The laptop has become a key tool of the 21stcentury. We rely on it for communication, for work and to learn something new. Rapid progression in the world of computing has made choosing the best machine a difficult task. Sure, your daily workflow and what it entails can make the choice easier but getting ahead of all the technical lingo in the laptop world may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So here are a few questions you should keep in mind while purchasing your next laptop.
Which Operating System (OS) should you get?
Most popular laptops that you can think of today run Microsoft’s Windows 10. It is a solid software and there is no major learning curve associated with it and, its compatibility with various applications is fantastic.
Competing fiercely with it is Apple’s macOS High Sierra. While its functionality remains similar, its look and feel is different. Coming with it are a host of Apple specific applications like AirDrop, Handoff and Apple Pay among others. The upside is the ecosystem and seamless integration with various Apple devices. The downside to this though is the exclusivity, learning curve and the laptop’s relatively higher price tags.
Serving as a hybrid between these two options is Google’s Chrome OS. It is a limited software experience that offers the bare minimum through its ‘web applications’. While appropriate for school, considering portability and good battery life, Google’s limited OS might be a hard sell despite a good hardware package and support to run Android applications.
Each OS caters to a different audience. Google’s Chrome OS is not a smart choice for the lack of value it brings. So you should really consider between either Windows 10 or macOS High Sierra. Raw functionality from both is identical. But if you are someone who owns other Apple products and are looking to invest heavily in Apple’s ecosystem, a macOS High Sierra powered MacBook might be the right choice. On the contrary, as someone who wants hardware at a better value for money, Windows 10 offers an extensive range of laptops.
How much power should you be getting?
Laptop processors today are made either by Intel or AMD. Intel’s processing power ranges from the low-tier core-i3 chipset all the way up to a core-i7 or core-i9. The differences between these are number of cores, cache size and other technical details. But to sum it up, basics like web-browsing, email or document editing are easily accomplished on the core-i3. The core-i5 is the middle-ground choice like on Apple’s MacBook Air whereas the core-i7 or core-i9 processor is more suited for power users.
AMD’s lineup is similar. It ranges from the A-series all the way up to the Ryzen. Typically, AMD’s lower to mid-tier lineup offers a better value for money. But if you are in the market for the strongest performance in the higher-tier, Intel’s core-i7 and above may be a better investment in the long run.
Another important thing to look out for in processors is generation and built-in graphics. We often see laptops on sale with the highest-end core-i7 processors but the catch is that they might be running on an older generation core-i7 processor to compensate for the lower cost. At any point, you do not want to be spending on outdated hardware.
What kind of memory do you need?
When it comes to memory, there are a few things you need to keep an eye out for. Particularly for storage, you might be confused between a solid-state drive (SSD) and a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). SSD storage is simply faster over HDD storage but it comes at a significantly higher cost. Generally, people prefer a combination of the two on a laptop where a smaller 128GB sized SSD is used to store your OS and a larger 1TB HDD for all your files. This makes boot up times and your general OS faster and is the most economical solution being employed on laptops like Lenovo’s Y530. But if you do not need to store a lot of information on your laptop, going with just a high capacity SSD will lead to faster file transfers on top of a snappy OS.
RAM on the other hand is the temporary memory your applications need to keep running when in use. A laptop with 8GB RAM is the optimum choice. Usually, even 4GB is enough for the most basic operation. The extra memory gives you a bit of wiggle room down the line. If you intend to use your laptop for video editing or gaming though, try to choose one with at least 16GB.
A hybrid SSD and HDD storage solution does the trick for most users. Even for gamers, having a larger HDD to store files may come in handier than having a smaller sized SSD which typically costs more. For a creative professional where work involves constant file transfer, the added cost of the SSD may be worth the 3x speed upgrade.
Why is a graphics card important?
For most graphics, your laptop processor’s built-in graphics card is suitable. For gaming, 3D rendering, video editing or any graphically intense application, you need to consider a laptop with dedicated graphics. Like when choosing your processor, the options in this case are between NVIDIA and AMD’s lineup.
Lower-end options like NVIDIA’s GTX 1050Ti on the Acer Predator Helios 300 are more than enough for casual gaming and a bit of video editing. But for more serious individuals, Asus’ Strix Scar II with its RTX 2070 could be a very solid choice. In fact, you could even consider NVIDIA’s Quadro series which is suited specifically for rendering tasks and running high-end designing programs.
In the same manner, AMD’s lineup has a range starting with the R5 series extending all the way to its Vega offering, which is rare among Windows laptops but ships with Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup. Typically, GPU performance is better from NVIDIA’s cards but AMD cards are sought after more for their value proposition.
What kind of display should I be looking for?
While size is more of a personal preference, quality is something to keep in mind. Today, a laptop with a resolution of at least 1920 x 1080 or Full HD is a must. Gaming enthusiasts might also like to consider displays with a higher refresh rate. Typically, IPS LCD or OLED panels provide the best viewing angles and color accuracy. If you opt for a non-touchscreen laptop, choose one with an anti-glare coating on the display. But for touchscreen laptops, make sure you go with a 2-in-1 option like HP’s Folio.
The other side to the laptop’s display is multimedia. Always try to opt for a laptop that has speakers tuned by Dolby or Harman Kardon for one of the best listening experiences. Also, upward or sideway firing speakers over bottom firing anyday.
When will I need various ports?
For any laptop today, look for a USB-C port. Its universal nature makes data transfer easy and faster if it comes with Thunderbolt 3 support. Essentials like the Ethernet port, USB-A 3.0 ports and an HDMI port are also things you should look out for on high-end laptops.
Many laptops like Apple’s MacBook Pro or Huawei’s MateBook series do not give you such a rich selection of ports. Make sure you know which accessories you will need to maintain productivity and expand on your port selection.
Is the overall body important?
Tying into the previous section, laptop build quality is essential. You want to make sure that your laptop is solid with no fatal design flaws like a fragile hinge. Especially for high-performance laptops, a good cooling and fan system is essential for optimum performance.
Other things like keyboard and track-pad quality are to be considered too. Usually, track-pads with dedicated click keys are the way to go. Whereas for keyboards, back-lighting might be important to you. If you work with numbers a lot, you may prefer a dedicated number pad. Or even a web camera for online communication.
Breaking down your requirements is a great way to hone in on your next laptop. Each of us wants something different from our machine. On a budget, it is important your laptop has the most recent processor. For gamers, the graphics card and RAM is of utmost priority. Whereas if you do a lot of creative work, you cannot sacrifice on display quality. Sometimes, you may not get everything you are looking for at your desired budget. And if that is the case, weigh in on your immediate requirements. If you must spend more for a feature that will make day to day usage easier, it might just be worth the added investment.
This article was originally published in the Gulf News’ Techtalk supplement on April 25th 2019.