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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 the best laptop for getting work done.

If you're spending more time working from home and your tech isn't up to scratch, a new laptop might be a wise investment. Fortunately you don't have to spend a lot for a capable model.

Our in-depth reviews of over 150 laptops involve 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.

We explain what to look out for when shopping for a laptop to work on from home, so you can shop with confidence.

In a hurry? Answer three quick questions to find the perfect laptop.

How to buy a Windows laptop for home working

If you are employed by a larger employer, first check that they won't supply you a laptop in the interim. If you're lucky, maybe they'll let you choose one and pay for it. One you've established your options, you can start deciding what it is you want to buy.

The most important factor to consider is the performance of your laptop. We would never recommend anybody who's looking to do heavy office work with lots of spreadsheets to buy a laptop with anything less than the following specifications:

  • 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
  • This can cost as little as £400

That's a minimum. For a very good experience, aim for:

  • Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5
  • 8GB of Ram
  • 256GB SSD
  • Full HD (1080p) screen
  • Under 1.5kg

All of our Windows laptop reviews from 2019 and 2020 have individual test scores for Windows 10 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. 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 HDD vs SSD.

You should also consider its weight and size. If you work at a desk, you might want a larger laptop, with a 15-inch screen. These are more bulky and more annoying 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 our reviews have details on how heavy and bulky 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, as these will greatly reduce frustrations when you're working with numbers and spreadsheets. These tend to only be found on laptops 15 inches or bigger. You can filter on laptops that have this feature in our laptop reviews index.

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 about the house is battery life, although it's worth considering if you want to move into another room and can't be bothered to gather up the charger to take with you.

Our guide on the best Windows laptops offers more advice, and rounds-up some of the best performing models in our tests. If you're on a budget, check our guide to the best laptops for under £500, although be aware that these will not be the absolute fastest models around and may not be suitable for work.

For a full guide on how to choose a laptop for any usecase, read our guide on How to Buy the Best Laptop

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 to each of the reviews to see the pros and cons, which should help you narrow down your choices. Keep in mind that computer retailers are experiencing very heavy demand so stock and prices are likely to fluctuate a lot.

Acer Aspire 5 A514, £349

This 14-inch laptop from Acer packs a dual-core Intel Core i3, fast wi-fi, 4GB of Ram and 128GB of SSD storage. It's not too heavy either, at 1.5kg, although this is heavier than some other 14-inch models. It's effectively the ideal specification for the price. Read our full Acer Aspire 5 A514 review to see if it delivers on its promises.

Dell Inspiron 13 5000, £529

This 13-inch laptop is exceptionally thin and light for the price, but still has a Core i3 processor and all the trimmings you need for a WFH laptop. There are higher-spec options available, too, if you want more performance. Read our full Dell Inspiron 15 5000 review to see its pros and cons.

Asus ZenBook 14 UM431DA, £599

This thin and light laptop from Asus has a 14-inch screen and an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB of Ram and a 256GB SSD. It's a generous specification for the money and should be an ideal working from home partner.

Are Chromebooks suitable for home working?

Chromebooks can be ideal for home working, but you should make the same considerations as above when it comes to performance and form factor to ensure you get the right model for you.

But a more important consideration is to ensure that 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.

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. That's a lot of space for your documents and other files. Once you've bought your device and set it up, head to this page to activate your extra storage.
  2. Feels faster than equivalent Windows laptops: When you don't spend much on a laptop, the lack of speed is normally fairly obvious. And while a cheap Chromebook will never be fast, its slimmed down software means it feels more perky than many equivalent Windows laptops.
  3. Great battery life: Chromebooks trend higher when it comes to battery life than laptops in general. Over the years, they have achieved an average battery life star rating in our tests of 4.5, where 'all laptops' average 3.5. In real terms, this works out to Chromebooks frequently topping 10 hours of battery life. Models differ, however, so it's always worth checking the battery test results in our reviews.

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, from £629

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 for the details.

Asus Chromebook Flip C443TA, £399

This modestly priced Chromebook features a Core m3 processor and 8GB of Ram along with a Full HD screen. Its party piece is a 360-degree screen hinge which means it can flip around to be used like a tablet, or a screen with a stand. Read our full Asus Chromebook Flip C443TA review for the full verdict.

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