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The laptop has, for many people, become the only home computer needed. Fast, yet portable, they offer the best of both worlds, and can be had for $500 (or less). Their lure is understandable.

Yet a laptop is also more complex and, compared to a desktop, far less flexible. A desktop user unhappy with a monitor, keyboard or mouse can simply replace it, but laptop buyers have no options. This means picking the right system is both more important, yet also more difficult. Here’s what to look out for if you’re ready to open your wallet.

Going Too Big – Or Too Small

Buying the right size of laptop is important because it determines not only display size but also impacts the size of your keyboard and touchpad. Choosing one that’s too small and you’ll feel cramped, but too big and you’ll have trouble with travel.

toshiba-c655-laptop

Think about how you’ve used computers in the past. Do you usually use your computer at home, or are you often on the road? If the former, you’ll likely want a 15.6-inch model, but road warriors will prefer a system between 12 and 13 inches. Those who do a bit of both should consider 14-inch models. You should look at weight and thickness, too, because a heavy 13-incher can weigh as much as a light 15.6-inch notebook.

Be honest with yourself about your requirements. Many individuals over-estimate their need for portability, as there’s a certain allure to the idea of owning a PC that can be used anywhere. But going too small can land you a system with a tiny display and annoying keyboard. Remember that tablets are even better travel companies if you have no need for a keyboard.

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Not Paying Attention To Ports

If you last purchased a laptop more than a few years ago you may expect your new model to have all the basics including multiple USB ports, a card reader, individual jacks for your headphone and microphone, Ethernet, and a couple of video outputs Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports There are so many video cables out there and it can get confusing. VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort -- what's the difference and why do they even matter? Read More . But times have changed, and ports are starting to go extinct.

asus-vivobook-x202e-laptop-review-6

Today, a common 15.6-inch laptop will have three USB ports Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 It’s been quite a while since USB 3.0 has been included in motherboards, but now we've come to the point where most devices and computers come with the new and improved ports. We all know... Read More , one video output, a combination headphone and microphone jack, and Ethernet. Some models are better, but some are worse, and small laptops are starting to drop Ethernet altogether and slim USB down to just two ports.

If you never connect peripherals, this won’t impact you. But if you have a few external hard drives, and like to use a mouse instead of a touchpad, you’ll need to pay attention. Splitting ports is possible, but the necessary adapters are bulky and inconvenient, so it’s best to buy a PC with the ports you need built-in.

Convertibles May Not Save You Money

transformerbook

The release of Windows 8 has given PC makers the chance to build touchscreen laptops that convert into tablets by either detaching the display or folding it over the keyboard. The best models are an interesting option, but don’t buy one because you think it’d be more expensive than owning a computer and a tablet.

There are certainly models that are inexpensive, and can serve both purposes, such as the ASUS Transformer Book T100. But these tiny alternatives are not enjoyable PCs, and also aren’t great tablets. You get what you pay for, and what you’ve paid for is a cheap tablet and a netbook.

More expensive options, like the Acer Aspire R7 and Dell XPS 12, can provide an excellent laptop experience, but they’re large and heavy for a tablet. Though not unusually, and plenty fast, most people will find them uncomfortable to use relative to an iPad. Your best bet is to buy a tablet and laptop individually – for now, at least.

Don’t Assume You Have To Buy Windows 8

Microsoft’s touch-optimized OS has been controversial for a variety of reasons, but the most divisive is the interface. Though it works for convertibles, it’s rather pointless if you don’t have a touchscreen, as the large, attractive Metro tiles work no better than icons. And while it’s now possible to boot directly to the desktop (with Windows 8.1), there are settings and features that can only be accessed through the Metro UI.

windows-8.1-laptop.jpg

Many people think they have to buy Windows 8 (or go with a Mac), but that’s not entirely true Which Operating System Should You Choose for Your Next PC Which Operating System Should You Choose for Your Next PC Buying a new PC? You have more operating system choices than ever. Which should you choose? We'll give you an overview, along with advantages and disadvantages. Spoiler: There's no one best option! Read More . Manufacturers that let you customize your PC, including Dell and HP, still sell models that ship with Windows 7. Smaller makers like Origin and Digital Storm also provide this option. Choosing Windows 7 makes sense if you don’t plan to buy a touchscreen computer and/or have no interest in touch apps.

