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When it comes to choosing the perfect laptop there is no right or wrong choice. It all comes down to what you need and what you plan to use the machine for. Laptops are great for portability, making them ideal for students and business professionals on the go. Although they also tend to be more expensive than desktops for the same specs and they have more issues with heat and long-term performance, the advent of Windows 8 has greatly improved the appeal of laptops due to the mobile-focused design of the operating system. Many Windows laptops now sport touchscreens and other features that were once reserved only for tablets.

There has never been a better time to look at laptops, and there are some guidelines to keep in mind when shopping.

Consider Portability

Most laptop shoppers would rank portability as their primary reason for getting a laptop over a desktop in the first place. These shoppers want the power and hardware of a laptop with portability as close as they can get to a tablet. There are a wide range of laptop sizes. The most popular models have a 13 inch screen size and weigh in around five pounds. These machines usually have enough powerful for basic computing tasks and light gaming, and they have enough multitasking ability to keep up with busy users.

They are also light enough and small enough that it won’t be a hassle carrying them around all week. This is a great balance for college students in terms of portability, size, cost and performance.

There are even more portable sizes than the 13 inch, but sacrifices are made when you drop down to the 11 inch or smaller sizes in terms of screen size. Finally, there are the big 17 inchers and greater. These start to push the limits of what is really considered a laptop. Unsurprisingly, they are called “desktop replacements” and the machine fits the name. These machines can get as powerful as a desktop, making them great for high-end gaming or professional video editing, but they lack the easy portability.

They are both heavy and have very short battery life. If the specs of a 17 inch machine are what you need you might consider just getting a desktop instead.

The Important Specs

You don’t have be a computer programmer or scientist to understand what specifications you need your laptop to have. A computer’s actual power comes down to three basic pieces of hardware: the CPU, the RAM and the graphics card. These specs can vary depending on what you need. A great machine for the average user will have a third generation i3 or i5 Intel processor, about 8 GB of RAM and a mid-range graphics card, such as the Nvidia GeForce 710M.

Gamers and more intense users will need to increase these specs across the board. The processor should be at least an i5 and an i7 is preferred. The RAM should be 16GB. The graphics card should be high-end, such as an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M. Keep in mind the golden rule that higher specs come with the cost of battery life.

Don’t Forget the Hardware

Many laptop shoppers look intensely at specs and price, but they forget to check other things like keyboard comfort, trackpad reliability and USB port count. The keyboard and trackpad will be two of the most used features on the laptop, and they can also be the greatest sources of discomfort or frustration. The only way to know if they will work for you is to try them out yourself. Usually three USB ports is sufficient, but consider how many things you might have plugged in, such as wireless mouse, keyboard and camera.


After discerning which type of specs and size you need for your laptop, pricing becomes the next concern. When you decide exactly what you want, you can do a comparison shop. Check out deals on different money-saving websites and check out which stores give student discounts. Often, students can save a significant amount on a computer when purchasing during the final summer months before the school year begins.

Final Considerations

Lastly, there are some minor things to consider before making the final decision. You may want a laptop with a lock if it is going to be often in public and contains sensitive information. Laptops are far more prone to damage or failure than desktops, so a good warranty is more important. Heat buildup is the final consideration. Most laptops fail because they overheat, literally frying their circuits. Make sure your choice has ample venting and a reliable fan.

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Alex Faubel enjoys writing about topics related to business and technology in career-focused education programs.