Which laptop is the best? There is no clear answer to this question. Each person has different needs and each portable PC is aimed at a specific group of consumers. This is why there are so many laptops in almost all price ranges and this often confuses people.
These laptops come with different sets of specifications, features, sizes, designs, and of course, price. Which laptop to buy depends on your needs.
This isn’t an easy question to answer, especially if you’re not familiar with Mac and PC. 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 MacOS (MacBook only). Choosing the right one is a personal preference, but here’s a quick rundown of what each one offers.
The most flexible operating system, Windows, runs on more laptop models than Chrome OS or Mac OS X. Windows notebooks are priced between under $ 150 and several thousand dollars and offer a wide range of features, from touch screen to fingerprint readers to dual graphics chips. Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system, offers a number of improvements over Windows 7 and 8, including the ability to switch between tablet and desktop mode, a revamped Start menu with live tiles, and the powerful assistant digital Cortana.
Since its launch in July 2015, Windows 10 has also added a number of improvements, including the ability to use follow-up questions with Cortana, search email using natural language, and use the stylus to scribble almost anywhere. Windows 10 laptops are great for students, researchers, and business users and are the only machines gamers should consider.
Apple macOS Catalina
All MacBooks come with Apple’s latest desktop operating system, macOS Catalina. Overall, the operating system offers similar functionality to Windows 10, but with a different interface that replaces an app dock at the bottom of the screen for Microsoft’s Start Menu and Taskbar. Instead of the Cortana digital assistant, Mac users get Siri. They can also transact with Apple Pay, receive calls or text messages from their phones, and unlock their laptops with an Apple Watch.
However, macOS isn’t made for touch, because no MacBook comes with a touch screen. The latest macOS Catalina OS brings iPad apps to the Mac, plus secondary display support for iPad and new accessibility features.
It is found on cheap Chromebooks like the Acer Chromebook 314. Google’s operating system is simple and secure, but more limited than Windows or macOS. The user interface looks a lot like Windows with an application menu, desktop, and the ability to drag and drop windows, but the main app you use is the Chrome browser. The downside is that many of the “web apps” you use don’t work particularly well offline. However, it’s changing as nearly all Chromebooks, including the high-end Google PixelBook, can now run Android apps.
If you need a device to browse the web and check email, browse social networks and chat online, Chromebooks are highly portable and tend to offer good battery life at low prices. They are also extremely popular with schools and parents, because they are difficult for children to infect with malware and more functional than most tablets. If you need a Chromebook, look for one with at least 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. 1920 x 1080 resolution is preferable and 4K is better but very rare. Pay extra to get a 2-in-1 if you plan on using Android apps.
Depending on what you plan to do with your next laptop, make sure you choose the size that suits you best. The size is not like a laptop’s RAM or ROM, you can’t upgrade later. You’re stuck in whatever form factor you select ahead of time, so choose wisely.
Laptop sizes tend to start at 11.6 inches and go all the way up to 17.3 inches. Most brands and OEMs like HP, Dell, ASUS, and Acer tend to offer three display sizes: 13.3-inch, 15.6-inch, and 17.3-inch. However, some vendors sell laptops that don’t fall into this size, including 11.6-inch, 12.5-inch, and 14-inch.
Of course, if portability is your priority, we recommend that you opt for a smaller sized Windows laptop. They tend to be thinner and lighter than their larger counterparts. Look for laptops with a 12.5-inch or 13.3-inch screen and a weight between 1 kg and 1.5 kg.
However, keep in mind that the smaller 13.3-inch machines often don’t support the same high-end Intel Core CPUs or discrete graphics cards you’ll find in their 15.6-inch counterparts. More often than not, they will also feature a less robust port selection. If the type of work you intend to use your new laptop for requires a larger display or standalone graphics power, you will probably need to look at a larger size.
In addition to the specific sizes, there are several classes of laptops to choose from. Ultrabooks tend to prefer a thin and light form factor over high-end performance. Things like ASUS Zenbook and Lenovo Yoga fall into this category.
Conversely, notebooks tend to offer a good mix of power and portability. If you’re looking at notebooks, a good place to start is the HP Envy x360.
Convertibles (also known as 2-in-1 laptops or 2-in-1 PCs) expand by adding the ability to fold away (or remove) the keyboard and use the new laptop in tablet mode. Products like Microsoft’s Surface Go and Acer’s Chromebooks fall into this category.
