How to select the ideal Laptop in (2021) Laptop Buying Guide!

Purchasing a laptop is a conscious decision. You have to look at various aspects before deciding on the perfect configuration.

It is not as easy as plucking a chocolate bar from the department store shelf. You need to gather a lot of insights before you seal the deal. This buying guide endeavors to make it simple for you. Read on to know more.

Factors that determine your choice

Budget

Your budget is the most critical aspect that determines the laptop you buy. Laptops are available from budgets as low as $300 (₹20,000) and can go up to even a lakh and a half ($2500), depending on the configuration, usage, and brand.

Though a laptop’s performance depends more on its internal components, the external features are equally important.

Screen Size and Resolution

A laptop is a portable device. Hence, you cannot expect laptops to have screen sizes as large as desktop PCs. Apple devices like the MacBooks are available in screen sizes as small as 13 inches and extend to even more than 17 inches.

Other brands like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Asus offer screen sizes from 14 inches to 15.6 inches.

While the screen size is a crucial factor, one should also focus on the screen resolution because your image quality depends more on the resolution than the screen size.

Full HD vs 4K Resolution
Full HD vs 4K Resolution

Generally, you get laptop screen resolutions in FHD (1080p) with a refresh rate of 50Hz to 60Hz. The lower-end appliances are available in HD Ready resolution (768p). 4K laptops are expensive.

Keyboard

The keyboard is the prime input device for a laptop. Laptops having screen sizes of 14 inches and less come with smaller keyboards that do not have a dedicated number pad on their right side. Some people might find these keyboards uncomfortable to use.

The 15.6-inches screen size allows for the inclusion of a full-size keyboard with large arrow keys and a distinct number pad. Such keyboards have more function keys and are convenient to use.

Laptop Keyboard with Backlighting

Gaming laptops have highlighted WASD and arrow keys that enable a smoother gaming experience. Today, you get laptops with backlit keyboards that make it easy for you to use in dim lighting conditions.

The mouse trackpad is a crucial aspect of your keyboard. A centrally-placed trackpad is comfortable to operate. Laptop brands such as Lenovo provide the trackpads slightly towards the left side of the keypad. It can be inconvenient to use in the initial stages. However, with practice, you can overcome this disadvantage.

Connectivity Ports

Laptop buyers should concentrate more on the connectivity ports available on their devices. Connectivity ports help connect to compatible external devices, transfer data, connect to the internet, and even recharge the device.

We keep outdated technology like USB A, VGA ports, and DVD drives out of our discussion, as most of these ports are not available on the latest laptop models. We restrict our discussion to USB C Type, HDMI, Thunderbolt, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

USB Type-C

USB Type-C port is an advanced version of Type A and Type B ports we generally see on laptops and other devices. USB C is an industry-standard connecting port that transmits both power and data using a single cable.

Looks-wise, the USB C connector is similar to the Micro USB, but it is thicker and more oval in shape. The best feature of the USB C port is its flippability. It overcomes the most significant liability of the USB Type-A and B connectors.

The standard USB Type-C cables have a similar connector at both ends.

USB Type-C transmits data faster than USB Type-A or B. The standard rated speed for a USB Type-C port is 10Gbps. The USB Type-C ports that support this speed are also known as USB 3.2 Gen 1×2.

Today, you have USB Gen 3.2 Gen2x2 USB Type-C ports capable of transmitting data at 20Gbps.

The numbering of the USB ports can confuse you, but you can remember that the USB Type-C port can transmit data twice the speed of a corresponding USB Type-A port.

Besides transmitting data at a maximum speed of 20Gbps, USB Type-C ports can recharge the host devices, like smartphones or laptops.

Some of the lightweight laptops do not include the traditional barrel-style connector for attaching an AC adapter. They come with a USB Type-C port that doubles up as a charging option.

