Until recently, laptops took second place to desktop PCs in total sales numbers. But as they got more powerful, those numbers got closer together.
Now, laptops sales are growing while desktop sales are on the decline.
If you’re one of those people switching to a more portable option but aren’t sure what to look for when buying a laptop, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn the laptop essentials you need.
Choose Your Operating System
The most fundamental choice you need to make when purchasing a laptop is what operating system you want to use. You have three main choices:
Most major laptop brands, like Dell and Lenovo, use Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Until recently, that would have been Windows 10 but version 11 is starting to ship on the latest models.
macOS is only available on Apple’s MacBook series of laptops while Chromebooks are lower-cost models using Google’s Chrome OS.
Which OS is best for you depends on the type of software you need to use. Some apps are only available for certain operating systems, so make sure you choose a laptop that can run what you need.
How Much Memory and Storage Do You Need?
There are two types of memory to consider when comparing different types of laptops - RAM and storage.
RAM is used for active work. The operating system, any apps you run, and any documents you’re working on get loaded into RAM while they’re being used. The more RAM you have, the more things you can do concurrently.
While some low-end laptops still come with 4GB of RAM, we recommend at least 8GB. And more RAM is always better so 16GB or even 32GB will give you more headroom.
Many modern laptops aren’t upgradable so you should buy enough RAM to give you room to grow over the next few years.
Storage, on the other hand, is where your documents, apps, photos, and anything else you save or install gets loaded.
There are two types of storage devices - spinning hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). SSD storage is much faster than HDD storage and it will have a big impact on how fast your laptop runs.
Unless you’re on a very tight budget, look for a laptop with SSD storage — 128GB or more.
The Display Can Make a Big Difference
Given the size of most laptops, the displays are typically pretty small. The most common sizes are 13-inch and 15-inch, with a few models offering slightly smaller or slightly larger options.
While the displays all tend to be a similar size, there can be some big differences. There are several things to consider when comparing laptop displays:
- Refresh rate
- Color accuracy
Look for a display that’s at least 1080p resolution. Some newer laptops include 4K displays but you’ll pay a lot more for them — and they’ll use more power.
The refresh rate makes a difference if you’re working with video or playing games on your laptop. If you intend to use your laptop to read email, browse the web, edit documents, and do other similar tasks, a 60 Hz display is fine. For video editing or gaming, look for a display with a 120 or 144 Hz refresh rate.
Color accuracy and HDR are important if you’ll be working with photos or anything else where you need to see the same thing on the screen that you’ll get in print.
Do You Run Graphics-Intensive Apps?
Graphics cards, also known as the GPU, are one of the fastest changing technologies in modern computers. Processors, memory, and other components don’t typically get a lot faster from one generation to the next but graphics cards still do.
If you’ll be using your laptop for graphics-intensive applications like video editing, photo editing, or gaming, look for a model with a discrete GPU like Nvidia’s Geforce RTX series. Otherwise, an integrated graphics chipset like Intel’s Iris series will be fine.
The Processor Isn’t Always as Important as You Might Think
As we mentioned in the previous section, processing power doesn’t jump as significantly as it used to from one generation to the next. Newer CPUs still offer better performance but you can probably get by just fine with a CPU that’s a generation or two old.
If you’re looking at a Windows-based laptop, look for one that uses an Intel Core CPU or AMD’s Ryzen processor. Once again, if you’re running processor-intensive apps like games or video editing, a higher-end model like the Core i9 or Ryzen 5000-series will give you the best results.
To get the best experience, look for a laptop that uses the Intel Evo platform. This platform integrates several technologies like the CPU, GPU, and storage to give you the best possible performance.
Lenovo has partnered with Intel to use the Evo platform on many of its latest models. Learn more about the partnership to see what these models have to offer.
How Often Will You Run Your Laptop on Battery Power?
Many modern laptops will run for more than 10 hours on battery power, with some offering more than 20 hours on a single charge. This kind of battery life may or may not be important to you.
A lot of laptops spend most of their time sitting on a desk hooked up to a full-size monitor. They may only get used as a portable computer occasionally.
If that’s the case for you, battery life isn’t that important. But if you expect to use your laptop on the go most of the time, longer battery life means you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to plug it in partway through the day.
Several of the options we’ve already covered will impact a laptop’s battery life. Faster CPUs and GPUs use more power, which means your battery won’t last as long. The same goes for higher resolution screens with a higher refresh rate.
It’s important to balance the performance of your laptop against its battery life to find the best combination of the two for your needs.
Expansion Options for Laptops
While some laptops offer internal expansion ports for adding more RAM or storage, many of the latest models do not. You’ll have whatever RAM and storage you buy with it for as long as you use the laptop.
There are more options for external expansion though. You can add things like external storage drives, full-size displays, external keyboards and mice, and many other peripherals this way.
Make sure you get a laptop with enough ports to allow a reasonable amount of external expansion. Look for a model that includes USB Type-C, USB Type-A, and Thunderbolt ports — ideally at least four built into the laptop.
It’s also important to have options for connecting external displays. This lets you use a larger monitor when you’re at your desk but also to connect the laptop to a projector or other device if you need to use it for a presentation of some kind.
The most common type of video connection is HDMI. You can get adapters to convert other ports to HDMI but having that connection built into your laptop means you’ll be able to connect it almost anywhere.
A Good Webcam Is More Important Than Ever
Webcams have been built into most laptops for several years but they’ve never been particularly good. The resolution was typically poor and the light sensitivity also wasn’t great.
Most people never used those webcams so the low quality didn’t really matter. That changed when many people started working remotely because of the COVID pandemic.
Suddenly, everyone was meeting on Zoom or Microsoft Teams and those low-quality webcams became a big deal. You’ve probably been in meetings where some of the attendees are so blurry that they’re hard to even recognize.
Look for a laptop with a webcam that’s at least 1080p resolution and has a high degree of light sensitivity.
What About Service and Support?
Everything up to this point has been about the components in the laptop itself. But one of the most important things to consider has nothing to do with what’s in the computer.
When choosing a laptop, make sure you buy from a manufacturer with a good reputation for service and support. Even the highest quality computers can develop problems so you want to be sure the manufacturer will stand behind it if that happens to you.
Research the brands you’re considering to see which have the best support ratings.
Now You Know What to Look for When Buying a Laptop
Knowing what to look for when buying a laptop will help you avoid a lot of common pitfalls for new computer buyers. Use the tips we’ve shared in this article to find the perfect model for your needs.
Check out the Tech section of our website for more helpful articles about buying and using a laptop computer.