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how to buy a laptopThis is an exciting time for the PC. Contrary to predictions of its death, the personal computer isn’t going away – but it is changing and, in some ways, becoming more personal. Touchscreens, convertible hinges and efficient processors are making a mark.

Changes like this make buying a laptop at the beginning of 2013 a bit different from buying one at the same time in 2012. Many basics are the same, yet others have altered radically, and specifications that used to matter now are adequate in almost any computer sold.

Drop The Top – Convertibles Are Here!

how to buy a laptop

The most substantial change that’s here to stay is the rise of the convertible. Though still niche, a number of new convertibles have been announced or released since the introduction of Windows 8.

First things first – before you figure out how to buy a laptop, you need to decide whether you need a convertible? A laptop with this feature can turn into a tablet by sliding or swinging the display, eliminating the need for a separate tablet. This makes them a good choice for people who desire a tablet yet don’t want to be burdened by multiple redundant devices.

Weight is an issue with convertibles, however, which makes them a compromise for people who prefer to use a tablet for most computing. They also don’t offer any cost savings over an inexpensive laptop and mainstream tablet.

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If you decide a convertible is for you the next question is obvious – what kind should you buy? There are many options. I recommend dockables for most people because the display can be completely removed from the keyboard. That sheds the extra weight that can make a convertible inferior to a tablet. Convertibles with a simple flip or fold mechanism, like the Dell XPS 12, are also preferable.

Avoid sliders. They have the smallest and least usable keyboards yet still aren’t much lighter than competitors.

Should You Go Touch?

buy laptop

If you buy a convertible, you will have touch. That’s part of the package. Everyone else must decide if they want to pay for the privilege.

Touch works best for truly mobile users. A touchscreen What Are the Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens? What Are the Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens? Modern touchscreen devices come in two forms: the capacitative touchscreen and the resistive touchscreen. Here are the pros and cons of each kind. Read More  laptop is easier to use in a tight space, like a bus or economy airplane eat, and it’s easier to use without sitting down. Users who frequently find themselves in situations like these may prefer touch over the keyboard and touchpad.

Most other users won’t gain much benefit. The problem is distance. A standard laptop placed on a desk or table in a comfortable typing position will have a screen that’s too far away to easily touch. You will find yourself leaning forward or slouching uncomfortably to reach it.

Also keep in mind the price. Touchscreens are often a $100 to $150 premium. That’s a lot of money to spend on a single feature. Users who think touch is worth that much money should also think about buying a convertible or a tablet instead.

What Version Of Windows 8?

If you’re buying in 2013 you’ll be buying a laptop that runs Windows 8. So what version should you buy?

There are just two versions that consumers need to know about and, in most cases, will be able to choose between. They are standard Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. The Pro version throws in a few “advanced” features like:

  • Remote desktop connnections
  • Encrypting File System
  • Hyper-V (a Windows virtualization utility)
  • Group Policy account controls
  • BitLocker
  • Windows Media Center

Do you care about any of these features? If so, Windows 8 Pro is for you. Remember, even if your laptop does not come with Windows 8 Pro you can upgrade from the standard version for $69.99.

If you’d like a more in-depth explanation check out our full guide on Windows 8 editions Which Windows 8 Version Is For You? Which Windows 8 Version Is For You? If you’re interested in upgrading, you’ll also need to know which edition of Windows 8 is right for you. The good news is that Microsoft has simplified the different editions of Windows in Windows 8... Read More .

Portability Vs. Performance

buy laptop

What you desire more – performance, or portability? Products on the performance end of this choice, like Intel Core i7 quads, are nearly equal to their desktop cousins. They can blitz through arithmetic-heavy tasks without issue.

Products that lean towards portability, like the Intel Core U and Y-Series processors, can last six to eight hours on a modest battery. That makes them a clear choice for frequent travelers.

Between these extremes there is a broad range of Intel Core dual-core processors and AMD dual/quad-core processors. They are quick enough for most tasks yet can offer four to six hours of battery life.

I recommend leaning towards performance if you are in doubt. Consumers have a habit of over-estimating their need for portability. Portable computers look alluring in pictures – but if you never leave home you’re wasting the advantage it provides. Performance, however, is always useful.

Display Resolution & Technology

how to buy a laptop

Laptop displays have improved significantly over the last year. Finding one with a resolution beyond 1366×768 was once almost impossible outside of gaming systems. Now there’s a wide range of products that offer a 1600×900 or 1080p display. If you can afford such an upgrade, buy it. You’ll enjoy a sharper image and will have more effective screen space to work with.

Also look for displays that offer “IPS” technology Understanding The Differences Between LCD Display Panels [Technology Explained] Understanding The Differences Between LCD Display Panels [Technology Explained] Read More . Displays built with this offer much wider viewing angles and better color accuracy than those using traditional “TN” panels. An optional high-resolution display is almost always IPS, but be sure to double-check.

