Best Laptops of 2020 – The Definitive Buying Guide

By Ehtan S. Auston - Last Updated July 11, 2020

There’s more to buying a laptop than just getting a sleek-looking, slim profile portable device that you can flaunt as you work. Size and weight matter, but there are more important specs to think about.

Years ago, I couldn’t buy a laptop without consulting my geeky (sorry) friends. Not with all those technical details that I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out. 

Is a dual-core processor good or should I get the quad-core processor? What’s the RAM, how about connectivity options? You won’t need to call your techie friend today, because I’ll be breaking it down for you.own

1. Processor

The processor is by far the most important component of your laptop. Whether you’re opening a file, browsing the net, or simply pressing a key, the processor is the one executing that command. 

Intel Core processors excel in multimedia and multitasking tasks. Core i3 makes up most entry-level laptops, while Core i5 is more prevalent and can handle all kinds of tasks including mid-range games. 

If you want a laptop for heavy-duty gaming and intensive applications the Core i7 is a capable processor. Some larger laptops incorporate Core i9 processors. These CPUs are ultra-powerful to the point of rivaling desktop computers in performance but might cost you a kidney. In the gaming laptops, GPU should be taken under consideration too.

If you’re buying a laptop for simple tasks like email, working on spreadsheets or word, and browsing, a dual-core processor may be sufficient for your needs. You can open multiple windows and apps simultaneously and move between them seamlessly. The business laptops released in 2020 have pretty powerful processors.

For more intensive tasks like photo editing and gaming, a Quad-core processor will do the job. Keep in mind, the higher the number of cores a machine has, the better the performance.

2. Graphics

The graphics card controls the laptop’s visual output. In other words, it’s responsible for generating the images that appear on the screen. The more powerful the graphics card, the better the graphics it offers.

There are two kinds of graphics card; the integrated graphics card and the discrete (dedicated graphics card). The integrated card is built into the CPU and shares resources with the CPU. 

If your prospective laptop states that it has 4GB of RAM and there’s 1GB shared graphics memory, it means that you’ll have only 3GB of memory to use for your computing tasks. The machine will handle most tasks but may struggle in intensive tasks like editing or high-end gaming.

The discrete graphics card is the opposite. It’s a separate entity with its separate memory and that makes it more powerful. It’s capable of running graphics software including animation, CAD, video editing, and gaming may you have a video editing laptop, or a regular one.. 

As such, professional content creators rely on discrete graphics cards in their line of work. NVIDIA and AMD are presently the primary vendors for these dedicated graphics cards.

3. RAM

Random Access Memory (RAM) is the temporary storage a computer uses to access information readily for the tasks at hand. Years ago, 4GB of RAM was mostly sufficient and it may still work for basic tasks such as checking email, browsing the net, and so on.

For today’s uses such as editing video content and photos, you’ll want to bump up that up to 8GB of RAM. The more RAM your laptop has, the more apps it can run simultaneously. 

Some games typically need better RAM. That’s why every brand offer a special series of gaming laptops. You’d have to see the requirement of your most favorite game, and match with the laptops specs. For example this is a good list of the best laptops for WOW.

Serious gamers, content creators, and anyone else running intensive programs will want to dial it up to 16GB and upwards for a smooth experience. The flipside to more RAM is that over time it will drain your battery.

4. Display & Resolution

The images displayed on your screen are made up of thousands of pixels. Pixels are tiny squares of light that change color in certain patterns to create texts, images, pics, and different kinds of graphics. 

Screen resolution refers to the total number of vertical and horizontal pixels that appear on a screen. If the laptop’s screen resolution is 1920 x1080, there are 1080 pixels displaying vertically and 1920 pixels horizontally.

The more pixels a screen displays, the sharper the image quality. When you see the term native resolution, it refers to the resolution that looks best on that machine’s display. You can adjust the resolution downwards, but you can’t go higher than the native resolution. 

So what’s the best resolution for you? It depends on what you’ll be using the laptop for. For the sake of your sanity, we recommend 1920 x 1080 resolution for crisp images, especially if you’re a gamer, photographer, 3D modeler, or video editor. 

4K video editors will require a higher screen resolution such as 3840 x 2160, to allow them to playback the 4K footage natively. Similarly, architects, animators, and game developers may want to consider higher resolutions as well. It depends a lot on the requirements too, typically the graphic design laptop would have much more sophisticated display.

5. Storage

Hard drives (HDDs) are a common form of storage option on many laptops. Storage capacities range between 160GB and 2TB. Most machines offer 500GB to 1TB of storage which is plenty for storing photos, songs, and movies, etc. 

If the laptop is your primary system for work files, documents, programs, and entertainment, we recommend that you check out laptops with 750GB storage or larger. HDD is better at processing larger files and is inexpensive too. 

That said, solid-state drives (SSDs) are the new storage form and they are replacing hard drives, particularly in the ultrathin laptops. SSD drives use a set of flash memory chips, provide faster access to data, and are more reliable than HDDs.

Unfortunately, SSDs are pricier than HDDs and don’t offer much capacity. Presently, they are available in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB sizes. If SSD is the only storage option in the laptop, go for the 256GB size, and consider using cloud storage or an external drive.

A lot of PC builders and laptop enthusiaste use bottlenecks which is a method of accessing the power and overall performance. It’s a pretty complex method but you can do the math using the unique and easy bottleneck calculator.

6. Connectivity

In the same way, no man is an island, laptops almost always connect to something. Whether it’s plugging in headphones for privacy or connecting to the internet, and other peripherals, a laptop with a plethora of connectivity options will function more efficiently.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are default in laptops today but it doesn’t hurt to check, especially if you intend to use wireless mice, speakers, or keyboards. Many laptops have an Ethernet port, which is useful in office environments, or in areas where there’s internet but weak or no Wi-Fi signal. 

Most peripherals connect to your laptop via USB, so look for a laptop that offers several USB ports, think three or four ports. You’ll most likely find USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports and where speed is concerned, USB 3.0 offers faster data transfer. 

USB-C ports are specialized USB ports that may soon become the standard on all new laptops. Unlike traditional ports, USB-C ports are optimized to be inserted either way. An HDMI port allows you to connect your laptop to external monitors, TVs, and projectors.

Also read: Laptops For Engineers

Also read: Laptops For Nurses

7. Battery

A major reason why most of us invest in a laptop is its mobility. We want to have access to our work or college files wherever we are. This makes the battery and battery life an important consideration as you don’t want your machine to quit on you in the middle of an important task.

Most laptops use high-quality batteries, and vendors will indicate average battery life, based on the tests they have conducted. However, several factors can affect battery performance, and how fast it drains including the size of the RAM, the OS, and how you use your laptop.

Gaming laptops have a shorter battery life compared to standard laptops due to the intensity of the games. Additionally, binge-watching online videos or running programs that require lots of processing will consume the battery fast. 

Conclusion

This list is by no means exhaustive but covers most of the “headachy” but oh, so important points that many buyers are clueless about when buying a new laptop. What other aspects do you consider important when buying a laptop? Let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you.

Ethan is business graduate, who talks about gadgets, technology and startups. He's an exception track record in content creation and readers engagement and have been previously contributing to HBR, INC, Entrepreneur, and alike.
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