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Laptop Buying Guide

Whether you're just looking for a web machine or are seriously considering a gaming powerhouse, our laptop buying guide will help you figure out what computer is best for you. We get that there are a million and one choices out there, so we've narrowed it down to the essentials so you can pick the best option within your budget.

See also: Laptop Deal Picks

Laptop Prices

Laptops range in price from $200 all the way up past $1,000, and these prices almost directly correspond to the laptops' capabilities. When considering what to buy, first consider your price limit, then think about what you absolutely need the laptop to do. Here's what you'll typically get within certain price ranges:

Laptops for $400 or less

These laptops are for the absolute casual user. If you only need a PC to check your e-mail and do a little browsing, go for these. Try a netbook like the Lenovo Thinkpad X131e or an ASUS Vivobook for sturdy, speedy performance.

Laptops for $400-$700

If you're looking for a good, all-around PC, a laptop within this price range is your best bet. Higher storage capacity, better processing and bigger screens mean a faster, more comfortable computing experience. Brands like ASUS, Lenovo, Dell and Acer have great mid-range options that can suit your mid-range budget.

Laptops for $700-$1,000

Serious money pays for serious hardware, and you'll find that in this price range. Here you'll find laptops with stronger processors and more memory, meaning more programs running simultaneously at higher quality. Unless you're a power-user, we recommend sticking to the $700 price range. Entry-level ultrabooks are your best choices here, so check out the Samsung Notebook 9 to get the best bang for your buck.

Laptops for $1,000 or more

These are the Jaguars of laptops, running silent and lightning fast but with plenty of added weight. These aren't laptops that you lug around from Starbucks to Starbucks; leave these babies at home. Unless you're a Mac person, in which case, any laptop you look at will be at or above $1,000.

Laptop Buying Guide - Laptop Size & Cost Comparison

What You Need in a Laptop

Everyday Use

For less than $400, you can get a cheap laptop from a number of different manufacturers that will do simple tasks fast. If all you need is e-mail, a little bit of word-processing and web-surfing capabilities, a Chromebook (Google's awesome option) or similarly priced laptop is just fine.

School

Once you start looking for a laptop for school, you'll need to start thinking in the $400-$700 price range. You'll need it to handle word-processing and slideshow creation, be light enough to carry from class-to-class, have a decent battery life in case you leave your cord behind, and be able to store a decent amount of files. Try an ASUS Zenbook for its well-rounded features.

Media

If you've got a lot of photos that need editing or you're planning to get into video work, you'll need a laptop that can take it. Look at laptops in the $700 and up range for the processing power, storage and memory you'll need to handle your media work. If you get something with less than four cores of processing power, you're gonna have a bad time. Go Mac for simplicity, but if you're a stalwart Windows user, try a Dell XPS 13 for its power and lightweight chassis.

Gaming

While we'd never recommend a laptop for gaming because of their hardware limitations and overheating issues (build your own desktop, yo), sometimes you need to take your games on the go. These laptops will cost you around $1,000 or more for something that can handle WoW on high graphics settings, and you'll want to make sure anything you look at has its own graphics card (do NOT get integrated; you will hate yourself). Check out Razer's Blade series, made by the trusted gaming peripherals giant itself, for excellent performance and a sleek design.

Laptop Comparison - Portable vs Desktop Replacement
Laptop Prices What You Need in a Laptop Other Buying Factors

Other Buying Factors

Operating System

The operating system you use will mostly just dictate what programs you can use, and Windows can generally handle them all. For media work, Mac is your (much more expensive) friend, but if you need to game and don't want to mess around with two operating systems on the same computer, just stick with Windows.

Touchscreen

Touchscreens on laptops are useless. Just get a tablet because the laptops that come with touchscreens are generally not powerful enough to warrant the price tag. Some FatWallet staff find the gimmick useful and engaging, so head into your local electronics store and try out one of the display models before writing off touchscreens yourself.

Convertible

We've never needed to bend our laptops into Downward Dog, but if you plan to run presentations off the 12-to-17-inch screen, convertible laptops might be for you.

Traditional Laptop vs Touch Screen vs Convertible

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