Because display options are expensive you may be faced with choosing between a better display and another component. I recommend the display. A slight boost in processor speed will feel irrelevant in a few years, but a great display will always be brilliant.

Conclusion

You may be wondering about other choices like RAM, wireless card or hard drive.

Don’t worry about these too much. Unless you have a specific need that you know requires an upgrade in one of these areas you will likely find the default option to be more than adequate. There are certainly situations where more RAM, for example, can be useful. But most people will never need more than the four gigabytes that is not standard in almost every laptop.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have a specific question – or ask your fellow readers at MakeUseOf Answers answers answers Read More .

  1. Emmanuel
    September 7, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    How can I Know the GB of RAM that is suitable for a particular system?

  2. Trevor
    March 12, 2013 at 6:43 am

    I like this post as well as this blog, very useful and quite informative. I have been contemplating buying a Laptop/Notebook this year and the information provided here in junction with the reviews on this site - http://top-notebook-reviews.com/ - has been pivotal in me making my final decision. Thank you Matt!!

  3. Jan Loimand
    February 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Don't buy a Windows 8 laptop!!!

    I suggest a Dell Latitude with Windows 7 Ultimate with XP Mode; less than $1,000.

    A friend decided to buy a Windows 8 laptop, in spite of my recommendations.

  4. HA Clurk
    February 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Next product I buy will be a fully integrated (computer, video cam, browser, voice activated) TV. Just waiting for Apple to get it on the market.

  5. Notebook pc
    February 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Great post thanks for sharing.

  6. Niel.S
    February 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    If you're buying a new laptop, you've probably been overwhelmed by the ... Origin PC beefs up its customer surface with the addition of its new client, Nexus. .... Our TechnologyGuide team was at CES reviewing what 2013 has in store for tech ...

  7. Heini Pulkkinen
    February 5, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Tablet..off course..Wifi or 3G, that's the question.

  8. dragonmouth
    January 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    @muotechguy
    "So things are different because the CPU is faster? "

    If you are going to approach things with that attitude, then no, things are not going to be different. By the same logic today's PC are not much better than those of 1980's. You want revolutionary advances in technology while we have only have gotten evolutionary ones.

    "In what way is windows 8 compelling then?"

    I was being sarcastic. Win 8 compels polarization - either you love it or you hate it. There is no middle ground. It compels intense debate - it is either the wave of the future or MS's biggest blunder since Bob.

    AFAIAC, interfaces such as that of Win 8 or Unity are designed for touch screens, should be used only on mobile devices and should not be forced on desktop users.

    • Wranglerspace
      February 2, 2013 at 11:12 pm

      @muotechguy
      "so things are different because the cpu is faster?"
      I just got a 3rd gen Ivy Bridge and I'd have to say Yes! and the additional SSD doesn't hurt either;-)

      Also, Windows 8 doesn't have to be polarizing and you do make good points. I don't know why someone who has a desktop setup with remote keyboard & mouse with their monitor on their wall would be doing back-flips over W8. It is designed for tablets, convertibles, with a push toward smart phones (people with tiny fingers or bigger screens). As I said above I think it makes for a nice transitional OS for us XP users who now own a touchscreen ultrabook or whatever...and believe me there ae quite a few XP hangers-on out there. It should not be brought up in the same sentence as Vista which is why there are so many peeps using a nearly 12 year old OS (in XP).

  9. Jack Cola
    January 31, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I got the Dell XPS 12, it's a great convertible, awesome screen.

    Great for a laptop with the added bonus of it being a tablet.

  10. Keith Swartz
    January 31, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Real good read. Contains the things we ALL need to consider before & when we decide to purchase a new Laptop. Thank-you!

  11. muotechguy
    January 30, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I don't buy this whole convertible BS. The convertible tablet I had 8 years ago was a flop - why should they be any different today? Because now Windows is "touch optimized"? Hah!

    • dragonmouth
      January 30, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Because it is now 8 years later and the technology is 8 years better?

      • muotechguy
        January 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

        In what way? The only thing that has changed is the screen technology - which wasn't actually bad before - and the software. You're saying Windows 8 is THAT compelling?

        • dragonmouth
          January 31, 2013 at 12:30 am

          "The only thing that has changed is the screen technology"

          There have been other changes, CPUs, GPUs, etc. Don't be so jaded. :)

          "You’re saying Windows 8 is THAT compelling?"

          It IS compelling. The question is in what way is it compelling?

        • muotechguy
          January 31, 2013 at 9:28 am

          So things are different because the CPU is faster? That's a pretty dumb argument. Besides, are you going to answer the question, or just pose them? In what way is windows 8 compelling then?

    • Matt Smith
      February 5, 2013 at 3:52 am

      Look, if you're going to dismiss one of the most important reasons straight away just 'cause "And what about that Microsoft? Am I right?" then there's not much of an argument to be had.

