How to buy the best laptop

Macbook-Air-feature

Whether it’s an Apple Macbook or Dell XPS laptop, buying the best laptop for you will mean you get years of powerful, mobile computing from a laptop that meets your needs. Read our guide to buying the best laptop for you.

Bulky laptops that cost a fortune are now a thing of the past, and underpowered netbooks are consigned to the trashcan of history. Instead, today’s laptops are a balance of low prices, lightweight bodies and are as powerful as a desktop PC. More people than ever are ditching traditional PCs in favour of a laptop.

Buying the best laptop means knowing what laptop features to look out for – and today’s best laptops from Apple, Dell, Acer, Asus and HP all offer lots of features.

With high-definition LCD screens, virtual surround sound decent audio, good graphics capabilities, and a keyboard that makes typing a breeze compared to a tablet, a laptop is ideal for everyday compuing.

Laptops feature a built-in battery – often offering up to ten hours unplugged laptop computing – freeing you from the mess of cables anchoring a traditional PC to desk.

Laptops can be used in the same way as a desktop PC. From editing photos and videos, playing the latest 3D games such as Titanfall and Tomb Raider, to listening to music and watching on-demand TV using BBC iPlayer. They’re great for everyday computing tasks such as writing letters, creating spreadsheets and responding to email.

Choosing the different types of laptop

Laptops come in a different sizes and features, which makes choosing the best laptop difficult. Think about how you plan on using the laptop. There’s no point in spending a fortune on a laptop with powerful Nvidia 3D graphics if you don’t plan on gaming on your laptop. Before you buy the best laptop for you, be sure about what you want to use a laptop for so you can get the model that suits your laptop budget.

Basic laptops
Costs: £249-£399
Brands: Acer, Dell, Lenovo, Packard Bell, Samsung and Toshiba

HP Pavilion laptop photo

A HP Pavilion is typical of a basic laptop running Windows 8.1.

Aimed at the budget end of the market for less demanding computing, basic laptops make a good solution for students, first timers or families on a budget.

While cheap, a basic laptop will let you complete everyday computing tasks and modest 3D game requirements. Basic laptops do miss out on some of the more powerful features and fast 3D graphics such as dedicated 3D graphics processor.Most basic laptops will have a 15-inch LCD screen, DVD drive and are suitable for word processing, office software, surfing the web and photo editing.

Look for a model with a dual processor from AMD or Intel (such as a Core i3 or Core i5 processor), at least 4GB of RAM and 750GB storage giving you space to spare for storing photos, videos and music. A basic laptop should have a battery life of around six hours, but bear in mind that using your laptop for tasks such as streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant may drain the battery faster. It should come with Windows 8.1 pre-installed.

Typical budget laptop models include the Acer Aspire range, the HP Pavilion range, and the Dell Inspiron range.

Chromebooks
Costs: £199-£299
Brands: Acer, HP, Samsung and Toshiba

Photo of an Acer Chromebook

An Acer Chromebook is a god example of a Chromebook laptop

Google’s Chromebooks represent a replacement for netbooks. Designed to run Google’s Chrome operating system rather than Windows or Mac OS X, Chrome is special in that it requires an internet connection to access and run many of the programs you’d find on a laptop. Chromebooks are incredibly light and cheap, but don’t run Windows software and instead rely on Google’s online services such as Gmail, Google Docs and the Google Drive to store your files.

Ideal for a cheap, portable laptop – especially if you work exclusively with Google services and always have access to a wi-fi connection at home or work.

Storage is minimal – usually around 16GB as you’re encouraged to save your files online – and a Chromebook typically includes around 2GB of RAM. Battery life is fairly good at around 6-8 hours, and screens vary between 11-inches to 14-inches. Chromebooks are rounded off with a webcam, speakers, Bluetooth and USB 3.0 ports. They lack a DVD or CD drive.

Ultrabooks
Costs: £599-£999 and higher
Brands: Apple, Dell, HP and Toshiba

Photo of Apple Macbook Air

Apple’s Macbook Air is a powerful yet very light laptop with 13-inch screen.

If you need a laptop that’s very portable, very thin and light yet still as powerful as a desktop PC then consider buying an ultrabook. Less than a couple of centimetres thick and weighing around 1kg, an ultrabook should be light enough to carry around in a bag without noticeable weight. However, weight is kept down by generally smaller screen sizes, which range from 12 to 15 inches.

