Laptops: The Basics
Buying a laptop can be a tricky business. There’s a myriad of manufacturers, specs, operating systems, and a constantly revolving door of new releases and updates to keep track of. The first and most important thing you should consider when purchasing is “What am I primarily using this laptop for?”
Once you make that decision, the field narrows down, and you can start hunting for the best deals on the perfect laptop for you . To get you started, here are a few ways you might use a new laptop:
Browsing the Web and Connecting With Social Media, Chat, and Email
If your main use will be primarily browser-based, you can find great deals on smaller laptop systems, including inexpensive Windows laptops, Chromebooks, and the MacBook Air. Such machines are also suitable for many students.
Replacing a Desktop Computer for Work
If you often find yourself switching between machines at work and at home, or working remotely, looking for a laptop sale with better hardware may be in your best interest. Be sure to shop for a laptop with hardware that meets or exceeds the minimum specifications for any program or application you use frequently. In addition, choosing a laptop with a screen size of at least 15" may improve your workflow and productivity. Some popular options include the MacBook Pro, and offerings from HP, Lenovo, and Dell.
Gaming on the Go
If you’re a gamer, your options — while still plentiful — narrow even further. Laptops with discrete graphics cards and the latest hardware will ensure you can play the latest and greatest AAA titles. These laptops will also often be some of the bulkiest machines, in order to pack better cooling and battery life into a relatively svelte package. Popular manufacturers include Dell Alienware, Acer, Asus, Razer, and MSI.
Check Out These Blog Articles About Laptops
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I choose an operating system?
Chances are, you’ve already decided whether you’re looking for a Mac or a Windows machine, as this decision typically comes down to personal preference and history. The majority of the most popular programs and applications are available on both Apple OSX and Microsoft Windows 10, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty sharing data. Here’s a brief rundown of the most popular options available:
- Windows Laptops
Easily the largest category in terms of manufacturers and hardware options, Windows laptops will commonly be using a version of Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10. Models run the gamut from basic 11” netbooks to ultra-high-end 17” business workstations or specialty gaming machines with dedicated graphics cards and high resolution displays.
Unsurprisingly, this expansive category also sports a wide range of prices. With near-constant releases of newer and faster hardware, many laptop manufacturers release new top-of-the-line laptop models regularly. Some of the best laptop deals are for previously released models.
- Apple MacBooks
Apple released its first MacBook laptop in 2006, and quickly established itself as one of the most popular options for many laptop buyers. (Indeed, stopping at your local coffee shop on a busy day can look like a veritable orchard of glowing Apples.) Considered to be one of the more expensive options, MacBooks also have some of the longest lifetimes among laptops.
There are three types: MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air, a slimmed-down notebook, offers incredible portability. The MacBook Pro — generally packed with some of the newest hardware available — is aimed towards creative professionals and heavy users. The original MacBook (currently out of production) usually strikes a balance between the Air and Pro. It’s more expensive, but more powerful, than the Air, and cheaper (and less powerful) than the Pro.
With aluminum unibody frames and high-quality displays, all MacBook variants tend to hold their value longer than their PC counterparts. Although, with frequent releases featuring new hardware (generally two to three times per year), great deals can always be found on refurbished and previous-year models.
First introduced in 2011, these machines run Google’s Chrome OS. As one might imagine from the name, they’re based around Google’s Chrome web browser. They can handle all the common apps you can find in the Google Play store, and the bulk of application and user data is stored in the cloud.
These often inexpensive laptops are great options for students and folks that don’t require the sheer processing power of traditional laptops. Chromebooks still offer the most common computing tasks — email, web browsing, spreadsheets, media playback, and more — all within the Google ecosystem. Popular Chromebook manufacturers include (unsurprisingly) Google, Dell, Samsung, and Acer.
What size laptop should I choose?
Again, think of your main uses of this laptop. If it’s meant to replace your desktop or will be your main computer, looking at a 17” might make your workflow easier. On the other side of things, if this is a notebook you’ll be tossing in a backpack and commuting with, perhaps a 11” or 13” model will make your life easier.
How much should I spend on a laptop?
In general, you should consider spending a little more to future-proof your laptop purchase. Component manufacturing continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and software developers continue to update their applications. All computers will eventually reach the end of their useful life, as their hardware falls under the minimum requirements.
Generally speaking, the more budget you can put towards better specs, the longer your machine will be able to run the newest programs. That being said, many Windows laptops allow user-replaceable upgrades, including RAM and hard drives, which can extend the lifespan and bring down that initial price.
What laptop accessories do I need?
While perfectly usable as-is, it’s important to consider some accessories that may make using your laptop easier. Typically, you’ll want a mouse, USB thumb drives or external hard drives, and a laptop case or backpack. If you’re using your new laptop at home, a secondary monitor can be another good choice.
How do I get the best laptop deals?
Here at DealNews, we find new laptop deals every day. Once you've decided on a few key laptop specs that are must-haves for you, you can peruse these deals to find a model that fits your needs and falls in your desired price range. We post cheap laptops under $200, budget-friendly models under $500, and discounts on higher-end systems.
If you don't see a deal on the build you want, do some internet research to find current pricing at the stores that sell it, and then search for coupon codes. Retailers like Lenovo and Dell regularly offer promo codes, which can reduce the price significantly. From there, you can determine which store offers the lowest price, and whether you should act on that price now or wait for a better time to buy.
Speaking of when to buy, we see a higher number of laptop sale prices during certain times of the year. We typically list up to 300 laptop deals per month, but this number spikes during the holiday shopping season in November and December. You're more likely to find a good deal during this time. We've also seen an uptick in July previously, likely for Back to School shopping.
Another way to save is to buy a refurbished model . Retailers like Dell Refurbished Store and Apple can offer quality refurbs at lower prices than those for new items, plus Dell Refurbished often has coupon codes that take up to 60% off. When making a purchase, review the item's condition, warranty, and return policy carefully, in case you run into any issues.
What are the best laptop deals for Black Friday?
Our Blog article on Black Friday laptop predictions covers what we expect to see in pricing for the holiday shopping season, and we update it to reflect actual pricing from the Black Friday ads once they're released. The article features our picks for the best laptop deals from the ads.
Last Black Friday season, we saw Chromebooks for as low as $89, which beat our $99 prediction. The budget laptops in our top-picks list were priced from $130, and our other top PC picks were as low as $499; that price was for a 9th-gen Intel Core i5 model with a 256GB SSD. MacBook deals weren't as abundant, but we did see a current-gen MacBook Pro for $1,000, which was $180 less than what other stores were charging at the time.
What are the best laptop deals today?
Every day, we list the very best deals we find on laptops. When we list a deal for a product, we make sure that it's the lowest price available on the internet for that model. You can browse our laptops category to view all of our top offers, or use the filters at the top of the page to narrow in on certain criteria.
We typically see the most laptop deals from these stores:
We see the highest number of deals for these brands:
You can also shop by various features, including:
Where do I buy cheap laptops?
If you want to be notified when we list new laptop deals that go under a certain price point, you can set up a deal alert . Use "Computers > Laptops" for the category and enter a desired price range. You can even add other criteria, such as brand or keyword.
What is the cheapest good laptop?
This will depend on how you intend to use the laptop. If you only need it for light applications, such as checking email and browsing the internet, you can spend a lot less without experiencing significant performance issues. We've seen Chromebooks and budget laptops from under $100.
Buying an inexpensive laptop will involve certain trade-offs. These machines are typically equipped with lower-end processors and RAM, which should generally suffice outside of heavy multitasking. You may see a slowdown when running several programs or browser tabs at once. Internal storage will likely be on the smaller side, as well. But, when budget is the primary driver of the purchase, a low-priced laptop can certainly be a good option for light or moderate use.
If you need more robust performance, you can shop models with upgraded processors, such as Core i5 , Core i7 , or later model/gen AMD Ryzen . You'll likely spend at least $500 for these builds, but they'll have increased processing power, and more RAM and storage. Gaming laptops will feature specs that appeal to gamers, such as upgraded graphics cards.
What is the best laptop under $200?
Many of the laptops under $200 deals that we list are Chromebooks. Premium versions of these machines are available for much higher prices, but Chromebooks are generally known for being inexpensive, and certain models can drop under $200 when deals are available. We've seen sub-$200 new or refurbished models from brands like Samsung, Lenovo, Acer, and HP.
Chromebooks in this price range generally have 4GB of RAM, 16GB of flash storage, and budget processors. We also come across some sub-$200 laptops that aren't Chromebooks, such as Evoo laptops. With these, you're likely to see about the same in specs, but may get a boost in internal storage. We've seen models with 32GB mostly, but even up to 128GB on a Black Friday deal item.
To determine your best options for models in this price range, read reviews on the retailer's website or on independent review sites. This way, you can weigh the pros and cons. As an example, Laptop Mag lists the Samsung Chromebook 3 as one of their top Chromebook picks; we've seen the model for $99 as a Black Friday deal and under $200 at various times since. Similarly, one of our recent deals for the Samsung Chromebook 4 (reviewed here ) put it at $199. And the Acer Chromebook 15, which we've seen as low as $149, got a solid rating from PCMag .