When purchasing a laptop, you should check out the USB Type-C port because all the USB C ports are not similar. Some might not support video-out connectivity, while some may support the connecting DisplayPort or HDMI displays using an adapter.

The lower-end laptops do not come with USB Type-C ports. They feature the standard USB Type-A or B connectivity ports. Some of the mid-level laptops feature USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports capable of transmitting data at a peak speed of 10Gbps.

Thunderbolt 3 and 4

One of the prime advantages of the USB Type-C port is that it can support Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4. Both Thunderbolt 3 and 4 can support data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps or power as much as 100 watts over the interface.

Thunderbolt

A USB Type-C port supporting Thunderbolt 3 and 4 means you need a single cable for powering your device and transferring large data volumes (up to two 60Hz 4K displays). Apple MacBook Pro comes equipped with as many as four Thunderbolt 3 connectors.

You can distinguish the Thunderbolt-compatible USB Type-C port from the standard port by the ‘Lightning’ symbol beside the port.

The latest high-end laptops powered by the 10th and 11th gen Intel core i7 and i9 CPUs feature Thunderbolt 3 compatibility. The 11th gen CPUs also support Thunderbolt 4.

Thunderbolt 4 is an improvement over the earlier Thunderbolt 3 version. Both Thunderbolt 3 and 4 offer a maximum data transfer speed of 40Gbps and 100W charging power.

The distinction between the two technologies is that Thunderbolt 4 supports sending video signals to two 4K displays or one 8K display. On the other hand, Thunderbolt 3 can support one 4K display.

Secondly, Thunderbolt 3 systems support 16Gbps data rate via PCIe, whereas Thunderbolt 4 doubles the requirement to 32Gbps. Hence, Thunderbolt 4 is beneficial for high-end users who transfer massive video or data files for editing purposes.

HDMI Port

Almost all laptops today feature an HDMI port. As a result, most of these appliances do not offer CD/DVD drives. HDMI, also known as High Definition Multimedia Interface, is a connector and cable transmitting high-bandwidth and high-quality video and audio stream between devices.

HDMI Type-A, Type-C, and Type-D plugs

You can use the HDMI port to connect to an HD TV, projector, Blu-Ray, DVD player, soundbars, etc. The advantage of HDMI cables is that a single HDMI cable can replace three composite AV cables. Thus, it becomes more convenient to connect two devices for transmitting both audio and video signals.   

One should also note that different HDMI versions are available. The laptop specification sheet helps indicate the HDMI version that is available on the appliance. Depending on the version, you can determine the video format it can support.

  • The HDMI v 1.0 and 1.1 can support 720p and 1080p video up to 60Hz refresh rate.
  • HDMI 1.2 and 1.2a supports 720p video up to 120Hz, 1080p video up to 60Hz, and 1440p up to 30Hz refresh rates.
  • HDMI 1.3 and 1.4b improve on the earlier version by supporting 1080p up to 120Hz and 1440p up to 60Hz refresh rates.
  • HDMI 2.0 and 2.0b is better as it supports 1440p videos up to 120Hz and 4K videos up to 60Hz refresh rates.
  • The latest version, HDMI 2.1, supports all resolutions, including 8K up to their maximum refresh rates.

HDMI ARC is available on all HDMI ports upwards from HDMI 1.4. The HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) connection allows your device to send data in two directions, A/V from the source device and audio back to the source. Thus, it reduces the number of cables required between devices.

HDMI 2.1

HDMI 2.1 specification offers an eARC connection. It is an improved version of ARC that allows more data to be transmitted through it. While the HDMI ARC has a maximum bandwidth of 1Mbps, the HDMI eARC has 37Mbps. Thus, it can transfer higher-resolution audio.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

A laptop is portable equipment. Hence, you cannot have wires dangling all over the place because they restrict portability. Therefore, you have all laptops supporting Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac.

The laptops powered by the 10th and 11th generation Intel Core processors support the latest Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6.

