How to buy the best laptop

Laptops

How to buy the best laptop

by Callum Tennent

With so many laptops for sale, how do you narrow down the options? From cheap laptops to sleek and expensive ultrabooks, here’s how to find the perfect model for you.

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What makes the best laptop isn’t entirely based on technical specs – it also comes down to what suits your needs. You may want one with a super long battery life, or one which has the sharpest, brightest display. Do you want to watch movies on it? Or do you simply need a portable workstation?

With so much variation in laptop price and their specifications, this guide will help you find one which suits both your personal needs and your budget. Read on to find out just what to look out for when purchasing your new laptop.

Take a look at our laptop Best Buys, to discover the models that Which? recommends.

Buying the best laptop for you

To help you start your journey to picking the ideal computer, our dedicated interactive tool will walk you through the key features and buying decisions to consider - as well as which operating system you should go for.

If you like the look Apple's machines, you can head straight to our Mac reviews to find the model for you. If it's Windows your prefer, there are loads of brands to choose from including Lenovo laptops, HP laptops and Asus laptops.

Almost all laptops can be categorised into one of four types: cheap, family, desktop replacement, and ultrabook. Find out the characteristics of each, below, and whether or not it’s right for you.

Cheap laptops

It is possible to get a perfectly decent laptop for less than £500 if you choose carefully. There's no point in paying for an expensive top of the range model if you're mainly planning to use it for word processing or browsing the internet.

£150The price of the cheapest laptop we’ve recently tested

If this sounds like your sort of thing, we go into much more detail on our best cheap laptops for under £500 page. Take a look to see just how much you can get on a budget.

Family laptops

Many households need a good all-rounder laptop. Family laptops have enough power to handle everyday tasks, enough storage space to satisfy a number of different users and are portable enough to be used in different rooms by different members of the family.

 

1TBThe minimum amount of storage you should look for in a family laptop

 

Pros

  • Robust build
  • Large storage
  • Good all-rounder

Cons

  • Rarely the prettiest or most powerful
  • Their ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach means no one aspect stands out

Desktop replacement laptops

You want a main computer for your home but you don't want to give up a whole room to it. That's where a desktop replacement laptop proves a perfect solution. Though you aren't likely to be moving them from room to room too often, they can still be tidied away in a drawer if needed.

17.3-inchesThe largest display size of any laptop currently on test

 

Pros

  • Big display
  • Full-sized keyboard
  • Powerful

Cons

  • Unwieldy and heavy
  • Poor battery life
  • Often expensive

Ultrabooks

While you may have heard the term ‘ultrabook’ quite often a few years ago, the term has gone out of fashion. We might simply refer to them as ‘high-end’ or ‘premium’ nowadays, but there’s no real pigeonholing them – you’ll know one when you see one.

The lightest laptop we’ve ever tested weighs in at less than 1kg, and still packs a processing punch

These laptops are some of the best of the best, with an attractive and slim build, super-powerful specs, a dazzling display and a hefty price tag to match. Think something along the lines of the Apple MacBook 2015 or the Dell XPS 13.

Pros

  • Fast
  • Extremely portable
  • High-end specs
  • Great display

Cons

  • Usually very expensive
  • Smaller-than-average screen

Laptop storage space

Storage capacity, measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB, equal to 1,000GB) determines how many things your PC can hold. Documents, photos, music, movies, programmes – they all take up space. Bigger is usually better, although solid-state drives (SSD) are usually more expensive for considerably less space – that’s because they load much quicker and are completely silent.

Laptop processors

The processor is the brain of your laptop and this is one component which can really ramp up the price of a laptop. Generally, the more gigahertz (GHz) a laptop boasts the faster it will be. But they also come as dual, quad, hexa or octa-core – the more cores your processor has the better it will be at running multiple programmes at once.

Because of the different elements available, it can be tricky to unpick exactly whether one laptop is faster than another. Is a 2.5Ghz dual-core processor better or worse than a 2Ghz quad-core? In our tests we use industry-recognised benchmarking to tell you which laptops are the fastest and those that manage only glacial paces.

Laptop screens and resolution

A laptop’s screen is one case where bigger isn’t always better. If you want longer-lasting battery life and a more portable device then you may want to go for an 11,12 or 13-inch display. Conversely, 15 or 17-inches is likely as large a display as you’ll see on a laptop. Try not to settle for a resolution of less than 1,366x768 pixels (HD), with 1,920x1,080 (Full HD) usually being ideal. The more pixels the sharper the picture.

Laptop memory (Ram)

Not to be confused with storage, memory is measured in ‘Ram’ and determines how much information your computer can store in its short-term memory (whilst hard drive storage represents its long-term memory). More Ram means quicker load times and smoother switching between programmes. 4GB is the standard nowadays, with anything more being a bonus.

Laptop battery life

It may seem like you’d always want the biggest battery possible, but bear in mind that a bigger battery often equals a heavier laptop. Our tests show that batteries last on average for around six hours of heavy use. That should be just enough to last you a regular working day.

Laptop ports and drives

Most modern laptops don’t come with built-in DVD drives, so we’ll be sure to point out to you if one does. When it comes to ports, the more the merrier is the general rule. If you don’t have many accessories that need plugging in, though, then you needn’t worry. USB 3.0 is considerably faster than USB 2.0, too, so look out for those wherever possible. And some laptops are now fitted with USB-C connections – the latest standard of USB, which are faster and smaller than the older style of port, and also use reversible connectors for easier use.

Now find the perfect laptop for you by checking out our laptop reviews.