Which Laptop to Buy? 5 Steps to Finding the Best Deal

Last week, while I was working from a beach house on Martha’s Vineyard, my laptop crashed 2 minutes before a scheduled conference call. Black screen. Reboot. Crashed again and again. Sound familiar?

Which is the Best Laptop to Buy?

My HP laptop had worked just fine for 5 years (a superb lifespan), but I was suddenly thrust into the market for  a new laptop…especially since I have another trip coming up next week.

Being a “Maven” I asked myself, “so, which is the best laptop to buy?” I decided that it was time to delve into researching the best value. I wanted to get the best laptop computer for my money.

So please join me on my journey to answer this question, “which is the best laptop to buy?” Because technology changes so quickly, I will try to keep these steps relevant for the future. In a few months I will publish a 2nd follow up article to show you how things turned out.

Choosing the right laptop

I want to help you choose the right laptop computer by showing you what process I went through:

Step 1: Set a Budget & Stick to It

I decided that I wanted to spend half of what I spent on a laptop computer 5 years ago. Because technology has sprouted so quickly, and because so many more companies are making computers, the prices of laptop computers seem to drop every year…this is a good thing! I decided that $600 would be my maximum price point.

Because I had browsed online computer stores before (Amazon.com, Newegg.com, etc.) I knew that I could get a pretty descent computer for under $600. I need powerful features on my laptop, so you may even be able to set a lower budget. But be warned, if you don’t set a budget, you’ll be awfully tempted to add an additional expensive feature to your wish list.

Step 2: Make a List of What Laptop Features are Important to You

Before I started shopping online (I don’t usually buy computer equipment in actual stores anymore…too expensive), I made a list of what features I wanted on a new laptop computer:

  • fast processor & fast memory (RAM) because I use Photoshop, Lightroom, & video editing software.
  • From experience I knew that I liked a 15″ screen…it’s not super small, but my HP laptop never seemed too bulky.
  • Long battery life, so I could work while traveling on an airplane.
  • Moderately big hard drive. I don’t typically store too much on my laptop’s hard drive, so I didn’t need to fork out extra  cash for a huge drive.
  • Good size for traveling (not to big, but also not too small for function).

Step 3: Browse, but Don’t Buy…Yet

I know, I know…you’re chompin’ at the bit to start spending your cash, but trust me, just be patient & browse, or you’ll end up with a way too expensive computer that ends up crashing in three months. So to start browsing, I recommend that you hop on Amazon.com or NewEgg.com (my favorites) and use their powerful search tools to see what you can get for your budget. You’ll love using these websites because you can narrow down your search criteria by price, features, & brand names.

Don’t fall for the highly marketed big name brands…like Apple, Dell, Sony, or Samsung. I’m not saying that you won’t find a great deal under those brand names, but many people fall for great ad campaigns, and get a crappy or way-to-expensive computer.

Some people may argue with me, but there are a few brands that, from experience, I would stay away from. First (don’t throw anything at me all you yuppies), steer clear of Apple computers. Yes, Apple is a very trendy brand (and shoot, I love my iPod), but I’ve used a ton of Apple computers over the years, and they all crashed on a regular basis. Apple used to have the graphic advantage, but not anymore. You also can’t buy inexpensive replacement parts, because…well, only one company sells them (guess who).

Here’s a quick example of my last Apple MacBook laptop: Several days after my warranty expired, my optical CD drive died. Not long afterwards, my power chord died…and guess how much a replacement chord would cost me? $80! Luckily my father-in-law (an electrical engineer) worked on it for a couple hours & fixed it. Then, not long afterwards, the battery completely died, and now it only works when plugged in…and if the “cool” magnetic power chord accidently get’s removed, the laptop shuts off in the middle of use.

Let’s just say that I now only use my MacBook when I need to do some end user testing on Safari (Apple’s web browser).

Another brand to avoid is Dell. I’ve used so many dells (my own and at work) that I feel I can pass this judgment. The componants are subpar, but the customer support is worst in the industry. Just trust me.

