Laptops Buyers Guide
A laptop is an alternative to a PC and the obvious choice when it comes to portability. However there are many types of laptop on the market right now, from a traditional hinged screen and keyboard to touchscreen versions and even detachable screens forming a 2-in-1 laptop / tablet device. In this guide we’ll take a look at the different facets of a laptop and offer advice as to the best options to choose for given scenarios, whether for home use or professional workloads.
Size & Weight
The first decision you need to make is what screen size you want in your laptop. Popular sizes include 10.5” or 12.3” at the 2-in-1 end, up to 13.5” and 15.6” at the mid-range and high-end. While a larger screen is obviously more practical for graphical work or whilst using large spreadsheets, it does come at the expensive of weight, so if you’re going to take your laptop around with you a lot a smaller screen may be preferable. It is also worth remembering that a larger laptop may also require a dedicated bag, whereas a small one will fit into a regular bag, but we’ll look at bags later on in this guide.
It’s also a good idea to look at the weight and thickness of the laptop. High-end laptops tend to be made from lightweight metal, whereas cheaper laptops are made from heavier plastic. You’ll also pay a premium for thinner laptops versus a thicker bulkier laptop. The below table gives you an insight into the parameters of size and weight from a range of similar laptops - the model on the left is very light due to the small screen size, whereas the middle model is larger but saves weight due to a thin metal design. The right hand model is larger still with a more traditional design, hence the weight increase.
Surface Go 2
Surface Pro 7e
Along with your decision on screen size, it’s also worth thinking about the screen’s resolution - after all you’re going to be staring at it a lot whether you’re working, browsing the web or using video calling applications such as Skype. If you’re going spend a lot of time using graphics applications or spreadsheets you’re more likely to want as high a resolution as possible, at least 1920 x 1080, often described as FullHD. If we take the models we discussed above, you’ll see that screen size doesn’t always correspond to better image definition, as the middle model has the highest resolution.
Surface Go 2
Surface Pro 7e
|1920 x 1080
|2736 x 1824
|2256 x 1504
Most laptops also support the ability to connect an external screen either to mirror the smaller inbuilt display onto a larger monitor or to ‘extend’ the display area to two screens - most useful when using several applications at once so you can see them side by side. We’ll have a look at external monitors later in this guide.
Touchscreen or not?
Having a touch screen on a laptop offers an additional way to control your applications over and above the keyboard and trackpad - either using finger control or a pen / stylus. In many cases the laptop design has also been amended so that the screen is detachable from the keyboard too, creating a 2-in-1 laptop / tablet format for greater flexibility in use.
It is however, worth noting that touchscreen functionality will increase the price significantly, so it’s definitely worth considering how much you will use the increased flexibility before you pay for it.
After the physical considerations of screen size and weight, the most important aspect of laptop choice will be the processor or CPU as this will ultimately determine its performance. Processor choice essentially comes down to what you intend to use the laptop for - light web browsing, basic work applications such as Word or Excel, more graphical tasks such as Photoshop or video software packages or a combination of these. You should make your decision on the most intensive workloads to ensure the laptop doesn’t struggle with any work you wish to do - even if you don’t intend to use a processor hungry application very often, you’ll still notice the problems you have when you do use it if your processor is essentially underpowered.
There is a very wide choice of laptop processors on the market, the most common two being Intel Core CPUs and AMD Ryzen CPUs. Both produce entry-level, mid-range and high-end processors - similarly defined by a numbering system - Core 3, 5, 7 and 9; or Ryzen 3, 5, 7 and 9. As the number increases, so does the performance.
MID-RANGE TO HIGH END
It’s fair to say that for most regular laptop use, 3,5 and 7 families of CPUs from Intel and AMD will address the majority of basic and advanced home office applications, however if you run graphically intensive applications then a 9 level CPU may be better suited. Similarly, if you’re going to be gaming then a more advanced CPU may be better too - you can learn more by reading our dedicated Laptop Buyers Guide. There are also laptop processors specifically tailored ultra-low power consumption, designed for thin and light laptops to maximise battery life and efficiency.
Intel has recently added to its Core range with the Ultra series, aimed at premium laptops, offering built-in AI acceleration to boost productivity and multi-tasking capability. Intel Core Ultra processors are built with embedded Arc graphics and neural processing cores so AI can be used to create immersive graphics experiences and enable high-performance yet low-power processing. Being designed for higher-end laptops only the 5, 7 and 9 families have Ultra versions.
If your usage will be limited to just web browsing and simple software packages such as Word, then you may want to consider a more budget laptop featuring an Intel Atom or Celeron processor; or AMD Athlon or A-Series.
Although, these CPU ranges are more basic they still offer enough performance for simple everyday usage, and laptops that have these installed will be significantly cheaper.
Following your processor choice, it is important to ensure that its performance will not be hindered by lack of memory or RAM within your laptop. Usually the base memory listed will be in line with the processor’s capabilities – an entry-level laptop will feature 4GB, mid-range laptops 8GB and high-end laptops 16GB or more of memory. If you intend to use numerous applications together or one or two graphic heavy ones, then consider upgrading the memory capacity. This can be done at the time of buying or a later date, as your needs develop.
