Top Laptop Buying Guide

by Nancy

Buying a laptop is an important decision. Laptops are used for school, work, creative arts and entertainment. Sometimes one machine is used for all four of those purposes. The laptop you purchase needs to have all the right specifications suitable for your situation and budget. How do you know which laptop is best for you?

All laptops function in similar ways and have similar, fundamental features. Variations in those fundamental features affect selling prices both up and down, however. There are also ways to customize laptops before and after purchasing to increase their respective speed, power and storage capacity. Customizations before purchase also affect selling prices. There are almost countless options of laptop brands, styles and sizes to choose from. Read ahead to learn tips about buying a new laptop, information about hard drive types/sizes, operating systems and more. There is, of course, one main question almost every person shopping for a new laptop asks before making his or her final purchase decision.

Apple or PC?

Laptop users are almost always loyal to either Apple or PC machines, and only rarely do you find a person willing to work on both. There has been almost four decades of arguments from both sides about whether Apple or PC products are better. In the not so distant past, there were significant differences between the two sides. Then Apple began using Intel processors, which are also used in PC machines. This move significantly narrowed the gap of differences between hardware used in Apple and PC machines. What are the main differences between Apple and PC laptops?

PC is a more general term standing for, “personal computer.” Apple is an actual brand and company. The main difference between Apple and PC laptops is the operating systems. Apple uses its proprietary OS software on all its machines and also manufactures every one of its own machines. PC laptops run Microsoft operating systems and are manufactured by approximately 1,000 different companies. New Apple laptops tend to be more expensive than new PC laptops with similar features. Apple laptops have a sleeker look, however, and are more popular in the creative fields. PC machines are more commonly used in businesses and for home, personal and gaming purposes. Apple laptops are also rumored to be less susceptible to viruses than PC laptops. This is largely thought to be because most viruses are simply not designed to target the Mac OS platform, however, and not because Apple systems are impervious to attacks.

The Dark Horse Chromebook

There is another contender in the PC world. The Chromebook is a dark horse market share candidate with increasing sales reports since 2015. Chromebook machines run Google Chrome OS instead of Apple OS or Microsoft Windows. A Chromebook is cheaper than Apple or PC machines in general, and can also function as a tablet. Almost all functions are handled through the Chrome browser, making a Chromebook fairly simply to use. Drawbacks include lower quality hardware and less 3rd-party companies making programs for Chromebooks than the other two power players. Overall a Chromebook is a solid alternative to an Apple or PC when on a budget or needing a simple, portable machine to handle basic tasks with speed and power.

Hard Drive Types & Sizes

The main two types of internal hard drives included in laptops are solid-state drives (SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD). SSDs are typically faster and more expensive. HDDs spin most commonly at speeds of 5,400 rpm (revolutions per minute) and 7,200 rpm. The faster an HDD spins, the more quickly data can be accessed from and/or written to it. An SSD reads and writes data faster because it does not have moving, spinning parts. It is a glorified flash drive containing its own unique processor. It has a brain, which is called a controller. The better the technology used in the SSD, the faster, and more expensive it will be.

Internal hard drive size is also important. The larger the drive, the more it will cost. How big an internal drive is needed depends on what the laptop’s purpose. If large amounts of data-intensive videos, projects or other files will be stored or written on the internal drive, a larger drive is recommended. Internal hard drives come in sizes ranging from approximately 250mb to multiple terabytes in size. There are also multiple external hard drive storage options available.

Internal vs. External Storage

File management scenarios are important aspects to consider before purchasing a laptop. Data-intensive projects are often best run from SSD drives. If your laptop has an internal HDD it is possible to purchase an external SSD, which connects to your laptop via cables and ports. Conversely, if your laptop has a fast internal SSD it is possible to by an affordable external drive on which to store larger folders full of pictures, videos, music and other projects.

Knowing how the laptop will be used is crucial to determining your storage needs. Music production projects are best run from SSDs. Music projects also include data-intensive samples and other file types, which are often best stored on an additional, external drive. This is true for video and photographic editing as well. If simply using your laptop for internet browsing, schoolwork or other home-based purposes, additional storage space might not be necessary. Consult applicable retail and manufacturer sales department personnel prior to buying. This will help ensure you purchase the exact size and type of storage space needed for your purposes.

Processors and RAM

RAM stands for “random access memory,” and determines how quickly your laptop accesses temporary but necessary data while processing requests. Laptops have RAM limitations but generally speaking, it is best to have the maximum RAM allowed in the laptop to ensure its highest performance.

A computer processor (CPU) does the heavy lifting inside your laptop. It issues commands and codes, telling the laptop what to do next. Processors can have single or multiple cores. The more cores a processor has, the more it can distribute its workload among them, making it even faster. When a laptop slows down, glitches or jams up, it is most often because the CPU gets overloaded with more requests than it can handle at once. Processors also have clock speeds, rated in GHz per seconds. The faster the clock speed, the faster the processor can process data and information. More cores and more speed make for better, and more expensive processors. They also make for an overall better computer experience.

Best Laptops in 2020

There are many great laptops in 2020. Some are faster, some have better graphics and some are simply powerful overall. Some of the best laptops in 2020 include: