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Laptop Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Laptop

Whether you’re a student or a professional, a laptop is a must have. The laptop buying process largely depends on the needs and budget of the consumer. It involves checking certain aspects like the brand, display size and hardware configuration, which makes the process challenging for those not well-versed in the technical details.

If you are planning to purchase a new laptop, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to keep in mind before making a decision.

Display

The display you choose will largely affect your computing experience, because it’s what you’ll be looking at the entire time. There are several factors to consider when evaluating a laptop’s display:

Display type

Currently, there are two types of display panels – IPS and TN (Twisted Nematic). IPS is becoming increasingly common in notebooks and delivers a superior image quality. Laptops with TN panels are less expensive and if the display isn’t advertised as IPS, it probably isn’t.

While purchasing a laptop, one should also check if the display surface coating is glossy (reflective) or matte (anti-glare). Glossy displays offer higher clarity and vibrant colours, but also show reflections from sunlight and bright light sources. Anti-glare displays are a practical choice for easy viewing and preventing reflections, but make colours appear slightly dull.  

Display size

Screen size is measured diagonally in inches and the one you should opt for depends entirely on your usage. Laptops come in various display sizes ranging from 10- to 18-inches, and generally speaking, the larger the screen size of a laptop, the less portable it is. The thinnest and lightest machines usually offer a screen size of 11-12-inches. A 13-14-inch laptop offers balanced portability and performance. They are also lightweight in most cases, weighing up to 1.5-2 kg. A 15-16-inch laptop offers larger screen real estate, and is ideal for those who need to carry their laptop around only occasionally. Those who prefer even bigger screens for gaming or video editing should consider getting a 17-18-inch laptop. 

Display resolution

The display resolution is measured in pixels. In simple terms, the more the pixels, the more detail you see. A majority of laptops come with 1,366 x 768-pixel displays. More detailed screens offer full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) and will result in crisper picture quality, whether you’re watching videos or editing spreadsheets. Laptops with 4K displays (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) are also available, but they tend to be more expensive and consume more power too.

Design and Form Factor

Some of the most attractive looking laptops from Dell, HP, Lenovo and ASUS fall into a premium price bracket. They usually flaunt a metal chassis that looks and feels premium. Cheaper laptops tend to feature a lacklustre look and feel. If a premium laptop is out of your budget, go for one that feels sturdy and has a good finish.

Laptops come in two types of form factors – standard clamshell and 2-in-1 convertible. A standard laptop is ideal for everyday usage. 2-in-1 devices can be used in various form factors. Convertible laptops come in two styles – detachable ones like the Microsoft Surface where the screen can be detached entirely from the keyboard, or a rotating hinge model (Lenovo Yoga, HP Spectre, etc) that can be used in various modes including laptop, tablet, tent and stand. Convertible laptops come with touchscreen functionality and stylus support, thus working both as laptop and tablet. The choice of form factor depends on the user’s needs and usability. If you don’t need to use your laptop as a tablet, opt for a traditional one, which will offer better performance at a lower price.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The quality of the keyboard and trackpad are paramount when it comes to choosing a laptop. The keyboard is something you will spend hours using if you have lots of typing to do on a daily basis. Laptops offer various layouts for the keyboard, but what you need to look out for is solid tactile feedback, good travel (how far the key goes down when pressed) and enough spacing. A backlit keyboard is useful when it comes to working in a dimly-lit room. If you’re going to be working with numbers a lot, consider getting a laptop which has a separate number pad on the keyboard.  

The touchpad on your laptop should ideally be large and consistently respond to multi-touch gestures, such as swiping and pinch-to-zoom. Apple’s MacBook laptops have some of the best touchpads among laptops, but they are also expensive. For Windows laptops, Microsoft has introduced Precision drivers for a better touchpad experience. Users can expect more accuracy, sensitivity, movement, and gestures from Precision touchpads compared to traditional ones. They also offer multi-touch gestures like a three-finger swipe that will open the task view interface. Most older laptops however still use traditional touchpad technology.  If the touchpad on a laptop is too small or feels unresponsive, you can always invest in a mouse, but this might be an issue if portability is what you’re looking for.

Hardware

Under the hood, a laptop is fitted with various hardware components which keep it running. Picking a well-performing laptop based on various components like processor, RAM, graphics and storage can be challenging. To make the buying process simple, it’s important to decide your usage first and then pick the one most suitable in your budget. Here are a few things that should help you decide on a laptop with good internal specifications:

CPU

The ‘brain’ of your computer, much of your computing experience depends on the CPU. A powerful CPU also future-proofs your device. Currently, there are two processor manufacturers in the market – Intel and AMD – each with a varied range of models available at multiple prices.  

Intel

Intel processors that come in various classes like Pentium, Celeron, Core and Core m. Pentium and Celeron chipsets are the slowest on the performance front, and are aimed at consumers who are on a tight budget and are looking for basic usage like browsing.

