2014 Laptop Buying Assistant

laptop buyer's guideI am assuming that because you are buying the laptop for school, you will need all the attachments.  ie. DVD drive, wireless (get 802.11n), and make sure you buy Microsoft Office.What size screen do you need/desire?  Are you buying mobility or a desktop replacement?  Is this going to be your primary machine?  Are you a gamer?  Do you want to play DVD’s on your new notebook?

Netbooks are generally up to 10″ or 11″.  Ultrabooks fall into the 11″ to 15″ range and notebooks are anywhere from 12″ to 18″.  This is really a preference thing.  If you are buying a workstation replacement that you will not carry around much go with the 17” models.  I use 13.3” laptops at work because they are lighter and small…thus for me more convenient.  If I am going to make presentations then I would go with the 15.6” or maybe even the 17” models.

In my opinion, there are five different types of laptops.  1) netbooks, 2)  notebook/tablet hybrids, 3)  ultrabooks, 4) convertible laptops, and 5)  laptops.

  1. Netbooks were introduced before the iPad came out and served a purpose offering a smaller form laptop, cheaper, longer battery life and you could run Windows XP (and eventually 7 (as a starter version)).  They were cheap.  Did you hear…they were cheap.  They are not really an option for you if you are going to college because they are sloooow!
  2. Notebook/tablet hybrids are very thin, very, very light, and the screen separates from the keyboard thus giving you a tablet.  With these you must remember that they are essentially a tablet and are powered thusly.  They are almost exclusively powered by Intel Arm CPUs and chipsets.  I have read many manufacturer’s descriptions of these machines and they say that the Arm chip will perform very similar to the Intel iCore chips.  In my experience though, they do not.  For day-to-day activity by a modest user they will still be a tad slower than the Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors.   You probably can’t use Windows 8 Professional and you won’t be able to network them (You can Homegroup them or peer to peer network them.)  not to mention the inability to use your “somewhat older printer”.  Lastly I have never seen a built-in DVD player.  Intriguing yes.  College no.
  3. Ultrabooks.  I own a Samsung Series 5 ultrabook.  It weighs 3lbs., came with 4GB RAM (I upgraded to 8GB), it came with a 500GB hybrid HDD (they normally come with a SSD (Solid State Drive) anywhere from 64GB on up of HDD space (read here: the closer to 256GB SSD the more expensive it is).  Amazon sells the Samsung 120GB 840 EVO SSD drive for $99.93, the Samsung 500GB 840 EVO SSD Drive for $329.99, and on and on…They are very thin, light, a better battery life because everything is lower voltage and so more mobile.  I feel funny using my UltraBook for work but it has help up fine.  I use mine because it has a 13″ screen (perfect for work), is light, and I almost never need a DVD player/burner for work.    Almost never.  So you do have to carry one at least in your car.  A note here:  When I bought my Samsung, I had a choice between the 13″ and a 15.6″.  The 15″ obviously cost more (but not prohibitively so) and had the DVD burner.  There have been times I wish I had bought that one instead of the 13″ because of the missing DVD player/burner.
  4. As for the Convertible notebooks.  They too are “hybrids”.  The big difference between them and the notebook/tablet is they do not come apart.  Instead the screen flips and they become tablets.  Along with that big difference is that they are still laptops.  Literally to the core.  They will do everything you need a laptop to do (with the exception of play a DVD).  If money is no object, they are intriguing choices.  They certainly would pass the college “cool” factor.  Look to spend in excess of $1,000 for this type of laptop. 
  5. So here we are: Notebooks/ LaptopsAccording to many sources the notebook is defined as an extremely lightweight personal computer weighing generally less than 6lbs. and small enough to fit in a briefcase.  Laptops are small mobile computers that weigh around 2-18 lbs. depending on size and materials.  If money is no object, then hands down the favorite would be a 15″ MacBook Pro.  But at $1800.00, well, let’s just say you could do better with your money. 

I’m not going to spend any time on Apple products because what you need/want you buy.  There is no real choice.  Maybe we can talk Apple products on another episode.  I am also not going to talk about Chromebooks because that too is an upcoming episode.  I will say this:  Chromebooks are great in the education (K-12) arena because of the prevalence of Google Apps and other Google products.  I do not think that they make a viable personal or an enterprise laptop alternative.  That leaves Windows-based laptops of which there are two kinds, ultrabooks and normal laptops.  Ultrabooks are very, very thin and light (think MacBook Air).  Because of this they will probably not have a DVD drive forcing you to purchase and carry around an external drive.  Also ultra-books tend to be more expensive.

Just so that you know, I own a Samsung 13.3″ ultra-book that I use for work.  It has 8 GB RAM, 500 GB hard drive (hybrid SSD), weighs 3 lbs. and has a battery life of approximately 8-10 hours depending on usage.  It set me back $699.00 a year ago.  I also own a Lenovo Idea Tab Lynx tablet.  It is a hybrid tablet in that you can buy a connecting keyboard that essentially makes it into a laptop.  The screen is 11.6″ and together they weigh less than 3 lbs., 4 GB RAM and 32 GB drive with the ability to add a 62 GB SD card.  It set me back $345.00 for the tablet and $99.00 for the keyboard.

So let’s look at laptops.  You can break them down into 3 Intel chip systems:  i3 Core, i5 core and the i7 core.  The i3 cores are the most basic models. Unless you have severe cost constraints I would stay away from the i3 cores and concentrate on the i5’s.  There is also AMD laptops using AMD (and not Intel) chipsets.  AMD is across the board cheaper but in my opinion you do not give up quality when compared to Intel.

This is the kind of laptop you want:

RAM 8 GB minimum Some Windows 8 laptops come with 12+GB
Hard Drive 500 GB I used to say the more the better but with Cloud…
Screen size 15.6″ I think this is optimum unless you have other needs
Weight Under 6 lbs The lighter the better
Battery Life 6 hours+ The more the better but depends on your usage
CPU type Intel or AMD AMD is cheaper but just as good
Operating System Win 7 0r 8 You might like Win7 better unless you go with a touchscreen then Win 8 is incomparable.
Wireless 802.11n 802.11ac is the new protocol but is still expensive.  Wait until July to buy.

My favorite brands?  Tough to say.  At the consumer level they are all just so similar.  I think Dell has dipped in quality recently.  HP can’t seem to make up their minds whether they want to continue selling to the consumer market.  With me Toshiba has always been an also ran.  I have always liked Lenovo.  I have had bad history with Acer tablets but not the laptops and have NEVER liked anything Sony (they do not employ English speaking service reps for their equipment so if you know Japanese…).

I describe my favorite brands that way because they are all so close.  I figure now that you know how I feel about the brands, you can make your own decision based on whatever criteria is most important to you.  They all have cheaper models and really expensive ones.  If money is the only issue then I would suggest going online to MicroCenter (better and local), or NewEgg and look into a refurbished laptop.  I have personally bought many laptops from the Dell Clearance Center, Tiger Direct, NewEgg,  Amazon and MicroCenter.

I’m including a link to the “Buying Laptop Computers:  Your 2012 Guide to Finding Laptop Deals on the website “makeuseof.com”.

Buying Laptop Computers: Your 2012 Guide to Finding Laptop Deals.

I am also including this link to Jeremy’s Guide to Buying a new PC-based Laptop in 2014.  This is a complete (and do I mean complete) buying guide.  My friend ( I met him twice at techy conferences) Jeremy Moskowitz has allowed me to share this so here it is.

If/when you find you have the need for this information, I hope that it helps.

Don’t be afraid to share.

Thanks for reading,


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