A Solid State Drive (SSD) is highly recommended in any laptop, not only as they consume less power than a traditional spinning hard disk, but they also help to boost battery life and weigh less too. These are both key factors in making the laptop as portable as possible and less prone to damage as the SSD has no moving-parts to affect whilst the laptop is being moved about. The amount of storage capacity you choose very much depends on what usage or applications you will use and whether you intend to store things like music, photos or videos on it. Depending on photo resolution, HD or 4K video, these types of files can be large so allowing room to grow is key.
Almost all laptops will come with a least one camera, usually mounted above the screen facing the user, intended for video calling. On 2-in-1 models where the screen can be detached there will also be a rear-facing too located in the back of the screen - much like a traditional tablet device - designed for more regular photographic use.
We recommend adding a camera cover when not in use as many applications enable video by default and cameras are also easily hacked, and a cover will help maintain your privacy.
Content creation applications on a laptop
As we’ve mentioned most laptops designed for home or professional usage will cope with the vast majority of applications out there such as Microsoft Office, Skype, Photoshop and the like, so long as enough consideration is given to processor and memory specifications if you’re using multiple or more intensive software packages. However, if you’re planning on using your laptop for content creation applications such as music making, video editing and grading, CAD and 3D rendering then you should look for a workstation laptop instead of a standard laptop. Workstation laptops have far more powerful CPUs and graphics cards than standard laptops, and often have higher resolution screens as well.
Browse our range of workstation laptops for content creators.
Any mid-range or above laptop chosen from our core ranges will give a good enough experience when it comes to casual gaming or light regular usage due to the inbuilt graphics capability of modern CPUs. However, if you do intend to play more intensive games or ones with particularly in-depth graphics then you need to invest in a dedicated gaming laptop.
It will still perform all the regular tasks home and work-wise you wish to do but will have better screen resolution and most importantly a dedicated graphics card to properly render complex imagery. Resultantly, laptops designed for gaming are naturally larger and heavier than regular ones but the trade-off is worth it if gaming is your thing..
Check out our full gaming laptop buyers guide to learn more
The size and thickness of your chosen laptop will govern the amount of inbuilt connectivity it has - some small devices may have just a single USB port, whereas larger models will feature multiple USB, HDMI, Ethernet and SD card slots. It is worth thinking about what you may need to connect to your laptop, whether it be an additional screen, an external drive or USB back-up devices, as this may affect your laptop choice - however, even with minimal built in ports it is possible to expand connectivity with a hub or docking stationBROWSE OUR RANGE OF CONNECTIVITY SOLUTIONS
As mentioned previously having an additional external screen or monitor can either provide simply a larger screen when you are using your laptop in a fixed desk environment, or a second (or third) screen to enable applications open side by side. Much like your laptop screen there are resolution considerations to think about - a higher definition screen will perform much better for graphical applications but will ultimately cost more, whereas if budget is more important it is still possible to get a large screen, however it will be lower definition screen.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF MONITORS
External Keyboards for Laptops
Every laptop includes a compact keyboard however they, in most cases they won’t have the flexibility of a regular desk keyboard with features such as separate number pads, ergonomic shape or arm rests. If these are important to you or necessary for the applications you intend you use, then it may be worth connecting an external keyboard, either directly using USB, via a connectivity hub if your ports are limited or via a Bluetooth wireless link.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF EXTERNAL KEYBOARDS
External Mice for Laptops
While every laptop includes a touchpad in front of the keyboard they’re only really usable for everyday Windows tasks such as web browsing and word processing. If you intend to use more complex applications then an external mouse may be the best choice - either USB or Bluetooth much like an external keyboard.
If you are looking to purchase a mouse then there are a few things to consider - shape, layout of buttons and functions. Although every aspect of mice choice may not be relevant for regular laptop use, you can learn more about the options by reading our gaming mice buyers guide.
Laptop Speakers and Headsets
Although every laptop includes speakers, because these are integrated into the underside or sides of the laptop and feature tiny drivers the sound quality and maximum volume isn’t usually sufficient if you are wanting to listen to music, watch films. External speakers can be connected to the laptop to improve this. Additionally if you intend to use video calling applications such as Skype, Zoom or Teams on a regular basis for work or at home - especially in noisier environments - then a headset may be a worthwhile addition. Many options are available depending from single ear versions up to full gaming style headphones - wired or wireless.
If you’re planning on taking your laptop with you on the road make sure you invest in a good quality bag. This not only makes carrying the laptop and accessories such as mouse and headset a lot more convenient, but also will protect it from damage. We stock a wide range of backpack and executive style laptop bags at a wide range of price points.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF LAPTOP BAGS
The Best Laptops
There you have it, everything you need to know about choosing a new laptop. We sell a wide variety of models from top laptop brands such as Apple, Asus and Microsoft plus customisable laptops from our very own 3XS Systems, when a higher end specification is required.
We hope you've found this buyer’s guide helpful. Don't hesitate to contact one of our friendly advisors if you still have questions on how to select the perfect laptop.