Laptop Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated August 3rd, 2023
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There is a huge variety of laptops of different sizes, features and prices available on the market today. For some, this can make the process of choosing the perfect laptop slightly daunting. This guide aims to help alleviate some of the stress that comes with trawling through endless options and terms that at times, can look like gibberish.

Perhaps you are looking for the ultimate entertainment laptop to play games and stream movies on, or perhaps you need one that will keep up with your work or study while on-the-go. Whatever you’re looking for, here at PB Tech, we have a wide range of laptops that offer varying degrees of portability, power and performance that will satisfy your needs and budget. We’ve provided a few tips below to keep in mind when buying your next laptop.

What will you be using this laptop for?

Laptops vary in both internal and external specs to suit functionality purposes. These are some things to consider based on what your laptop will be used for. 

Gaming Business/Work School/Uni Home
  • Powerful CPU (ideally Intel i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 and higher)
  • Fast refresh rate
  • Powerful graphics card
  • Sufficient RAM (ideally 16GB minimum)
  • Cooling fan
  • SSD storage
  • Reliable performance (solid CPU & sufficient RAM for type of work)
  • Webcam for business calls
  • Good battery life
  • Light and portable if frequently on-the-go
  • Security features
  • User-friendly keyboard
  • Adequate storage
  • Will vary depending on age or area of study
  • Reliable performance for basic tasks
  • Good battery life of 9H+
  • Good screen resolution
  • Durable build quality
  • Light and portable
  • Webcam and microphone
  • Value for money
  • Parental controls?
  • Good performance for a variety of tasks
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Adequate storage based on personal needs
  • Screen size and resolution based on use
  • Good connectivity
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 world's most popular OS with the largest range of supported software
  • A large range of laptop choices in comparison to Chrome and Mac
  • Specially designed features for touchscreens and voice controls
  • Offers more value for money spec-wise compared to macOS

Apple macOS

  • Sleek and stylish design
  • Allows functionality with iPhone, Siri, iCloud, Apple Watch, Apple Pay etc
  • Offers a slightly smaller variety of software choices (although most main software is available for macOS)
  • Some newer models lack ports and you need to pay for additional accessories
  • Premium price

Google Chrome OS

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

Shop by Operating System

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 required. See below for common components you should be aware of when purchasing your new Laptop.

CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is essentially the brain of the computer, sometimes referred to as the processor. It facilitates the machines ability to carry out operations, from simple tasks like browsing to complex processes like heavy-duty gaming or programming. It plays a key role in performance and there are a few key characteristics that play a part. Aside from the processor model, number of cores and clock speed (Gigahertz or GHz) are also worth considering. More cores and higher speed essentially means it can execute more tasks simultaneously and efficiently.

  • Some less expensive laptop models have Intel Celeron or Intel Pentium CPUs, which offer long battery life. However, they tend to struggle with high performance and productivity tasks. Web surfing and general daily tasks are easily done, so laptops with these types of processors are ideal for those with light workloads and basic needs.
  • If reliable performance across a range of tasks is important to your laptop needs, go for an Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 series processor or higher.
  • Those with more demanding needs, such as video editors, graphic designers or engineers should look for a laptop with a CPU from the Core i7, i9 or Ryzen 7, 9 series or higher.
  • If you’re a power user or dedicated gamer with top-notch needs, a Core i9 would likely be ideal.

RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory) plays a huge part in defining the laptop's proficiency. RAM stores the data that is actively being used or processed by the CPU. This means that when you're surfing the web, watching Netflix, or playing games, all of the data the CPU needs for those tasks is stored in the RAM. A higher capacity means more data can be stored for quick access, leading to more efficient multitasking and software operations. Thus, if you are heavily multi-tasking or using demanding software, you would require more RAM, measured in gigabytes (GB). It's also worth noting the type of RAM. DDR4 is currently most common in laptops, but DDR5 is the latest iteration which boasts greater speed and efficiency.

  • For everyday use and basic tasks, 4-6GB of RAM will suffice.
  • For significant multitasking and use of high-end applications, a system with 6-8GB is ideal.
  • Power users and gamers should be looking at 16GB of RAM minimum.

Solid State Drives (SSDs)

Storage is an essential part of any laptop, housing all of your files, applications, operating system, and everything else that you will be saving or installing to your device. SSDs (Solid State Drives) have become the norm in modern laptops and it's for good reason. They're much faster than the older HDDs (Hard Desk Drives); with no moving parts, they have faster read and write speeds which leads to faster boot times, file transfers, and application response times. Ultimately, the SSD determinds how much data your laptop can hold. 

  • For simply browsing the web and creating basic documents, you might getaway with a small SSD of 32GB-64GB - often found in Chromebooks. 
  • For basic home and study use (not including subjects like graphic design), a 128GB-256GB SSD should be sufficient. 
  • If you are planning on storing a lot of photos, videos, and other media files, you may wish to opt for a higher capacity SSD.
  • If you handle large files or use advanced software, you should consider a high capacity SSD of 512GB-1TB (or more). Alternatively, if you don't need regular or convenient access to all of your files, you can always transfer some of your files to an external hard drive so you can save on SSD capacity. 

