Laptop Buying Guide | Christmas 2018

I am often asked about what type of laptop to get. Here are my recommendations in simple terms.

Apple MacBook Laptops

If you will not rely on Windows only software and want a laptop that may last many, many years, look at MacBooks. You will spend a lot, but it may last many years. I use my 2013 MacBook Pro daily and it runs like the day I got it. My preferred MacBook is the Apple MacBook Pro with a 13″ Retina screen, Touch Bar, 2.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 512GB SSD. This laptop will run you close to $2,000. Remember, you can use Bootcamp to install Windows. I run Windows on one of my MacBooks.

You can save some money by sacrificing features. You can get a 256GB SSD, but I would not go smaller than that. Another money saver would be to get the dual core Intel i5 CPU.

Though I prefer the MacBook Pro, the Air may be just fine for most people.

Windows Laptops

If you want a Windows laptop, there are too many choices to just focus on one. Here are some recommended brands and specs.

  • I prefer ASUS, Dell, high-end HP laptops, and even Acer.
  • Get a decent CPU. This is not something you can upgrade later, so get it right the first time or else.
    • I prefer Intel CPUs in this order: Intel i9, i7, quad core i5 or dual core i5. I would avoid the Intel i3 or Celeron unless it is a Chromebook.
    • I do not know a lot about AMD laptop CPUs, so I can only recommend the the Ryzen line in this order: Ryzen 7 2700U, Ryzen 5 2500U, Ryzen 3 2300U, and Ryzen 3 2200U (dual core) based on specs. You can learn more here.
  • I recommend against hard disk drives and I highly recommend solid state drives (SSD). SSDs have come down in price, but they add to the cost of a laptop. However, the speed and durability make them worth it. I prefer 500GB (sometimes seen as 512GB) or 250GB (256GB) capacities. I recommend against 128GB SSD as these may be too small for many people.
    • I would not worry too much about the storage space on a laptop because you should not keep any data on it you cannot live without. This is because laptops can be lost or stolen and so goes your data. Keep your data on cloud storage and not on your SSD. Just keep a copy of the data you need on the laptop. I also recommend cloud backup (which is not storage!).
  • Screen size is up to individual preference, but can be a major factor if the laptop will be carried often. I prefer 13″ or 14″ screens for travel and 15″ (15.6″) for home or use where I will not carry it everyday. resolution can also be an issue. I have a high resolution Mac (AKA retina) and a high resolution Windows laptop. Everything is always perfect on the Mac, but the Windows laptop has a lot of scaling issues. I wish I would have just got a 1080p (HD) screen on that laptop because of the issues.
    • I would recommend against huge 17″ laptop screens unless it will be used like a desktop and not carried.
    • Anything smaller than 13″ may just be too small for most people unless it is for a specific purpose. I have a laptop I use for light viewing and emailing. Not much else.
  • RAM is not too much of an issue these days. Get at least 8GB for regular use. There is no need for more than 16GB unless you will be using memory hungry software. I have done forensics with my Windows laptop and the 16GB was sufficient.
  • Do you need a DVD or Blu-ray drive? Most people don’t.
  • Metal or plastic? I prefer metal because they seem to be more durable. This may be due to the price difference. The manufacturers seem to just build them sturdier when using metal. It’s rare, but machined aluminum bodies are quite nice (example again would be the MacBook).
  • When it comes to durability, check out how the screen feels when open and closing and how much wobble there is when the screen is open. The Mac is the perfect example of how a screen should feel.
  • Track pads are also a big consideration. I prefer a large tack pad without buttons. It’s great if you get to try a demo and see the accuracy of a track pad. How does the cursor track during movement and what does it do when you hold your finger in one place? Does the cursor wiggle?
  • How thin and light? I like to sacrifice the space hogging DVD/Blu-ray drive so I can have a thin laptop. A 15.6″ laptop may be cheaper than a 13″ or 14″ laptop, but it will likely weigh more and be longer. A 13″ or 14″ laptop with a very thin bezel (area around the screen) make the screens look like 11.6″ / 12″ laptops. HP has some very impressively thin bezels. I don’t generally care for HP, but they make some nice high-end laptops.
  • I don’t care to much for convertible laptops where the screen folds back so it can be used like a tablet unless there is the need for such a thing. Same goes for laptops like the Microsoft Surface with detachable keyboards. I could not imagine typing for long on the Surface laptop with those flat keys. I would avoid these unless it is needed for a specific purpose (and I have recommended them when appropriate).

Think of how a laptop will be used and use the specs above to decide on what to purchase. If it’s a kid that will likely break it with in a year or two, get a cheap laptop and even skimp on the recommended specs above. If it is for a child going to college, consider a MacBook or high-end Windows laptop, which may last all four years (or more) if not stolen.

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