When it comes to choosing the right laptop for you, there is no objective and straightforward answer, mostly because it all boils down to personal preferences, but also because what makes one laptop “better” than the other is a detail so small that only experts and aficionados will know how to recognize it. However, there are some major things that everyone who’s ever logged on will recognize and understand. So, here’s the list of 5 key features to look for in your laptop for 2017 (they’re pretty much the same as last year, just so we’re clear), ordered more or less according to the level of importance from least to most important.
1. Screen Size & Quality
Given the fact (well, a supposition, really, but one that often turns out to be true) that you’ll be spending a lot of time daily staring at your laptop, one of the most important things to check out and decide on is the size of its screen. Of course, this will tie in to the size of the whole thing, and more often than not its weight. For example, your garden variety 12 to 13-inch laptop will be about 3 to 3½ pounds.
So, what are some recommendations in this regard? Well, if you travel often, or if you take plan to take your laptop daily to college or whatnot, you’ll want it ultraportable. That means keeping it well under 15.6 inches, maybe even below 13 inches (hint – anything below 9 is already a tablet).
Now, if you’re looking for something to watch Netflix and chill, you really should start from 15.6 and upwards, though that will mean a bit of sacrifice in terms of portability. You’ll still be able to lug it around, but the weight will start to tell.
Gaming laptops and higher-end general-use laptops are usually 17 inches, and this is where we start talking about desktop replacements. These will invariably be above 4, even 5 pounds, which isn’t a funny prospect if you need to carry it with you every day.
As far as the quality goes, most displays today will have a 1920x1080p res, which is more than enough, especially if you’re just going to use it recreationally. Anything beyond that for recreational use is a waste of money.
Conversely, if you’re looking for a gaming laptop or a professional laptop for editing, 3D rendering, etc. don’t be afraid to splash out if you can grab something with a 2880x1620p resolution.
On a similar note, think where you’re going to use it the most – if you sit around brightly lit areas, go for a matte screen; if you don’t turn on the lights all too much, glossy screen is your friend.
2. Interface & Connectivity
This is a thing most people neglect. Give them a backlit keyboard and a USB 2.0, and they’re happy as a hog in slop. However, there are more things to consider – keyboard travel (height of keys, affects responsiveness), does it have anti-ghosting or not (prevents keyboard freeze if multiple eys are pressed at once), what’s the keyboard flex like do you need a num-pad or not? On that same note, you’ll have to check out the touchpad/trackpad. Rarely any laptop today comes without one, but some are crappier than others (looking at you, ASUS). Don’t take this the wrong way, their trackpads are decent, but not up to game when you check the rest of the specs on their laptops.
Also, what you’ll want to check out is what type of connectivity your new laptop brings to the table. How many USB ports, does it have a HDMI, can it do Ethernet or WiFi, or both? How about SCART? Card reader? Here’s a litmus test for 2017 – if it’s packing a USB 3.1 Type C port, go for it!
It’s funny how many people (apart from gamers) overlook this part! You can choose between a Li-Ion type of battery or NiCad (nickel-cadmium). You don’t want to choose, just go with lithium-ion. As far as battery life goes, your average-day laptop battery will survive 300 to 500 charges, and will run for anywhere between 2 and 8 hours, depending how you use it (heavily vs. lightly, respectively). Gaming laptops, of course, as well as higher-end general purpose laptops will have a heavy run of about 5 hours on a single charge, though you’ll have to pay for that pleasure.
4. Memory & Storage
When talking about memory, most folks won’t differentiate between RAM and hard drive (luckily, the number’s getting smaller by the day). Here’s the deal – if your laptop were a desk, your RAM would be the workspace, while your hard drive would be the drawers. It’s the RAM that affects how fast your apps launch, or how many you can have open at the same time without taxing the computer, and it’s your hard that affects how much you can keep on your laptop. Simple enough? It gets better.
You see, your storage space can have two distinct flavors, HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and SSD (Solid State Drive), which we’ll get to presently. In a nutshell, HDD’s fit more (much more), cost less, but are slower and less durable, while SSD’s fit much less, cost more, but they do kick up the boot up and app launch, and they are better at survival (that’s why they’re more popular in laptops). Of course, combos are not unheard of, and many high-end laptops, especially gaming laptops, will have them.
Try to aim for at least 4GB for RAM (6 is better, 8 much better), and at least 32GB for SSD (you’ll be able to upgrade in most cases), and as far as HDD goes, check its rpm rating rather than space available (5400rpm is ok, 7200 is better).
5. CPU & Graphics
Choosing the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is basically like choosing the engine for your custom-built car, and it’s tough these days getting past Intel and its core-based processors (i3, i5, i7). They’re irreplaceable when it comes to multimedia and multitasking. A little hint: the bigger the number, the better the processor, but the price-tag will also match. Also, you’ll have to have one hell of a cooling system to keep the beast at bay.
On a similar note, you’ll want to decide what type of Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) you want – integrated or dedicated. Integrated cards will come without their own RAM, so they’ll have to use the system’s memory, which will slow down your computer, but it’ll come off cheaper. Contrastively, a dedicated card comes with its own memory, but it is more expensive, and if your ventilation system isn’t up to task, your GPU will fry.