Ultrabooks use the same kind of processor as found in most laptops, with Apple and Dell using Core i5 processors from Intel. Most won’t have a dedicated graphics card from ATI or Nvidia, which means that can lack in terms of 3D performance. But, they’re capable of handling everyday office tasks and photo editing with ease. Expect a battery life of at least six hours or more when browsing the web over wi-fi or streaming video, although some ultrabooks such as the Macbook Air last more than ten hours.

Most ultrabooks don’t include a CD or DVD drive and there are fewer ports compared to a normal laptop. When buying an ultrabook, make sure it has at least a HDMI output for connecting to the TV and a least one USB 3.0 port. Many ultrabooks don’t have ethernet ports and can access the internet only over wi-fi, but some ultrabooks running Windows 8 have touchscreens.

Family laptops
Costs: £399-£749
Brands: Acer, Dell, Fujitsu, Samsung, Siemens, Sony, Toshiba

Photo of a Toshiba Satellite laptop

The Toshiba Satellite range is a decent family laptop with an Intel Core i5 processor and Windows 8.1.

If you need a more powerful laptop for everyday family use, and your budget stretches further than a basic laptop then you have more options for buying a laptop. Laptops in this price range have larger screens, and are heavier to accommodate more features such as dedicated 3D graphics cards and Blu-ray drives.

Laptops in this price range are a great choice for the entire family, and look for a laptop with at least a 15-inch high resolution screen so it can double up as an extra screen for streaming online video services to playing games. With a large, usually wide format screen, it’s ideal for wide range of tasks – everything from web surfing and homework to editing photos or video or listening to music and watching Blu-rays and catch-up TV.

A family laptop will have a powerful processor – at least a 4th generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7, and at least 6GB of RAM. Check for a large hard drive of 1TB or more, and plenty of ports for connecting devices such as cameras, printers and external had drives including HDMI ports for connecting to HDTVs.

Multimedia and entertainment laptops
Costs: £799 upwards
Brands: Apple, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba

Photo of HP Envy laptop

The HP Envy features a 17-inch screen and fast Intel Core i7 processor.

If your budget stretches there are very powerful laptops available that can outperform even quite expensive desktop PCs. Called multimedia or entertainmet laptops, these are capable of handling high-end graphics and running the latest games on high settings and at high resolutions, and run Windows 8.1 or Mac OS X. Kids will love the ability to play the latest games such as Titanfall or Tomb Raider on high settings, and these types of laptops can usually be upgraded to keep their performance to the spec.

The ideal entertainment laptop will have a dedicated graphics card with at least 1GB of special memory that can handle the 3D graphics of modern games. Look for dedicated graphics cards in the laptop from either Nvidia or ATI, such as an Nivia GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of video RAM. Choose a model with an LED screen resolution of at least 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD), which should make whatever you’re watching look crisp and sharp. A HDMI port is essential for linking to a HDTV.

With their large screens, multimedia laptops are bulkier, heavier and more expensive than other laptops so they’re not good options if you want to travel with them. Typical models include the Apple Macbook range of laptops, starting from £999, and the Dell Inspiron 15 series.

Gaming laptops
Costs: £1,299 upwards
Brands: Alienware, Dell

Photo of Del Alienware laptop

Dell’s Alienware brand such as the Alienware 17 are very powerful gaming laptops.

Gaming laptops are all about packing in the faster processors, graphics processors and memory to offer the best possible gaming experience on the move. Gaming laptops are very expensive, and there are few brands available that offer tuned gaming laptops. Dell’s Alienware brand is typical, and offer a radical design to reinforce its gaming chops. Prices can rise to nearly £3,000.

Buying the best gaming laptop gets a lot of power. Expect to get a 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM (don’t choose anything less than 8GB), and either a faster SSD drive (usually about 256GB of space) or a slower hard drive with lots of storage (at least 1TB). Choose one with at least 2GB of video RAM, such as the Nvidia GTX 765M withGDDR5 RAM. Displays tend to be on the large size, so a 17-inch 1,920-x-1,080 LED display should be the minimum.

Audio is important, so expect branded speakers built into the laptop such as Klipsch speakers and Dolby Home Theater Audio 4. Most will included dedicated control panels in Windows 8.1 to change the 3D settings and performance to squeeze the maximum quality and resolution from the laptop when playing games.

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