Laptop Buying Guide

Benjamin Bolstad By Benjamin Bolstad - updated August 28th, 2020
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There are many laptops of different sizes, features and prices available on the market today and choosing the perfect laptop can be daunting. This guide will hopefully alleviate some of the stress that comes with trawling through endless options and terms that at times, can look like gibberish.

You could be looking for the ultimate entertainment laptop to play games and stream movies on or you may want to keep up with work while travelling. Whatever you’re looking for, here at PB Tech we have a wide range of laptops with the portability, power and performance that will satisfy your needs and budget. We’ve provided a few tips below, to look out for when looking at buying your next laptop.

What will you be using this Laptop for?

Laptops vary in both internal and external specs to suit functionality purposes.

Gaming Business/Work School/Uni Family
  • High screen res
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Graphics Card
  • High Specs
  • Grunty CPU (Core i7, preferably a six core.)
  • Cooling fan
  • Sleek/sophisticated
  • Word processor, presentation ability
  • Email
  • Webcam
  • Skype for business calls
  • Light and portable
  • Keep in mind age (see: subheader on PB tech School recommendations)
  • Good battery life 8+ hours
  • Parental controls?
  • Word/Presentation processor
  • Good screen resolution
  • Internet access
  • Durability
  • All-rounder and dynamic, suitable to run different programmes each family member uses
  • Good storage to store multiple accounts of data, favourites, pictures, music, software etc.
  • Is it replacing another laptop or a desktop PC
Gaming Laptops Work Laptops Student Laptops Home Laptops

Operating System (OS)

First of all, it’s a good idea to identify which operating system (commonly known as OS) you want to go with, you may already have a preference, however, if you’re unsure take a look below to see some advantages and disadvantages of each of the platforms available.

Microsoft Windows

  • The worlds most popular OS with the largest range of supported software
  • A large range of choices in comparison to Chrome and Mac.
  • Specially designed features for touchscreens and voice controls.

Apple macOS

  • Sleek, stylish design - some would argue Mac design outclasses Windows but there are now plenty of premium
  • Allows functionality with iPhone, Siri, iCloud, Apple Watch, Apple Pay etc.
  • Doesn’t offer the largest variety of software choices
  • Some newer models lack ports and you need to pay for additional accessories

Google Chrome OS

  • Inexpensive
  • Sleek and lightweight
  • Limited to web apps created by Chrome
  • Good battery life
  • Portable
  • Great for school or child’s first laptop

Shop by Operating System

Know Your External Specs

Display

When you’re thinking about screen display and resolution, generally the more pixels you have, the more content you can fit on the screen and the more detailed images will look.

  • A good option to choose is Full HD display which is 1920x1080 (commonly known as 1080P)
  • Some more expensive laptops have screens which are 3840-2160 (4K) and 2560x1440 (1440P).
  • Choose your resolution depending on your needs, however, keep in mind that you will receive better quality of all your favourite web pages, you’ll be able to multitask better and enhance your movie watching experience with a higher pixel resolution.

Durability

The internal durability of a laptop tends to be the main priority on the average laptop-shoppers mind, but it’s also important to consider the durability of the external parts of a laptop – especially if you’ll frequently be on the go, using the laptop for long periods of time, or if the laptop will be used by a younger person (eg. a primary school student).

  • Some laptops come designed to prevent wear and tear with elements such as water-resistant keyboards or rugged designs. Look out for these features if you think your laptop may be prone to being dropped or having food and drink spilt on it.
  • If you’ll be using your laptop for strenuous work or running multiple programmes, make sure the laptop has a suitable cooling fan. There’s nothing worse than having your laptop overheat on you and losing precious work or data.
  • Think about purchasing some additional accessories to protect your new laptop, such as a case or carry bag, keyboard cover and/or screen protector.

Screen Size

Choosing the right sized laptop is also important and ultimately comes down how portable you need your laptop to be. Generally, laptops are categorized by their display sizes, see below:

11-12 inches

An 11-12 inch laptop is the lightest and thinnest system. This size typically weighs 1-1.5 kgs. As this is the smallest size, the screen and keyboard may be too confined for some users.

13-14 inches

This size provides great portability and usability and usually weigh 2kgs. This size will fit comfortably on your lap and still gives generously sized keyboards and screens. A laptop under 2.5kgs would be ideal, however extremely lightweight systems are available with these screen sizes. This is an ideal sized screen for a student or business worker.

15 inches

15” is the most popular laptop size, tending to weigh around 3kgs, and are great all-rounder laptops perfect for home use. Generally this size is inexpensive and is ideal for work purposes or if you don’t require to carry your laptop around with you, however is less portable than the smaller 11-13 inch. A lot of 15 inch models include DVD drives.

