You know when it’s time for laptop.
The old reliable one from over 5 years ago is slower than ever and your life feels like its running at a faster normal speed.
I get the question all the time, “Hey CyberGuy, which laptop should I get?”
Finding the right laptop is easy if you know the questions to ask.
Jump to these sections:
- What to look for before you buy
- My quick laptop checklist to steer you in the right direction
- 7 tips to help find the laptop that strikes the perfect balance of power, performance and price
- Best Laptops of 2021: My Picks
What to look for before you buy
Things they don’t tell you
- Laptops are designed to last about 3 to 5 years before becoming outdated.
- Physical hard drives are less reliable than SSD also called Solid State Drives that don’t have moving parts
- Does the laptop get hot when it’s literally on your lap? Get one that does not cook you when your close to one another
Kurt’s Laptop Checklist helps you decide which laptop to purchase
Ask these questions that go beyond simply looking at power, performance and price
- Will it work with your other stuff?
- Will your printer connect to it?
- Does it have a built-in camera for Zoom video calls?
- Are there enough ports to plug in accessories you already use like a backup drive?
- Does it have the newer, smaller USB-C ports, just the older fat USB-A or a mixture of both?
No matter what…
Get a USB-C to USB-A adapter
In any case, one of the most essential items to buy with a new laptop is a USB-C to USB-A adapter so that older USB cables can plug into the smaller newer USB-C ports. This one works with both Mac and Windows and is a lot less than the one a store will try to add in when buying a laptop.
What you get for your money
How much you want to spend will either broaden or narrow your choices of finding the perfect laptop
- $250 or less
- This will get you a cheap Chromebook good for kids or simple web browsing.
- $600 or less
- You can score a decent notebook but try to avoid low capacity hard drives and slow processors below an AMD Ryzen 5, Intel Core i5 with at least 4 to 8GB memory.
- $900 and lower
- Here you will start to see better processors, ultra thin designs, SSD drives superior to physical hard drives and other attractive add-ons.
- $900 and up
- Longer battery life, the lightest weight, higher resolution display, fast processor
- $1500 and up
- pro-level performance for video editing, creating, gaming.
7 tips to help find the perfect laptop
1. Pick a platform
Pick between Mac, Windows and Chrome platforms
Windows and Mac computers have become so similar that there is little learning curve involved moving from one to the other. Generally, people tend to pick the same operating system they are familiar with. Windows laptops range from plastic feeling useless bricks to lighting fast, super power machines with a load of ports for plugging in anything.
MacBooks are a hair more expensive and have the most advanced processors now that Apple has started making their own M1 silicon chips resulting in lighter, faster, quieter, cooler and much longer battery life. If you are used to Windows and have Apple products like iPhone and iPad, the same iCloud services and iMessage will work on the MacBook. Apple has also made a migration tool to move your junk on a Windows laptop over to a MacBook.
Chromebooks run on Google’s operating software called Chrome. They’re simple, secure and very basic making Chromebook great for kids, students, and those on a thin budget who only want to browse the web and check basic email. It is much more limited than both Windows and Mac. You can’t use iTunes, Photoshop, Windows games or many Mac or Windows based programs on a Chromebook. Don’t expect much functionality from a Chromebook when offline and not connected the internet.
2. Choose the perfect size
Size matters. You want a display you can easily see with vivid colors and a design that doesn’t weigh too much unless you are leaving it in place.
- Under 12 inches
The range of sizes start at 11 inches for the thinnest and lightest systems and weigh between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.
- 13 to 15 inches
This size offers the best portability and tends to be the sweet spot.
- 15 inches and up
Video editors, pro gamers may opt for size over portability in this size group.
3. Fast enough? Check under the hood for the right CPU
Make sure it has the processor speed and power to get your mission done.
- Video editing, gaming and heavy applications need a better processor with speed.
- If you are doing nothing more than browsing the web, then processor speed is a lot less important.
Remember, you are stuck with this performance for the next 3 to 5 years. Here’s a summary of the most commonly available CPU choices when buying a new laptop. If I did not mention a particular chip, it is intentional.
- AMD Ryzen 3 painfully slow
- AMD Ryzen 5 best speed for most people, great graphics performance for games
- AMD Rysen 7 better for high-performance and intense gaming
- AMD Rysen 9 H series for super performance for the person who needs a Ferrari
- Intel Core i3 too slow
- Intel Core i5 good for most people
- Intel Core i7 better for hardcore tasks like videos editing, gaming
- Intel Core i9 best for powerful workstation
- Apple M1 newest silicon chip made in house with outstanding performance, outperforms Intel Core i7 in side-by-side bench test
- Apple M1 Pro enhanced performance, better battery life, for professionals like video editors, developers, gamers
- Apple M1 Max fastest processor at double the GPU core count and memory bandwidth of M1 Pro great for massive files, complex pro work
- Apple has won praise for their new powerful M1 chips making them among the best new chips available for a MacBook.
4. Battery Life
I would suggest getting a laptop with the highest battery life possible without it weighing a ton. Avoid anything that has lower than 8 hours battery on a single charge. Don’t read the manufacturers claim on battery life. Instead search for the word “battery” within customer reviews to get real-life feedback on performance.
5. Scrutinize customer reviews
As you start to narrow down your options, look at what customers are saying about their experience with the laptop. The most revealing information about true battery life, performance, quality of support.
6. Support and Warranty
Is there help after you buy it?
What kind of support does the manufacturer offer?
What are people saying about support issues and how easily or not they are resolved?
They’ll try to sell it. An extended warranty is seldom used by anyone. Most laptop claims are for lost or stolen ones not usually covered by an extended warranty.
7. Get the accessories you need separately
It tends to be less expensive to buy accessories separately from the laptop purchase. Here’s my list of the best laptop add-ons you may wish to consider.