Laptop Buying Guide | Christmas 2019

I am often asked about what type of laptop to get. I recycled my post from 2018 since it was still relevant. Here are my recommendations in simple terms.

Apple MacBook Laptops

If you do need Windows only programs and want a laptop that may last many, many years, look at MacBooks. You will spend a lot, but it may last many years. I use my 2013 MacBook Pro daily and it runs like the day I got it. My preferred MacBook is the Apple MacBook Pro with a 13″ Retina screen, 2.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 512GB SSD. You can save some money by sacrificing features. You can get a 256GB SSD, but I would not go smaller than that. This laptop will run you close to $2,000. Remember, you can use Bootcamp to install Windows. I dual boot Windows on one of my MacBooks and it works well.

Though I prefer the MacBook Pro, the Air may be just fine for most people.

Windows Laptops

If you want a Windows laptop, there are too many choices to just focus on one. Here are some recommended brands and specs.

  • I prefer ASUS, high-end HP and Dell, and even Acer.
  • Get a decent CPU. This is not something you can upgrade later, so get it right the first time.
    • I prefer Intel CPUs in this order: Intel i9, i7, quad core i5. Make sure you get a recent generation Intel CPU. Intel is on it’s 10th generation, so I would not go any older than an 8th generation. I would avoid the Intel i3 or Celeron unless it is a Chromebook.
    • I do not know a lot about AMD laptop CPUs, so I can only say to do your research. You can learn more here.
  • I recommend against hard disk drives and I highly recommend solid state drives (SSD). Solid state drives have no moving parts so a drop or hard shock while the laptop is running will not be an issue (unless something else breaks). Solid state drives are also much faster than conventional hard drives, but generally have small storage capacities. I recommend 500GB (sometimes seen as 512GB) or larger. I would not go smaller than 250GB (sometimes listed as 256GB). I recommend against 128GB SSD as these may be too small for many people.
    • I would not worry too much about the storage capacity with a laptop because you should not keep any data on it you cannot live without. This is because laptops can be lost or stolen, and so goes your data. Keep your data on cloud storage and not on your SSD. Just keep a copy of the data you need on the laptop. I also recommend cloud backup (which is not storage).
  • Screen size is up to individual preference, but can be a major factor if the laptop will be carried often. I prefer 13″ or 14″ screens for travel and 15″ (15.6″) for home or use where I will not carry it very often. resolution can also be an issue. I have a high resolution Mac (AKA Retina display) and a high resolution Windows laptop. Everything is always perfect on the Mac, but the Windows laptop has scaling issues. I wish I would have just got a 1080p (HD) screen on the Windows laptop because of the issues.
    • I would recommend against huge 17″ laptop screens unless it will be used like a desktop and not carried.
    • Anything smaller than 13″ may be too small for most people unless it is for a specific purpose. I have a laptop with an 11″ screen that I use for light viewing and emailing. Not much else.
  • RAM is not too much of an issue these days. Get at least 8GB for regular use. There is no need for more than 16GB unless you will be using memory hungry software. I have done forensics with my Windows laptop and the 16GB was sufficient.
  • Do you need a DVD or Blu-ray drive? Most people don’t.
  • Metal or plastic? I prefer metal because it is often used on more high-end laptops. It’s rare, but machined aluminum bodies are quite nice. A great example of this would be the MacBook.
  • When it comes to durability, check out how the screen feels when opening and closing and how much wobble there is when the screen is open? The Mac is the perfect example of how a screen should feel. My nice Windows laptop has a bit of a wobble back and forthe…
  • Track pads are also a big consideration. I prefer a large tack pad without buttons. It’s great if you get to try a demo and see the accuracy of a track pad. How does the cursor track during movement and what does it do when you hold your finger in one place? Does the cursor wiggle?
  • The thinner the laptop the higher the price (is usually the rule). I like to sacrifice the space hogging DVD/Blu-ray drive so I can have a thin laptop. Smaller screens can also add to the price. Laptops with 15.6″ screens are often cheaper than a 13″ or 14″ laptops.
  • I don’t care to much for convertible laptops where the screen folds back so it can be used like a tablet unless there is the need for such a thing. Same goes for laptops like the Microsoft Surface with detachable keyboards. I could not imagine typing for long on the Surface laptop with those flat keys. I would avoid these unless it is needed for a specific purpose (and I have recommended them when appropriate).

Think of how a laptop will be used and use the specs above to decide on what to purchase. If it’s a kid that will likely break it with in a year or two, get a cheap laptop and even skimp on the recommended hardware. If it is for a child going to college, consider a MacBook or high-end Windows laptop, which may last all four years (or more) if not stolen or broken.

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