While offering backward compatibility for the 802.11a networks, Wi-Fi 6 supports 1GHz and 7GHz frequencies. It allows for multiple frequencies to transmit data simultaneously. Some of the AMD Ryzen powered CPUs are also compatible with Wi-Fi 6.

The laptop specifications list out Wi-Fi 6 as 802.11ax. If it says 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, the laptop supports the earlier versions of Wi-Fi up to Wi-Fi 5.

Bluetooth compatibility is also available in almost all modern-day laptops. The latest models that feature the 10th and 11th gen Intel CPUs support Bluetooth v5.0, whereas the earlier generations are compatible with Bluetooth v4.0.

Bluetooth v5 displays faster speeds and more range. It can support 4x range, 8x bandwidth, and twice the speed of the earlier version. However, both the receiving and sending devices should support Bluetooth v5 to make any difference.

While you cannot ignore the external features of your laptop, you should know the various components that are instrumental in the functioning of your device.

Central Processing Unit – CPU

The first thing people ask you when you get a new laptop home is the CPU configuration. Yes, the CPU determines the laptop’s performance in almost every way.

Though many companies manufacture central processing units, AMD Ryzen and Intel are the two most significant CPU manufacturers for laptops and desktop computers.

The Naming Part

Both AMD Ryzen and Intel follow unique nomenclature for their processor models. Intel names them Intel Core i5, i7, i9, depending on the brand modifier. AMD Ryzen refers to it as Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 etc.

Besides, these companies introduce different generations regularly. Every succeeding generation is an improvement over the previous ones.

Today, you have the 10th and 11th generation Intel Core CPUs. These generations of processors come with better features than the 9th generation and earlier Intel CPUs.

Similarly, AMD Ryzen has recently introduced its 5000-series CPUs that qualify as one of the best in the business.

The debate between Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors will continue to rage as the scales keep tilting in each other’s favor with every new product introduced in the market. This comparison should make it easy for you to understand.

Intel Core i3 vs AMD Ryzen 3 – Basic Range

If you use your notebook for fundamental tasks like sending emails, surfing the net, and watching the odd movie by streaming it online, the Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processor should suffice.

Generally, the Intel Ci3 processors come with two cores, whereas the AMD Ryzen 3 counterparts feature four cores. The 11th gen Ci3 CPUs are available with four cores. Intel CPUs display a higher clock speed and hence are considered more potent. However, the AMD Ryzen 3 processors cost less than the Intel Ci3 CPUs.

Intel Core i5 vs AMD Ryzen 5 – The Mid-Range

The mid-range processors allow you to play games (at low settings) and use Photoshop to edit photos. The Intel Core i5 CPUs, with a maximum clock speed of 4.6GHz, have a slight edge over their AMD Ryzen 5 counterparts at 4.4GHz.

However, AMD Ryzen CPUs have multithreading facilities that make these CPUs work better. On the power consumption front, AMD Ryzen is the better performer.

Intel Core i7 vs AMD Ryzen 7 – The High-end range

Enthusiastic gamers and photo editing professionals prefer to use high-end CPUs. The Intel Ci7 and the AMD Ryzen 7 CPUs are best suited for such activities. Compared to AMD Ryzen 7, the Intel Ci7 has fewer cores and threads but a higher clock speed. This feature proves helpful when you work on a single application.

However, the AMD Ryzen 7 CPU is better at multitasking, like when you engage in video editing, etc.

Intel Core i9 vs AMD Ryzen 9 – The best in the business

Professional designers and hardcore gaming professionals relish using the Intel Ci9 or the AMD Ryzen 9 processors. The Intel Core i9 CPU displays a maximum clock speed of 5GHz with low power consumption.

However, the AMD Ryzen 9 compensates for the lower clock speed by displaying higher cores. Thus, it is excellent for multitasking activities.

The Latest Introductions

In 2021, Intel announced its 11th gen CPUs, whereas AMD Ryzen introduced the 5000 series of processors. Laptop manufacturers have introduced various models with these latest generation CPUs.