And there’s a new star on the rise; Chrome OS, a stripped-down operating system from Google that relies on web connectivity and can’t run Windows apps, but they offer decent performance can be had for just $200. While not the best choice for a primary PC, choosing a Chromebook is a good idea Everything You Need To Know About Switching To A Chromebook Everything You Need To Know About Switching To A Chromebook Chromebooks run a slimmed-down operating system optimized for getting on the web with just the Chrome browser and Chrome apps. Can you switch to a Chromebook? Read More if you want a laptop to complement a desktop you already own.

Don’t Go Beyond 1080p With Windows

Resolutions beyond 1080p are now available in high-end laptops and will likely become more common as the year advances. On the low end, this means a resolution of 2560×1440, while the most expensive options offer 4K (3820×2160).

toshibakirabook

While this can result in an extremely sharp image, Windows has difficulty with displays that boast a pixel near or above 200 pixels per inch. This is because graphics in Windows are rendered with certain dimensions measured in pixels, so placing more into the same space reduces the size of everything – fonts, icons, menus and more. Some scaling options are available to compensate, but they’re no longer sufficient.

Windows will need a significant update with new scaling options to meet the needs of people using pixel-dense displays. Until this happens, you should stay away from the lure of 4K and other super-HD resolutions. Laptops with these panels can be difficult to use even for people with perfect eyesight.

Conclusion

You should shop for a laptop the way you’d shop for a car; consider your needs, and eliminate what won’t work before deciding what will. Like a car, your laptop is likely to be with you for at least three years, and possibly more than five. And like a car, you’ll be relying on it almost every day. So take your time, make a list of needs, and check it twice; the effort will pay off!

  1. Hamid
    August 16, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Shall i get windows disc on buying new laptop?

  2. Jon
    February 23, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    I agree completely on the HiDPI display issues in Windows. Even though Apple has a draconian grip over their ecosystem it hasn't saved them from certain apps looking horrible using HiDPI displays, aka their "Retina" panels (looking at you Unity3D). Windows is in a much worse state. If the Razer Blade 14 had a slightly better panel I would have jumped on that in a heartbeat. Much power and quiet fans in a 4lb package. I mean i was even ok with the 1600x900 resolution, just make it so I don't have to struggle too much for the viewing angle sweet spot.

  3. Jim
    February 20, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Another point in choosing a laptop. Make sure it has an easy way to remove the hard drive. I switch back and forth between 3 hard drives, depending on what I'm doing. I have Debian on one and 2 XP's that have different stuff on em'. It's pretty convenient!

  4. Theresa
    February 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I have owned three laptops and not once have I ever paid attention to the ports before buying it. Good tip. I will definitely use that next time. I also don't know about the resolution so that's useful too. Can't say that I'm a fan of Windows 8 either.

  5. x.saint
    February 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    points are so clear, reasonable, i like it.

  6. Anonymous
    February 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    All of what was written is true, but you can still have a laptop and all the periphrals you need by buying a docking station with your laptop. What you have then is a mobile computer and enough ports, etc. that you have with a desktop.

  7. Anonymous
    February 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Apparently "View From the Top " doesn't like to read any negative opinions about Windows, eh ? Apparently "View From the Top" does not read or comprehend English very well, eh ?
    Apparently "View From the Top" does not have a clear view of what I posted..........a statement of my own personal grief with Windows as opposed to Apple. Apparently "View From the Top" refuses to recognize what OS has the label...."Blue Screens of Death" most often applied....???

  8. Mwape heights
    February 19, 2014 at 5:09 am

    here in Africa it's quit hard to use a windows8 computer.....7 works best fr us

    • ffs
      February 27, 2014 at 6:40 am

      Speak for yourself. Windows 7 works best for you not me or many other Africans living in Africa that I know that currently use Windows 8.

