For some, buying a new laptop is right up there with car shopping. A dizzying array of devices by various brands at all different price points with a variety of specs can make anyone’s head spin. Much like buying a car, a new laptop is an investment where numerous factors should be considered before bringing home a device that will hopefully be enjoyed for years to come.
But where do you start? A quick query among Facebook friends revealed that some are intensely brand loyal but otherwise, the first thing that people look for varies according to user. Understandably so because each and every one of us uses our laptops in different ways and ultimately, we’re all trying to find one that fits our lifestyle.
Whether you’re constrained by budget, looking to stay with a trusted brand, relying on your device during travel, need the keyboard to respond in a certain way as you type, or are hoping for a fast machine with the ability to add memory that will last for years to come, here’s what you need to know as you decide what factors are most important in your new machine.
9 Factors to Consider When Purchasing a New Laptop
Budget conscious families might look primarily at price, especially when buying a first device for a child but the old adage “you get what you pay for” is definitely true in the world of devices. Before you buy a laptop just because it seems like a good deal, take a closer look.
Cheaper models may be a previous year’s laptop and might be available at a steal when new ones come to market but many times, you compromise processor speed, amount of memory, and size of the hard drive with a lower priced model. This means your new machine might not be able to handle the constant multitasking of having multiple applications open at once and could get sluggish when you load your machine up with photos and videos. But if you’re buying a machine for your kids, ask yourself what they’ll be doing on the machine and chances are a lower end one might be ok, especially if you plan to upgrade in a couple years.
The processor determines how fast your computer performs. Measured in gigahertz or GHz, a processor’s job is to keep up with you. I know I like to be able to check email, have multiple tabs open in the background, while working on a new post, and Skyping to connect to friends in my virtual office. This would not be possible if I didn’t have a speedy processor.
All of the machines on the display at the store probably seem equally fast when running the basic operating system. But once you install all of your favorite programs, chat services, browsers, java, flash, and an anti-virus package, the lower-end processer machines will become painfully slow.
For a run down on what you can do with different size processors, Does the Speed of Your Computer Matter? (spoiler: it does!) is a great read because it breaks down different size processors to give you an idea of the tasks you can complete with each and if you’re a PC person, they also wrote i3 vs i5 vs i7: Which Processor Should You Choose? if you’re trying to decide on Intel Core based machines.
Amount of Memory
Listed in the specs, you’ll see RAM and Most commonly known as RAM, RAM refers to Random Access Memory. According to PC Mag. RAM is high-speed memory that computer programs use to store the current state of what you are working on, whether it’s a large Microsoft Word Document, 10 different browser tabs, or your library of photos.
If multi-task and have lots of things open at once, you’ll need a lot of RAM. For example, I typically have Skype, Chrome, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and maybe iTunes or Spotify running at all times. RAM gets cheaper each year, but PC manufacturers still continue to sell machines that are under-equipped to run an average load of programs because people are attracted to low-price tags. You should not purchase a machine with less than 8 GB, unless it’s an ultra-portable tablet device. If it’s going to be your workhorse machine and you want to manipulate lots of photos or edit video, you should get a machine with 16GB of RAM. Machines with 4 or 6 GB of RAM will function, but when a machine runs out of RAM, it temporarily stores things on the hard drive which slows things down dramatically.
The hard drive is quite simply the part of the computer that stores all your stuff. All of those MP3s, photos, Word documents, spreadsheets, and old emails live on your hard drive. Traditional hard drives have gotten massively larger and cheaper and you will find that most laptops have adequate storage for almost everyone. Hard drives are built like a record player with metal disks that spin extremely quickly while an arm reads & writes data off of the “record-like” disk. Expect to find laptops with 256GB or greater of storage using a traditional hard drive. This design has been around for more than 25 years and is about to be replaced by flash storage.
The memory cards that you use in your camera, tablet, or mobile phone are flash storage. The price of flash has gotten so cheap that many new laptops are built with “Hard Drives” constructed of many flash memory chips strung together, called a Solid State Drive (SSD). SSD drives are incredibly fast, up to 20 times faster than a hard drive. The flash chips used in SSDs are far faster and more reliable than those found in cheap USB memory sticks.
