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Guide to buying a laptop

Guide to buying a laptop

Allan Akers |

If you're struggling to decide which is the right laptop for you or you're a bit overwhelmed by all the technical terms, this guide will help you navigate through the jargon and identify the features to look for in your ideal laptop.

What do you need your laptop for?

The first question you want to ask yourself is, "what am I going to be using my laptop for?” Working on spreadsheets, writing essays, streaming videos, or playing games?

Each use case has its own performance requirements and factors to consider, so let’s look at each of the use cases and see what you need to be looking out for.

General Web Browsing and Video Streaming

If you are just browsing the web doing a bit of shopping or streaming Netflix, you'll need a basic laptop. The key thing to look out for is the size of screen that you're comfortable with and this will impact the weight of the laptop. If you don't want anything heavy, look for either a 13-inch or 15-inch screen. Some screens can be touch-screen, although this will increase the cost dramatically.

  • What to look for: Basic processor (e.g., Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3), 4GB to 8GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive (SSD) storage for quicker access to your files and faster startup times. 

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Studying or Academic Use

A laptop that's easy to carry around campus is crucial, so look for something lightweight with a 13-inch to 15-inch screen. Processing power is important for research and document creation, and multitasking capabilities are a must—especially for those who use resource-intensive browsers like Google Chrome.

  • What to look for: Portability, durability, long battery life, at least 8GB of RAM (16GB if you're a heavy multitasker), and a capable processor (Intel Core i5). Brands known for their build quality include Dell, Asus, and Samsung.

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If you're playing games with realistic graphics in massively multiplayer worlds, you're going to need a powerful machine. Avoid any laptop that doesn't have a dedicated graphics card and aim to get the fastest processor you can afford. A 17-inch screen is a great option if you want to be immersed in the game.

  • Key Features: High-performance processor (e.g., Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7), dedicated graphics card, 16GB of RAM or more, and a high refresh rate display.

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Creative Tasks (Video Editing, Graphic Design)

If you're a creative genius you're going to need the most powerful laptop you can afford. Like gaming laptops you'll want a dedicated graphics card, at least 16GB RAM and the fastest processor available. While you could get away with just buying a gaming laptop, they're typically a bit colourful and might not fit into your corporate image if you work in an office. Look for laptops marketed towards professionals and creatives, such as those in the MacBook Pro, Dell XPS, or Microsoft Surface series.

  • Key Features: Powerful processor (Intel Core i7/i9 or AMD Ryzen 7/9), at least 16GB of RAM, dedicated graphics card, and a high-resolution or colour-accurate display.

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Business Use and Frequent Travel

If you’re on the move all the time or regularly commute, you’ll want a lightweight laptop with a screen no bigger than 15-inches. The Dell XPS 15, Apple MacBook Air, or Asus ZenBook are ideal in these situations. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got plenty of RAM (at least 16GB) so you can have all those windows and web browser tabs open at the same time. Go for at least an Intel Core i5 processor and SSD storage to ensure that your programs respond quickly.

  • What to look for: Lightweight, strong build quality, excellent battery life, and reliable performance. Security features like fingerprint sensors or hardware-based encryption might be beneficial.

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Hopefully that gives you an idea of what to look for when trying to choose your laptop.

Remember, the most expensive laptop isn’t always the best fit for your needs. It's all about finding the right tool for the job within your budget. Happy laptop hunting! Find a refurbished laptop

Glossary of Technical Terms

Here's some of the technical terms used in this article and what they mean:

  • Processor (CPU): The brain of the laptop that handles all tasks. Think of it as the engine of a car – more powerful processors can handle more tasks at once, just like a more powerful engine can go faster.
  • Intel Core i3/i5/i7/i9: Different levels of Intel processors, with i3 being basic and suitable for simple tasks, and i9 being very powerful, designed for heavy tasks like gaming and video editing.
  • AMD Ryzen 3/7/9: AMD's range of processors, similar to Intel's, where Ryzen 3 is for basic tasks and Ryzen 9 is for demanding computing needs.
  • RAM (Random Access Memory): This is the laptop's short-term memory, used to store data for active applications. More RAM lets you run multiple programs smoothly at the same time.
  • Solid-State Drive (SSD): A type of storage that's faster than traditional hard drives (HDDs), meaning your laptop starts up quicker and files open faster. It's like comparing an electronic book where you can instantly turn to any page versus flipping through a paper book to find a page.
  • Dedicated Graphics Card: A separate piece of hardware in the laptop specifically designed to handle video and images, crucial for gaming or creative work. It's like having a specialised assistant who only works on graphics, making everything look better and run smoother.
  • High Refresh Rate Display: The screen updates its image more times per second, making motion look smoother. Important for gaming. Imagine flipping through a flipbook – a higher refresh rate is like flipping faster for a smoother animation.
  • Touch-Screen: A display that lets you interact directly with what's on the screen by touching it, similar to how you use a smartphone.
  • Portability: How easy it is to carry the laptop around, often related to its weight and size. A more portable laptop is like a lighter backpack – easier to carry around all day.
  • Battery Life: How long the laptop can run on a single charge. Longer battery life means you don't have to plug it in as often, much like a car with a bigger gas tank goes longer between fill-ups.
  • Build Quality: How well the laptop is made, which affects how long it will last and how it feels to use. Think of it as the difference between a sturdy, well-made backpack and a flimsy one that falls apart quickly.

Ready to buy your next laptop? Take a look at our full range of cheap laptops.

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