Sorry about my complaints (I usually try to remain positive), but I want to help you avoid wasting your hard-earned money. Now, this is as far as my experience was able to take me, so my research had to extend to others:

Step 4: Talk to a Nerdy Computer Friend

Part of being a “Maven” is knowing where your knowledge is limited, and knowing who to ask for advice. So I made sure that I talked to my friend, Garan Sink. He’s one of the very few cool computer guys out there. You’ll probably have to speak to a nerdy computer guy, but they’re helpful as well. Just make sure that, whoever you speak with, has plenty of experience in IT. Garan is a professional IT guy, where he regularly buys and maintains hundreds of computers for a big company, so I trusted him.
If you don’t have a friend like Garan, who can give you up-to-date advice on which laptop specs to look for, take advantage of online forums where guys like Garan hang out in their spare time. So I said, “Garan, will you please help me choose a laptop?” Because he’s such a stud, these are the tips that he gave me (some of his tips may be outdated in the future, so do your research):
  • Don’t buy Apple computers: I already mentioned this, but it’s nice to have his confirmation. He occasionally has to cater to the needs of a picky art department, so he’s seen plenty of Apple nightmares. He has tried to convince the artists to use PC platform computers, but these artists must think that they’ll be shunned by their art community. Here’s a way around it…buy a PC-based laptop, and keep the Apple sticker on your car…nobody will know.
  • Favorite Brands: Garan’s favorite laptop brands (for reliability, value, and performance) are Lenovo (formerly IBM) and Asus. Under those brands (in order of preference), he recommended Samsung (very expensive though), then Sony, then Acer, then Toshiba, and then HP.
  • Don’t Buy the Newest Technology: Garan told me that I can get a much better value by avoiding the newest features, and focusing on the specs just below the latest & greatest. Consumers pay a premium for the latest technology, while reaping only marginal benefits.
  • Processor: The processor basically controls how fast your computer processes everything. The higher the number, the faster your computer will go. If you just surf the internet & use Microsoft Office, then something like 1.5GHz will work fine, but if you use applications like Photoshop, you’ll want something that exceeds 2GHz. Garan recommended processor brands like Intel i3, Intel i5, or AMD, but suggested that I stear clear of Intel e series, Intel 6 series, and Intel Pentium.
  • Hard Drive: As I mentioned earlier, I don’t store too many things on my laptop (mostly on my home PC), so I don’t really have to have anything over 320GB. If it’s bigger, nice…but if not, no big deal. But if you want to store your music files, photos, & videos, a 500GB or larger drive is recommended for you (plus an external hard drive…read my recommendations).  The speed of the hard drive was more important to me, so Garan recommended that I look for a 7200rpm drive. But if you don’t do a lot of file transfering, then 5400rpm will be fine.
  • USB 3.0 Ports: Garan told me that USB 2.0 ports are outdated, and a sign of an older motherboard design. You should look for a laptop that has at least one USB 3.0 port so you stay up with hardware (like hard drives, etc.).
  • Other Misc. Specs: He recommended that I get a laptop with an HDMI port, DDR3 RAM Memory (pretty much standard now), and WiFi N wireless capabilities (not super important).
  • Shop Around for Deals: I’ll share some of Garan’s advice below:

 

Step 5: Buy! Choosing the Right Laptop

Shopping is the last, and usually the most gratifying part of choosing the right laptop. I felt like I was armed with some great consumer knowledge (and hopefully you feel that way too), so I hopped back online to narrow down my desired specs. Garan introduced me to a really neat website, called SlickDeals.net, where users post amazing deals that they find in the marketplace. Because I was on a time crunch (I had to get my new laptop before my next trip) I wastn’t able to find exactly what I was looking for on SlickDeals (new deals are posted every day, so patience helps), so I searched on Amazon and NewEgg. Click these buttons to shop now:

                                                                                                                                            

Josh’s Laptop Computer

After all my research, I finally found a great Lenovo laptop computer (very similar to the laptop in the below Amazon link), which was around $560 (right within my budget):

 

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Or you can find it here on NewEgg.com.

 

The Test

I’ve done nearly everything I can to ensure that I get the best laptop for the money, so in a few months I’ll share a follow up article on how my choice of laptop went.

Share Your Expertise

Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful. My true desire is that you will find the best computer for the best price, and that you won’t have to buy another laptop computer for a long time. I am by no means a computer expert, so I would greatly appreciate hearing your advice and experience, so we can help others even more…so PLEASE LEAVE YOUR ADVICE IN A COMMENT BELOW!

 

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Comments

  1. 1

    It IS so hard to know which type of laptop to buy.

