Buying A Windows Laptop (Early 2021)
What brands, models and features are available will vary wildly over time. So this guide will focus on the key considerations you should consider when looking for a new laptop. If you don’t want all the details, just scroll to the bottom for the summary of our recommendations.
Mac or PC?
While this guide is aimed for PC(Windows) laptops, you may be considering making the jump to Mac. There are major differences between the devices and not all software is available(or the same) on both, for example Outlook for mac looks and feels different to Outlook for Windows. There are a lot of differences and if not already familiar expect a decent learning curve and time to get used to the new system. If your work or home life is currently using one or the other, it’s best to stick to it, unless you’ve given it some real though and already comfortable using both. If unsure, stick to what you know.
For work, home or work from home?
If your purchasing laptops for a work environment we strongly advise you buy “Business Grade” laptops. These are designed to be used 9 to 5 in a business environment and have the warranty, reliability and supportability to match, they also will come with Windows 10 Pro which is a must for business environments. While they may seem more expensive at first they tend to be built more robustly and last much longer resulting in a lower total cost of ownership.
If you need a laptop for work from home, it’s best to ask your IT department what is required as these requirements will differ from business to business. If you’re using your device 9 to 5, going for a business grade laptop is probably ideal, but if used less frequently a typical consumer laptop may be fine.
For home users you can purchase consumer laptops from common retailers. Unlike business laptops they’re usually designed for the use in home and generally have a cheaper upfront cost they don’t need to be as rigorously tested, and less day to day use is expected.
Connectors / Outputs
Having the right USB and video outputs is worth considering. While USB devices are less common you generally want at least 2 available, for things like plugging in a portable hard drive, a wireless mouse or charging your phone. A new connector you may not be familiar with is the USB-C connector, it’s a much smaller connector found on modern laptops and phones. Over time this connector will begin to replace the normal larger USB connector so it’s worth getting a laptop that has at least one of these ports.
For video ideally you want a DisplayPort (or MiniDisplayPort) plug, these can easily adapt to other connectors such as HDMI or VGA. However if you plan to connect your laptop to a monitor or TV frequently you may wish to have a built in HDMI plug available to you.
If you want to be able to dock your laptop (easily connect your laptop to multiple screens and peripherals), you want a laptop that supports docking, ideally using it’s USB-C connector.
The laptops overall size is dictated by the size of the built in screen. A 13″ laptop will be more portable but then you have a small screen. 15″ gives you a good screen size but then your laptop is less portable. You may also want to check the weight of the laptop if it needs to be portable. Higher performance or “gaming” laptops will normally be heavier, though you can get lighter high performance laptops, they just usually cost a lot more.
Screen Resolution / Display
We recommend no lower than a Full HD (1080p) screen for any laptop you buy. Extra resolution provides a sharper image on your screen and makes smaller text more readable. If you want a screen with very vivid colour look for laptops that have an “IPS” display.
This is the brain of the computer, a lot of the jargon around this component can be misleading about the actual real life performance you can expect. The easiest way to know for certain what kind of speed you can expect is to get the model of your existing computers processor and compare it to one you are purchasing using a website like UserBenchMark.com this will give you a rough percentage speed difference. So you can be certain or not you are getting something faster than what you currently have. Also the Generation of the CPU is more important than it being an i3, i5 or i7, as a new generation i3 may outperform an older generation i7. AMD vs intel doesn’t really matter whichever one gives you more value for your money.
Generally if you’re only using your laptop for standard work software such as office and email, a basic entry level processor will do fine,.
Graphics Processor (GPU)
Computers have specialised processors for processing visuals. If a laptop has a discreate (also called dedicated) graphics chip, you can assume it has much better graphics performance compared to one that does not. The GPU only really comes into play when generating 3D objects or complex visuals on your screen such as 3D CAD work or gaming or video editing. If you’re not doing any of those activitys you don’t need to spend much time considering the difference.
There are two considerations here, size (how much you can store) and speed (how quickly your computer can read or write information to and from the storage). You’ll encounter two types of internal storage for laptops HDD (Hard Disk Drives) and SSD (Solid State Drives). The former is an older technology but provides the best value per the amount of storage you have, the latter is more expensive for the same amount of storage but it’s dramatically faster.
We strongly recommend you only purchase laptops that contain an SSD. HDD’s often are the reason computers run slow. Many computer operations involve reading or writing information to storage, if your storage is slow you have to wait longer. SSDs provide a huge jump in speed compared to HDD, meaning starting up your computer will be much faster, saving and opening files will be quicker and you’ll also get a longer battery life as they use less power.
It’s best to find out how much your currently using before deciding what to buy. We often see people with several times the required storage because they weren’t sure what they needed so they went for a much larger size than they could possibly need. A general rule of thumb us that 250GB or larger is a safe space for most home users. Keep in mind you can always pay for online storage with OneDrive if you need more long term archiving space or get a portable HDD. If you plan to store a small movie collection or have a large amount of photos 500GB should do you fine. Generally though look to see how much you currently use.
RAM is your laptops short term memory. More RAM only results in a faster computer if you don’t have enough to begin with. For most users we recommend 8GB of RAM, 16GB if you plan to do video editing or run lots of heavy programs at the same time.
Network / Wireless
While WiFi 6 is still not widely used (you need both your router and your device to support it to get the speed benfits), we would consider giving preference to devices that support WiFi 6, also know as WiFi AX. This should not be a deal breaker however and is much less important than others. At Minimum you would want WiFi 5 also known as WiFi AX.
- If using your laptop for daily work, a business grade laptop is recommended.
- You want the laptop to have enough USB ports and ideally include at least 1 USB-C type plug.
- A DisplayPort (or mini-DisplayPort) connector should be adaptable but a HDMI output will work fine too.
- You want a processer from the last generation or two (for intel that’s the 11th and 10th generation of processors).
- The screen should be at least 1080p (Fully HD), with preference to laptops with IPS displays.
- Do not buy a laptop where it’s primary drive is a HDD, you want a laptop with an SSD.
- 8GB RAM for standard users 16GB if you plan to use heavier programs.
- WiFi 5 Support minimum, WiFi 6 Support for future proofing.