It’ s time to buy a laptop and, unless we are up to date in computing, it is not difficult to get lost in a sea of acronyms and technical terms, each one more exotic than the next: convertible, ultrabook, SSD, IPS… . In the end you get to the store and end up buying the one they have on offer at the moment, without really knowing if it is the laptop you really need.
In this article, we will try to give you some basic guidelines so that your choice is as correct as possible. Here we go! 🚀
Buying a new laptop? As IT engineer, these are my top 8 tips to consider:
1. How fit are you?
When we read the details of a laptop, we always see that the weight is right at the bottom. However, in our particular list we wanted to put it first because it will help us a lot to reduce our research.
If we value lightness over everything else and we want a solution of less than one kilogram, we have two options: go for a basic and economical laptop such as a Chromebook or choose a high-end model where they have cared to the maximum the construction to get an ultralight device (known as ultralight or ultrabook).
Chromebooks are dedicated to everyday tasks such as browsing, writing emails and editing documents. They run on a unique Linux-based system and usually have a smaller screen than usual. Also, are not powerful devices and are not designed for large tasks, but on the other hand they consume little battery power and we can find models for less than 200 euros. They are widely used in schools and institutes, but we insist that they are very basic, keep this in mind.
The ultrabook or ultrathin devices have no limits in power, but unfortunately neither in price, so we must be prepared to pay for that extra lightness, sometimes in an exorbitant way.
💡 Our recommendation is to keep within the 1 kg and 1.5 kg range, where prices are more moderate and weights are not too heavy. If you have to carry it often, at 1.7 kg you will probably start to regret not having chosen a lighter laptop.
And of course, if weight is not a factor to take into account, then the field opens up to a multitude of possibilities, such as 17-inch displays, dedicated graphics cards, multiple storage options… Basically, what would be a pro or high-performance gaming configuration.
2. Do you prefer Macs or other PCs?
This point could be said to be more of a personal choice than anything else. There are very good laptops in both the Apple and Windows worlds, although it is true that there are no bad options in the first ones and yes in the second ones.
In general terms, Apple Macbooks are very well built laptops, with good components, very appreciated aesthetically and with a very robust operating system. In fact, we invite you to review some of their innovations in this other post. Their product offer is renewed every year and choosing one or another will depend on what we can spend, because as we said, they are all good. But on the negative side, apart from their high price, we find a smaller software offer than for Windows and the fact that, indirectly, they have an expiration date.
The operating system will be updated automatically and will ask for more and more resources, so that, after a few years, we will see that our brand new laptop no longer works as smoothly as before. Does anyone have an old iPad in a box for this reason? This is why it is so important to choose a Macbook that is as recent as possible andtry to avoid getting stock left over from previous years.
Windows laptops are not exempt from this degradation either, but we can always decide which system to keep and even upgrade them with new parts (memory, storage…). Something we will not be able to do with Apple’s bets.
3. The processor: Intel or AMD? 🤔
Let’s imagine that we decide on a laptop with Windows. Well, it’s time to decide again: is an Intel or an AMD processor better? Both companies have been competing for many years to see who will bring out the processor (or CPU) with more power and better architecture. And that is healthy, because it encourages competition and in the end we are the users who are the winners. Okay, but here we are: Which one to choose?
A few years ago (many years) we would have opted for Intel almost without hesitation, as AMD was still fighting with compatibility problems both with Windows and with certain devices. But today this is probably a thing of the past and AMD produces processors that are equivalent or even better than Intel’s processors. And also cheaper. So choosing one or the other is almost a question of taste.
What is different is the processor model. From most to least powerful, Intel has Core i9, i7, i5, i3, Core2 Duo, Atom, Pentium and Celeron chips. 💡 Nowadays, it is best to aim for a Core i7 or Core i5, unless you are on a tight budget. But you should not only look at that, but also at the generation of the processor. The first digits of the code that always appears next to the model give us a clue.
For example, an i7-11850H belongs to an eleventh-generation processor, an i5-5300U to a fifth-generation processor, and so on. As Intel releases approximately one generation per year, we could say that those of generation 11 belong to those released in 2021, those of generation 10 to 2020 and so on. So, let’s pay attention to these digits, since for example an i5-11300H processor develops more performance than an i7-10810U, despite the fact that in theory an i5 is lower than an i7.
Regarding AMD, from highest power we would have the Ryzen 9, 7, 5, 3, FX 8000-9000, FX 6000, FX 4000 and Athlon chips. As before, the next digit of the chosen model will give us a clue as to the processor generation. Although in this case we cannot make a correlation with the year of manufacture, it does help us to compare them. Thus, a Ryzen 5 5600X will be superior to a Ryzen 5 3600. 💡 Our recommendation here would be to try to get a Ryzen 7, or a Ryzen 5 if the budget does not allow it.
4. Important: Have a good memory 🧠
It is clear that if the processor is more powerful, the laptop will be faster. But we would say that the quantity (and quality) of memory – called RAM – is equally or even more important for system performance. Keep in mind that when a computer’s memory fills up, the system makes up for that lack by resorting to the disk, which slows everything down quite a bit. It would be something like calculating 3+2 using your brain or with a piece of paper.
So, nowadays it is more than recommended to have 16 GB (gigabytes) of RAM to avoid problems. 💡 If we do not have the budget, 8 GB would be the minimum, but at least make sure that the laptop allows us to increase it in the future with an additional 8 GB.
As with processors, there are different types of RAM. DDR3 memory is lower in performance than DDR4 and DDR4 is lower than DDR5, although right now the price of DDR5 is prohibitive. You will also see that some laptops include so-called Intel Optane memory. This type of memory works in addition to RAM and acts as a bridge between the memory and the disk, storing there the most frequent data to reach them faster. If our future purchase has it, all the better, but if not, it is not at all essential.