  9. Kevin
    February 19, 2014 at 12:52 am

    I would add to this list the importance of including a SSD in your purchase. Costs are coming down, they are lightweight and durable and add a great amount of value, especially if you are a road warrior who will turn the machine on and off a dozen times a day.

  10. Jan Banan
    February 18, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Win 8 is better than 7 if your computer supports it.
    (And you have to tweak it to be like 7 of course, only using metro is retarded.)

  11. Bud
    February 18, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    P.S. my first and LAST computer was a Windows-based PC.......and after too much grief, I "bit the bullet' and paid more for an Apple and have never looked back with regrets !!!

    • View From The Top
      February 19, 2014 at 6:02 am

      Apple user alright. Doesn't even realize that a Mac is a "computer" as well. Oh! Well, why do I even bother?

  12. Bud
    February 18, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    To Bart, who replied to my post about anything produced by MS. I agree that all OS's need updates, but apparently you didn't fully read or comprehend my post as to WHY MS OS's are so BAD............too MANY updates, which tells me that the software developing programmers don't "know how" to reduce THE CONSTANT updates and bloat !!! The fact that MS has dominance in their OS makes me wonder why it is so often hacked? A simple deduction Bart, IT IS JUNK.......look at how many times MS has created a "new and improved" OS, only to discover it's many flaws..........now tell me that is a more frequent problem with an Apple, a Linux or other???

  13. Daniel McNerney
    February 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    The comment on screen resolution is good as far as it goes. However if your new machine uses a non Intel shared memory chipset (AMD/Nvedia) this will not be a problem.

  14. Bud
    February 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I wouldn't touch anything made by MicroSucks !!! Only need to see/experience the continual monthly upgrades to prove my point. I often wonder if MS's programmers "flunked-out" of programming school ???

    • Bart B
      February 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Hi Bud. I would like to just point out that ALL software requires updates: Windows, Mac OS, Linux, even Android or the apps on your smartphone. It's just a fact of life. No software is perfect out of the box. The fact that software developers are putting out software patches is a GOOD thing - this helps the software get better and more compatible. Do not hold the fact that software patches are being issued monthly against a company - it's the companies that NEVER patch their software that are a bigger problem.

  15. Jennifer
    February 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    My husband has Windows 8 on his computer. It gives him nothing but hassles. Granted he's not very tech savvy and it just him mad most the time. Honestly I won't be surprised if he throws the whole laptop across the room in anger. How do I mange it walk and talk like 7 as mentioned above or where can I get os 7 to replace it entirely?

    • Bart B
      February 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Jennifer, anywhere you can buy computer, you can buy Windows 7. Try Newegg.com or Amazon.com if you don't mind buying online. Then do a Google search for "downgrade Windows 8 to Windows 7" and find a tutorial you feel comfortable following. One warning - you will have to erase the current information on your husband's laptop in order to install Windows 7, so make sure you guys have a backup. Using the Windows File Transfer Wizard is the best way to backup his profile in Windows 8 and then restore it on Windows 7 after the downgrade.

    • Oni R
      February 19, 2014 at 5:41 am

      You asked about making it work like Windows 7. Here's how.

      You can spend $2.99 to get a lifetime license for "Start Is Back" or get the completely free Classic Shell.

      As for SiB, it has a literally the same start menu as Win7 and you wouldn't even know the difference. The best start menu replacement for Win8/8.1 by a very long way. Just remember that SiB is for Win8 and SiB+ is for Win8.1. You can use a month long trial before deciding to put down your cash as well :-)

      I'm one of the contributors to the project, so I know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm using it myself and my Win 8.1 feels exactly the same as my parallel Win7 installation. The only thing you'll miss is the Aero Glass transparency from Win7, but it's not a biggie at all, I don't think. Link - http://startisback.com/

      Or you can download and install the free and Windows XP like start menu called classic shell. It's completely free with no strings attached whatsoever. Link - http://www.classicshell.net/

      There are others as well, like Start8 from Star Dock, Pokki, Start Menu 8 from Iobit etc., but none of them will even come close to Start Is Back for sheer authenticity. Ask your husband to give it a spin. he'll love it :-)

  16. joey
    February 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    nothing wrong with 8, unless you are a pea brain

    • bnjohanson
      February 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Windows 7 is nothing short of outstanding and the epitome of, "if it ain't broke, then why fix it.."; however, this is immediately challenged when beginning to compare/contrast once one is able to create via a visual basis of WIndows 8 to aesthetically mirror that of WIndows 7...

