Laptops buying guide

Take the guesswork out of choosing your next laptop.
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02.Before you buy

First, you need to work out what you want to do with your laptop. The computer you buy now will likely be the one you use for the next three-to-five years, because in most cases, laptop hardware is difficult to upgrade. Knowing how you want to use your laptop can help you pinpoint the most suitable hardware.

Determine your needs and wants

Make a list of the main activities and programs you want to use, such as word processing, photo, video or audio editing or playing computer games and rank them in importance. Consider future needs as well. Potential employment or study prospects are good indicators of how these may change.

List any specific programs you need and note their system requirements (check the product website). Don’t underestimate your needs, you may find that your computer can’t run your favourite program or game if you try and save money by buying a low-spec machine. But don’t go overboard. A multimedia powerhouse that’s loaded with RAM, the latest processor and a powerful dedicated graphics card is tempting, but it will cost more. 

Set a budget and stick to it, because a computer isn’t much good if you can’t afford software!

User profile

Most consumers will fit into one of three general categories:

  • Casual user: You want to check emails, watch movies and surf the internet. You won’t need a huge amount of power, graphics or internal storage. Suggested minimum specs: 4GB of RAM, Intel i3 processor, 320GB of HDD storage and integrated graphics.
  • Intermediate user: You play some games and watch movies. This range will suit families, students and business people. You’ll need mid-range power, graphics, memory and a decent amount of storage. Suggested minimum: 4GB of RAM, Intel i5 processor and 500GB – 1TB of HDD storage.
  • Power user: You’re the kind of person who pushes their computer to the limit with 3D rendering software, video/photo editing programs or sophisticated games. Suggested minimum: 8GB RAM, Intel i7 processor, 1-2TB of HDD and/or 128-512GB SSD or a hybrid drive.

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Usage scenarios

Below are typical activities for casual, intermediate and power users. Understand confusing terminology or technical terms with our jargon buster.

Internet usage

Web browsing, email, social networking and online programs require little computing power. In most cases, your online performance is determined by your internet connection speed. If you have a fast connection and a high download limit, you’ll likely download more content.

Office work/Assignments

Even a low-end model should be powerful enough to run office and productivity programs. Complex spreadsheets and large PDF files may require a mid-range computer.

Listening to music

Listening to songs won’t require a fast laptop, but a decent amount of RAM and a mid-range processor is a must for people with large music libraries. If you want to listen to music while you work or surf the net, your computer will benefit from extra RAM to handle the multiple activities. 

Watching videos

This depends on how you access your media. If you download or stream all your content, your requirements will match the internet usage scenario. If you want to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, you’ll need a laptop with an optical drive. Many laptops can play DVDs, but few have Blu-Ray drives. Don’t assume that the laptop you’re looking at can play both. A mid-range graphics card and processor will improve video quality and load times.

Playing computer games

You can get by playing most games on a mid-range system, but to enjoy the full experience of the latest blockbusters, you’re going to need a top quality mid-range unit or a high-end model. Sophisticated games can be very demanding on your graphics card, processor and RAM. Although most games let you tweak some graphics settings to make them usable on less-powerful systems, image quality will suffer. If you’re serious about computer games, consider plenty of RAM, a dedicated graphics card and lots of processing power. Online games such as Call of Duty or World of Warcraft need a fast internet connection as well, but browser-based games (e.g. FarmVille) are usually much less demanding.

Photo/Video/Audio editing and 3D rendering

These programs require a powerful system with plenty of RAM, processing power and a decent graphics card. They need a webcam and inbuilt microphone, which most laptops have. A larger screen size will provide more room for complex onscreen menu systems.

VoIP Calls

VoIP, Skype etc don’t require a lot of power: a 3G phone can do the job after all. But you’ll need a webcam and inbuilt microphone which most models have these days. A larger laptop will provide a bigger screen which can be beneficial.
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