Dymin Blog

How to Choose a Laptop: Buying Guide 2017

Posted by Mike Hurt on Nov 8, 2016 10:03:00 AM

Dymin laptops


With so many different models and features available in the portable computer world today, it's easy to get lost in the marketing jargon when trying to choose a laptop. First and foremost, it's most important to identify how you're going to use the computer. This will help ensure you get what you need and don't pay for features you won't use.

Types of Laptop Users

Broad, generalized classifications are always difficult, but most users will find themselves fitting into one of these categories. If you're finding it tough to categorize yourself as one of these types of users, consider what you do most of the time on your computer—say, 75% of the time. 

Everyday Users

A majority of people fall into this category. While processors and computer internal components have improved dramatically in recent years, the basic needs of most computer users haven’t really changed. Essentially, any system you’d care to name can handle the basic tasks of an everyday user. Instead of worrying about specs and performance numbers, look for a laptop that has the style, feel, and price that fits you.

What you use your computer for: Internet browsing, email, Facebook, word processing (typing documents and spreadsheets), taking and storing photos.
Expect to pay: $400-$600
Key Criteria: Cost, ergonomics, looks
Processor: Intel Core i3
RAM: 4GB minimum. 8GB if you can afford it.
Graphics: The standard Intel or AMD onboard graphics will suit you just fine.
Hard Drive: Even the most basic of laptop computers nowadays come with at least 500GB of hard drive storage (exception: SSD Solid State Drives). This is more than enough for most users. The typical computer user stores less than 100GB of files and programs (including the operating system).


Gamer/Power Users

This is the category for those users who want the best graphics "performance for the buck" or who like to play video games on a portable computer system. Processor, memory, and graphics performance are key factors. Look for a laptop with a 17" or larger screen to give you ample display "real estate." The downside to high-performance laptops is that they are generally larger and heavier than their mainstream counterparts.

What you use your computer for: Video games, mainstream applications, Adobe Photoshop (or similar) picture editing
Expect to pay: $1000-$2000 or more
Key Criteria: CPU and graphics performance, screen size/resolution
Processor: Intel Core i7
RAM: 8GB minimum, 16GB if you can afford it; anything more than 16GB is generally wasted money. RAM is one of those things you only need “enough” of, because any more doesn’t add any performance.
Graphics: Look for a "discrete video card" such as the Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon "Mobile Graphics." These graphics cards will dramatically increase the video capabilities of your laptop and are an absolute must if you plan on playing video games on your machine.
Hard Drive: As with everyday users, you can generally get away with the standard hard drive. If you like to keep your entire video game collection installed at once, or plan on keeping thousands of "high-resolution" pictures on your computer, you should look for a laptop with at least 500GB of hard drive storage space. Pay attention to the type of hard drive and ensure you are getting a 7200RPM drive or a “hybrid” drive (SSHD).


On-the-Go Users

Most laptop users prefer the mobility to that of a desktop, but to some, mobility is absolutely critical. These users generally keep their laptop with them at all times, whether they're in a car, a plane, or moving from room to room at the office. Anything above 5 lbs. is going to be a burden on the shoulder, so weight and size are primary factors. Consider the new "ultrabook" computers that many manufacturers are offering. Ultrabooks are even thinner and lighter than the typical laptop while maintaining mainstream performance. However, they do cost a bit more than the typical laptop.

Another new option is the “2-in-1 Tablet,” such as the Microsoft Surface or Dell Latitude 7275. These computers have detachable keyboards that allow them to function as a tablet and often a “kickstand” instead of a hinge. In my opinion, they’re more of a “fad” than a useful innovation, so make sure to try one out before you buy and consder whether the convertible tablet functions will really add any value.

What you use your computer for: On-the-go full-time use, students, "road warriors,” usually using basic internet, email, and word processing
Expect to pay: $800-$1500
Key Criteria: Screen size, weight, battery life
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 4GB minimum, 8GB if you can afford it.
Graphics: Standard, onboard Intel or AMD graphics.
Hard Drive: 128GB or more. Most "ultrabooks" or "netbooks" come with the option of an SSD (Solid State Hard Drive). SSDs generally cost twice as much as a typical hard drive and have half or less of the storage space (in GB), but they are a LOT faster and are generally more reliable for mobile computer users. Definitely give SSDs a look if you can afford one.


Business Professionals

Most business professionals have very similar needs to the everyday user, with a few distinct necessary extras. Most business professionals will need to periodically or frequently connect their laptop to their business's computer network. This requires a special “Professional” version of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Make sure you purchase a copy of Microsoft Office for your laptop, which comes in several different versions including an online Office 365 subscription option. Warranty and support services are also a factor, since "downtime" can cost a business money by the minute; paying a small premium up front can save you hundreds of dollars in case of an issue.

What you use your computer for: Remote connecting to your office PC, email, Microsoft Office and standard business applications
Expect to pay: $600-$1000 (Plus an extra $220 to $500 for Microsoft Office)
Key Criteria: Operating system, data backup and security, warranty service, security features, productivity software
Processor: Intel Core i3 or Intel Core i5
RAM: 4GB. 8GB is highly recommended, but more than that is generally wasted in a business laptop.
Graphics: The standard Intel or AMD onboard graphics will suit you just fine.
Hard Drive: 128GB or more. Most business laptops are connected to a corporate network that takes care of the data storage and data backup needs, so the hard drive requirement on these users’ computers is very minimal. Buying a computer with an SSD is an excellent upgrade that will make a significant speed difference at only a minimal cost increase.


