger laptops are more powerful and larger screens give you more real estate to work with, but their weight can put a strain on your back and the battery life is more limited.
With so many sizes available, how do you choose? Start by thinking about your particular needs. Is portability a top priority? If so, there are laptops with 12-inch screens that are light and can fit easily into a bag. For regular day-to-day use, 14 inches is the most common size screen and will meet most people’s needs. This “Goldilocks” computer size is large enough to be comfortable, but small enough to carry around with ease. If you prefer the luxury and easier viewing that comes with a bigger screen, you can find the largest laptop screens at 15 to 17 inches wide.
If you’re deciding between an Apple and a PC, here are the major differences: Apple laptops are pricier machines because of their high-end quality and superior hardware. They achieve superior user satisfaction, generally last longer and are less susceptible to viruses and malware – but not immune. On the downside, Macs have not caught up with the level of software that PC’s offer, especially with regard to specialized business software. Also, gamers tend to prefer PC’s because Apples are only compatible with a relatively small portion of available games. (For students, Apple offers a discount of $100 to $200 on Macs, depending on the model.)
Chromebooks (Not your average laptop)
Chromebooks, made by several different manufacturers, are an economical alternative to laptops that can cost as little as $200. Essentially a web browser, the Chromebook takes you anywhere online and runs all its programs in the cloud. So for example, it can’t run Photoshop but Pixlr is a cloud alternative. (Look for an upcoming Trusted Technologies blog post that explains more about the pros and cons of Chromebooks.)
Solid State Drive
If you can swing it, we highly recommend paying extra for a solid state drive as your new computer’s storage device – even if you need to stretch your budget. (Fortunately, prices have come down significantly in recent years.) SSD’s are available on all computers and are significantly faster (50 to 200% in some tests) and more reliable than hard disk drives. They are also lighter, quieter and use less power.
Warranties and Insurance
Your new laptop will come with a one-year warranty that covers manufacturer’s mistakes: the types of issues that usually emerge within the first year. Beyond that time, we generally don’t recommend extended warranties (except for refurbished computers), but it’s really up to your personal preference.
Be aware that warranties will not pay if you drop your computer or damage it by accident. For this type of protection, you will need accident insurance, or ADP (accidental damage protection). ADP is a great option if you are purchasing a laptop for a child or student, or if you’re prone to be clumsy.
Refurbished laptops can be a great way to save significantly on a new computer. In most cases, manufacturers offer different levels of refurbishment, with the top level being basically new, as it has never been taken out of the original box. If you choose to buy refurbished, be sure to purchase through the manufacturer AND buy the extended warranty. Dell, Lenovo and Apple have websites specifically for their refurbished computers.
Once you decide on a make and model, we recommend purchasing the most RAM and the fastest processor that you can afford. Now, you should be on your way to owning the right laptop for your needs – and one that will last at least a few years. We are confident that you won’t go out and buy the cheapest computer you find, or you’ll be shopping around again this time next year.