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Laptop Buying Guide 2013

February 13th, 2013

Martin

Update: Amazon UK are currently offering a range of laptops for under £400, so if how about using your new knowledge to grab a bargain today!

I’ve been asked a few times recently to help friends choose a laptop, and so it seems there’s a need out there for a simple guide.

The problem seems to be that there are a million laptops out there, all much the same as each other. It’s just too hard to choose! This laptop buying guide tells you what you’ll need, and more importantly what you don’t need. There’s no point spending more money for stuff you won’t feel t’benefit of, so not only will you be more informed, you’ll also save money and be able to tell any pesky shop assistants where to extend their warranty!

Who should read this?

Of course, not everyone out looking for a laptop is the same, but for the majority of people a standard machine will suffice. The guide here will keep you happy for a number of years doing the following:

  • Browsing the web and dealing with /ignoring emails;
  • Writing the next 50 Shades;
  • Keeping tabs on your finances or football team in a geeky spreadsheet;
  • Filing your holiday snaps away, or photoshopping a celebrity into your party pics;
  • Procrastinating on Minesweeper (you still play Minesweeper, right?);
  • Filling your iPod with embarrassing 80s pop;
  • …and much more!

Right, all set? Let’s dive into those numbers you’ll see when comparing laptops. For each I’ve given a figure for what you need, and a bigger or faster option in brackets, if your budget allows.

Specifications

Processor

Best choice: Intel Core i3 (or Intel Core i5)

This is the brain of the computer, one of the main things which influences how fast it goes. Intel are the company at the top of the game at the moment, although there are also processors from AMD, the main rival to Intel. Go for Intel’s ‘Core’ range, and look for product numbers with a 3 at the beginning, for example Core i3-3240 or Core i5-3570K.

Go with Core i3 unless you’re doing some serious photo or video editing, which case go for Core i5.

RAM (memory)

Best choices: 4GB [gigabytes] (or 8GB)

Your laptop’s RAM is the working memory of the machine, so the greater the amount of RAM you have, the more it can do at once. Upgrading your RAM is almost always the best way to speed up an ageing machine, and is a fairly important measure when considering a new laptop.

Today, we’re right on the verge of whether 4GB or 8GB is enough. If you can afford 8GB then your laptop will serve you longer, but my own laptop is running quite happily on 3GB, and my main desktop computer on 4GB. For most uses, 4GB is enough, but get the larger amount if your budget stretches.

Hard disk (strorage)

Best choice: 50GB (or 1000GB)

Your hard disk drive (HDD) is where all your software and personal files are stored. Of course, how much you need depends on how many photos and music tracks you have (as these take up the greatest space). But as laptops are more difficult to upgrade later on, you’ll want to get as much as possible straight away.

Having said that, 500GB should be more than enough for the life of any laptop you buy today. If you’ve got a laptop currently, then you can always check how much hard disk space you’re currently using.

[A note on SSDs: Solid State Disks (SSDs) are a relatively new type of hard disk which have no moving parts like an ordinary HDD, and so are silent and cooler, and laptop batteries last longer when these are used. However, they’re still very expensive, and so there’s no need to bother with them yet.]

Screen size

Best choice: 15″ (or 17″), with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels (or 1600 x 900 pixels)

This is a quite personal choice, and also affects the size and weight of the machine. Read the below section on Size and Weight, and make your choice based on the things I talk about there. In short: 15″ for most cases, and to keep things portable, or 17″ for more screen space but with a greater weight.

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You can stop reading now! But if you want to know more then the following might also be worth taking into account when buying a new laptop.

Other things to consider

Brand

This is another confusing choice to make. There are hundreds of brands out there, but I would always go with HP, Acer or Asus as a first choice. That’s not to ignore others, but I’m here to make your choices easier, so look for these brands first!

Windows

Windows 8 came out in October 2012, but Windows 7 still has plenty of life left in it. I tried Windows 8 for a little while and didn’t take to the new Modern tile interface. See my post on What to do about Windows 8 to find out more about what I think about the new Windows. You may not have a choice, but try Windows 8 on a friend’s computer, or in a shop, before making a decision.

Weight and size

This is affected by two things: keyboard size (i.e. is there a number keypad on the right?) and screen size. A laptop with a 17″ screen and a number keypad will be heavier, and probably not something you want to cart around much on a train. For portability go for a 13″ or 15″ screen, with no number keypad on the side. These fit in a smaller bag, and are much lighter. If you’re keeping the laptop at home, you could go for a heavier model with more screen space.

Appearance

This might seem like a silly thing to take into account, or you may feel guilty about splashing out on a hot pink Sony Vaio with inlaid Swarovsky crystals. And so you should. But if two laptops are hard to choose between, then choosing the one which looks great has to get the deciding vote. You’ll have to cart this thing around for a couple of years, and laptops are in some way an extension of you. So, go for the one you like. I won’t tell anybody.

Choose for me, please!

Fine. I didn’t give my friends a 1000 word lecture on this. I just gave them a few good options, and here’s what I suggested:

HP Pavilion G6-1253SA

  • Processor: Core i3-370M
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Hard Disk: 500GB
  • Screen: 15.6″
  • Windows 7

This is a great standard laptop, which meets the requirements of 90% of computer users. It’s available for less than £600 new on Amazon, and a little less for a refurbished model.

Asus S200E 11.6-inch

  • Processor: Core i3-3217u
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Hard Disk: 500GB
  • Screen: 11.6″
  • Windows 8

This is a little different, with a smaller screen, and a touch screen to boot, and has the newer Windows 8. This is a light and very portable laptop, and is just under £450 on Amazon.

Well, I hope this little guide will help you choose a new laptop to buy. If you’ve any comments or questions, do let me know below, or get in touch with me if there’s anything computer-related I can help with.

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