Choose a Platform: Mac, Windows or Chrome OS?
This is not an easy question to answer, especially if you’re not familiar with both Macs and PCs. But this quick overview of each platform’s strengths and weaknesses should help.
Most laptops come with one of three operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS or Mac OS X (for MacBooks only). Choosing the right one is a personal preference, but here’s a quick summary of what each offers.
Windows 10 gives you the best experience for quickly getting things done. Start fast with all your favorite apps and files right at hand. Quickly take action with notifications collected in one place. Stay focused with easy ways to snap apps in place, create new desktops, and organize your screens just the way you want. It’s designed to work with the devices you already own, and lights up the features of new devices like 2-in-1s. Windows 10 is not compatible with Windows Vista.
What can your Mac do now? Just ask.
Siri makes its debut on Mac, with new capabilities designed just for the desktop. And that’s not the only way your Mac is smarter. macOS Sierra helps you rediscover your best photos, work more seamlessly between devices and free up valuable storage space. Now your Mac does even more for you, so you can do more with your Mac.
Chrome OS is an operating system designed by Google that is based on the Linux kernel and uses the Google Chrome web browser as its principal user interface. As a result, Chrome OS primarily supports web applications.
Google announced the project in July 2009, conceiving it as an operating system in which both applications and user data reside in the cloud: hence Chrome OS primarily runs web applications. Source code and a public demo came that November. The first Chrome OS laptop, known as a Chromebook, arrived in May 2011. Initial Chromebook shipments from Samsung and Acer occurred in July 2011.
Choose the right Design
The laptop computer market continues to expand, introducing a number of laptops like Acer’s Aspire and TravelMate, Asus’ Transformer Book, VivoBook and Zenbook, Dell’s Inspiron, Latitude and XPS, HP’s EliteBook, Envy, Pavilion and ProBook, Lenovo’s IdeaPad and ThinkPad and Toshiba’s Portégé, Satellite and Tecra that incorporate the use of laptop computers.
The form of the traditional laptop computer is a clamshell, with a screen on one of its inner sides and a keyboard on the opposite, facing the screen. It can be easily folded to conserve space while traveling. The screen and keyboard are inaccessible while closed.
A subnotebook or an ultraportable, is a laptop designed and marketed with an emphasis on portability (small size, low weight, and often longer battery life). Subnotebooks are usually smaller and lighter than standard laptops, weighing between 0.8 and 2 kg (2-5 lb),with a battery life exceeding 10 hours.
The netbook was an inexpensive, light-weight, energy-efficient form of laptop, especially suited for wireless communication and Internet access. Netbooks first became commercially available around 2008, weighing under 1 kg, with a display size of under 9″. The name netbook (with net short for Internet) is used as “the device excels in web-based computing performance.
Convertible, hybrid, 2-in-1
The latest trend of technological convergence in the portable computer industry spawned a broad range of devices, with a combined features of several previously separate device types. The hybrids, convertibles and 2-in-1s emerged as crossover devices, which share traits of both tablets and laptops.
Choose the Right Size
Before you look at specs or pricing, you need to figure out just how portable you need your laptop to be. Laptops are usually categorized by their display sizes:
- 11 to 12 inches: The thinnest and lightest systems around have 11- to 12-inch screens and typically weigh 2.5 to 3.5 pounds,
- 13 to 14 inches: Provides the best balance of portability and usability, particularly if you get a laptop that weighs under 4 pounds.
- 15 inches: The most popular size, 15-inch laptops usually weigh 4.5 to 6.5 pounds. Consider this size if you want a larger screen and you’re not planning to carry your notebook around often.
- 17 to 18 inches: If your laptop stays on your desk all day every day, a 17- or 18-inch system could provide you with the kind of processing power you need to play high-end games or do workstation-level productivity.
Choose Your Specs
Notebook components such as processor, hard drive, RAM and graphics chip can confuse even notebook aficionados, so don’t feel bad if spec sheets look like alphabet soup to you.
Here are the main components to keep an eye on.
- CPU: The “brains” of your computer, the processor has a huge influence on performance, but depending on what you want to do, even the least-expensive model may be good enough. Here’s a rundown.
- Intel Core i5: If you’re looking for a mainstream laptop with the best combination of price and performance, get one with an Intel Core i5 CPU. Models that end in U (ex: Core i5-7200U) are the most common. Those with the a Y in the name are low power and have worse performance while models with an HQ offer four cores. Intel’s latest-generation, “Kaby Lake” CPUs have model numbers that begin with 7 (ex: Core i5-7300U) so look for those to get the best performance.
