I know you want the best possible laptop with the most powerful processor, huge amounts of RAM, a dedicated video card and almost unlimited storage space. Heck, an ultrabook would be amazing, but how about a big, powerful gaming mean-machine you can hardly describe as a laptop? Should it be an 11-in, a 13.3-in a 15-in or a 17-in? And the screen … should it be touch or not, should it be high resolution or lower res is just fine?
There are many laptop buying guides out there – some are too technical, some don’t have enough info and some have too much. Don’t worry, I’ll help you find the best laptop for the lowest budget possible and I’ll even tell you where to buy it.
I will do this in a simple way, in plain English so even a 5 years old will be able to follow through. But before that, let me tell you a little story … There was a time (about 4-5 years ago) when buying a laptop meant either having a huge budget to buy a good computer or having a low budget and ending up with a crappy one! Everything was in the budget. Most times we sacrificed features (read video output, Kensington lock, backlit keyboard, decent sound) to squeeze in a bit of extra power. At that time technology was expensive.
How about now? Now technology is cheap. So, with a bit of preparation, you can get the perfect laptop for your needs an the cheap. Grab a pen and a piece of paper or open your favorite note taking app and let’s get you a new laptop:
STEP 1 – Identify your needs
- Jot down the main 3 tasks you will perform on your laptop.
- Below each of the three tasks, write the features that would help you accomplish them.
STEP 2 – Find the perfect match
As I said earlier, you no longer need the most powerful laptop on the market to avoid slowdowns, unwanted reboots and software freezes. Now we’ll match your needs to the perfect laptop.
- Choose the optimum performance for your needs. There is so much processing power in today’s laptops and most buyers don’t use their systems at full capacity. This is because they pay for laptops which are way too powerful for the tasks they need to accomplish. That’s wasted money for power they do not benefit from! Here’s a quick “Laptop Performance 101” guide:
- Intel is more popular than AMD, AMD is cheaper than Intel. Today we stick to Intel processors which come in 3 flavors: i3, i5 and i7. There are other models available (Celeron, Pentium .. etc), but staying within with one of the three choices i3, i5 and i7 is a safe bet.
- An Intel i3 with 4 GB of RAM will serve you well for tasks like: web browsing, emails, note taking, movie watching, Microsoft Office, social media, Youtube, light video processing, pictures collections management, light gaming. This configuration can be also used for work which implies tasks similar with the ones described above.
- An Intel i5 with 4 to 6GB of RAM will be a perfect match for the PC intermediate guy. It will be a perfect choice if you browse a lot of sites (more than 10-15 tabs open at a time), do some amateur Photoshop processing, intermediate video editing and music encoding, some more complex gaming (many pre-2010 games will run just fine on this configuration) and obviously work.
- An Intel i7 with 8GB+ of RAM is needed ONLY if you are a Power Gamer, do intense photo, video and audio editing or you run niche professional software (AutoCAD, ArhiCAD, etc …)
- Choose a performance configuration based on the tasks you needs to accomplish (see STEP 1). Stay logical, do not let your heart to get in your wallet’s way! I know you want the most powerful laptop on the market, but do the right thing. What you should choose is the BEST LAPTOP FOR YOUR NEEDS!
- Choose the additional features you need
- Now you should have a performance configuration in mind and a set of features you need in your new machine.
- Choose a reliable brand – your laptop is only as good as the company standing behind it. Asus, Lenovo, Apple, Acer and Samsung are all good candidates for your attention.
- Once all the above done it’s time you choose the right model.
- This step is very important – when you got a couple of models that match your needs – read real customer reviews (you can find many on Google) about the chosen models. If there are no reviews, drop the model and pass to the next one. User reviews are the only way to find common model issues like extra heating, common failures, etc …
STEP 3 – Get ready for buy-time!
- By now you should have 2-5 models which are perfect matches for your computing needs
- To get the best possible prices you need to check multiple sources and compare the pricing options. here are a couple of sites to do price analysis:
- I like buying my electronics at local stores. Here’s why – most stores offer a “Best Price Warranty” which means they’ll sell you the product at the lowest price on the market (including online prices). This means you get the low online prices combined with the convenience of buying local (instant delivery, easy warranty management in case of trouble). Usually, the “Best Price Warranty” covers you 30 days after the purchase. If you find the product cheaper elsewhere, return in the store for a partial refund!