Battery Life

If you're buying a large and bulky laptop that will only be used near a power outlet, you don't need to worry as much about battery life. However, if you’ll be using your laptop away from an outlet, and often out and about, you’ll want a laptop that has a good battery life. You should look for one that can last at least an entire school or work day of 9 hours plus. 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.

  • As a bare minimum, the laptop should offer at least 4 hours of battery life.
  • If you need to be fairly mobile with your laptop - such as using it to work on-the-go or at university - you should look for a laptop that offers at least 9 hours of battery life. 

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!

Know Your External Specs

Display Resolution

The display is pretty important when it comes to user experience. It impacts how you view the content that's on your screen, whether it's for work, study, gaming or media consumption. The two fundamental aspects to consider in your display is the resolution and screen size. The resolution refers to the number of pixels displayed on the screen. The greater the number of pixels, the more detail an clarity you will see. 

  • We recommend choosing a display that is FHD (Full HD) at minimum. FHD is 1920x1080 pixels (commonly known as 1080p). FHD screens offer a good balance between clarity and power consumption, and will suffice for most users. 
  • If premium visual quality is important to you, such as in gaming and design, choose a laptop that is QHD (Quad HD) aka 2K. QHD is 2560x1440 pixels (commonly known as 1440p). This will offer a a higher level of detail and clarity. 
  • If ultra-high detail is important, such as in graphic design, photo and video-editing, or high-definition gaming, you may prefer a UHD (Ultra High Definition) aka 4K display. UHD is 3840x2160 pixels and offers the most detail, sharpeness, and clarity of them all. Note that it will however, consumer more battery life. 

Display Size

Choosing the right sized laptop screen is also important. It ultimately comes down how portable you need your laptop to be and how much screen real estate you need. 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. However, devices of this size may be perfect for children who need a laptop to take to school.

13-14 inches: This size provides great portability and usability and usually weighs around 2kgs. This size will fit comfortably on your lap, in your bag, and still gives generously sized keyboards and screens. This is an ideal size for a student or business worker who wants a device that is portable. For certain applications and interfaces, 13-inch screens may not provide enough screen space which can become frustrating and detrimental to productivity. Be sure to consider the applications and interfaces you will be using if choosing a screen of this size.

15 inches: 15” is the most popular laptop size and is perfect for those looking for an all-rounder laptop for everyday use. This size tends to work well with a wide range of work purposes so it is also great for students or business workers who aren't overly concerned with portability (that being said, if you find a slim and lightweight 15" laptop, you can get the best of both worlds). 

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. Laptops this size can pack in high speed quad core CPUs, graphics chips and multiple storage drives. The downside is laptops of this size tend to be heavier, therefore less portable.

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.

Durability

If you're frequently be on the go, using the laptop in an environment where knocks and bumps are likely (such as children in a classroom), or simply wanting a long-lasting laptop, you should consider the durability of a laptop too. The construction quality of a laptop can directly influence its lifespan, with the premium laptops often boasting robust and durable builds incorporating aluminum or carbon fiber, while more budget-friendly options may feature plastic casings. Bear in mind, though, that durability often serves as a balancing act against weight and portability - a more rugged laptop might come with added bulk.

  • 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.

Laptop Style - 2-in-1 Hybrids

A number of hybrid 2-in-1 laptops are now available, offering greater versatility in one device. These laptops bring the best of both worlds, doubling as both a laptop and a tablet by using bendable, rotatable, or detachable 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, but there are great 2-in-1 laptop options from many other brands too!

Laptop Style - Ultrabooks

If thin and light is your top priority, look for an ultrabook! 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

Check out our list of Top Ultraboks (Thin and Light Laptops)!

Other Things to Consider

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard and trackpad 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: 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: Type-C is quickly becoming the new normal so your modern laptop should have at least one of these! This versatile port doesn't insist on a 'right side up' - it’s completely reversible, sparing the often frustrating flip over to ensure it connects. Beyond convenience, Type-C is a true multitasker, capable of carrying data, an image for an external display, and even power for charging laptops or devices - all at the same time - and much faster than Type-A too!

Thunderbolt: The newer version looks 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 go-to 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.

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 isn't 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? e.g. Are you a music or video producer or do you frequently watch content on your laptop, etc.
  • Is there the option to plug in external speaker systems?

When shopping online it can be hard 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 however. If possible, check out the laptop in store to test the sound and/or take a look at online reviews.

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. Dolby Audio is also known to provide rich, clear and powerful sound. Harmon Kardon is another one you may see which is designed to deliver superior audio.

Find Your Perfect Laptop

We hope this guide was helpful in your laptop buying process. To weigh up the different options on the market, head over to our laptops department for NZ's largest range of laptops!


Written By

Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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