The Core series of processors are focussed more on performance. They come in configurations such as Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 and most recently, Core i9. Intel releases a new processor generation every 12 to 18 months with improved performance, efficiency and integrated graphics. If you can afford it, pick a laptop which features an 8th-gen Intel processor. The Core i3 is an affordable option that’s ideal if you want to browse, watch movies or edit documents. We’d recommend getting at least a Core i5 chipset though, which should offer good all-round performance at a mid-range price. The Core i7 processor is a powerful chipset that’s ideal for gamingThe Core i9 is a high-performing chipset that tends to be found mostly on desktops. A few laptops offer this chipset, and these are ideal if you’re looking at video editing, 3D animation or hardcore gaming. Just remember, you’ll have to shell out a few lakhs for this configuration.

The Core m series is aimed at 2-in-1s and tablets, and offers a mix of speed, performance and good battery life. They tend to be faster than Core i3 and Pentium/Celeron classes, but are still ranked below Core i5 chipsets. The Core m3 chipsets are the latest generation in the series.

AMD

AMD powered laptops are a great choice for budget buyers. They offer better performance than their Celeron counterparts. AMD processors are available in A, FX, and E series, and are ideal if your usage comprises browsing, email and watching movies. AMD recently launched Ryzen Mobile chipsets designed to compete against Intel’s 8th-gen Core i5 and Core i7 chipsets. While the processors are pretty much neck-to-neck on the performance front, Ryzen chipsets feature better integrated graphics. 

RAM

Almost all laptop manufacturers pack at least 4GB of RAM along with one additional slot for upgradability. The more the RAM, the smoother your laptop will perform when it comes to multi-tasking. While 4GB RAM should suffice for basic use, if you’re running multiple apps and browser tabs at once, you’ll need at least 8GB RAM. Consider getting a laptop with 16GB RAM or higher if you’re planning to use it for running graphics-heavy games or video-editing software. 

GPU

Both Intel and AMD powered laptops come with an integrated graphics chip. They are weaker than discrete GPUs but let you run normal tasks smoothly. A discrete graphics card from NVIDIA or AMD is essential if you want to play the latest demanding games or do high-res video editing. Like CPUs, graphics cards also come in high-end and low-end variants. It’s worth noting that laptops with dedicated graphics are on the expensive side, i.e. Rs 40,000 and above. 

Storage

Laptops fall under three storage configurations- HDD, SSD, and hybrid (HDD+SSD). If you can afford it and don’t require a lot of storage space, a laptop equipped with an SSD is a good choice. Solid State Drives feature flash storage without any moving parts, and hence are less prone to mechanical failure compared to traditional hard drives. They also offer faster read/write performance and response/boot time, and consume less battery too. HDDs have the advantage of offering high capacity storage at comparatively lower pricer. Most entry-level laptops feature HDDs. Many OEM’s these days offer hybrid drives which include both HDDs and SSDs, offering better performance than a standalone HDD at a slightly higher price.

Operating System

The operating system boils down to user preference. There are three main operating systems found on commercial laptops:

  • Windows: The latest version of Microsoft’s OS is Windows 10. It offers various features like the Cortana digital assistant, Windows Hello authentication and touchscreen support. A majority of laptops in the market are powered by Windows OS, and they are available across all price bands.
  • macOS: The latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system is macOS High Sierra. macOS features a different UI, but offers the same functionalities as Windows 10. However, it offers better security than Windows and smooth integration with Apple’s mobile platform, iOS. macOS tends to be preferred by content creators, writers and graphic designers.
  • Chrome OS: Laptops running on Google’s Chrome OS are called Chromebooks. Users get access to a large number of web apps, but the functionality is restricted when offline. Chrome OS devices also tend to offer limited storage, and hence are ideal for school usage.

Battery and Connectivity

Battery life is another important parameter one should consider while purchasing a new laptop. Many manufacturers don’t advertise true battery figures. A number of variables like screen brightness and apps running in the background affect battery life. If the battery life is rated at 10 hours, expect the laptop to last for around 7 hours. The same goes for laptops claimed to last for 6-7 hours, which will likely offer a battery life of 3-4 hours. 

On the connectivity front, it’s recommended to purchase a laptop with a good number of ports. Most mainstream laptops feature USB Type-A and HDMI ports. Nowadays, plenty of them come with USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports as well. Many premium laptops, including Apple’s MacBooks, have begun forgoing mainstream ports in favour of a couple of USB Type-C ports for both charging and connectivity. In this case, you’ll have to buy a dongle separately to connect other devices. Other basic connectivity options include a 3.5mm audio jack, Ethernet port and an SD card reader, and you need to evaluate all of these and match them against your own use cases to make sure the laptop you choose has what you need.

Brand and Warranty

Like most gadgets, there are options galore while choosing the brand of laptop. Popular ones include Dell, Lenovo, HP, Asus and Acer for Windows. Apple’s Macbooks come in Air and Pro variations depending on your needs. Apart from personal preference, the choice of the brand should also depend on the warranty and tech support. Most laptops come with a standard one-year warranty, and if you have an option to extend the warranty, it’s a good idea to spend a little extra on this. Do some research on the quality of a brand’s after-sales support in your city before you make a decision.  

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If you found this article helpful, also check out our television buying guide and washing machine buying guide.

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