17-18 inches

If you’re wanting to play high end games or do workstation level productivity you may want to consider a 17-18 inch model, as long as your needs include leaving your laptop on your desk all day every day as these tend to be quite heavy. Laptops this size can pack in high speed quad core CPUs, graphics chips and multiple storage drives.

When shopping for a laptop, it’s a good idea to – if allowed - physically handle the display models to get an idea of how heavy the laptop will be. Another idea is to bring a bag that you will be using to carry the laptop in with you to see if the screen size fits the bags measurements. Alternatively, measure your bag inside and out and bring these measurements with you. Keep in mind other items you may be carrying with you like chargers, headphones, personal items etc.

2-in-1 Hybrids

Recently a number of hybrid “2-in-1” laptops have come onto the market. These laptops bring the best of both worlds, doubling as both a laptop and a tablet by using bendable and rotatable screens. If you’re regularly going to use your laptop in slate mode or want flexibility to use your laptop as a standalone tablet you may want to consider these versatile designs. These models offer touch-screen capabilities.

We recommend browsing the Microsoft Surface range as it includes some of the best options!

Ultrabooks

Intel's Ultrabook™ standards have not been updated publicly for several years, but at the time of writing this, a laptop qualifies as an "Ultrabook" if it meets the following physical specifications.

  • (20 mm) for laptops with smaller displays (less than 14")
  • (23 mm) for laptops with larger displays (14" or more)
  • Battery Life: At least 6 hours of HD video playback or 9 hours of Windows OS idle time
  • How long to wake up from hibernation: 3 seconds or less

Keyboard & Mouse

The keyboard and mouse functions are an integral part of how you use your laptop. It’s important to make sure these elements are both comfortable and easy to use.

  • Make sure the keyboard is large enough for your hands to easily reach and press all keys, and that the keys aren’t sticking or feel too loose.
  • The touchpad mouse should be satisfying to click, easy to grasp, pinch, scroll and click with, and have the ability to adjust touchpad sensitivity to suit your preferences.
  • Alternatively, if you prefer to use an external mouse or keyboard, make sure there’s an ability to use wireless accessories or plug in with a USB port.
  • Backlit keyboards are a great option for those using their laptop in low-lit areas such as the bedroom, at night, or gaming with the lights off.
  • Smaller laptops (<15 inch) don’t include the NUMPAD keys and this can be an issue for some users.

Ports

Laptop ports allow for users to plug in, charge, and use multiple different devices on your laptop. It’s a good idea to consider what you’ll be using your laptop for and what type of connections the cables are on your other devices. Below is a list of ports, what cables/products these would use, and what context they’d be used for.

USB Type-A (the classic shape!)

These little guys are super useful, connecting everything from USB pen drives to flight simulator joysticks. The question isn't really do you need a USB port, it's how many to you want. Think about what you'll have connected to your laptop all the time, a mouse for example, then any additional items such as external hard drives, charging devices (eg. phone charger) and work out how many it would likely need to connect all at once. Don't worry if the list gets long, or increases in size in the future, a hub or docking station can easily be added to increase the number of ports you'll have available to you.

USB Type-C (the newish one that can plug things in upsidedown)

Found on the latest laptops USB C is great because of the reversible input design - there is no right or wrong way to plug the cables in!

Thunderbolt

The newer version look like the USB Type C connections but they're super fast, able to connect 5K monitors & extremely fast external SSD drives. Ideal for business use especially if you work with large graphic files or ultra HD 5K displays.

HDMI

The goto for connecting a laptop to a large display, be it a monitor or projector. Great for business use and presentations, equally suited to playing music videos on YouTube through your big screen TV at home.

Ethernet RJ-45

This connects a laptop to a local area network. Commonly found on modems / routers / powerline adaptors it's great for business, home or anywhere you want to connect to the internet and WiFi isn't a viable option. A must-have for frequent travellers and hotel visitors.

DVD/CD Drive

Can be used for playing & copying music to/from CDs, watching DVDs and installing software via disc (eg. Microsoft Office 2003). It's older hardware and not commonly found in laptops anymore, and the external option available now as accessories are slim and convenient.

VGA

Useful for when you want to connect your new laptop to old projectors/monitors that don't have HDMI (if your business has a boardroom projector from the 2000s it's probably VGA). The signal type is a little different from what we've come to expect from HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI so you can't just get a cable with VGA on one end and HDMI on the other, making this (or an expensive adaptor) an essential if your working with businesses or hardware that's a not the most recent.

Display Port / Mini Display Port

This is similar in many ways to the HDMI option above but is more commonly found on laptop docking stations, 4K monitors & ultra-fast monitors. It's extremely fast, even at high resolutions and generally has the bandwidth needed to update the image on screen more rapidly which is why we see it as a standard on 144Hz Gaming Monitors and above.

