How to choose the perfect laptop: From office to gaming
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The right laptop fulfills all the wishes of the user, from Internet surfing to video editing. To do this, you need to know what equipment can be purchased within your budget. We’ve broken everything down.
There are hundreds of laptops on the market in various sizes and in countless configurations. Our guide will blaze your way through this jungle and explain which components to look out for in laptop specs.
For a better understanding of the article, we have highlighted the main characteristics of laptops and divided devices into three categories: for office tasks / web surfing (up to $350), universal (up to $900) and high-performance (over $900). In addition, we will talk about such exotic laptop options as transformers and Chromebooks.
On the market, you can find laptops with a display diagonal of 10 inches (25.4 cm) to 17 inches (43.2 cm). Models with a diagonal of up to 14 inches are called ultrabooks. They are designed for mobile use and long-term operation. Similar devices exist in almost all price categories.
Apart from the rest of the laptops are the so-called Chromebooks. They run Google Chrome OS and are focused on cloud services. Such devices, as a rule, do not have a large amount of memory, and the operating system, which is completely undemanding to resources, works smartly even on weak hardware. For the same reason, they become obsolete much more slowly than traditional laptops.
Essentially, Chrome OS is an app-enabled and extensible Chrome browser. The Chromebook is based almost entirely on Google apps; programs such as Microsoft Office or Photoshop cannot be used without tricks. This is also due to weak hardware: most Chromebooks are based on Pentium or Celeron processors. Because most Chromebooks access data through the cloud, they don’t have a lot of storage on their own. The devices are compact and usually have a long battery life.
Their opposite are classic laptops with a diagonal of 15.6 inches. 17-inch models often act as a replacement for desktop systems and are often based on the element base for “large” computers. First of all, gaming laptops are supplied with a similar diagonal – a profitable niche market that manufacturers are willing to serve.
2. Processor and RAM
Not so long ago we already wrote about the best processors for laptops. Therefore, now we will just say that solutions based on AMD, Intel and Qualcomm processors are currently on the market. At the same time, AMD processors outperform competitors with excellent integrated graphics, the performance of which is comparable to some discrete graphics cards.
In turn, solutions based on Qualcomm chipsets are most preferred in the “always connected notebook” segment. And such products got their name for the presence of an integrated modem in the chipset, which allows the laptop to always be online.
Finally, Intel processors for laptops are available in several large lines at once. Intel Core Y processors are extremely energy efficient and perform poorly. They are opposed by high-performance Core HQ chips, and between them is the Core U series, which is characterized by a good balance between speed and power consumption.
The amount of RAM depends on the cost of a laptop. In products costing up to $350, usually only 4 GB of RAM is installed, in more expensive ones – 8 GB or more. At the same time, many budget laptops do not allow you to expand the amount of RAM – it is soldered to the motherboard, and there are simply no additional RAM slots.
In addition, the performance and multitasking of a laptop is affected not only by the processor model and the amount of RAM, but also by the frequency of the RAM. And this is especially true if you play or work with graphics. Manufacturers usually indicate the speed and mode of operation of the RAM. Well, we advise you to buy laptops with at least 8 GB of RAM operating in 2-channel mode. The latter is especially important if you are using integrated graphics.
All laptops on the market are divided into two large segments – with integrated and discrete graphics. But if earlier the use of integrated graphics in a laptop unequivocally attributed it to non-gaming solutions, then with the advent of AMD Vega graphics, the situation has changed dramatically.
Of course, such graphics still cannot compete with video cards of the GeForce RTX 3060 level and higher, but, for example, the same AMD Ryzen 7 5700G is almost twice as fast as the discrete GeForce GT 1030, allowing you to play quite demanding games without problems.
However, if you set out to buy a gaming laptop, then you are still best to look towards the ASUS TUF Gaming F15 and similar laptops with discrete graphics cards and an Intel processor on board.
4. Storage capacity
If possible, you should choose a laptop configuration with an SSD, even if you have to pay extra for it. Fast flash memory provides high data transfer rates and is a key performance criterion. Short OS boot times and almost instantly launching applications and programs are only available through the use of an SSD.
