Finding the right laptop for you – in any price range – EFTM

Finding the right laptop for you – in any price range

it's a tough buying market with so many makes and models to choose from

As we move more and more into a mobile world our smartphones are doing a lot of the leg work for our basic online communication, tablets have taken over a large amount of our content consumption and in all this the victim has been the humble desktop computer.  But still valuable remains the ever popular laptop, and in 2016 they are better value than ever before too.

The problem with Laptops is the vast amount of choice – not only in a single retail store, but if you start looking online at the manufacturers themselves you’ll find variations on variations futher confusing buyers.

So here’s our basic buying guide for laptop computers!

First of all, lets forget brand names and design for a moment – more on that soon.

It’s what’s inside that matters.

This isn’t relationship advice, it’s the first and most important part of your buying experience.  You see every computer has some core components you need to understand before you choose, and they also allow a more reasonable comparison between two different units.

Processor

The processor is the beating heart of any computer, it’s the thing that allows it to do the work you ask of it.  Which is why there are so many of them.

In any simple search you’ll find things like AMD, Celeron, Pentium, Intel Core this and that.  The problem is working out which one is right for you.

Now there will be some tech-nerd who will read this and gasp, but I need to simplify this for you, so stick with me as I tell you how I group the processors when making a decision on which will work for you.

Basic User – Getting online, Email, social media, word processing.

  • Machines that have Intel Celeron, Pentium or AMD “chips” will be great for this user.

Average User – Online, loves watching video, email, social media, office applications like word, excel, powerpoint, some photo editing

  • Intel Core i3 processors will work here, but you’ll quickly get frustrated by speed, so look for an Intel Core i5, a middle of the range processor

Advanced User – Heavy user online, watches HD video, editing video and photo, and all of the above

  • Intel Core i7 should be your only choice, this means you will be able to do all that you want and then some

Gamer – Needs a machine that can play the best games as well as tinker in video and photo editing plus all of the above.

  • Intel Core i7 again is vital, but in reality that will be standard and it’s the graphics and memory that are most important in this machine.

Memory

When I talk about memory, I’m talking about RAM – this is the figure quoted on each machine as 4GB RAM, 8GB RAM etc.

The memory is the free space made just for thinking.  That’s right, your machine needs to think when you ask it to do things, and the more complex your request the more memory it needs.

In reality using the scale above the Basic User should be looking at 4GB, with each user category above that doubling from there. (Avearge User 8GB, Advanced 16GB etc)

Hard Drive (Storage)

The Hard Drive is where your information is kept.  Your documents, videos, photos.  IF you have a lot to store you need a lot of space.  1TB (Terabyte) is a large hard drive on a laptop, and rare, but to give you a sense of the upper end that’s two times the size of a 500GB hard drive.

Complicating your comparison is the more recent addition of SSD (Solid State Drive) Hard Drives.  These drives are thin, light, and much faster because they don’t have a physical spinning disk in them like traditional hard drives.

The SSD drives are basically memory cards (like in your camera) on steroids.  They are also much more expensive.  So you might see a laptop with a 128GB Hard Drive alongside one with 1TB and think “I’ll go the bigger size!”, but actually, the 128GB will perform so much better.

When you open a program like Word from an SSD Drive it takes just seconds.  From a traditional Hard Drive it will take much longer.  Same applies to opening and saving documents/data.

Basic and Average users can get by with a traditional Hard Drive, I’d recommend Advanced Users and gamers look for SSD Drives.

Graphics

Only Advanced Users and Gamers need to worry too much about graphics.  The graphics card in a computer is used to put the picture on-screen and unless you’re editing video, especially 4K or HD, and playing games, it’s not going to have a huge effect on you.

If you are in those categories, you certainly need a discrete graphics processor – but then you probably aren’t reading this guide:)

What you see is what you get.

That screen is the thing you’re going to be staring at most over the life of the laptop, so you want to make sure it suits.

Firstly, you need to work out how big you want this device to be.  The bigger the screen, the bigger the whole laptop will be.

This is a very personal choice, based on how you’re going to use it – how often you’re going to carry it around, and if you’ve got a monitor at home or work you will also plug into.

The best thing to do is to go to some shops and see and pickup a bunch of laptops to see which feels right for you.

But, when comparing devices, there’s a critical “specification” you should check.

Two 15 inch laptops might seem the same, but they may have vastly different prices.  Because of their screen resolution.   Resolution is written as two numbers – they are the number of pixels across and down the screen.  1920 x 1080 might be one.  This is Full HD.  The higher the numbers the “better” the resolution.

Basic and Average users will certainly be fine with anything in the 1920 x 1080 range.  Advanced users and certainly gamers will want more.

Brands and Design

So what about one brand over another, and how some of them look so much sleeker than others?

Well, when it comes to brand there are so many out there.  HP, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Dell, Toshiba, Apple, Razer, Alienware goodness knows who could name them all.

When buying from retail you’re safe with any of them, because it’s what’s inside that matters right?

Don’t fret about warranty, again, buying from Aussie retail means you’re covered by Australian Consumer Law which dictates that the device should operate as expected for a reasonable period.  Now that’s not set in stone, but certainly your device should serve you well for three years!

Design is where you’ll find devices set themselves apart and also hike up the price.

A thinner unit is going to need smaller components, more intricate work inside – so yes, it’s going to cost more.

Put simply, you’ll pay for design.

Any of the ultra-thin sleek units are going to cost you $1500 or more – well into the $2000 range.  Avoid those and you could spend as little as $300 on a Laptop!

Some options as a guide

To get you started, here’s a few ideas for a device in each category.

Basic User

features-IdeaPad100-15-1

Lenovo IdeaPad 100 – 14 inch: $321

  • Intel® Celeron® Processor N3060
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB eMMc Storage (this is a type of SSD)
Pro: Con:
  • Under $400
  • Will run all your basic needs like word, excel, internet, social media etc
  • Not a high powered processor
  • Not much space for storage, so ok only for those who are cloud based
  • Perhaps not a long life of heavy use
    won’t be great for someone who loves video/photo editing

Average User

Aspire_E5-571-531-551-521-511_nontouch_black_glare-zoom-big

Acer Aspire E5 – $798

  • Intel® Core™ i5-6200U Processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1TB HDD
Pro: Con:
  • Under $1000
  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • Will do more than enough for your basic tasks, plus higher end tasks like photo editing and large multiple apps
  • Great design
  • Large but older style hard drive
  • Not super light (2.7KG)
  • Strangely offset keyboard/trackpad

Advanced User

IMG_6535

Razer Blade Stealth – $1549+

  • Intel® Core™ i7 Processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB SSD HDD
Pro: Con:
  • Super Slim design
  • High power processor (intel core i7)
  • Touchscreen
  • Will do anything but the high end gaming you need
  • Sleek and “different” look
  • None! other than price

And to complicate things

You’ve now got “convertibles” – You’ll find these in every category too.  These are laptops that can twist around on each other, stand up like a tent or even detach from the keyboard.

SAMSUNG CSC

The same rules apply, processor, memory, storage – but again, you’ve got to compare apples and apples, so make sure the two devices you’re comparing are the same category.

IMG_6426

A tablet with keyboard attachment (like the Galaxy TabPro S or Microsoft Surface) is very different to a convertible like the Lenovo Yoga Pro.

Bottom line, take your time.  Look at the detail, never hesitate to ask questions!

Categories
Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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