- Intel Core i7: High-end performance for gaming rigs and workstations. Models with numbers that end in HQ or K use higher wattage and have four cores, allowing for even faster gaming and productivity. There are also Core i7 Y series chips that have lower power and performance. Keep an eye out for CPUs that have a 7 in the model number (ex: Core i7-7820HQ) because they are part of Intel’s latest, 7th Generation Core Series, and offer better performance.
- Intel Core i3: Performance is just a step below Core i5 and so is the price. If you can possibly step up to a Core i5, we recommend it.
- AMD A, FX or E Series: Found on low-cost laptops, AMD’s processors — the company calls them APUs rather than CPUs — provide decent performance for the money that’s good enough for web surfing, media viewing and productivity.
- Intel Atom: Found on very low-cost laptops — think $250 and under — Atom offers basic performance but more battery life than Celeron/Pentium.
- Intel Pentium / Celeron: Common in sub $400 laptops, these chips are a little faster than Atom, but offer worse battery life. If you can pay more to get a Core i3 or i5, you’d be better off.
- Intel Core m / Core i5 / i7 “Y Series” — Low-power and low heat allow systems with these processors to go fanless. Performance is better than Celeron, but a notch below regular Core i5 U series.
- Intel Xeon: Extremely powerful and expensive processors for large mobile workstations. If you do professional-grade engineering, 3D modeling or video editing, you might want a Xeon, but you won’t get good battery life or a light laptop.
- RAM: Some sub-$250 laptops come with only 2GB of RAM, but ideally you want at least 4GB on even a budget system and 8GB if you can spend just a little more. For most users, 16GB or more is overkill.
- Storage Drive (aka Hard Drive): Even more important than the speed of your CPU is the performance of your storage drive. If you can afford it and don’t need a ton of internal storage, get a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than a hard drive, because you’ll see at least three times the speed and a much faster laptop overall.Among SSDs, the newer PCIe x4 (aka NVME) units offer triple the speed of traditional SATA drives. Sub-$250 laptops use eMMC memory, which is technically solid-state but not faster than a mechanical hard drive.
- Display: The more pixels you have, the more content you can fit on-screen, and the sharper it will look. Most budget and mainstream laptops have 1366 x 768 displays, but if you can afford it, we recommend paying extra for a panel that runs at 1920 x 1080, also known as full HD or 1080p. Some higher-end laptops have screens that are 2560 x 1600, 3200 x 1800 or even 3840 x 2160, which all look sharp but consume more power, lowering your battery life.MORE: Why 78 Percent of Laptop Screens Suck
- Touch Screen: If you’re buying a regular clamshell laptop, rather than a 2-in-1, you won’t get much benefit from a touch screen and you will get 1 to 3 hours less battery life. On 2-in-1s, touch screens come standard.
- Graphics Chip: If you’re not playing PC games, creating 3D objects or doing high-res video editing, an integrated graphics chip (one that shares system memory) will be fine. If you have any of the above needs, though, a discrete graphics processor from AMD or Nvidia is essential. As with CPUs, there are both high- and low-end graphics chips. Nvidia maintains a list of its graphics chips from low to high end, as does AMD.
- DVD/Blu-ray Drives. Few laptops come with optical drives, because all software and movies are downloadable. However, if you really need to read / write discs and your laptop of choice doesn’t come with a built-in DVD drive, you can always buy an external one that connects via USB for under $20.
Plan Based on Your Budget
These days, you can buy a usable laptop for under $200, but if you can budget more, you’ll get a system with better build quality, stronger performance and a better display. Here’s what you can get for each price range.
- $150 to $250: The least-expensive notebooks are either Chromebooks, which run Google’s browser-centric OS, or low-end Windows systems with minimal storage and slower processors, such as the HP Stream 11 and the Lenovo Ideapad 100S. Use these as secondary computers only or give them to the kids.
- $350 to $600: For well under $600, you can get a notebook with an Intel Core i5 or AMD A8 CPU, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, all respectable specs. However, at this price, most notebooks don’t have an SSD, a full-HD display or long battery life. There are a few noteable exceptions, such as the Asus VivoBook E403Sa and Lenovo ThinkPad 13.
- $600 to $900: As you get above $600, you’ll start to see more premium designs, such as metal finishes. Manufacturers also start to add in other features as you climb the price ladder, including higher-resolution displays and SSDs.
- Above $900: At this price range, expect notebooks that are more portable, more powerful or both. Expect higher-resolution screens, faster processors and possibly discrete graphics. The lightest, longest-lasting ultraportables, like the Apple MacBook and the Dell XPS 13, tend to cost more than $1,000 (although you can get the Dell for less if you don’t opt for a touch screen). High-end gaming systems and mobile workstations usually cost upward of $1,500 or even as much as $2,500 or $3,000.