How to buy a laptop in 2016: Everything you need to know

IDG.TV | Dec 24, 2015

We'll tell you what's worth getting based on the latest tech innovations, from CPU and storage to RAM, from clamshell to convertible to hybrid.

If you’ve been on the streets protesting your old laptop chanting “hey hey, ho ho, this laptop has got to go!”take a break because I’m about to tell you everything you need to know to buy a new laptop next year.

What shape?
With modern PC parts all so damned good, the hardest choice this year is what shape you want.

There’s a reason the traditional clamshell laptop has been around for decades. It just works for everyone, especially in your lap and nothing has dethroned it.

This year, we’ll see even more 2-in-1’s that work kinda like a laptop but instantly turn into a tablet. These are a compromise and aren’t great for laps, but for portability, they’re hard to beat.

The only thing that can beat the laptop at its best is the convertible and that’s why we’re seeing more next year. These function just as well as a laptop and can be converted into a so-called “tablet mode” by folding the screen back.

What’s right for you is up to you.

CPU
Once you’ve picked your shape you need to think about your CPU needs. Except for gamers or professional content creators, a dual-core is plenty for 75 percent of us.

Intel has so many models of chips, even I get confused. At the top, Intel’s premium chips are its Core i5 and Core i7 chips. They offer the best performance and no surprise, they cost more too. Almost all Core i7 or Core i5 machines next year will use Intel’s newest Skylake chip. It’s simply faster and cooler than the older Broadwell and there’s no reason to buy the older chip unless it’s a screaming deal.

One step below is the Core m3, Core m5 and Core m7. Core M has gained a bad rep for being slow but it’s undeserved. For normal use you can’t tell the difference and they’re far better than Intel’s budget chips. Many are fanless and promise better battery life too.

For budget chips: Pentium and Celeron’s with an “n” offer mediocre performance but better battery life. Pentium and Celeron models with a “y” or “u” give you better performance at the cost of battery life.

Intel’s super budget Atom X7 has super battery life and is a mediocre performer but for basic computing and portability, they can’t be beat.

RAM
This year you’ll see “DDR4” being pushed. Is it better? Yes. Should you care? No. Instead think more about how much RAM your laptop will have. The truth is, 8 Gigabytes is all you need with 4GB being the absolute minimum. Any less is a crime and any more a waste for most. One word of advice: In most ultra thin laptops, RAM is permanent so what you get on day one is all you’ll ever have.

Storage
Prices of SSDs have come down so much just skip the hybrid hard drive or hard drive unless you absolutely need the capacity. An SSD is so great, it can compensate for a slower CPU and too little RAM. Next year you’ll hear M.2 NVME, M.2 PCIe or M.2 SATA. The fastest is M.2 NVME and then M.2 PCIe AHCI and finally M.2 SATA. For most people though, any will do. As long as you have an SSD 128GB or larger, you’ll be OK.

Screen
Next year you’ll see even more high-resolution screens in more laptops including 4K panels like this laptop. High-resolution screens are truly beautiful to gaze at and Windows 10 has gone a long way toward fixing scaling problems but for most folks, it’s really not a necessity. These days, 1920x1080 is all you neeed.

Touch and pen
The last thing you’ll see on far more PCs this year is touch and pen capability. Except for tablet uses, both are mostly luxury items but they are great to have when you need to sign a document or just want to scroll using your hand. The minus is both add to the cost and use more power.

That’s it. Now get back to your street protest and maybe, just maybe your boss will finally let you buy a new laptop.
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