Finally, traditional clamshell and gaming laptops tend to boast bulkier form factors but significantly more rugged specs.
The most important thing to consider here when looking for the best laptop you can buy is that you think about what you will need that laptop to do. It is rarely ever a one size fits all case. Some users need something lighter and more portable. Other users need decent graphics for things like video editing or running high-end games. If you need a PC with an optical drive or a long-lasting battery, you will almost certainly need to look for something bigger.
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Once you have calculated the size and form factor of the laptop you are looking for, the search for the best becomes much easier, as you can filter the search results based on those parameters.
Processor and RAM
The processor in a laptop defines its capacity, and the RAM ensures smooth multi-tasking. Most laptops are equipped with an Intel or AMD CPU and while I personally prefer a laptop powered by an Intel processor, you can opt for an AMD chip based on your usage. The Intel Core i3 chip is generally found in entry-level laptops, while the Core i5 is found in most mainstream systems.
If you don’t use a laptop much, you can consider an i3 laptop with 4/8 GB of RAM or an i5 laptop with 4 GB of RAM. For intermediate use, you can stick with the Core i5 laptop paired with just 8GB of RAM. However, if you have really heavy usage, the Core i7 based computer is the way to go and you can push the RAM to 16GB if your budget allows.
A graphics processing unit, or GPU, is a chip that generates all the images you see on the screen. Most low-end laptops come with integrated graphics, which means the component is mounted inside the main processor. For example, almost all Intel laptop chips include integrated graphics. AMD manufactures accelerated processing units, or APUs, which combine CPU and GPU cores on the same chip (die) in a similar way.
Other laptops have an additional graphics chip / module soldered into the motherboard. These chips are referred to as “discrete GPUs” and typically cannot be removed by the typical laptop owner. Nvidia and AMD are the main suppliers of these chips.
Nvidia’s latest family of laptop GPUs is the RTX 20 series, including the RTX 2060, 2070, and 2080, with some Max-Q versions being cooler and quieter. These will be in the more expensive and powerful business and gaming class laptops, although some recent models may use the GTX 16 series or the older GTX 10 series. Laptops based on the RTX 30 series could make their appearance in the first quarter of 2021.
There is also a growing number of options out there with an Intel CPU combined with the AMD Vega graphics core and dedicated video memory on a single module. They can be incredibly powerful, and are worth considering if you find a laptop with that hardware at the right price.
Discrete graphics for AMD laptops such as the RX 5500M and 5600M offer significantly improved performance over integrated solutions, although they are much less common than Nvidia solutions.
This is again, another important factor to consider before buying a laptop. Good battery life is important if you work or play on your laptop most of the time. Poor battery life will always hinder your workflow. You should choose laptops that can run for at least 4-6 hours without charging.
While some laptops offer adequate sound from first use, like the MacBook Pro, most laptops don’t have the space to accommodate decent speakers inside the casing. Most laptops provide ports for connecting headphones or external speakers if you want a more immersive listening experience.
Nowadays, you can buy a usable laptop PC for under $ 200, but if you can budget more, you’ll get a system with better build quality, higher performance, and a better display. Here’s what you can get for each price range.
- $ 150 to $ 250: The least expensive notebooks are Chromebooks, which run Google’s browser-based operating system, or low-end Windows systems with minimal storage and slower processors, such as Netbook No and Monland. Use them only as secondary computers or give them to children.
- $ 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 of which are respectable specs. However, at this price point, most notebooks don’t have an SSD, a Full HD display, or a long-lasting battery. There are some notable exceptions, such as the Acer Aspire 3 and the Asus Chromebook Flip C423.
- $ 600 to $ 900: When you go over $ 600, you’ll start to see more premium designs, such as metal finishes. Manufacturers are also starting to add more features as you scale the price scale, including higher resolution displays and SSDs. The Lenovo IdeaPad 530s and the Asus ZenBook are great examples of laptops that offer all of these benefits at a lower price.
- Above $ 900: At this price range, expect more portable, more powerful notebooks, or both. Expect high resolution screens, faster processors and possibly decent graphics. Lighter, longer-lasting ultraportables, like the Apple MacBook Air and the MSI GF63, tend to cost more than $ 1,000. High-end gaming systems and mobile workstations usually cost as little as $ 1,500 or even as high as $ 2,500 or $ 3,000.
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