Have you ever experienced being in a store looking for a laptop but not really knowing what all of those characteristics labeled alongside them mean? If you have, then this post is just what you need, here you will learn what to look for in a good laptop:
Most of us use a laptop daily for many different tasks, such as browsing the web, gaming, watching movies and series, writing documents, working with various software, etc. The software we use for those tasks is what determines how “good” our laptop needs to be, per example, writing on google docs can be done on almost any computer, but gaming or working with heavy design software (such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator) is something that needs a quite powerful computer.
The higher the quality of a computer’s components, the more information it can handle and the fastest it can display that information to you. It all might seem a bit complicated at first, and that’s why we have summarised everything into simple parts that you can find explained below. This isn’t an extensive lesson on how the electronic parts of a computer work or on how each part of the motherboard should be connected to the others, this is essentially a buyer’s guide, after reading this guide, you will know what every single characteristic that you see labelled alongside a computer means, and you will know which characteristics are the most important to look for in a good laptop.
In my opinion, something becomes a problem when it interferes with whatever you wish to do, what I mean is that I don’t mind that my computer is a bit slow in the first couple of minutes after I turn it on, and I also don’t mind that Adobe Illustrator takes a bit of time executing a big change to a big image, I am used to that and it doesn’t get in the way of my work or playtime. But when that time is so much that it takes my mind out of what I am doing at the moment, then that’s a problem, examples of that are a computer taking half an hour to open Google Chrome and another half an hour until it lets me write anything on the browser.
I’m usually not a super stubborn guy, but no matter what anyone says, the most important things in a computer, be it laptop or desktop, are the CPU (processor), GPU (graphics card) and RAM (random access memory). Yes, if you need to bring your laptop to work, school or while traveling, you should look into the size, weight and battery sections with careful eyes, and yes, if you need to do a lot of video calls with friends, family or work partners, the speakers, microphone and camera are definitely something very important, but none of that matters if your computer has such a slow processor that Skype takes fifteen minutes to open or such a slow storage type that you prefer keeping your phone’s memory card full to waiting half an hour to move a couple of photos to your computer.
Let’s take a look at each characteristic that is really what you should look for in a laptop:
Processor (CPU – Central Processing Unit) – This is arguably the most important part of a computer, as almost everything you do has to be calculated by the CPU in some way, having a fast CPU will make your PC faster in every way. Have you ever had your computer freeze when opening a web browser? Have you ever had to wait a very long time to open a video game or a heavier software like Adobe Photoshop? That’s probably because your CPU is not the very best there are.
As of right now, the latest versions of the most popular design programs out there have a minimum requirement of 1.3 GHz CPU, but the truth is that companies tend to say that any computer can run their program so that more people buy their product. From my own experience, most of the heavier software in the market right now will run much smoothly with a CPU of 3.0 GHz or better.
An example of a top-notch CPU that can handle almost every heavy program is the 4.6 GHz Intel Core i7, which can be found in one of our favourite laptops: the Dell XPS 13 (9380). CPUs like the 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7 are still quite good and can handle multiple browser pages open, as well as multiple documents and the lighter software with ease and without freezing every 15 seconds, examples of computers with these are the Huawei MateBook X Pro and the Lenovo Yoga C930.
You can read a more detailed guide on how to choose the best laptop for you in our article Best Laptops For Work And Travel.
Graphics Card (GPU – Graphics Processing Unit) – Alongside the CPU in the rank of importance when it comes to how fast a computer processes information, comes the Graphics Card, also known as GPU, it calculates anything having to do with visuals and outputs these visuals onto the monitor. Sometimes, companies incorporate a GPU in the CPU, but high-end computer always have one isolated GPU. Famous GPU brands are Nvidia, Intel and AMD, all of these have very high-quality products as well as lower quality products. Much like what happens with the CPU, if you only need your computer to perform light tasks, such as editing documents and browsing the web, a high-end GPU won’t be your first priority, but if you plan on working with heavier software or playing the newest video games, then you should definitely find a computer with a good GPU.
As of right now, some of the best GPUs are the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q, found in the laptops Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model and the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin. These laptops are some of the best in the market to handle heavy software and the latest videogames.
RAM (Random Access Memory) – Not to be confused with the storage space of a computer, the RAM is an extremely fast type of memory that a computer uses to temporarily store all the information it needs in the moment (for whatever task you might be doing) and in the near future. Per example, if you are playing a videogame and there is a tree in said videogame, the computer needs to remember very quickly the information about that tree so that whenever you turn to the tree in the game, the tree is there and just how it should be.
Having a small RAM means that heavier software and games will essentially run slower, and some games might not be able run at all. To handle the most heavy software in the market at the moment, 8 GB of RAM is plenty, most computers featured in our article Best Laptops For Work And Travel have 8 GB of RAM, but if you don’t mind spending a bit more, you can find the same version of a certain computer with 16 GB of RAM. You will also be able to run most programs in a computer with 4 GB of RAM, but just like we have mentioned before, the heavier software will run a bit slower.