      • James Bruce
        February 5, 2013 at 8:17 am

        So that is the main argument then? Look, we've both used Windows 8 tablets though admittedly I only touched RT - and I can honestly say it didn't feel better with a touchscreen, or optimized in any way. It would be a nice addition to a laptop, but certainly not a sole selling point.

        Meh, the markets will decide. The sales figures MS released for the RT were beyond appalling (

  12. Humza Aamir
    January 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    What I want is an Ultrabook that has the performance capabilities of an Alienware. Doesn't seem possible, does it?

    • Matt Smith
      January 30, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      That already exists - the ASUS Zenbook UX51vz. It is very thin, yet includes an Nvidia GT 650M graphics solution and can stand toe-to-toe with an Alienware M14x. However, it costs about $2,300.

      • Humza Aamir
        January 31, 2013 at 1:10 pm

        I saw your review on digitaltrends ;), and it does seem promising. I'd better start saving before it looses its future-proofness.

  13. Anjan Bhushan
    January 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I am still using good old Windows XP and I am happy.

  14. Charlie Player
    January 30, 2013 at 7:42 am

    i bought a new laptop with win8 ...,win8 izz awsm..nice guide anyway

  15. Nevzat Akkaya
    January 30, 2013 at 7:02 am

    I've bought an Asus Vivobook recently and I did not regret. Touch screens are the future.

  16. Michael Greene
    January 30, 2013 at 3:28 am

    This looks like a pretty good guide. Too bad I don't have the money for shiny new gadgets.

  17. SaapeXD MoHods
    January 30, 2013 at 2:52 am

    Performance and the Price is what I look to when buying a laptop or Desktop! XD

  18. Sas
    January 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Windows always costs way too much. My upgrade from Lion to Mountain Lion cost me only $25 but if I were to upgrade from windows 7 to 8 it would cost me about $300. Shame on you microsoft.

    • Rob
      January 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      No offense, but the base price on an equivalent Mac computer is usually higher than PC. Saving money on an OS is not a saving grace. Also, http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=7539168&CatId=7727

      Win8 upgrade is 140, which is about what any other Windows has cost.

      • themainliner
        January 31, 2013 at 3:42 pm

        Remind me, how much is Linux Mint Nadia again?

        • Wranglerspace
          February 2, 2013 at 10:49 pm

          I like your comment but I think the 'argument' was Mac vs. Windows OS ;-) That's like debating oil vs. natural gas and then bringing up Germany's more sustainable energy grid :-o

    • Dave Parrack
      January 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      How much did you spend on your Mac in the first place? Apple might offer bargain OS upgrades but it's charging through the roof for its hardware.

      • muotechguy
        January 31, 2013 at 9:29 am

        Admittedly, that guys argument was doomed from the start. Play nice.

        • Dave Parrack
          January 31, 2013 at 10:09 am

          I always play nice! ;)

    • dragonmouth
      January 30, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      The upgrade from Ubuntu 12.04 to 12.10 is FREE. Shame on you Fruitco and Microsoft!

  19. Terry
    January 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I will NOT be buying any computer with Windows 8! Windows 8 makes us appreciate the virtues of Windows Vista.

    • Sas
      January 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Upgrade if you have the money and time.

      • Terry
        January 30, 2013 at 11:19 pm

        Windows 8 is NOT an upgrade from anything. I *much* prefer to use Windows 7, Mac OS X, Linux Mint and more, but certainly not Windows 8.

    • Mihovil Pletikos
      January 29, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      did you even try to use it? i use it for long time on both my work and home PCs and it is faster and even more stable than w7....

      • Terry
        January 30, 2013 at 10:02 pm

        Yes I am by no means unfamiliar with it. I find it less efficient, even cumbersome. But then again I use mouse/touchpad for primary input and do more than check a social media account.

        • Wranglerspace
          February 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm

          I have to agree with you on the mouse thing Terry (I'm sure one day the next generation will be like, 'you used what?'). I have grown to use to the mouse and am way more efficient. So plug a mouse in. (I've got a mouse/keyboard/dock/23" monitor when at home).
          But touch pad?!? IMHO they have never been dialed in like the mouse (nor had they been around as long). If your going to use a touch pad to simulate what your want to do on the screen why not just do it on the screen?? Besides that why did they move the touch pad all over the place? Because it still got in the way. I preferred the IBM 'red knob' over a touchpad placed in the way of my typing.
          If you don't like the interface (and I haven't gotten used to it yet myself) there are ways to go back to the start bar in the corner & regular desktop. I'm still familiarizing myself but I see it as a great transitional OS. That's just one man's opinion.

  20. Anonymous
    January 29, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    It just depends for what will the laptop be used for.. Although, i never understood gaming notebooks. You can buy a best desktop pc for the money

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