While home users and professionals prefer the 11th generation Intel CPUs, the hardcore gamers love the AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPUs.

The 11th gen Intel Core CPUs are based on Tiger Lake architecture and feature 10nm transistors.

Thus, you have powerful thin, and light laptops. Unique features like Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 4, Intel Iris Xe graphics, AI acceleration, AV1 media decode, hardware-hardened security features, and the CPU-attached PCIe Gen 4 interface makes the Intel Core CPUs excellent for home and professional use. These CPUs, primarily the Core i7 and Core i9 processors, are suitable for gaming.

AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors have redefined performance levels. The latest CPUs come with more cores.

For example, the AMD Threadripper series starts at 12 cores and goes up to a whopping 32 cores and 64 threads. Hence, the AMD Ryzen CPUs are excellent at gaming. The higher number of cores help with online video streaming of games on services like Twitch.

User wise preferences

We have stated that your usage patterns determine the laptop you should purchase.

  • Light users can go for the latest 10th or 11th generation Intel Ci3 CPUs. The AMD Ryzen 3 CPUs should be ideal alternatives.
  • Students who love to play games and office-going professionals can settle for the AMD Ryzen 5 or 10th/11th generation Intel Core i5 CPUs.
  • Video-editing professionals are better off choosing the 10th/11th gen Intel Core i7 and i9 models. The AMD Ryzen 7 CPUs are good alternatives.
  • Hardcore gamers can opt for the AMD Ryzen 9 5000 series CPUs, the best in the business. The 11th generation i9 CPUs should also prove ideal.

Let us now discuss the other CPU aspects that influence your decision.

Clock Speed

When discussing CPUs, one of the crucial aspects is the clock speed. Clock speed is also referred to as the laptop’s processing speed. It determines how quickly the CPU retrieves and interprets instructions. It helps your computer complete more tasks rapidly.

Clock speed is measured in GHz. The higher the number, the faster is the clock speed. As it became challenging to increase clock speeds, multi-core processors were developed to enable CPUs to run faster.

The faster the clock speed, the less waiting time to interface with your programs and applications.

It gives rise to the query as to whether you should go for a higher clock speed or more processor cores. If you have a higher clock speed but a dual-core processor, like the Intel Ci3, the laptop can quickly load and interact with a single application.

However, having multiple cores but lower clock speeds entails your computer can work with more applications at a time and display lower speed.

Light usage requirements do not require high clock speeds. Video-editing and other graphics-intensive activities need laptops with clock speeds of around 4.0GHz.

Turbo Boost Technology

Turbo Boost technology is a power-saving feature. Generally, CPUs need not always run at their maximum frequency. Laptops use cache memory to run the frequently used programs, whereas other programs are CPU-intensive.

Turbo Boost technology lets the CPU perform at its base speed when handling light workloads and jump to the highest clock speed for heavy-duty tasks.

As the clocks run at base speed, it enables the processor to use less power. It reduces the heat generated and improves battery life. However, when you need higher speeds, Turbo Boost Technology increases the clock rate accordingly.

Intel Turbo Boost Technology increases CPU speeds to the maximum turbo frequency while performing within a safe temperature and power limits. It can enhance performances in single-threaded and multi-threaded applications.

Cache Memory

Cache memory is a temporary memory readily available to the processor to enable the laptop to perform frequently-used programs faster. It allows the processor to retrieve data efficiently.  

Cache memory is also known as CPU memory as it is integrated directly into the chip or placed on a separate chip in proximity with the CPU chip. Thus, it is more accessible to the processor. As this memory is close to the processor, it has to be much less than the main memory. Compared to RAM, the cache memory can work at 10 to 100 times faster speeds.

Traditionally, there are three types of cache memory, L1, L2, and L3.