The downside to SSD drives is that they are more expensive than hard drives and the drive sizes are smaller. The prices are coming down quickly, but because of the increased cost, machines with SSDs typically come with about 256GB of space, sometimes even less. For example, some ultra-portable laptops come with only 64GB of storage. That might only be 2x the storage of your phone or tablet. If you don’t have a big music collection or purchased movie collection, you may not have a problem. But take a look at your current storage requirements on your existing computer before deciding if you can live with an SSD.
One important thing about flash drives. The performance of an SSD is amazing. It can reduce the boot time of your computer by more than a minute. The speed is seen everywhere when using the computer, including opening programs, installing updates, everything you do. All new high-end machines are coming with SSDs, and I am getting the feeling that both Windows 10 and Apple’s El Capitan are almost built with the assumption that you have an SSD. If it fits in your budget, make the jump, you’ll never to back to a regular hard drive.
If you’re loyal to a particular manufacturer’s product, then comparing laptops across the brand is a far easier task than trying to look at various models. I understand that it’s sometimes easier to stick with a brand that you know but it’s also not a bad idea to branch out!
Size and Weight
Let’s face it, size matters especially when traveling with your machine. There’s a huge difference between carrying around a laptop with 13” vs 15”vs 17” screen and trying to use it on the airplane. Bigger often means heavier, rather than better.
Take a critical look at how you’re planning to use your laptop to help you determine what size is best. A 13” machine is great for portability while a 15” or 17” provides more real estate for having multiple windows open at once and allows you to see larger images when doing any photo or video editing tasks.
Type of Screen Glass and Display
4K is all the rage when it comes to televisions but this technology is also trickling down to gorgeous displays in the newest laptops on the market. A 4K display is vivid, bright, and downright beautiful.
Among friends who responded to my poll about what to look for, touch screen vs. regular screen wasn’t as important but regardless if my laptop provides a touch experience or not, I want it to have Corning® Gorilla® Glass. I know from my experience with Gorilla Glass 4 that it’s glass that I can count on because Corning scientists are always working to develop tough yet beautiful glass that is better able to withstand damage from drops yet is responsive to our touch.
For some friends, the way that a keyboard feels under their fingers is just as important as price, amount of memory, and processor speed so if this matters to you, be sure tap away at the keyboard on the models in store. Store displays might not be as springy as one might be out of the box because of wear and tear from other customers but should give you a pretty good idea of the keyboard’s responsiveness.
Who Will Be Using It
Think about who you’re purchasing the laptop for as you look at features. Multitasking parents require a bigger screen, more memory, and faster processor while a first laptop purchase for elementary aged kids might be more driven by budget, size, and weight especially if they are taking it back and forth to school and there’s a high likelihood it could get dropped.
Deciding Between a Dell XPS 12 and Dell XPS 13/
When Dell first approached me, offering the opportunity to review one of their new XPS models, I jumped over to their product page before writing back. I took a look at the configurations of the different models and thought the Dell XPS 12 2 in 1 Laptop and XPS 13 Laptop were both interesting but for different reasons.
A hybrid laptop and tablet, XPS 12 would be an upgrade from my current 2 in 1 devices designed in a similar way with this 4K Ultra HD display, Solid State Drive (SSD), and a 10 times more scratch resistant surface thanks to the Corning® Gorilla® Glass NBT™ display. A long battery life and dream to travel with, weighing in at just under 2 pounds, I could see myself slipping this slim beauty into my bag. My only concerns were if it would be powerful enough for photo and video editing.
While not a hybrid machine, the Dell XPS 13 seemed better suited for me as a working mom entrepreneur who is always on the go. Even though it’s an inch larger and almost a pound heavier than the XPS 12, the two machines couldn’t be more different from a functionality perspective.
First Impressions of the Dell XPS 13
Since my Dell XPS 13 arrived a couple weeks ago, I have been continually impressed by this machine whether working at home or traveling. I’ll have lots more details on why this machine was a good fit for me and the way I work but here’s a quick 1 minute unboxing video with my first impressions.
I am a member of the Dell Inside Circle influencer program and received my Dell XPS 13 for review purposes. No compensation was received for this post and all opinions about Corning® Gorilla® Glass are my own and not part of my engagement with them as a Gorilla Glass influencer.