      ...only then after the annoying noise that Windows 8 has brought-forth does it become transparently lucid to even the most noob-hobbyist in terms of PC knowledge that WIndows 8 has evolved into something surprisingly BETTER in terms of better/cleaner/superior code across the board and as far as the go-forward is concerned, critical. In fact, I will conclude that the longevity of Windows 7 will be inferior to that of XP when compared versus the next iteration...

    • Pup E
      February 19, 2014 at 12:04 am

      Way to insult people there buddy. Grow up.

    • Tinkicker
      February 19, 2014 at 6:20 am

      The afore-transcribed descriptive affiliation of verbiage, somewhat acervuline in execution, has prompted excessive discombobulation of my legume cortex (pea brain).
      Long live Windows 7 and die, word puffery!
      Ugh, my head....
      8)

  17. Sugam K
    February 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    windows 7 is the best os available....Windows 8 stands nowhere ... Those who say win 8 is better wait until you face some issue ..... It will then start auto repair which will never end... Windows 8 may look better but is the worst windows os right now

    • Mees
      February 18, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Been using it for about half a year w/o touchscreen. No problems at all.

    • Rod
      February 19, 2014 at 1:54 am

      I agree, windows 8 is the worse OS I've used so far; Might be wonderful for Tablet users, but redundant functionality for laptop users, plus poorly thought through product-to-market approach to development.

  18. hkalant
    February 18, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I bought my PC in 2009. I upgraded my HDD to a 60GB SSD a few months ago and my computer's overall performance got much better. So I guess upgradability is an important factor to me.

    But in the future, I may need to buy a Windows PC which is both a computer and a tablet and I was thinking about Surface Pro 2. What do you think?

  19. Sangimed S
    February 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

    And you have also to check the battery life (coz some resellers put old batteries in their laptops)
    thanks for this tips :)

  20. Edmund S
    February 18, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Good article- I agree on most points except for getting Windows 7 over Windows 8 if the laptop does not come with a touchscreen. Windows 8 is a step ahead over Windows 7 under the hood, and why not get the latest if it's available as a free option? Its atrocious "Start" menu can easily be fixed by installed a Start button replacement like the freely available Classic Shell, and setting Windows to boot directly to desktop. After that you have yourself a Windows 7-like environment, but with all the latest improvements. Of course, for some this is not a simple task, but I'm sure everyone has at least one tech-savvy friend/relative.

  21. Kushal R
    February 18, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Where's the battery life?

  22. Tim T
    February 18, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Only way to buy a laptop is biggest screen possible and loaded to the gills.

  23. Von Adam M
    February 18, 2014 at 3:30 am

    If you are the type of a user who always brings his/her laptop anywhere(e.g. field reporter, student or the like) you should also consider the battery life, you may want to choose the latest version of Intel's processors for this thing.

  24. Rajiv Vishwa
    February 18, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Great tips, especially the ports one, potential mac buyers need to think about.
    One point I think you missed is upgradability, not sure how many users would be affected, but for few who would, it is really important. For example RAM/HDD upgrade is like impossible for newer macbook pro/air.

    • Matt S
      February 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      You know, Macs actually have an awesome port selection. A Pro 13 w Retina gives you two USB 3.0, two Thunderbolt, HDMI, and the card reader. Which is better than most ultrabooks.

  25. Mathieu
    February 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    And I would add, check internet before buying.. thanks for tips.

  26. Maarten D
    February 17, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Hah, Windows 8, what a joke!

    • Andy
      February 18, 2014 at 3:12 am

      Windows 8 is just fine ..... after you make it look and behave like Windows 7.

    • Dimitri Strutt
      February 18, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Yeah.. 200 million jokes. Sold more than all iPads put together. Wow. Nice joke :)

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