Pick a size
Laptops tend to be divided into categories based on the diagonal size of their screens, in inches. This is because a laptop’s screen size also determines the overall size of its chassis. A laptop with a huge 17-inch screen will be fantastic for work and gaming, and is likely to feature a decent-sized keyboard to make typing easier, but will be far bigger and heavier than a 13-inch model.
The size of the screen isn’t everything; resolution should also be taken into account. The minimum resolution you’ll generally find is 1,366 x 768 pixels. This is fine for the majority of tasks. It’s even possible to work on two applications side by side with this many pixels, especially since so many modern web pages reformat themselves to suit the available screen space.
Along with size and weight, this should be a priority if you’re planning to travel with your laptop. It isn’t always possible to get a seat on a train or in a café near a power socket, after all. Small, light laptops generally offer superior battery life to larger models, chiefly due to being equipped with less powerful low-voltage processors and a smaller screen.
Again, read reviews to see how long a laptop’s battery will last; expect five to seven hours for a general-purpose 15-inch laptop, and eight to 10 hours or more from a small, highly portable one. Some high performance laptops are thirsty beasts, mind and may well only give you around four-four and a half hours of unplugged use.
Hopefully by now you have an idea of what the outside of your laptop should look like, so now it’s time to worry about the innards. First up is RAM. Unless you’re buying a seriously cheap laptop, opt for at least 4GB, so you don’t have to worry about how many browser tabs you have open at once. If you’re going to be editing video, you’ll ideally need at least 8GB, although this amount of RAM is now common even in inexpensive laptops.
Processor choice is trickier. You should aim for at least an Intel Core i3 processor, which will comfortably cope with web browsing and office work, and consider a Core i5 chip for more intensive tasks such as dealing with large images and editing and encoding video. Laptops with Core i7 chips are expensive but super-quick, so are worth considering if you want the best possible performance.
There are, of course, AMD-powered laptops on the market, but these are still much less common. Look for an AMD processors to make sure you’re not getting an under powered laptop.
Most laptops rely on their processor’s integrated graphics chipset, usually called something like “Intel Hi-Def Graphics”. This can play simple 3D games at low resolution at low to medium detail settings, but if you’re serious about games then you’ll need a laptop with a dedicated Nvidia or AMD graphics chipset. It’s hard to determine how quick a graphics chipset will be from the model number, so we recommend searching for graphics benchmarks online to see how a chipset performs in the latest titles.
Only very expensive laptops can play the latest games at very high detail levels, so if you have the space it may be worth buying a normal laptop and a gaming desktop PC instead.
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