Note: This page was last updated on 04/09/2021
One of the most common questions I get from customers and friends is, what laptop should I purchase? Since the answers are usually the same for everyone, here are my recommendations. But before I dive into the specs, there are a few important points to mention:
First, this article is for those looking for a Windows laptop. There is nothing wrong with purchasing an Apple product, but I don’t have experience with them and cannot give good purchase advice. The other option when purchasing a laptop is a Chromebook, which runs Google’s Chrome OS. If you intend to use your laptop only for email and web browsing, a Chromebook may be a good choice that can save you some money. Just keep in mind you cannot install Windows software on a Chromebook.
Secondly, keep in mind that this article is aimed at a typical user that is not doing anything too demanding. If you’re looking for a gaming computer to help you waste your time, don’t read any further. Find somebody who actually plays computer games to see what kind of computer you should get. Also, if you do a lot of computer aided designing (CAD) or video editing, you will probably want something that exceeds the specs mentioned below.
Some people incorrectly assume that all new laptops come with touchscreens. That is not the case. Many models do not have touchscreens, and many computer users see no practical use for a touchscreen on a laptop. If you want a touch screen, just be sure you look for that as you shop. If it isn’t mentioned in the specs, it probably doesn’t have one.
Optical drives (DVD and CD)
Most new laptops do not come with optical drives. If you need that, make sure you pay close attention to that as you shop. You can also purchase an external DVD drive that plugs in to the USB port if you need one occasionally.
I always encourage customers to stick with popular brands and models. That way, if you need to get it repaired there is a greater chance of parts availability. I prefer HP, Dell, and Lenovo in no particular order. Among those three brands, I just look for the best prices and features. Acer is another popular brand that I’ve seen a few more problems with. In some cases you can get an Acer for cheaper than the other brands, but if there is not a significant savings, I’d stay away. I have little experience with other brands such as Asus or Samsung, so I cannot offer a solid opinion on those.
Solid State Drive
The days of computers having a crash-prone hard drive spinning at 7200 rpm inside are going away. Instead, most new computers come with an SSD or Solid State Drive for storage, which are much faster. But you need to be careful, because there are still some computers that sell with a mechanical (spinning) hard drive. If it doesn’t specifically state that it has an SSD or Solid State Drive, it probably doesn’t have one, and you should not buy it.
Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc)
I still get people who assume that Windows includes licensed versions of Word and Excel. Windows does not include those programs, and this is true regardless of whether you get Windows 10 Home or Windows Pro. All you’ll normally get are trial versions. If you want to continue to use them, you’ll have to pay extra for them. You can either pay Microsoft a subscription fee to use them (Office 365 or Microsoft 365), or you can make a one-time purchase. Some computer sellers (Dell, for example) let you purchase Microsoft Office with the computer, but the fact remains that it is a separate product and will cost you extra. Many users (myself included) find that LibreOffice.org, a free alternative to Microsoft office, suits their needs just fine.
Here are the specs you should look for:
- Processor: An Intel i5 or better, or an AMD Ryzen 5 or better. If you’re trying to get something very inexpensive and don’t mind it being a little slower, you can probably get by with an Intel i3 or AMD Ryzen 3.
- RAM: At least 8 GB. If you can find one with 12 or 16 GB in your price range, go for that instead.
- Storage: At least 250 GB, and again, make sure it is an SSD. If you’re going to be working with video or tons of photos (like 10s of thousands of photos), you may want 512 GB instead.
- Windows 10. Obviously, most computers some with Windows, but make sure it says so. Also, if you are using the computer in a business, keep in mind that you will likely need Windows 10 Pro. If you get one that just says “Windows 10” or “Windows 10 Home”, you’ll need to pay $99 after the fact to upgrade it to Pro. If you’re a home user or a business user that doesn’t have a server, you can probably get by with the Home version.
Below are some links to some good laptop deals on Amazon. Keep in mind that the prices are subject to change, so I’ve listed the prices and specs beside the links so you can determine if something has changed with the Amazon listing after these links were posted. These links are affiliate links, so I may earn a commission when you purchase one of these.
Dell – Ryzen 5 – 8 GB RAM – 256 GB SSD – $499.98
HP – i5 – 8 GB RAM – 256 GB SSD – $571.99
Lenovo – i5 – 12 GB RAM – 256 GB SSD – $573.80
HP – Ryzen 5 – 8 GB RAM – 512 GB SSD – $599.93
HP – Ryzen 5 – 12 GB RAM – 256 GB SSD – $614.99