Card Reader

Reads memory cards, usually the SD size but watch out for extra information in the description for other card sizes too as many are multi-sized. Having a card reader is great, SD cards are a great slim storage option with a low cost and that makes them a solid option for storage and backups. A MicroSD card adaptor can also be used to easily insert the memory card from a phone, so you can copy all the photos to your PC easily. The versatile storage slot is perfect for home or student uses.

3.5mm Audio Jack

This can either be a single port for both the headset & microphone, or separate ones for each (sometimes coloured pink and green). This port can be used for a range of audio devices including speaker systems, headsets, earphones and amplifiers. Useful for home & business.

Audio

Whilst almost all laptops have an audio jack to plug in headphones or earphones, some users prefer to watch video, listen to music or work on their laptop without these. Regardless, if audio is important to you - consider the following:

  • Does the laptop have a speaker system and what is the speaker quality like?
  • Is the sound clear and distinct enough to be heard on multiple volume levels
  • Does the laptop allow for speakers and/or headphones?
  • Will quality of sound impact your experience (eg. Are you a music or video producer, do you frequently watch content on your laptop, etc.)
  • Is there the option to plug in external speaker systems in a USB port?

When shopping online it can be a lot harder to hear if the speaker quality is clear or loud. In the specifications there is often information that can give us a good idea of what to expect though.

Audio certifications and endorsements

It's good to look out for professional high end headphone & speaker manufacturers or studios in the specs, Bang & Olufsen is often seen in HP laptops and those that do are well known for having excellent audio.

Know Your Internal Specs

It may be daunting at first looking at spec sheets, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting the one that best fits your needs. As mentioned above, you need to know what you plan to do with your laptop as this will determine which components you need to look out for. For example, if you’re wanting to do intensive 3D gaming more components may need to be included. See below for common components you should be aware of when purchasing your new Laptop.

CPU

CPU is the abbreviation for Central Processing Unit. Sometimes referred to simply as the central processor, but more commonly called processor, the CPU is the brains of the PC where most calculations take place.

  • Some less expensive laptop models have Intel Celeron or Intel Pentium CPUs, which offer long battery life, however, tend to struggle with high productivity and media tasks. Web surfing and general daily tasks can easily be done. 
  • If high-quality performance is vital to your laptop needs, it would be ideal to go for Intel M or better for thin systems or a Core i3/i5 CPU/AMD A or Ryzen 3/5 series for mainstream systems.
  • Video editor and graphic designers should look to the Core i7, i9 or Ryzen 7 series.
  • If you’re a power user or dedicated gamer a Core i9 would likely be ideal.

RAM

RAM (pronounced ramm) is an acronym for random access memory, a type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly; that is, any byte of memory can be accessed without touching the preceding bytes. RAM is the most common type of memory found in computers and other devices.

  • In terms of RAM, (the computer memory), you shouldn’t settle for anything less than 2GB, as even the cheapest of laptops have this amount.
  • If you need to be multitasking and using high-end applications, a system with 6-8GB would be appropriate.
  • Power users and gamers should be looking at 16GB of RAM minimum.

Solid State Drives (SSDs)

  • SSDs – or Solid State Srives - help to improve performance and are arguably more important than your laptop CPU. They come with less capacity than traditional hard drives: usually between 128-256GB.
  • If you can afford it and don't need a ton of internal storage, get a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than a hard drive, because you'll see at least three times the speed and a much faster laptop overall.
  • With an SSD you will receive faster boot times, faster resume times as well as faster application open times.
  • Another advantage of SSDs is that there is less chance of failure due to the fact that they do not having moving parts, as mechanical drives do.

Battery Life

Battery life is also something to be aware of. If you're buying a large, bulky notebook that will only be used near a power outlet with the charger readily available, you don't need to worry about battery life. However, if you’ll be using your laptop for long periods of time (eg: in a typical 8 hour school day) you’ll be wanting a laptop that is able to last this capacity. Battery life will vary between models and depend on screen brightness as well as the tasks you perform on your laptop, so it’s good to think about how you will be using your laptop when considering battery life.

  • To ensure you can move your laptop around with you, if you’re looking at a 15-inch laptop, 4 hours of endurance would be ideal.
  • If you’re needing to be fairly mobile with your laptop you should look for laptops with around 7 hours of endurance.
  • Some laptops offer extended batteries if given the choice this would be a good idea, however, some do not feature upgradeable batteries. Gamers, travellers or consumers shopping for laptops for school students may want to consider this option.

We hope this guide helped you on the path to buying the best laptop for you, you can check out the wide variety of laptops/notebooks here that are available right now!


Written By

Benjamin Bolstad

Spends time gaming when he should be sleeping

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