How to Choose the Best Laptop for You: A Mini-Workshop

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Choosing the best laptop for your needs and making sure you get the best price is one of the most common problems I hear about.

I use a three step process that helps me figure out the best possible deal. Determine your needs, then your price range, and then do your shopping.Following these steps will help you be organized and efficient in your search for the best laptop for your needs.

First, I want to state that this is meant to be a general guide for those who have little or no experience with laptops and/or desktop computers. If you’re a power user or a tech guru, you’re not going to really need this guide, but you may know someone that does, so let’s get started.

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The first step to choosing the right laptop for your needs is the one that most people stumble on. You’ve got to determine what you’re going to be using the laptop for, before you can decide on anything else. Will you be using it for playing PC games, for creating spreadsheets or power point presentations? Will it be used for school work or for editing video and audio? Will it be used mostly for internet access or just for checking email? All these questions have to come into play to determine the big picture of your overall requirements before moving on to step two. If, for example, you plan on using the laptop mostly for school work and occasionally for some PC gaming, your hardware doesn’t have to be the best cutting edge available, but there are still other considerations. This can be broken down into a simple list of needs, as follows:

  • Basic laptop with small screen or a Netbook (not to be confused with Notebook): Best for internet usage and email, word processing and data management like spreadsheets.
  • Low End laptop with integrated graphics: These are best for playing older games, as well as doing all that the Basic laptops can do.
  • Mid Range laptops usually have a dedicated graphics card, and at least a dual-core processor. These laptops will do just about anything and are decent for multi-tasking as well. They won’t play the newest games but they do handle most games that were produced more than a year or two ago.
  • High End Gaming laptops usually have all the latest tech installed and can handle anything you throw at them. Alienware is an example of the high end gaming laptop. They often have quad-core processors and always have powerful dedicated GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) that can handle sending video to your high definition television as well. They have huge amounts of hard drive space, tons of RAM, and lots of extra features like cosmetic cases (glowing keyboards and such)

Now, those are some really basic and general guidelines for the different types of laptops out there, but I don’t want anyone to think this is meant to be an exhaustive list. The fact is that there are many steps in between each different kind of laptop I have listed here. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by it, though. The basic types listed above will help you get on your way.

The second step I use to determine what my ideal laptop would be is pricing. You’ve got to determine how much you’re willing or able to spend. Some folks will tell you to decide on this as step one, but I argue that you can’t set a price range for yourself if you don’t know what you’re shopping for. Once you know which of the basic types you need, then you can begin looking at pricing and figuring out what you can expect to spend. Bear in mind that the price ranges I am listing here are for brand new or refurbished laptops that you can purchase in stores or online.

  • Netbooks run around one or two hundred dollars, and don’t do much more than access the internet. If you are thinking about getting a Netbook, you may also consider a Tablet PC (usually around the same pricing with some added advantages like Android OS).
  • Basic laptops, the lowest end without being just a Netbook, usually run at least three hundred bucks and sometimes up to five hundred or so, depending on the included features. Most of these are going to have low RAM and a single CPU. They will watch videos and DVDs but don’t expect to play Skyrim on it. The integrated graphics on these systems brings the cost down but means that you have less power for intense graphics.
  • Mid Range laptops tend to have slightly better features and hardware than the Basic models, and usually run around five to seven hundred dollars. Typically they have a bit more hard drive space and RAM, and maybe even dedicated graphics but they still won’t handle a PC game that came out just last month. They’ll usually have a DVD burner installed these days too, and often are loaded with software to take advantage of their various hardware merits.
  • Finally, High End Gaming laptops can run anywhere from around eight hundred dollars to the thousands and higher if you get something custom built. These are the be all end all of the laptop world, capable of doing just about anything you could need, including playing the latest PC games.

The final, and most exciting step to get the best laptop for you, is to shop. This is, of course, the best part. The best and shortest advice I can give here is this: Shop around and take your time. Make sure you check out the deals available to you from local retail stores, compare them to what you can find online. It’s quite often that someone I know buys a computer in a retail store and is dismayed to find out that they could have paid a much lower price by ordering it from a reputable company online. That’s where taking your time comes in. Nothing is worse than jumping on what you believe to be a stellar deal, only to see something better for a lower price two days later because you didn’t take you time and do your research. Google shopping, Yahoo, Amazon, etc. There are tons of places on the internet to find great deals on the hardware that runs it. When I am personally shopping for a new laptop, I give myself at least three days after I decide on a particular model to think about it and see if better deals come along. You’ve also got to take into account the time of year and other factors. For example, buying a laptop in mid-December is likely to be slightly cheaper if you shop around because of all the Christmas deals available. On the other hand, buying one just after Halloween is likely to be a bit more costly. Wait as long as you can, search for deals as much as possible, and don’t take one until you are sure it’s the right one for you.

I hope that helps. Until next time, my friends!