- If you have time to wait for a better deal make a folder in your browser’s favorites and bookmark all product pages for your preferred laptop. Check them every day or so, and I am sure in a couple of weeks you’ll get a discount with one of the stores. Buying at a low price is a volumes game. so find as many sites selling your model as you can and watch them closely.
BONUS TRICK: Going for a SSD laptop instead of a HDD one gives you a great performance boost (depending on model, SSD write and read speeds can be higher than the HDD speeds up to 10 times). The main disadvantage of going for a SSD laptop is that prices increase dramatically when purchased as a whole.
What should you do then? Buy a HDD laptop, get a SSD and replace it yourself (there are plenty of Youtube tutorials showing the exact procedure – it is a basic operation and it should take just a couple of minutes depending on the laptop model) or bring it to the local shop and have them switch the drives. This can easily save you a couple of hundreds of dollars!
CASE STUDY: As you went through the entire article patiently, I have a little “something” for you. Here’s how I decided what laptop to buy and how I purchased it. I hope my example helps you find a good laptop deal too!
STEP 1: Identify your needs
- 3 main tasks I do every day: email communication, marketing related tasks (editing a couple of blogs, promoting a couple of ecomm stores, other advertising tasks) – I usually work with 10-15 browser tabs opened, light photo and video editing
- Laptop features important to me: portability (max 2kg), small size, full sized keyboard, VGA + HDMI video outputs (when at my desk I like working on two full HD screens), Kensington Lock (for security reasons), replaceable battery (very important for me – I use a lot the laptop on battery and I usually wear-off a battery in 1-1.5 years), USB 3.0 (at least one for high speed backups), small size charger as I travel often, I do not like cable adapters and proprietary plugs so I looked for models which work with regular plugs. I also need a reasonable priced laptop that I can quickly replace if I need to. I tend to break gadgetry (not really my fault, but happens all the time!!!)
STEP 2 – Find the perfect match
Based on my needs I went for an Intel i5 configuration. After checking out most models on the market I settled for an Acer V5-171-6679. That’s an 11.6″ screen laptop with i5 processor @1.7 Ghz, 8GB RAM, 500GB HD, Windows 8, replaceable battery, VGA, HDMI, 1x USB 3.0 plus 2x USB 2.0 plugs, Kensington Lock, a small size charger (a bit bigger than a cell phone charger) and reasonable pricing.
Additionally, I purchased a Samsung 840 PRO 128GB SSD and installed it based on this Youtube tutorial (there are many opinions if SSD replacement voids the warranty and the simple answer is – it depends from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you feel uncomfortable opening the laptop, call the manufacturer first and ask them in what conditions can you upgrade your computer) .
Is this the best laptop on the market? Not at all! It has an integrated video card (it sucks at playing games), the battery life is about 3.5 hours, it’s misses 0.5-in in thickness to be considered an ultrabook, it has an average design and it features an average processing power.
Is this laptop perfect for my needs? HELL YES! It is a perfect match for all my needs. I wouldn’t trade it with any other laptop as that would mean sacrificing on the features I need and rely on and I am not ready to do that.
STEP 3 – Get ready for buy-time!
I bought this laptop in Montreal, Canada. I found it in a local store (FutureShop.ca) at $599 and I purchased it. The Samsung 840 PRO SSD was $149. As soon as I finished paying it, I pointed the seller to the Amazon.ca product page featuring the laptop for $529 and the SSD for $119. I got an instant $100 refund due the their “Best Price Warranty”. A couple of weeks later, I checked Amazon.ca again and the laptop went down to $499 and the SSD to $99. So I went back tot he store and pointed the two articles on Amazon. Guess what? I got another $48 refund. After all rebates, discounts and refunds, my mean-machine cost me $598 ($499 for the laptop and $99 the SSD).
Try to beat that! The best laptop (for my needs) at only $598!
So here I am, a marketing guy working 7-9 hours per day on his laptop, traveling all around with his computer, giving sales presentations, meeting customers and carrying a $600 average performance laptop in his backpack. Why not an Slick Macbook Air or a powerful Asus gaming laptop? Because, although they’re super cool, unfortunately they do not meet my particular needs!
That’s it folks! If you have any additional questions related to purchasing your “best laptop”, feel free to drop them in the comments. I’ll get back to you …