Laptop Buying Guide

Whether it is the technical lingo or the sheer variety of choices, shopping for a laptop is far from easy. To aid you in your quest for new technology this Black Friday, this is a list of what to look for when buying a computer as well as some of the best offers for devices this year.

Before we go any further, it is important to note that many retailers offer students significant discounts on laptops, so be sure to check before you make a purchase.

With that out of the way, when it comes to purchasing anything, it is important to know what you’re buying. What follows are the details to look for in a computer, and what you should expect based on your needs.

RAM

When it comes to RAM, enough is vital, but more isn’t better. A good laptop will have 8GB. While 4GB is fine on a budget machine, try not to settle for less than that. More than 8GB is largely unnecessary. If you need it, you’ll know.

Storage

Surprisingly, the key factor with storage isn’t how much of it you have but what kind of storage it is. Of course, 128GB should be considered a minimum for non-Chromebooks. You’ll need more if you want to store video or games, but what you’re really looking for is an SSD. Mechanical hard drives, or HDDs, often have more storage but are orders of magnitude slower than their SSD counterparts, which drastically affect program load times, file load times and even how long it takes your computer to turn on. If at all possible, choosing a laptop with an SSD is highly recommended over one without.

Processor

While you don’t need much for web browsing, document editing and even light gaming, a better processor can improve every aspect of the PC experience.

AMD processors are often found on lower-end machines and get their job done well enough for the price. The AMD Ryzen Processor is a good choice for gaming laptops, but most laptops will come with an Intel processor. A Pentium is only a good option for Chromebooks, but i3 will accomplish what you need albeit a bit slower than you like. An i5, on the other hand, is the sweet spot for most people. An i7 is a beast of a chip and like 16GB of RAM, you’ll know if you need it, but for most of us it is a waste of money.

Finally, make sure to check the generation or year of the processor you’re buying, though it is likely to be fairly current. An i7 from a few years ago has a good chance of getting outperformed by a brand new i5.

Battery life

It can be easy to underestimate how important this feature is. A laptop that can’t maintain a charge is a constant drag. Eight hours should be considered a minimum, but remember that the advertised battery lives are running on minimum settings, with the screen brightness turned down and performance throttled.

Display

Once again, an often underestimated feature: having a bright and clear display. This is incredibly important for anyone who wants to work in the sun or with photos or graphics of any sort. This can be somewhat subjective, so reading or watching reviews is often the best way to go when determining whether the display is right for you.

When it comes to laptops, don’t fall for the 4K hype. On portable laptop screens, the pixels are so small that the difference is barely noticeable except for the massive reduction in battery life it entails.

Budget laptops:

Chromebooks are always the cheapest, as the limited but efficient Chrome OS can sustain itself on laptops with much lower processing power.

Expect Chromebooks to be portable and have a good battery life, but remember that they can’t do much beyond web browsing and document editing. If that’s all you need a computer for, however, they’re absolutely perfect.

The Samsung Chromebook 3 is likely to go on sale for less than $100, so if your bank account is feeling the squeeze, it’s a great option. You get what you pay for, however, so expect to be wishing for a better laptop soon after you buy it.

The Acer Chromebook 14 is a bit more expensive but looks fantastic while providing better performance.

If you want a Windows laptop, on the other hand, expect to shell out a bit more. In order to run Windows and your basic programs effectively, you’re going to need some better hardware than you would for a Chromebook[2] . One great option is the Acer Aspire 5 which went on sale for as little as $399 last Black Friday. It has a 7th Gen Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. It’s one of the best laptops under $500.

Ultrabooks:

For those able to shell out a bit more, you can get a laptop that will last longer and give you a better experience. If you think you’re going to use it for a long time and do a lot of work on your laptop, it may be worth splurging to get yourself something you’ll be really happy with.

The HP Envy 13 and the Dell XPS 13 are both top-of-the-line Ultrabooks that provide great performance, fantastic battery life, and stunning displays.

The Envy outpaces the XPS somewhat in its independent graphics card on the higher-end models as well as its keyboard while the XPS wins out slightly in the brightness and color palette of its display.

Both laptops should drop to the $900 range or lower this Black Friday.

MacBooks:

If you’re a MacBook fan, good news. The MacBook Air could be going for as little as $850 this Black Friday. Unfortunately, you are paying more for the Apple operating system and logo, so it won’t have quite as good a price to performance ratio as the XPS or the Envy. It does, however, offer one of the few displays in the market that can beat the XPS’ vibrant display and its stellar battery life.

Gaming Laptops:

Finally, if you’d like your laptop to support gaming, the Acer Nitro 5 still holds a top spot as one of the best budget gaming laptops on the market. It can run most modern games on medium or high settings without sacrificing too much in the way of weight or battery life. Also keep an eye on the Acer Predator Helios 300, which usually costs about $200 more but delivers better performance.

Whatever you’re in the market for at the end of the day, the best strategy will always be to remember that you get what you pay for, but to never pay for more than you want to get.


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