Storage Type (HDD, SDD or NVME SSD) – At the moment, there are 3 types of mass-storage: The HDD, the SSD and the NVME SSD (a newer type of SSD). All of them have the same purpose, which is to store your data (documents, pictures, software information, etc.). The main difference between the three is their speed, meaning the quickness to which you can add or extract data from them. The HDD works with mechanically moving parts, which is makes it the slowest of the three and will usually read and save data at about 100MB/s; the SSD will already read and write at around 500MB/s; and the most recent NVME SSD reads and writes data at a speed up to 3500MB/s.
When it comes to “memory” or “storage”, people tend to only pay attention to how many GB or TB the computer can store, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as the RAM and Storage Type the computer has. Imagine having a computer with 2 or 3 TB of storage space but with a bad RAM and Storage Type, would you not mind waiting a couple of hours for your photos to be transferred from your phone to your pc? And would you not mind waiting another couple of hours to open that design software you need to work with? If your computer has low storage capacity, you can always buy a great 2 TB external hard disk for 30 $/€/£.
The storage type is still not the most important feature of them all, you should focus on CPU, GPU and RAM first no matter the situation, but to work with heavy software, we recommend getting a computer with a SDD type of storage (which most recent computer already have), some examples of these are the Dell XPS 13 (9380) and even the super light 2-in-1 laptop Microsoft Surface Pro 6.
Very important in some cases:
Monitor’s Size and Resolution – Much like all the other characteristics that you should look for in a good laptop and that we included in this category, the monitor’s size and resolution is very important for some people and not that important for others. “The bigger the better” is not exactly applicable in this case, you wouldn’t want a computer so large that it doesn’t fit in a normal backpack or handbag, as it would be very bothersome to travel with. The size (in inches or centimetres) of a monitor is not the same as the size of the laptop itself, you should have that in mind too in case you already have a backpack you want to use to carry the laptop. For most people, between 13 to 16 inches is the ideal, but if you want a lot of screen space to work in, you can find yourself a good computer with a 17-inch monitor.
The other part of this equation (and I would say the most important one) is the resolution of the monitor. To understand what resolution is, imagine that you want to watch a full HD 1080p movie, which means that every frame of the movie has 1920 pixels per 1080 pixels, if you watch it in a monitor with that same resolution (1900×1080), then you will see every single pixel, so the movie will be crystal clear super High Definition, but if you watch the same movie in a monitor with a smaller resolution, say 1280×720, then no matter how big the monitor is physically, you will only see 1280 pixels per 720 pixels, which is not the full 1080p HD, as a matter of fact, the bigger the screen, the more you will notice that lesser quality, that’s why a 720p video looks amazing on your phone but will look very bad if displayed in a large TV screen.
I hope this explanation wasn’t very confusing, please leave a comment with any questions you might have, but for now I would recommend you checking out the computers listed in our article Best Laptops For Work And Travel, because all of them are quite good in terms of monitor size and resolution.
Battery – In terms of battery, there is not much to explain, “the bigger the better” does apply. Every computer that is relatively recent features a type of battery that doesn’t get “degraded” if you leave it changing during the night or that sort of thing, so you don’t have to worry with none of that. Of course, nothing lasts forever, so any battery will gradually have its lifespan shortened, there is not yet a way to charge and discharge a battery without it loosing something in the process.
For someone that only plans on using the laptop in the office, the library or at home, then the battery life of the computer is not that important, but travelling with a laptop that is always running out of battery can be very bothersome, so make sure to have this in mind when looking for a good laptop for you.
Size and Weight – Once again, you should value this characteristic depending on how much you will have to carry your laptop from place to place. But people sometimes time forget another thing: the place where the laptop will be used and put on top of, because working in a train without decent tables is quite different from working in a café or esplanade. A smaller laptop might be better if you don’t think you will have much space.
Speakers, microphone and camera – These are very important for whoever needs do a lot of video calls with colleagues, friends or family. For most people looking for a good laptop, these won’t be important because video calls can and are usually are done via smartphone, but for those of you who travel for work and have to give feedback to colleagues from time to time with a video call, then you might appreciate a laptop with decent speakers, microphone and camera, specially the last two, because you can always plug in some earphones if your speakers are not the best.
Everything is explained in detail above, but here is a quick rundown of what to look for in a good laptop:
- If you are looking for a laptop to run heavy software, such as design software or the latest videogames, you should focus on the CPU, GPU, and RAM.
- If you want to travel a lot with your computer, then you should consider every single aspect we talked about, from battery life to size and weight, never forgetting the components that give the laptop the power to run the software you need, like CPU, GPU and RAM.
Need some examples of great laptops? The best of the best can be found here: Best Laptops For Work And Travel.