Especially budget laptops are often equipped with eMMC memory, which, as a rule, the manufacturer specifies separately. Such memory is much slower than conventional SSDs, but still faster than traditional hard drives.
As a compromise, some manufacturers create a mixed configuration, using a small SSD (128 GB in most cases) and a 1-2 TB hard drive. And, in our opinion, this is the most successful configuration that works great out of the box.
5. Battery life
Most modern laptops can run on battery power for 7-10 hours. At the same time, the choice also depends on personal needs: if a laptop is used mainly at home, a model with a battery life of about five hours will be a good choice (provided that all other parameters suit you, and the laptop itself is cheaper than analogues with better autonomy). Conversely, if you use a laptop every day at work or at university, you should choose a device with a battery life of 8-9 hours or more.
At the same time, you should not look at such a battery parameter as watt-hours (Wh). The actual autonomy of a laptop depends on its configuration and is usually indicated by the manufacturer as a separate parameter.
6. Display brightness and resolution
To work outdoors, the display must be sufficiently bright (over 200 cd/m2) and contrast. Models with anti-reflective coating reflect less sunlight, increasing comfort when used outdoors. If you use your laptop mainly for image editing, you should choose a model with a high-quality IPS display, as it usually provides improved color gamut and wide viewing angles.
The rule of thumb for resolution is that smaller laptops usually have a modest 1366×768 pixels, which is enough for comfortable use. If you choose a model with a screen diagonal of 14 inches and above, give preference to Full HD resolution (1920 × 1080 pixels).
7. USB ports and interfaces
Most modern laptops are already equipped with USB 3.0 ports, and the role of USB 2.0 is now limited to the ability to connect peripherals that are not demanding on bandwidth, such as a keyboard and mouse. In some models, you can also find a symmetrical Type-C connector through which you can charge smartphones and transmit video signals.
Compact laptops and convertibles are increasingly without network connectors, relying entirely on Bluetooth and WLAN (802.11ac). Most models are also equipped with HDMI ports for connecting an external monitor, webcams and card readers.
The most “flexible” device: transformer
Transformers are 2 in 1 devices that can be used both as tablets and laptops. They are equipped with a touch screen that can be rotated 360 degrees or completely removed. Devices are available in all price categories.
This is a kind of compromise between a full-fledged, but too bulky laptop and a compact, but not very convenient tablet. Transformers usually use the Windows operating system and are not equipped with the most top-end, but rather productive hardware. First of all, such devices are focused on working outside the office, it is hardly worth buying them for games.
Models up to $350
Laptops cheaper than $350 are designed for simple tasks (office programs, e-mail, Skype) and web surfing. To do this, they offer the appropriate hardware and a sufficient set of interfaces.
Our pick in this category is the HP 15s-eq1322ur. The model has the most necessary and outstanding characteristics among competitors. A quite decent AMD Athlon 3020e processor is installed here. IPS monitor matrix has Full HD resolution. It has an SSD for storage and 8GB of RAM.
But there were some drawbacks: there is no discrete graphics card and the kit does not include a pre-installed operating system. However, in this price category, you should not count on a high-performance graphics adapter, and you do not need it for everyday tasks. And everyone can put Windows.
Models up to $900
In terms of performance, mid-range devices are suitable for resource-intensive programs. By default, they are equipped with an SSD drive and provide over eight hours of battery life. In this price category, there are the most balanced models in terms of price.
One of the most “delicious” laptops under $900 is the MSI Pulse GL6611UDK-420XRU. Here you will find everything you need for a comfortable life: a modern Intel Core i5-11400H processor paired with a powerful NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics card runs most modern games. A capacious 512 GB SSD is enough for any task. True, he could have had more RAM.
Models more expensive than $900
Top-class devices don’t compromise on performance, battery life or display features. Hardware components should be chosen according to personal preferences, since the choice in terms of functionality in this category is simply huge.
For example, another MSI Pulse variant, designated GL6611UEK-208RU, offers users both a fast display with a refresh rate of 144 Hz, and a powerful Intel Core i7-11800H processor in the company with a powerful NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 discrete graphics card and 16 GB of fast DDR4-3200 RAM , which can be expanded up to 64 GB. This is the ultimate gaming machine that can handle absolutely any game. True, and they ask for it quite a lot.