Specialized-Application Users

There are some specialized applications that have very specific hardware or software requirements. You'll generally know these requirements from the software program's manufacturer, but the Dymin techs are always here to advise and let you know when you may need extra or specialized equipment. Certain software may just run better on a desktop. Hardware capabilities are always better on a desktop workstation, and some programs really do need that extra processing or graphics power. We can usually let you know how to get the best performance for your specialized software with a Dell Precision Workstation.

What you use your computer for: Specialized applications such as AutoCAD, Maya, Adobe Premier, or specialized hardware such as Nvidia CUDA or Tesla
Expect to pay: $1500-$2500 or more
Key Criteria: CPU and graphics performance, screen size/resolution
Processor: Intel Core i7 or Intel Xeon (for desktop workstations)
RAM: 16GB minimum, 32GB or more recommended
Graphics: Intel Quadro or AMD FirePro discrete graphics. The graphics card model needed is highly dependent upon the specific software program; specific cards can add thousands of dollars to the cost. Be sure to check with your software vendor as well as the Dymin techs.
Hard Drive: A standard 500GB hard drive will usually work because I highly recommend keeping all your “archive” of projects on a secure, separate storage system and only your current “working” projects on your main hard drive. Depending on the amount of project files you have, the archive storage could be a NAS (network attached store) or a file server. They should absolutely never be kept on a USB hard drive or flash drive, which can fail and lose all your data.


Laptop Features

Let's look at some of the main features you should consider for your next laptop purchase. Whether these features are important or not is really dependent upon your specific needs and usage. Some of them are just "bells and whistles," so read on!

  • Screen Size

A laptop's screen size is directly related to its overall portability, usability, and even performance, so it should be your first criterion for narrowing down your choice. Laptop screen sizes range from 10" up to a massive 19". The smaller the screen size, the lighter and more portable the laptop, but you also get a smaller keyboard and generally less-capable performance. The "sweet spot" seems to be around 14" or 15"; this nets you the best compromise between portability, usability, and performance. The larger 16"-19" screens are becoming less and less popular, so you will have far fewer choices and may have to splurge for a high-end system.

  • Weight

Laptop weight has continued to drop over the years, but there’s still a connection between the durability of the system and how much it weighs. A more durable system will last much longer, but has more bulk and weights more. Screen size will affect weight, too. The lightest devices are 12-14” ultrabooks weighing a mere 2-3 lbs compared to the standard laptops weight of between 3.5-5 lbs. High-performance laptops can weigh 5-7 lbs,, while some gaming laptops top 10 lbs!

  • Wireless

All laptops nowadays come with wireless capability. This means they can connect to your home wireless network to access the internet as long as you have a wireless router. Some laptops have an optional cellular technology to connect to 4G cell phone networks. This means you can get wireless internet literally anywhere that there is cell phone signal. Service is provided through your cell phone company, so you'll have to pay a fee for the service just like your regular cell phone. It’s not a standard feature, so if you are an on-the-go user interested in this kind of connectivity you will have to specifically shop for it when deciding on a laptop model.

  • Optical Drive

Optical drives (CD/DVD readers and burners) have historically been a standard feature on a laptop. You used to have to pay attention to whether they could just read or burn CDs, DVDs, or a combination of the two. Nowadays, all optical drives can read and burn both CDs and DVDs, but you can choose whether your laptop comes with an optical drive at all. Many of the smaller l10" to 13" laptops are eliminating the optical drives to make room for more robust processors and other features or to cut down on weight and size. Consider how much you need an optical drive. Most software is downloaded from the internet, and movies and videos are streamed form the internet. If the laptop you like doesn't have an optical drive, you can always buy an external optical drive that plugs in through USB to use when you need it.

  • Operating System

Any new laptop you buy is generally going to come with the latest version of the Microsoft Windows operating system, which today is Windows 10. There have always been “Home” and “Professional” versions of the operating systems and you need to make sure you buy a laptop that includes the version that you need. For most users, the “Home” version of Windows will suit you just fine. For many business users, you'll need to spend the extra $80 or so on the “Professional” version of Windows. You can always consult the Dymin techs if you need to know for sure which version to get.

  • Warranty

Any computer you buy is going to come with at least a 1-year manufacturer's limited warranty. This limited warranty will cover parts and labor costs to repair the laptop if it malfunctions. But not all warranties are the same, and the level of service you receive should something go wrong can make a dramatic impact on the sanity of your day or the profitability of your business!

Dymin Techs have serviced literally tens of thousands of PCs in our 15 years, and we’ve gained a wealth of knowledge of which PCs have the best and worst warranty service. Perhaps more important than the brand is the “grade” of computer. Business-grade computers (Dell Latitude, HP ProBook, Lenovo ThinkPad) consistently have superior service. This can mean the difference between a 20-minute phone call with 1 business day service turnaround and a 2-hour phone call with 2-week turnaround! The most difficult companies to deal with have consistently been Asus, Acer, and Lenovo’s “consumer” product lines (the IdeaPad and Yoga lines).

The length of the included warranty will also clue you in on the overall quality of the computer. After all, the manufacturer has to be confident enough in their product to offer a 3-year standard warranty!


We're Always Here for You

Whether you just need a basic laptop for browsing the internet and checking email or you need a specialized mobile workstation for all your computing needs, you have the Dymin techs on your side. Once you've decided on which new laptop you'll bring home, Dymin's computer set up services will help you get it up, running, and connected to your internet and home network without any stress or worry. If you're buying new laptops as part of your 2017 business IT budget planning, we can help you decide on the perfect choice for your company. Then, our convenient computer installation services will get them integrated into your existing systems with minimal downtime or disruption to your business. 

We would love to hear from you if you have any comments or questions or are in the market for a new laptop this holiday season! Come visit us at our Urbandale hardware & software showroom, or leave us a reply below.


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Topics: buying guides, business information