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A laptop can be a big purchase that you don’t want to make too often. You can make the bill smaller with our expert advice.
It’s back-to-school season, but the best deals aren’t just for uni students and school pupils. Here, we give you five top cheat-sheet tips to getting the laptop you need at a price you’ll love.
Use the results of our independent lab tests to find the best model for your budget – see our laptop reviews
Behind the scenes: what’s happening to laptop prices?
Finding a laptop deal was challenging throughout 2020 and the early part of 2021, at least in our experts’ experience when putting together our monthly guide to the best laptop deals.
Scarcity in supply coupled with huge demand, due to home schooling and more people working from home during the pandemic, make it easy to imagine neither brands nor retailers were feeling in a particular hurry to slap the ‘Reduced’ sticker on their stock.
But times have changed. Now, not a week goes by without some of the largest retailers popping great discounts on big-ticket computers.
So it pays to start your laptop search nice and early, and keep tabs on the model on your shortlist as prices can change on a daily basis.
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1. Instant expert guide to deals
Michael Passingham, Which? laptops expert, says: ‘I’ve been hunting out laptop deals for almost a decade and the landscape is always changing. Here are three deal-finding strategies I’ve noticed recently.’
Stop paying full price for Macs
It used to be the case that sales on MacBooks were pretty rare. But, of late, I’ve not seen either the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro at full price at either John Lewis or Currys in months, and it’s always at least £100 cheaper than buying direct from Apple.
You might have other motivations for buying direct, such as you want a specification the retailers don’t sell, but otherwise I can see few reasons not to shop at a retailer. First, though, check our Apple MacBook reviews to make sure you’re getting the right model for your needs.
But check other manufacturer websites
Manufacturer websites vary in quality and service, but more often than not there is some kind of promotional deal or voucher code that can knock upwards of 10% off the price.
Direct manufacturer websites that often have good deals include Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft. Buying direct can also net you a different colour scheme and a more attractive specification, so it’s always worth looking.
Check those discount dates
Some shops have ‘discounts’ on models for a suspiciously long time. You can check whether a discount is genuinely good by looking to see when and for how long a retailer was selling the product at full price.
Even then, always check rival retailers’ prices to make sure that ‘£100 off’ is a genuine discount and not just a label slapped on to make you think you’re getting a bargain.
2. Match the specs to your needs
You can really overpay for a laptop if you under-think about what you actually need. Our guide on how to buy the best laptop takes you through all the key decisions, but here is where you can avoid overspending:
- Stick to 8GB of Ram
Unless you’re editing videos or high-resolution photos in large batches, 8GB is enough for almost every task. Stepping up to 16GB can cost £200 (if you’re buying a Mac, anyway) and is really unnecessary for most tasks.
- How much storage do you really need?
It’s nice to have extra room – those of us who have fantatised about a walk-in wardrobe know the feeling. But buying a laptop with loads of storage is likely wasted money if you store most of your files in the cloud, and don’t have big programs and games installed most of the time.
256GB of storage is a happy medium, but assess your current and future needs before you commit.
- Don’t go overboard on graphics
Unless you’re playing the latest games, using computer-aided design (CAD) software or editing videos, you don’t need a ‘dedicated’ graphics card. These add extra cost to your laptop for performance in tasks you won’t be doing.
Read our guide to gaming laptops for more on how to interpret graphics card specifications.
Complement your next computer with a fantastic display: see our top picks of the best monitors
3. Make sure it’s ready for Windows 11
If you’re buying a Windows 10 laptop, make sure that what you’re buying will also compatible with Windows 11. If you’re buying new, it’s very likely to be compatible and you don’t need to worry, but do check with the retailer if you’re unsure.
If you’re buying used or refurbished, you should be more careful. The Microsoft support website has a fully updated list of the minimum specifications of your laptop in order for it to be eligible for a Windows 11 upgrade in the future. You also need to ensure the processor is included on these Microsoft lists of supported processors: AMD| Intel | Qualcomm.
If your computer isn’t compatible with Windows 11, you’ll stop getting Windows 10 security updates in October 2025, at which point your device will be unprotected from whatever the latest threats may be.
Find out more – see Windows 11 everything you need to know.
4. Consider buying refurbished
You can save hundreds of pounds buying a refurbished laptop, but make sure you do your homework before you hit ‘buy’. Here are three things to look out for:
- Is a brand-new model actually cheaper? We’ve found several examples where a refurbished laptop is more expensive than buying new.
- Has the seller specified what you’ll actually get? Sometimes laptop sellers will give you a generic specification that you can expect, but until you receive the laptop it’s not clear what you’re getting. We’d steer clear of these.
- Have all your questions been answered? If you’re unsure about anything to do with a refurbished product, particularly on eBay, ask the seller questions before you buy. Sellers don’t have to tell you everything about a product in its description, so it can be up to you do dig out all the details.
Use our research – see our full guide to buying a refurbished or used laptop
Check those student deals
As it’s back-to-school season, you’re likely to find all the big retailers and manufacturers offering up tempting discounts for students. Some require verification that you’re a student, such as an ‘.ac.uk’ email address or a membership with a website such as StudentBeans. But many are simply themed discount events that don’t have any kind of education requirement.
Always click through to see whether you can grab a deal on that laptop you’ve been after. See more on getting the best student deals in our guide to laptops for students.