A Laptop Buying Guide for Every Year
Technology moves fast, and new devices come out all the time, so getting a new laptop often involves digging through a wealth of reviews for everything on the shelf. But some guidelines for laptop shopping never go out of date.
I’ve been working in Information Technology for twenty years, and much of my job is recommending purchases and assisting people who are using laptops and desktops. These are the rules I go by, based on all the real-world feedback I’ve received from people who are using computers for their daily work.
- The more you’re going to use it, the more you should spend on it.
This is the most important rule, and you can apply it to almost anything you buy. Think about how much this laptop will cost you per-hour of use. Don’t drop $1000+ for a laptop you use once in a while; you won’t ever get that value out of it. Don’t buy the cheapest thing you can find if you’re relying on it daily; even the smallest frustrations will be annoying you constantly.
- Don’t buy laptops from discount stores.
Even if they’re brand-name, they may be special models that are only sold in those stores, and are made with cheaper parts and worse manufacturing.
- Buy the amount of storage you actually need.
Nicer laptops charge a premium for larger storage, and most people don’t need that much. To get an idea how much you should have, check how full your current hard drive is:
Windows 10: Click the Start menu, and type “File Explorer” in the search. Open that, and click “This PC” on the left side. You’ll see your drives listed, along with how many GB are in use.
OSX: Click the magnifying glass in the top-right (Or hit Command-Spacebar, the best OSX keyboard shortcut!). Type “Disk Utility”, and open that.
Once you know how much you’re actually using, you can make a good estimate on what you’ll need.
- System specs aren’t everything.
Don’t over focus on processor and memory. The screen, camera, speakers, keyboard, trackpad, battery life, and overall build quality factor in heavily to your experience with the device. If you buy entirely on system specs, you’re missing a lot of what will impact how happy you are with your laptop. I’ve seen several cases where someone bought a gaming laptop because “I heard they have the best hardware” only to find that gaming laptops are built for (surprise) gaming, and aren’t the best for a lot of other purposes.
- . . . But system specs aren’t nothing, either.
It’s a bit difficult to know exactly how much processor/memory/etc. you need, if you don’t know much about hardware. But a good place to start is with the software you use. Look up the recommended specs for the software and games you use regularly, and let that be your guide.
- Consider the size and weight carefully
A larger laptop gives you more screen to work with, but it comes with more bulk, and generally more weight. A smaller laptop is easy to carry, but is usually more limited in terms of hardware. Find a balance based on how you expect to use it. Consider how much you’re just working in one or two spots, and how often you’ll be lugging it through airports.
- Use what you’re comfortable with.
If you know and like Macs, you’ll be happier sticking with those. If you can’t stand Macs, don’t force yourself to use one just because they came out with a new model that looks good. Technology isn’t really about the tool, it’s about the interaction between the tool and the person using it.
- Buy an external drive for backups.
Get this out of the way up front. Both Windows and Mac have built-in backup systems that work well. As of this writing, a 1TB external drive can be had for $50-$60. Professional data recovery for a failed drive can easily run $1000+. This is easy math. Back up your important stuff. Do it.
There is no “best laptop,” because people are different, and so are their needs. With these pointers, I hope you can find a “good” laptop that really works for you, and what you’re doing.