How to choose the best laptop or computer
When you’re looking for a new laptop or computer, wading through all of the options can be painstaking. And when you do eventually find one you like, how do you know whether it will perform as well as you need it to?
Here is Empreus IT Support’s guide for choosing the best laptop or computer to suit your needs:
If you’ve just begun searching for a new laptop or computer, chances are your first thought is “Which brand is the best?”
In reality, the brand you choose is less important than the hardware it has in it. Of course, there are brands that have developed a solid reputation for exceptional quality over time, such as Apple and Asus. Then you have a number of dependable brands that tend to sit in the mid-level price range, such as:
Finally, brands such as Acer have focussed on targeting a wider range of the market with lower cost machines. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is going to be less. It all depends on the hardware you find inside it.
You could be trawling through brand reviews for hours, but it’s likely you’ll end up even more confused than when you began. Some people will say they’ve had terrible issues with Lenovo, others will say they wouldn’t buy any other brand. Some will say Acer is cheap, others will say their machine is still going strong after 8 years. Some will say Asus is overpriced, others will say it’s the top of the range.
So rather than searching based on brand, search based on capability. Then when you find a particular brand, model and make of laptop or computer you like, you can search for online reviews before purchasing. But starting a search based on brand alone is almost guaranteed to waste your time.
The generic screen size for a laptop is 15.6 inches. Finding a bigger screen size is rare, but there are a few brands that make 17 inches and larger. You can also find a variety of laptops with smaller screen sizes ranging from 10-15 inches.
The size you choose depends entirely on your personal preference.
If it stays at home most of the time, then any size should be fine (keep in mind that smaller screens can get tricky if you have vision problems). Alternatively, if you use it for school or work you may wish to opt for a smaller screen size which often means a smaller and lighter machine.
The same is true for 2 in 1 laptops that can be folded flat (like a tablet), or ones that swivel (for presentations, and so on). Think about what you’re going to be using it for, and choose the option that best suits your needs.
CPU (Central Processing Unit)
Now we’re getting to what really matters when choosing a new computer or laptop!
If you don’t know much about hardware, it can be tricky working out why some machines are $500, and look exactly the same as other machines worth $4000.
When we talk about CPU, we’re talking about the unit that sits inside your machine and processes every command. There are two major brands of CPU: Intel and AMD. Both follow a “ranking system” when it comes to their power:
Intel Celeron, Pentium or Atom / AMD E2 or Sempron: These processors are generally designed to do one task at a time. I.e.: if you’re browsing the net, you’re just browsing the net. If you’re using Word or Excel, you’re just using Word or Excel. When you begin opening up more applications (or multiple web pages at a time), they begin to slow down and may freeze.
If you only use your laptop for browsing the internet or typing something up, one of these processors will suit you fine.
i3 / AMD Ryzen 3 or Athlon 4: These processors are designed to handle 1-2 applications at a time, so you can multi-task (such as researching and writing). However, once you begin opening 5 or 6 applications, they will slow down and may freeze.
i3 processors are generally great for university students, or as a second machine for business people on the go.
i5 or AMD Ryzen 5: i5 processors are great for multi-tasking and can handle 3 or more standard applications at a time, without slowing down or freezing up.
i7 or AMD Ryzen 7: Top of the range for standard laptops and computers (they do make an i9 though this is mainly for high end gaming and servers).
An i7 / Ryzen 7 processor will handle multiple applications at the same time and is ideal for online gaming, streaming and just about anything else you want to do on your computer.
Your hard drive is where all of your information is stored.
There are two main types of hard drives: HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid state drive). HDDs have a spindle that spins and reads the data. With SSD, there are no moving components – it’s a circuit board with data storage chips attached.
Generally, SSD will always perform better. This is because it does not have to “boot up” and use energy to get the hard drive spinning. It’s also less likely to break if you drop or damage your laptop.
Very cheap laptops often have “eMMC” storage. Keep in mind that these can be very, very slow.
Hard drive storage
Another figure you’ll come across is the amount of storage on the hard drive, i.e.: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and even 1TB.
Hard drive storage refers to the amount of “space” you have to store files and software on your computer.
If you are just using your laptop for web browsing, some images, and a few documents then 128GB is plenty. If you plan to store a heap of photos, movies or documents then you’ll need to look for 256GB or more.
You can always opt for a machine with lower storage, and then purchase a separate hard drive too if you prefer.
RAM (Random Access Memory)
RAM relates to a machine’s “short term memory”. When you turn your computer on, it loads the operating system and other applications, as well as the ones you open, into RAM.
If the RAM or “short term memory” fills up, the processor needs to go back to “long term memory” (your hard disk), which can slow your computer’s speed.
RAM doesn’t run out, but the less it needs to draw on the hard disk to refresh, the faster your machine will run. The minimum RAM you’ll find on current laptops and computers is 2GB, though most will have 4GB.
Ideally, if you’re after faster speed, look for a machine with 8GB of RAM. It will run smoother and free up system resources to allow for better performance. You can get more than 8GB of RAM, but it’s often not needed for a general-use computer.
Remember: at the end of the day, the best computer or laptop is the one that suits your needs.
If you are an occasional user who just likes to browse the internet, scroll through Facebook, or type a document, then an inexpensive machine with the following should suit you fine:
- Intel Celeron processor
- 4GB RAM
- HDD with 500GB of storage space
If you are a student or you’re using it for work, opt for:
- i3 or i5 / Ryzen 3 or 5
- SSD, 256GB storage
- 8GB RAM
And if you’re on your computer all the time, using multiple applications or playing games, you’ll need to spend a little bit more for an:
- i7 or Ryzen 7
- SSD, 256GB
- 2 TB HDD
- Graphics card GTX 1050 or Radeon RX460/560
- At least 8GB RAM
Also, note that CPU and graphics cards on laptops are built with slower speeds and power compared to a desktop version of the same model.