May 2017

More and more people are taking their laptops from work to home or from their home with them on vacation.   A very fast and very light laptop is what most people want these days.   You can buy a boat anchor on sale at best buy for $500 or you can buy a very fast and very light laptop with good battery life for about $1250.

Samsung 9 15
 

If you read my post about buying a PC, you’ll notice some of the following details are repeated; I feel I must reiterate them as they are crucial to your computer purchasing decisions.  Notebooks and PCs share most of the same architecture, but as parts must be much smaller.  You can get an excellent laptop for most things but video games will always be significantly better on a PC. 

Good laptops, that you actually want to use often and don’t mind schlepping through the airport or back and forth to work, are usually much more expensive but worth the investment. If you are going to use it on a frequent basis for the next 3 or even 4 years, why saddle yourself with a slow and heavy notebook?

Be aware it usually takes a $2,000 notebook to compete in speed with a $1100 PC! You have to ask yourself do you really need a laptop for travel or are you leaning toward it for the aesthetics. If you are willing to pay twice as much to get something that performs nearly as fast as a PC or you actually are using your computer on the road, the notebook may be the best choice for you.

You have to choose, what is THE most important feature on your new laptop: price, size/weight, battery life or performance? The more choices you pick, the more you will pay but you can have them all. If I were looking for a relatively inexpensive but well-built laptop, I would go Dell; Lenovo also offers some relatively good choices as well. If I were looking for a relatively light and fast laptop at a reasonable price, I’d go with the Dell XPS. If I wanted a great mixture of very light and very fast and wonderful battery life, I would go with the Samsung 9 15.

While you can buy from an electronics stores or TV shopping channels, most major hardware vendors, Dell, Sony, etc. will custom build your notebook so you don’t need to buy things you don’t want and so you can concentrate on features you do want. Some people will say my recommendations are overkill but since I spend most of the time answering questions like – “I just bought my notebook computer, why is it so slow?” or “My laptop is only 6 months old, why can’t it does it take so long to boot?” or “Why can’t I store all my music, this is a brand new notebook”. Just because a notebook is new, doesn’t mean it can do everything.  Most people tend to think they will only use this for browsing the web but then soon find themselves using their laptop computer for a great number of things.

To be clear, the ads you see in your Sunday paper for your local electronics/appliance store are typically selling vastly underpowered systems with trial software that expires in 60 days.  Software is rarely cheap (often all the software you purchase will cost as much as the computer). So you may say to yourself “but it is only $500 for a new laptop at this store” – but if it does not perform or function the way you want it to, is it still a bargain?

Operating System – Windows 10 is hands down a great choice. If you are going to use it to connect with your work, get Windows 10 Pro – it allows you to join a domain and remote desktop for support. If you are using it primarily for home use, Windows 10 Home is probably fine

CPU – i5 or i7 – i5 if possible for better battery life unless you are playing lots of games or doing photo/video editing.  The 7th gen intel processors are the current ones offering the best performance and battery life.

Memory – 8 GIGs for most people would be a fine, 12 or more GBs for people playing cutting edge games, video editing, picture editing.

Video Card – most laptops don’t give you a choice of video cards. The Samsung 9 15 does come in 2 models, the more expensive includes a slightly faster video card.  An external video card may be necessary for those wanting to play cutting-edge games.

Hard Drives – I would recommend a 500 GIG or more, SSD (solid state drive) -  (do not get a 5400 rpm hard drive) hard drive. If you plan on doing a lot of video editing, or storing your movies and music on the hard drive you may want larger. Remember, a hard drive typically slows down once it is even half full so plan for future growth.   You may want an external drive as well for backup and storage of movies.

Keyboard and Mouse – Many people who want a smaller laptop (less than 13”) find the keyboard is too small for them to type quickly. For most, a laptop with a 13.3” or larger screen, you shouldn’t have an issue as they typically provide the real estate for a keyboard even for people with big hands. You may wish to consider an external mouse if you are taking your laptop on a business trip where you can use the surface area once you are off the plane.

Screens/Monitors – Don’t skimp on the monitor. Often a unit will come with a choice of screens, I’d typically recommend the best since the price difference is typically minimal. If you have poor eyesight you may wish to consider skipping the 11” models and go for a 15” or larger screen.  

If you want to attach an external monitor I’ll repeat the section from the PC buying guide - Dell’s, BenQ and Asus are a pretty good bang for the buck if you buy their good screens - I DON’T recommend their low end models of the same size – tend to be washed out, seem a little fuzzy and lower contrast. There are a few quality manufactures such as Apple and LaCie as well although many get them made by the same company.  Anything 2560 or higher resolution is fine.  Most people won’t take advantage of 4K unless they use their monitor to play back 4k movies.   Some models I’d recommend considering are U2717 or UP3017 (when on sale), GL2706PQ, EW2770QZ or the PD3200U.

Optical Drives – Most light laptops no longer offer an optical drive although you can buy an external one if you occasionally need one.  The Pioneer and LG units are good.

Speakers – I prefer headphones as I don’t want to disturb others and it is more enveloping if you are watching a movie or playing a game but if not you can buy some good quality speakers for a low price. For headphones, I’d recommend Sennheisers as they are well made and extremely comfortable. For speakers just about any vendor will sell some desktop speakers and a powered sub for between $40-$60.  If you don’t have much space the Creative Gigaworks T20 are nice.

Software – – chances are you want Office 2016 home and some antivirus/firewall such as Malwarebytes.   Most people don’t need Office Professional which includes Access; you can probably save money by getting one of the other versions. If you do find yourself buying PC at a local store you’ll probably find yourself getting very upset in about 60 days (if not sooner) when the trial version of office expires. If you have a student in the house, “student pricing” is usually the best deal.  Hopefully, you can get student pricing at the college or university bookstore if it isn’t offered from your computer vendor.

Warranty –I highly recommend accidental coverage if you buy a laptop. It is very easy to drop a PC if you travel with it a lot or even moving it around your home. I typically go with the standard warranty for PCs unless you live with people who might throw liquids into the PC or try to juggle it in which case accidental damage is recommended. Replacing a keyboard is typically cheaper than extended warranties for PCs.

Accessories – Good surge suppressors help you with all the devices you may plug in and help protect them. I usually get a Belkin with 2500 or more joule protection. A travel mouse or standard mouse is often helpful. External monitors are great if you are using it as your portable workstation so you can plug it in when you get home or to the office. A spare battery might be good if you travel cross-country on planes without power outlets. You may wish to get a second AC adapter for it so you can leave one at the office or in your travel bag.   I also recommend a second hard drive or external hard drive to backup your critical data. Freefilesync is a free program that lets you select folders you want to copy to a second location.

You can always call a rep to get the unit if you can’t find what you are looking for online. You can typically get coupon codes and links to deals by going to bensbargains.net. You typically get free shipping and other discounts just by asking.

To improve the performance of your new laptop, I would remove the unnecessary software that starts at boot up. You may find that a support program, trial music software, trial finance software boots at start up. You can go to Start, control panel, programs and features. Some manufacturers offer an option get the unit without any productivity/trialware preloaded.

Your grand total for a GOOD notebook will probably be about $2000 (including software and accessories). Chances are you will have this at least 3 or 4 years so you might as well configure it right instead of cursing it within the first few months and throwing it out within 2 years regretting your purchase throughout the time you own it. Spec out the system online but don’t order it, call them as the sales team often can give you a discount.

I hope you found the 2017 laptop buying guide helpful.

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