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Laptops buyer’s guide

While mobiles and tablets threatened to make them obsolete, the good old laptop has remained a staple piece of tech for many of us. They give you the full power of a PC both, on the go and at home - and with none of the compromises you face with packing an iPad.

But where do you start when it comes to laptop deals? The technology is improving all the time and as they’re not something we buy often it can be hard to keep up. But don’t worry – Crowdstorm’s buyer’s guide is here to help you compare the best laptops and choose the one that’s right for you.

That said, if you're on the fence you should have a good look at both options. If you're still considering a smaller, lighter device do check out our guide to tablet PCs.

Laptop prices: manufacturers and operating systems

There are a host of household names out there on the market, from Apple’s rather pricey Macbooks through to Acer and Asus budget models at fantastically low laptop prices. But first you need to think about which operating system to use:

  • Apple iOS Macbooks: Those familiar with Apple products are likely to look at Macbooks first. Sleek but expensive, these devices are perfect if budget is no option and you already use an iPhone and iPad. Features such as iTunes and the App Store sync seamlessly, giving you the full Apple experience on a powerful portable device.
  • Windows laptops: Microsoft’s computing behemoth is still the number one operating system for laptops, with Windows 10 taking a big step back into good press following the rather disastrous Windows 8. If you’re comfortable with the classic PC experience, everyone from Samsung and Sony to HP and Toshiba are in the Windows market - and the gorgeous Microsoft Surface range.
  • Google Chromebooks: Familiar to most as a browser, Google now has the Chrome OS out there on many cheap laptops. They rely on being online to work, as most of what they need to run is kept in the cloud – meaning they can be built with very little memory capacity. Think one step up from tablets, but that could be perfect for your needs. They're also hot on security, having built in virus protection.

Unless you’re really on a budget we simply advise you to stick with manufacturers you recognise such as any we’ve mentioned above – along with the likes of Dell, Lenovo and Compaq.

Memory storage

Internal memory (not RAM – see below) is where you store your files. Memory has hugely dropped in price over the years and is not uncommon to find laptops with 2TB (terabytes) of memory – where 2GB used to sound impressive. A TB is 1,000GB – and an entire HD film is around 1GB, so capacity on most devices now shouldn’t be a problem.

You may come across two types of memory – SSD and HDD:

  • HDD: These are your traditional style of hard drive, which house a spinning disc and store your information on a magnetic coating.
  • SSD: The new kid on the block, SSD drives are faster and more reliable that HDD drives – storing data on interconnected memory chips.

Put simply, SSD is newer technology – so more reliable, faster and more expensive. If you can afford it, SSD is the way to go: but we’ve been relying on HDD drives since the 50s and they’re still more than adequate for the average user.

Processors and RAM

In terms of processors, the average user shouldn’t worry too much. Unless you’re going to be playing high-end games or using some serious processor power due to work it shouldn’t be an issue.

AMD, NVIDIA and Intel have been battling it out for laptop graphic dominance for years and they’re all high quality and reliable. But Intel has been winning the war of late, with its i5 processor being the hot chip right now. The better the chip, the faster the speed.

But you also need to look out for RAM: the memory that runs your machine, helping with speed rather than capacity. Low end laptops may have as little as 1GB or RAM, while three grand will bag you a laptop boasting 8GB of the stuff. We would suggest getting at least 2GB, but 4GB will pack a lot more punch for a relatively small extra outlay – and future proof you a little as well.

Gaming laptops

If you are looking for a gaming laptop, you'll now find manufacturers aiming machines directly at gamers - while some new manufacturers are appearing to market directly to the gaming fraternity (just check out the fantastic MSI laptop range).

A good gaming laptop is going to set you back £1,000 and a great one double that - but you will find solid gaming machines for closer to £500. But they pack a hell of a punch and aren't built of fresh air, so expect quite a chunk of plastic to carrying around!

Laptop drives and ports

We’re almost done! But before you click, make sure your laptop has the right extras to do what you want it to do.

  • Optical drive: With so much of what we do now going on in ‘the cloud’, those of us who still like out music on CD and our films on DVD are starting to become the minority. Don’t presume your new laptop will have a DVD or Blu-ray drive – check the specs first!
  • USB ports: If you want to use the likes of broadband dongles and a mouse on your laptop, be sure your new laptop has the right amount – and right type – of USB ports. The latest USB 3.0 technology can transfer files as much as 20 times faster, so can be great for work.
  • HDMI ports: If you use your laptop at home a lot, or in the office, you may want to hook it up to an external monitor: either as a better screen, or an extra one. If you already have the monitor, you'll need to make sure the two have compatible ports.

Laptop size

In terms of physical size, you’ll know what suits your needs. Laptops range from as small as 10” (below this they’re considered notebooks) and up to 17” or more – great for replacing your home PC with a smaller footprint device. Just remember the screen size is measured diagonally, corner to corner, if you want to size something up at home.

I've found some great laptop deals: What next?

So once you’ve chosen the best laptop, the rest is easy. Once you’ve clicked through from here you’ll be in the capable hands of your favourite retailer – you’ll be buying direct from them, not from us, with the added bonus of no commission (we make our money from advertising, not from you!).

Crowdstorm can connect you directly to all your favourite retailers and to the best deals on the market: from Amazon and Argos to Tesco and Currys – even John Lewis (but not Sainsbury’s – sorry, but they’ve stopped selling laptops online). 

And finally, remember buying online gives you all the protections you’d get from the store. UK Consumer Contracts Regulations mean that if you order your laptop online and change your mind about it once it arrives (your ‘right to cancel’), you have 14 days in which to send it back and get a refund. Happy laptop hunting!