Buying a New Laptop – February 2014

If you are still running Windows XP then I very seriously suggest that you consider upgrading (buying something new!)

More laptopsMicrosoft will withdraw support for XP (and Office 2003) in April. The hackers, malware writers, and virus creators may have a field day. See the following blogs:

Replace Windows XP
Microsoft Will Stop Supporting Windows XP in 2014

Irrespective of Windows XP, you may be thinking of buying a new laptop, anyway. There are some real bargains out there at this time of year. Several of my computer support clients have asked for advice on this in the last few weeks. The obvious questions they ask are:

  • What do I need?
  • How much should I pay?

If you are in this position then please read my previous blogs on this subject (see the end of this blog post for links). Let’s bring it up to date with the basics of a current specification that I think would suit my typical computer support client:

  • Processor. If you go for an Intel processor (as opposed to AMD) then it is likely to be in one of the three families of i3, i5, or i7. Considering that i3 are generally “entry level” processors, and that i7 are more expensive and geared towards the needs of computer “gamers” and people editing movies and the like, I suggest that an i5 processor (the middle ground) is the one to favour.
  • Disk size. Unless you have a huge library of photographs, movies, and/or music that you will wish to store on your laptop, then any of today’s hard drives is likely to be plenty big enough. These now start at about 500gb and go up to 2tb (where “tb” is a terabyte and is 1000gb). If you go a bit up-market in your choice of machine then you might go for a solid state drive (SSD). These have no moving parts and are meant to be very fast. I don’t have much personal experience of them yet. You will pay more for an SSD drive and will get a smaller drive. I don’t recommend getting anything less than 128gb unless you really know what you are doing and why you are making that decision.
  • Memory. Don’t settle for less than 4gb unless you are buying a budget machine where the last £50 is crucial. 4gb is fine and so is 6gb or 8gb.
  • USB ports. There are still only 2,3, or 4 USB ports on laptops. Go for as many as possible and favour machines that have at least one USB3 port. These are much faster when connected to devices (such as external hard drives) that also feature USB3. USB3 ports are quite happy to work with devices designed for USB2 or even USB1.
  • Screen size. The most popular screen size these days on laptops is 15.6 inches, but there is now an almost continuous range of sizes available from 10 inches to 17 inches. If you are buying a laptop as your “main” machine, be very wary of buying one with a screen size (and keyboard) that might prove too small for comfortable all-day use.
  • Price. If you are lucky, you might get one for as little as £400. Anything up to £500 is a good buy. You would be expecting a higher specification than I have outlined above if you pay more than, say, £550. Just for comparison, my own main laptop (a Samsung RF511) is just over 2 years old. It has a 15.6 inch screen, 8gb RAM, 4 X USB ports (2 of them USB3), and it started off with a 500gb drive. That cost me over £700 in November 2011 and I think I could get the same now for about £550.

New laptopsThis is only a general guide, of course. It is prepared with my “typical” computer support client in mind. Uses would include all internet activity, all Microsoft Office components (the cost of which I have not included above – £110 at the moment for the Home and Student 2013 version from Microsoft), “light to medium” photo editing, playing music, watching movies, and so forth. I think you can pretty well take it for granted that any machine of this sort of specification will also include things like camera, standard wifi (not dual band), HDMI output (for connecting to a TV screen).

As for make/model, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I favour Samsung, Acer, Asus, and maybe Toshiba. Dell are still fine, but a client and I were looking at their website yesterday and the range seemed to be very limited compared to what they used to offer. Personally, I don’t like HP laptops very much. They seem sluggish and clunky to me. It might be caused by all the un-necssary software they include that you just don’t need.

More laptopsWhere from? Well, Micro Anvika (that I’ve recommended before) is no longer in business. John Lewis is good because they include a two year warranty, they never quibble, and are always helpful if you have a problem. I don’t actually have a favourite supplier any more. I’d buy from Sony or Samsung at the south end of Tottenham Court Road (they’re not owned by Sony/Samsung). I’m a bit wary of most of the rest of the “box shifters” on Tottenham Court Road. I’ve always said that PC World are OK unless you have to ask for advice or technical information (at which point they usually depart for La-La land and tell you the first thing that comes into their heads). However, I think it’s only fair to add that I’ve made two recent visits to the branch at the north end of Tottenham Court Road and had detailed, accurate, friendly advice on compact digital cameras (and bought a Sony Cybershot from PC World that seems rather nice).

Happy hunting. Let me know if you need specific information or would like help transferring from your old computer and setting up your new one.

Here are some previous blogs on this subject:

More laptopsMost things in the earlier blogs still apply, but Windows 8 has, of course, been released since the blog post of December 2010 and tablet computers seem to have taken over in lots of situations that might have been handled by netbook computers two or three years ago.


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How did I find the blogs with the links given above? I just went to my website, looked for the search box on the righthand side, typed in “new laptop” and the blog posts were automatically selected and presented on-screen.

You can do this for any subjects I may have covered in about 170 consecutive weekly blogs since late 2010. You are very welcome to search this whenever you wish. See this page on my website for more information about the new ways to access these blog posts.