Sluggish performance, increased errors, and the dreaded Blue Screen of Death are all indicators that your laptop is nearing its end of life, but how do you know when it is time to pull the plug and invest in something new? A new laptop can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to well over $2,000. With so much money, and your productivity, on the line, buying a new laptop is a big decision. If you are considering a new laptop, follow this guide to know when it is the right time and which laptop to choose.
Average laptop life expectancy
In my experience, the average laptop lasts around four years. Sometimes you get stuck with a lemon that only makes it two or three. Sometimes you get a great laptop and have the patience to wait as performance slows and you can squeeze out an extra year or two. But beyond that, you should plan on picking up a replacement.
Businesses typically estimate the useful life of a laptop at five years for accounting purposes. However, a laptop typically gets more wear and tear as it travels from desk to desk and follows your lap around the world. Hardware starts to show its age in around two years, but depending on your laptop some components are upgradable.
You can upgrade your hard drive, RAM, and battery at most any point. If you don’t know how to do this yourself, you can find a video like this one on YouTube explaining how to tackle it as a DIY job, or you can hire a professional computer repair service to handle the upgrades for you. You can’t upgrade every component, so be aware that upgrades are just temporary solutions.
If you are still unsure if it is time to replace your laptop, ask yourself the following question: does your computer allow you to quickly and easily do everything you need? If the answer is no, it is time to upgrade to something new if you can afford the expense. If the answer is yes, you are safe to stick with your current PC.
Your personal laptop needs
If it’s time to replace your laptop, your first step is deciding what you need. If you are like my wife and just use your laptop for email, online shopping, browsing the web, and watching an occasional video, you are safe with a lower end laptop. However, if you are like me and use your computer for work, gaming, and multimedia editing, you will want a powerhouse of a laptop that can handle anything you throw at it.
Every laptop is a little different, and every computer user is a little different. If you just use your computer for email and web browsing, it would be a waste of money to buy a $2,000 Macbook Pro. Similarly, if you have computing needs that require a lot of processing power, it would be impractical to buy a bargain computer that can’t keep up.
To get the best computer and the best value, focus on getting a computer that can handle your needs plus a little extra. You don’t want to get a discount computer to find it doesn’t work for what you want, so in some cases it is prudent to spend a few more dollars for a more powerful laptop.
Mac vs. Windows laptops
One perpetual question in the world of laptops: Mac or Windows? Some computer users are as passionate about this as a political election, so there is a lot of fluff you can’t trust out there on the web arguing about which is better. I’m here to break the myth.
Here is the real answer: Use whichever kind of computer you are most comfortable with and know best.
Mac laptops and Windows laptops use many of the same parts. Mac and Windows laptops are built similarly. Each brand has its own specific benefits and weaknesses, and Apple laptops are no different.
I currently use a Macbook Pro 13” as my primary laptop, and it generally does everything I need. However, this was my first Mac and I went through a huge learning curve and lots of frustration when I was just starting out. I owned Windows computers for about 20 years prior to my first Mac, so I expected somewhat of a learning curve. However, I had worked with Macs at school and used friends’ Macbooks, so I was surprised it was as big of a hassle as I dealt with.
However, I had some big problems with my last HP and Dell laptops, so when my wife’s lemon of a Dell started showing signs of hard drive failure, I found a killer deal and she upgraded to a Macbook Air for $850. This deal is no longer around, but for the power and components packed into that laptop, it looked like the right deal for her. My old Alienware, also made by Dell, had different hardware problems which also drove me to “The Dark Side” of Apple computers.
Over the last few years, we transitioned from a no Mac house to one with two Macbook laptops used daily. However, we both still proudly use Android phones.
Choosing your new laptop
Now it’s time to narrow down and choose your favorite new laptop. You can shop online at a store like Amazon, or head into your favorite brick and mortar store like Best Buy even Walmart to buy a laptop. Make sure to shop around on price before you make your purchase!
When choosing your new laptop, here are some criteria to consider:
Screen size: You look at the screen every time you use the computer, and the size determines how bulky and heavy the laptop is. I like 13” laptops personally for both size and portability, but this decision should be made based on personal preference. Smaller laptops are more portable, but often cost more for the highest end features. Bigger laptops have bigger screens, 10 key keyboards, and might offer more powerful components, but weigh more.
Processor: The processor is the brain of the computer that does its thinking, calculating, and computing. The processor controls how fast your computer operates. This is also one of the most difficult parts to upgrade, if it is upgradable at all. The most powerful laptop processors today are high end Intel Pentium quad-core i7 processors. If you are only doing web browsing and email, an i3 should do the trick. If you are doing a little bit of heavy lifting, an i5 should do the trick. For heavy duty gaming and multimedia, only go with an i7. There are other brands and processors as well, but I would personally not buy anything other than an Intel Pentium core i5 or i7 processor. Check out this guide for more details on processors.
RAM: RAM, or Random Access Memory, determines how much your computer can do at once. If you are a light computer user and never have more than a couple of browser tabs and a word processor document open, your RAM needs are on the lower end. If you are like me and have 15 tabs open and several other files, plus that whole gaming and multimedia thing, you will need a lot more. My Macbook Pro comes with 8GB of RAM by default, but I paid extra to upgrade to 16GB as Macs are not always upgradable like Windows computers. My wife’s new laptop has 8GB. In 2017 and beyond, I don’t see any reason most people should go with less than 8GB unless they are on a super tight budget, in which case 4GB is the floor. Most modern computers run a 64-bit operating system that has a maximum RAM capacity of 16GB.
Hard drive: Your hard drive stores your files. Depending on what you do, your needs could vary dramatically. If you do a lot of video, your hard drive will fill up fast if it isn’t big enough. However, while processors and RAM have only gotten bigger and faster, modern hard drives have had to sacrifice storage capacity for speed. The best hard drives are solid state drives (SSDs), but those have lower capacities than their slower, hard disk drive (HDD) cousins. To get the best speed and storage, most advanced computer users have a smaller internal hard drive and a large, slower external drive they can plug in. I would not get anything below 250GB today at the very minimum. I have a 500GB hard drive and have managed to overfill it a few times when I was lazy about moving files to my external drive.
Other components: Graphics cards are important to gamers and heavy multimedia users, but for most people they are less important. As long as your graphics card has 512MB, you are safe for web browsing and email, but a 1GB or higher card will give a better experience.. The fastest wireless internet cards support wireless AC standards, but no internet is fast enough to take advantage. If you end up with wireless G, N, or AC, you are good to go.
Always comparison shop
When you decide it’s time to get that new laptop, don’t underestimate the value of comparison shopping. My wife’s new Macbook Air was listed for $1,000 at Apple.com and the Apple Store, but I was able to get it on Amazon for $850 — a week before there was a deal for $800 that we just missed! But that is a $150 savings for an identical product. For Windows laptops, the savings could be even more!
If your computer is dying, remember to think about size, processor, RAM, and hard drive. If you get those specs right, you are on path to a great four years of computing with your trusty new laptop.
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