    My HP laptop was terrible…it overheated FAST (and didn’t have a lot stored on it), had a short battery life, had a super delicate sensor that would switch things around on me w/o my wanting that done… but it lived through my daughter spilling an entire glass of water on it (had to give props where props were due). The whole laptop died recently though…via a virus…wiped everything out like there was never a thing programmed in it (thankfully, I had backup).

    MY HP Netbook, however, has been a GEM! I throw it in my purse and take it w/me when I travel. The battery life is great, it never overheats, it works fast and is super dependable. There’s no DVD/CD tray, but that’s to be expected w/such a little computer.

    So…is HP good, or not so good for me… I can’t decide because I have a very positive and a very negative experience with them.

    Because my laptop died (that was very recent), I had to get a new one. I opted for a Sony Vaio. So far I like it. The battery goes down a bit fast, but I have an extended lifer that I attach. It has a lighted keyboard when it gets dark. It’s slim and portable. It looks nice, and feels good under my hand. I just haven’t had it long enough to offer anything other than that for advice.

    My husband has a Mac he swears by…he’s had it so long that even I marvel that it still works so well. He keeps saying he’s going to get a new one in case his breaks…but so far has had no push to do so because his is running as good as it did on day one. I don’t have Mac fever…not sure why.

    Your article is a good one… I laughed because I saw how many computer company ads it generated on your site. 🙂

    • 2

      Rosey, thanks for your comment and questions! Sorry for the late reply to your comment..for some reason, these comments haven’t been emailed to me lately. I’ve had nothing but great experience with HP computers, but no brand is flawless. All computers will have problems, but some brands use lower quality components than others. In the article I mentioned some of the more reliable brands. And some brands have much better customer support, which is very important for me. I listed the brands that are reliable and affordable, so hopefully that helps.

  2. 3

    What a well timed article, Josh! My beloved (though admittedly problematic) Compaq laptop is on its last leg and I’m now in the market for a new one, but have no idea where to start. This article addresses all of my concerns (brands, what features to look for, which websites to focus on) and as difficult as it will be, I promise not to get sucked in by Apple 🙂 Thanks!

  3. 5

    Hey Josh,
    I am one of those “yuppies” you mentioned that prefers apple computers over most PC platform computers. I am not however, a simple follower of the crowd or a victim of great marketing. I did a great deal of research and getting nerd opinions before I purchased my first MacBook(as I also consider myself a maven). I have not been disappointed at all for the nearly 5 years I have had it. My sisters have all had pc’s of different makes since then and have all had repeated crashes and problems. Mine has only frozen once and is still quite a bit faster and more reliable than my sister’s newest HP. I know that was at the bottom of your friends list but it is still 4 years newer than mine. My point is, yes apple products are overpriced/inflated by a name but in my personal experience, the price has payed off many times over. It’s a good thing we are all different or this world would be incredibly boring.

    • 6

      Shane, thanks for your comment! I’m super glad that your mac hasn’t had problems. My wife’s brother bought the same macbook on the same day as me, and his is still going strong, but mine is in a parts pile. Some people have had great experiences with Macs, but the many Macs that I’ve used (and my computer “geek” friends who fix computers) have had problems. (P.S. Sorry for the late reply to your comment..for some reason, these comments haven’t been emailed to me lately).

  4. 7

    Hi Josh,

    I’ve built, worked on, and owned several computers over the years and I largely agree with most of your advice, especially that of the brands. However when I’m looking at computers, I try to get the best processor I can for the money. It is the single largest cost of a system and the life of the computer is correlated largely on the quality and speed of the processor. RAM and HDD can be replaced quite cheaply but once you’ve tapped out the limits of your processor, that’s usually when it’s time to get a new computer. Anyway, that’s the advice that I would have for give especially with the kind of work that you’re planning on using your laptop for.

  5. 9

    And for the record, it took me at least two hours deciding between a droid and the iPhone. I don’t just choose it for the name. I truly like the platform, efficiency and security of apple.

  6. 10

    I like your choice of picking the Lenovo. I have had only great experiences with Lenovo. I’m interested to hear your follow up to see how it has been working for you. Glad you stayed away from Dell 🙂

    • 11

      Ilya, thanks for your comment! My Lenovo is still working great. (P.S. Sorry about my detailed response..for some reason, my comments aren’t being delivered to my email inbox).

  7. 12
    Shani F. says:

    I am just now looking for a new laptop and didn’t know where to start my research. It is an overwhelming process. I think sticking to a budget is one of the most important tips and realizing you can find a laptop within your budget.

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