If you’re not one to follow all the latest developments in the laptop and portable PC space, buying one can be a fairly daunting affair. Many retailers tend to throw you off with big numbers and technobabble in an effort to get you to spend more than you need.
But if you just want to get a sense of what you should be looking for in your next laptop, here’s a quick cheat sheet that might help answer some of your questions.
Intel vs AMD: What’s the difference?
All computers are powered by some sort of central processing unit or CPU.
Intel and AMD are the two biggest manufacturers of laptop CPUs. Most laptops rely on Intel’s Core i3, i5 and i7 processors but models that use AMD’s Ryzen chips are becoming more and more popular with each passing year.
Comparing the two brands is slightly tricky as it depends on the specific silicon in question but, if you want a twenty-words-or-less-explanation, Intel traditionally delivers slightly better performance.
AMD on the other hand tends to provide better value, particularly when it comes to the GPU side of the equation. Ryzen-based laptops are also usually a little cheaper, since AMD’s components are a little more affordable.
For more on this, check our full guide to comparing Intel and AMD CPUs.
Intel Core i3, i5 or i7?
Like many aspects of modern computing, Intel’s CPU lineup tends to break out into three classes of product: basic, better and best.
An Intel Core i3 to provide adequate performance for basic tasks
An Intel Core i5 to provide good performance for most tasks
An Intel Core i7 to provide great performance for the most demanding of tasks
Since some older i7 CPUs might not always out-perform more recent i5 CPUs, these designations shouldn’t always be taken as gospel but if you’re after a short and easy way to understand which processor is better, the numbers attached to each Intel Core family serve nicely.
Introduced in 2017, Ryzen is the name of AMD’s next-generation CPU architecture.
Although there are a number of important technical differences between the Ryzen series CPUs and Intel Core CPUs, the two serve similar purposes for the purposes of laptops.
Ryzen 3 processors are akin to Intel Core i3 CPUs, Ryzen 5 processors are akin to Intel Core i5 CPUs and Ryzen 7 processors are akin to Intel Core i7 CPUs.
How much RAM do I want?
Depending on what you’re planning on using your laptop for, you might be able to get away with just 8GB of RAM. However, these days, 16GB of RAM is usually where you want to start and not all that much more expensive. If you can afford to splurge and go even further with 32GB of RAM, it’s also usually worth it for the futureproofing.
Before bumping things upwards or downwards here, make sure to consider and confirm whether you’re using any software with specific RAM requirements and choose accordingly.
Is there such a thing as too much storage?
Not really but, in 2020, you’d be remiss to pick up a laptop with anything less than 512GB of SSD storage. Some laptops allow you to easily upgrade your on-board storage after the fact but, most of the time, it’s gonna be more cost-effective to offload stuff onto a portable hard drive or SSD.
Obviously, the clincher here is the cost-per-GB demanded by the laptop manufacturer. Most major OEMs offer up to 1TB or greater of on-board storage but the cost of taking advantage of this possibility can vary greatly.
Just make sure your laptop uses a solid state drive rather than a traditional hard drive. SSD have fast become the norm due to their increased durability and speed over traditional hard drives.
Do I need a 4K screen?
Unless you’re specifically buying a laptop for the purpose of viewing 4K content, this is one feature you can probably pass on. UHD displays usually add a sizeable surcharge to the cost of modern laptops and the pros of watching 4K content on a screen this small rarely outweigh the cons. `
What size laptop do I want?
Honestly, there’s no right answer for this one. The best sized laptop is the one that’s the most comfortable for you. Some people prefer a larger keyboard or find 13-inch displays a little cramped, that usually means opting for the model with a larger screen.
Star with what you know and go from there. If you’re unsure, it might be worth dropping into a retailer like JB Hi-Fi to get a better sense of the physical size for yourself.
I want to buy Windows laptop that’s like a MacBook, where should I start?
There are a number of answers to this question. If you’re looking for laptops that echo the cohesive simplicity of Apple’s flagship laptop, it might be worth taking a look at Microsoft’s Surface range. Fare like the Surface Laptop and Surface Book tend to embody a similar type of thinking where hardware and software are closely intertwined.
Alternatively, if you’re after a Windows-based laptop with the looks of a Macbook, you can’t go past Huawei’s Matebook range. There are several different models available but they all share a very similar design which riffs on the sleek aluminum chassis found in Apple’s portable PCs. For a review of the latest Matebook, click here.
The other option worth considering here is Dell’s XPS line. Regardless of whether you opt for 13 or 15-inch or whether you prefer a clamshell or a more-flexible 2-in-1 form-factor, you still walk away with a colorful and detailed InfinityEdge display, distinctive design and a top-of-the-line Intel CPU. You can read our full review of the Dell XPS 13 here.