  • L1 cache, a primary cache, is embedded in the CPU chip and known as CPU cache. It is swift but relatively small.
  • L2 cache is bigger than L1. It comes either embedded in the CPU or be on a separate chip.
  • L3 cache is specialized memory designed to improve L1 and L2 performances.

The higher the cache memory, the better the laptop is at performing repetitive tasks.

System Memory – RAM (Random Access Memory)

Random Access Memory is a short-term memory where the processor stores the data it needs. One should not confuse this data with that stored on the laptop’s storage system that stays unaffected even as you switch off the device.

Printed circuit board containing DRAM chips

For example, you wish to play a game. The CPU stores all the data required by it to play games. Once you finish the game and shut down the application, the processor does not need that data anymore. Hence, it erases it and replaces it with the next task you undertake.

If your laptop does not have enough RAM, it can slow down the appliance. The ideal RAM should be around 8GB. Laptops with 4GB RAM do not deliver fast performances.

Gaming and other graphics-intensive activities require higher RAM. Such laptops usually come with 16GB RAM or more.

Light users can opt for 4GB RAM as their requirements are less. The mid-range users need a minimum of 8GB RAM, whereas the heavy-duty users can go for laptops with expandable RAM.

Memory speed is the time it takes RAM to receive a request from the processor and read/write data accordingly. The faster the RAM, the better is the processing speed. It is measured in MHz. RAM speeds start from 1333Mhz and can go up to 3200Mhz.

The laptop processor speed and the bus speed of the motherboard limit the RAM speed. The latest Intel Core 11th generation CPUs are capable of high RAM speeds up to 3200MHz. The standard speed is around 2333MHz. Gaming activities require higher RAM speed.

AMD Ryzen CPUs support faster RAM and hence, are suitable for gaming.

System Storage – HDD, SSD, or SSHD

While RAM ensures temporary data storage, you need a permanent memory to store data when the computer is turned off. It ensures you do not have to re-load or re-enter data every time you switch it on.

Hard Disk drive

This permanent storage is Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Solid State Drive (SSD). Drives provide more space for storing applications, documents, data, videos, and other information you need.

Compared to RAM, your system storage is always slower. Hard Disk Drives being mechanical devices, cannot access information as quickly as RAM does. Generally, the storage devices in personal devices use the SATA (Serial ATA) interface. It affects the speed at which the data moves between the processor and the drive.

Alternately, you have solid-state drives, also known as SSD, as a storage option. Compared to HDDs, SSDs are faster because they use integrated circuits instead of movable parts. SSDs use special memory circuitry known as NVRAM (non-volatile RAM) to store data. As SSDs require to be read sequentially, they are slower than the system’s RAM.

Generally, HDDs operate at 5,400rpm. Faster HDDs are available with speeds up to 7,200rpm. Specialized operating environments require HDDs with 10,000rpm speeds. However, the quicker the HDD, the more power they consume. Besides, they make more noise.

In comparison, SSDs are noiseless, faster, consume less power, take up less space, and produce less heat. They are also not susceptible to physical damage. Therefore, they are excellent for portable use. SSDs enhance processing speed because they take less time to load apps and documents than hard drives. However, SSDs are expensive than HDDs.

NVMe M.2 SSD

Storage capacity depends on your requirements. A light user does not require much storage. A 512GB or 1TB HDD should be sufficient. Users having more requirements can opt for laptops with dual storage options comprising HDD and SSD. It could be a 1TB HDD plus 256GB or 512GB SSD.

SSDs come in two types, SATA and NVMe. The SATA HDDs connect to the SATA port of your PC and have data read/write speed restrictions up to 500Mbps.

The NVMe SSD does not have any such restrictions and can read/write at tremendous speeds. These devices connect to the M.2 slot on your laptop.

Today, you have hybrid drives comprising both HDD and SSD storage in a single device. An SSHD is a traditional hard disk drive with an inbuilt SSD storage facility. The SSD in an SSHD is used for temporary storage to speed up the processing. The regular data is stored on the HDDs.

