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19 Mar 2020

How to choose a laptop for working from home

Working from home more and found your old laptop isn't up to scratch? Follow our advice to find a laptop that will help make your work from home life easier

Many of us are now spending more time working from home, but if you're having to wait for documents to load or are twiddling your thumbs when downloading data, it's not the best use of your time. So a new laptop might be a wise investment. 

Every laptop we put through our labs goes through a series of tough tests, including how capable a laptop is at specific tasks like web browsing, office software and photo editing, and how long it'll last on a full charge based on different types of usage.

Our results make it easy for you to compare different laptops to find the right model for you.

Here, we explain what to look out for when shopping for a laptop to work on from home, plus recommend some work from home laptops.

Just want to see which laptops we recommend? Whatever your budget, we've got you covered - see our expert pick of the best laptops.

How to buy a Windows laptop for home working

Your home working laptop's performance is the most important factor you need to consider. We would never recommend anything less than the following specifications for anybody who's looking to do heavy office work with lots of spreadsheets:

  • Intel Core i3 (or m3) or AMD Ryzen 3 (note that Intel Celeron, Pentium and Atom, and AMD A-series and Athlon are les powerful than Core i and Ryzen chips)
  • 4GB Ram
  • 128GB SSD
  • Full HD (1080p) screen

That's a minimum. For a very good experience, upgrade the processor, Ram and storage. Aim for:

  • Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5
  • 8GB of Ram
  • 256GB SSD

Laptops for home working: three essential things you need to consider

1. Power and storage for home working laptops

All of our Windows laptop reviews have scores for tasks including office software, browsing the web and photo editing. Good scores in each of these areas points to a laptop that will handle your daily work tasks. 

We also test the wi-fi speed on each laptop to ensure it makes the most of your home wi-fi network. Wi-fi not up to scratch? Read our expert advice on how to extend your wi-fi.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that laptops with solid-state drives (SSDs) are much faster than their otherwise-identical counterparts with hard disk drives (HDDs). Most laptops now come with SSDs, but some cheaper models still have HDDs. 

If you asked us, we'd say always choose an SSD. For more, read our guide on SSD vs HDD.

2. Portability and your work from home laptop

You should also consider a laptop's weight and size. 

If you work at a desk, you might want a larger laptop with a 15-inch screen. These are more bulky to carry around, so if you're working from the sofa or even your bed, you might want something a bit smaller, such as a 13- or 14-inch model. 

All of our laptop reviews have details on how heavy a laptop is, so you can see if it's likely to fit your needs.

Also consider whether you need a laptop with a numerical keypad if you work with numbers and spreadsheets. These tend to only be found on laptops 15 inches or bigger. You can use the filters on our laptop reviews to single these out.

3. Screen and keyboard when working from home

Our tests also include screen quality assessments, touchpad and keyboard ratings to let you know whether a laptop is going to be a pain to deal with in everyday use. 

Less important for when you're at home is battery life - although it's worth considering if you want to move into another room and can't be bothered to take the charger with you, or if you have a garden.

If you're on a tight budget, check our guide for the best cheap laptops under £200, £300 and £500. Although be aware that these will not be the absolute fastest models around and may not be suitable for work.

For more advice on the best technology for your home office, see our home office tech set up guide.

Three Windows laptops to get you started

We've picked out three laptops that, on the basis of the spec sheet alone, should tick the boxes for working from home. Click through our expert reviews to see the pros and cons from our expert lab tests, which will help you pick the right model for your budget. 

Acer Swift 3 SF316-51

Acer Swift 3 SF316-51
  • 8GB Ram
  • 1,000GB 
  • Intel Core i5-11300H processor

This 16-inch laptop from Acer delivers in all the areas that count - performance, usability and battery life. It's not light, at 1.7kg, so bear this in mind if you need something that's very portable. 

Read our full Acer Swift 3 SF316-5 review to see if it delivers on its promises.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 (5415)

  • 8GB Ram
  • 256GB storage
  • AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor

This 14-inch laptop is a highly capable, mid-range laptop. It's fast and the battery life is impressive when compared to other similar spec models - it managed just over 12 and a half hours of web browsing. 

It's 18mm thick and weighs 1.42kg, making it fine to commute with. 

See our expert Dell Inspiron 14 5000 (5415) review to see all of its pros and cons.

Acer Swift 3 SF314-43

Acer Swift 3 SF314-43 laptop

Swift by name, swift by nature. This 14-inch laptop is powerful, portable and has a pretty decent display to boot.

 Its relatively compact proportions and 1.31kg weight make it a pretty comfortable travel companion. 

Read our Acer Swift 3 SF314-43 review to see if it ticks all the right boxes.

Are Chromebooks suitable for home working?

Chromebooks can be ideal for home working, as they're thin, light and fast. They use the ChromeOS operating system that's made by Google, rather than Windows or MacOS. Which means you work online using Google services such as Google Docs and Google sheets.

So before you buy, you need to check your employer doesn't have any software that relies on Windows to work. This could range from software that lets you connect to your office network remotely, security software or specialist business software. 

If all your critical business software is accessible through a web browser, you might be fine. But just ensure you check with your IT department before you buy.

For more on Chromebooks, read our guide on Windows vs Chromebooks vs MacOS.

Three Chromebook perks

1. Free cloud storage 

When you buy a brand-new Chromebook, Google will offer you 100GB of free Google Drive storage, which will be applied to your Google account for life. Once you've bought your device and set it up, head online to activate your extra storage.

2. They feel fast 

Without Windows hogging system resources, Chromebooks can feel a lot faster than comparable Windows machines. This means paying under £200 for a Chromebook will get you a laptop that feels faster than a £200 Windows laptop.

3. Highly portable 

Chromebooks take the form of thin and light laptops with excellent battery life. This means they're perfect for carrying around with you during your commute.

Two Chromebooks to consider

If you're sure a Chromebook is right for you, here are a couple of examples to help you choose.

Google Pixelbook Go, £629
Google Pixelbook Go laptop

  • 8GB Ram
  • 64GB storage
  • Intel Core m3 processor

Google's own-brand Chromebook is one of the most attractive mid-range laptops out there, Chromebook or otherwise. It's light and there are various specifications to choose from. 

Read our full Google Pixelbook Go review to see if it's right for you.

Asus Flip CM3200FM, £349

  • 4GB Ram
  • 64GB storage
  • MediaTek Kompanio 820 processor

This modestly priced Chromebook has a 12-inch screen, which makes it super-portable. It only weighs 1.13kg, making it very comfortable to carry. The 'Flip' of its model name is a reference to how you can flip the keyboard section around around and use the device as a tablet. 

Read our full Asus Flip CM3200FM review to see if it's right for you.

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