5. The screen: beyond pixels
👨💻 They say that size matters, and in this case they’re right. If we are going to spend eight hours a day looking at a screen, it doesn’t make much sense for it to be 10″. And on the other hand, if what we want is a laptop that is easy to carry and that we will use only occasionally, choosing one with a 17″ screen will mean more weight, higher price and shorter battery life, since the screen is what consumes the most power.
So, for a more or less normal use, virtue lies in the middle, as they say. 💡 Our recommendation would be to go for a minimum of 13″ and a maximum of 15.6″.
But it is not only the size that defines the screen; also its resolution and technology. The standard resolution today is 1920 x 1080 pixels. Those that go beyond that are known as “retina” and offer much sharper images. If we are going to use the laptop for graphics processing, it is worth investing in that extra. But if we are going to use it for browsing or writing, the improvement does not compensate for the economic investment, as these are usually very expensive screens.
In terms of technology, there are several types of panels: LCD, LED, IPS and OLED. LCDs are gradually becoming extinct, so it is best to avoid them if possible. LEDs could be said to be the default in many TVs. IPS are a variant of LEDs and achieve improved color rendering and viewing angles.
Finally, OLEDs achieve very natural colors with high contrast. However, they do have one major drawback: they end up getting damaged if the screen is displaying the same image for a long time. So if you decide to go for an OLED screen, make sure you set up your screen saver properly so that it will last for many years.
Finally, there are touch screens. Most laptops with touchscreens can be opened almost 360° or even separated from the keyboard, becoming the equivalent of a tablet (heavier, of course). These are called “convertibles” and are a very interesting option for those who need to make notes on the go or have a device that does not require a table to operate it.
6. Speeding Up graphics 🧨
Closely linked to the display, but often unfairly in the background, is another essential component of a notebook: the graphics card. To translate data into images, whether windows, photos or videos, in theory another processor and more memory chips are needed. We say in theory because most laptops take advantage of the main CPU to process graphics and use part of the system’s RAM for the same task. This is what is known as integrated graphics or UMA.
This reduces components and makes the device cheaper. But as you can imagine, performance is also reduced, both in the general system and especially in its graphics performance, which prevents the correct execution of high-definition games and tools that make intensive use of images or videos.
💡 The best option is to have a dedicated graphics processor (GPU) and its corresponding memory (VRAM). There is not a very wide range of those offering this combination, but fortunately there are enough models to choose from, usually accompanied by nVidia or AMD Radeon graphics cards. As we said, this is essential if the graphics theme is going to be the primary use of our laptop.
In the middle are the new CPUs released by both Intel and AMD, which incorporate dedicated graphics circuits inside the processor. If we read that the notebook features Intel Iris Xe or Ryzen 5000G technology, we can say that at least the graphics acceleration will be at least decently resolved.
7. Storage is not what it used to be
The old and heavy rotating hard disks have given way to solid state drives (SSD), which are already integrated in most laptops. Do not hesitate to count on them because their advantages are countless: they have no moving parts (so they resist any fall), consume less power and need less cooling. But above all, they are much faster, since they work in a similar way to RAM memory, without being as fast as it.
In the world of solid state disks we also have the eMMC, slower but cheaper, and the new nVME, which thanks to its connection type, have superior performance and are just a little more expensive than SSD, so today they are the best option 💡.
And what can we say about capacity? Well, we believe that this section is not as critical as it used to be. A few years ago, if you ran out of disk space, you had to resort to burning CDs or DVDs, or USB sticks that slowed everything down. But now a lot of work is done “in the cloudۛ”, i.e. with remote storage via the Internet. So, unless you need the space to install specific tools, the latest generation of video games or video editing, it’s not easy to run out of disk space. And if that happens, the USB ports and similar that laptops incorporate are fast enough to incorporate an external drive to store the files that we do not need on a daily basis.
And as for the internal DVD-ROM units that accompanied them years ago, there is no longer any trace of them. This has helped reduce the weight of laptops and they no longer have any moving parts beyond the processor fan. And some of them don’t even have that…
In short, today we could say that 256 GB would be the minimum SSD storage we should count on, but if we can afford it, let’s go to 512 GB or even 1 TB (which is equivalent to 1024 GB) 💡. The price difference is not excessive either.
8. Don’t run out of battery 🔋
The last topic we would like to mention when deciding which laptop we should choose would be the battery life. Here, the figure offered by the manufacturer could be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is usually measured in unrealistic environments; the computer on, with the screen at minimum brightness and no programs running. Besides, we have to take into account that, whether we want it to or not, it will degrade over time and in a year it will last less than when it was just bought.
💡 Even so, it is worth checking the capacity of the battery, measured in milliamps (mAh), as well as its consumption, measured in watts per hour (Wh). The higher the mAh, the more independent of the power transformer we will have, but also the heavier the laptop will be. And the higher the watt consumption, the shorter the battery will last.
Other minor issues… Or not so minor!🧐
There are other things that could determine our purchase, but these are usually down to personal taste or specific needs. These could include the resolution of the webcam, the quality of the speakers, whether the casing is plastic or aluminum, or whether it has a touchpad with a built-in screen.
💡 But above all, we would add the importance of using a store (physical or online). That offers us full confidence and that complies without grievance with the right of withdrawal of consumers. That will be our last chance to use if we see that our choice of laptop has not finally met our expectations.
We hope to have clarified some concepts with our little guide, enjoy your purchase!
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