Graphics Processing Unit – GPU

Graphics is necessary for rendering an image to the laptop monitor. It converts data into signals that the monitor can understand. The better the graphics, the better and smoother is the image. Though it is essential for producing all photos, graphics gain significance for gaming and video editing.

All CPUs come with integrated graphics. Intel Core CPUs have integrated Intel graphics, whereas AMD Ryzen CPUs have Radeon Vega graphics. The Intel Core 10th and 11th generation processors display higher-quality graphics in Intel Iris Xe graphics.

The integrated graphics offered by the CPU can suffice for light usage. Medium and heavy users require discrete graphics cards to ensure better graphics performance. These discrete graphics cards are additional equipment requiring installation on the laptop motherboard.

AMD and NVidia are the two primary manufacturers of discrete graphics cards. NVidia graphics cards are available in various configurations starting from NVidia GeForce GTX 1050 to NVidia GeForce RTX 3090.

Hardcore gamers and video editing professionals require the best-performing graphics cards on their laptops. The NVidia GTX 1050 is the least expensive of all graphics cards, whereas the NVidia Titan V is the most expensive. Depending on your needs, you can choose the GPU accordingly.

The NVidia GeForce GTX 1660Ti is a decent graphics card that allows you to play almost all games at 1080p high settings.

When you purchase a laptop with a discrete graphics card, it is advisable to go for dedicated graphics memory. Generally, 4GB to 6GB of dedicated graphics memory should suffice.

Using shared memory for your graphics card can reduce the laptop pricing but, it consumes system memory. Hence, you end up with less RAM for your regular CPU activities. It affects the laptop’s overall performance.

When installing discrete graphics cards, it is imperative to check out the graphics card’s refresh rate. It should synchronize with the laptop display’s refresh rate. If there is a mismatch, your images can lag.

However, suppose your laptop has NVidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync technology. In that case, it helps synchronize the device’s graphics card’s refresh rate with the monitor to produce a significantly better output by reducing screen tearing and stuttering.

Laptop Battery Life

A laptop is a portable device. Hence, it needs batteries to keep functioning at all times. Laptops come equipped with inbuilt batteries and recharging options.

Battery life depends upon various aspects, like your usage patterns, the CPU/GPU performance, temperature, and storage.

The ideal battery life should be around seven hours on a full recharge. If you use the laptop for heavy-duty applications, the battery life reduces drastically. These tips can help you extend battery life and make optimum use of the battery.

  • Using Wi-Fi for extended periods reduces battery life. Hence, you can switch the Wi-Fi when not required. You can also try using the laptop in airplane mode to conserve battery power.
  • It is advisable to use the Sleep option when you do not use the laptop for short periods.
  • Do not wait for the battery to discharge completely before recharging it. Install a battery meter and recharge the battery when the battery level drops below 20%.
  • It is better to use original charging equipment supplied along with the laptop. Cheap chargers can damage the battery.
  • Running multiple programs in the background can affect battery life.

Today, you get laptops with fast recharging options that enable the batteries to recharge quickly. It allows you to work on your device conveniently.

Operating Systems

Usually, users are comfortable using Windows OS. Hence, most of the laptops available today come with pre-installed Windows 10 Home OS. Apple devices work on MacOS. Besides Windows and MacOS, you have laptops featuring Chrome OS or Linux OS.

Pre-installed Software

Users prefer to have MS Office or Office 365 to work on documents and files. Generally, laptop manufacturers offer trial versions of these software solutions. You can upgrade to a regular account by subscribing to their services. Some of the high-end models come with pre-installed full versions.

In these days of cybercrime, every laptop purchaser must install antivirus software on their laptops before using them. You get these solutions at reasonable costs online.

We have discussed all the internal and external components of a laptop. We have also explained technical aspects to help you make an informed choice. Depending on your requirements, you can purchase the ideal Laptop.

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