What is the best laptop under $500?
When you peruse the laptop deals under $500 on our site, you can expect more options compared to the $200-or-less category discussed above. You'll also see various upgrades over the cheapest models, like improved processors and more RAM and storage space. They make the computer more likely to handle increased processing tasks without slowing down, although these models can still have budget processors.
Under $500 is a price point where a few trade-offs are still made to save extra money, but you can get solid value in this category, and a machine that will meet most mainstream computer needs. You'll even see a few extra perks with some models, like 2-in-1 capabilities or touchscreens. Like the sub-$200 category, you'll find a variety of Chromebooks here, as well, but they'll be a bit more equipped.
There won't be one model that's best for everyone. To determine which laptop is right for you, utilize websites like CNET , PCMag , and Digital Trends for their top picks for budget laptops, or check out the customer reviews on retailer websites. Also, go over the product features. In the sub-$500 range, you may see models with processors intended for lower-end systems (like Celeron), but some will have later-gen Intel Core i3 , Core i5 , or AMD Ryzen 3 options that would be considered a step up.
RAM is often 4GB, but some models will go up to 8GB, making the machine more capable of running several programs or browser tabs at once. The internal storage may be flash-based (eMMC), or include a hard drive or SSD that's considered higher performing and can come in larger sizes. Check these specs, consider which ones are important for your needs, and select a laptop that gives the most for the money.
Which laptop brand is best?
Some brands are more popular with our readers. Deal popularity can have a lot to do with the actual discount or pricing for a particular item, but the following brands tend to generate the most interest overall:
These represent some of the major brands available, and review websites tend to reflect similar information in their own lists of top picks:
- Digital Trends named Dell as the top laptop brand, followed by Apple and HP.
- Laptop Mag picked HP as No. 1, followed by Asus and Dell.
- Mashable cited Lenovo as the best-reviewed brand, and recognized Apple for its premium customer service.
Of course, the actual models produced by these brands can vary. Consider the strength of the brand when shopping for laptops, but also check for information on the specific model you intend to purchase. Other big brands are solid contenders, too, including Microsoft .
We've also listed deals for low-cost builds from brands like Evoo that were fairly popular with readers. At a cheap price compared to other options, it may be worth trying something less familiar. But you won't find as much information about this brand on the internet compared to major names. For some, going with a lesser-known brand isn't worth the risk, even if the price is lower.
Is it worth buying cheap laptops?
Buying a cheap laptop can make sense if you plan to use it for browsing the web, checking email, and other light productivity tasks, and you don't need to store much on the machine. A very inexpensive model will have some compromises in the specs. The builds in our laptops under $200 category contain budget processors and low amounts of RAM and storage space. These can lead to slower running times when the computer is put under increased demand — for instance, when running multiple programs or browser tabs at once. But, an inexpensive laptop can be worth buying if you're on a tight budget and aware of the potential limitations. You can also check for refurbished laptops , as you might get a few upgraded features for the money, given that the items aren't new.
What is the best month to buy a laptop?
It's no surprise that we find the most laptop deals in November and December. Those months encompass the holiday shopping season, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so you're more likely to get the best deals during this time. We've also seen a higher amount of deals in July, which is when Back to School sales really start to ramp up. That said, we usually list up to 300 laptop deals every month, so plenty of options are always available, no matter when you need to buy.
What is the best laptop of 2020?
Laptop Mag , The Verge , and Digital Trends all have the Dell XPS 13 on the top of their best laptops of 2020 lists. So does CNET , which calls the machine the best Windows ultraportable, and PCMag says it's the "best for style-conscious bleeding-edge dwellers." TechRadar puts it at No. 3 on their list of the best laptops of 2020, but has the larger Dell XPS 15 in the No. 1 spot.
Clearly, there's a consensus on the latest Dell XPS machines. If they aren't for you, there are several other top picks on these lists to choose from, including the MacBook Air, HP Spectre x360, MacBook Pro, Lenovo Yoga C940, and others.
What's the difference between a laptop and a Chromebook?
Chromebooks run on Google Chrome, instead of full-fledged operating systems like Windows or MacOS. They tend to be lightweight, lower-cost models that are largely web-oriented and revolve around the Google ecosystem.
Because Chromebooks mostly run on web-based applications and cloud storage, they often have lower amounts of internal storage and are more dependent on being connected to the internet. They may feature lower-end processors and RAM, as well, but the operating system is simpler and generally doesn't require as much power as a regular laptop. All of this said, there are premium Chromebook models that have upgraded specs and go much higher in cost.
Should I buy a Dell, HP, or Lenovo laptop?
HP , Lenovo , and Dell are all solid brands, and included in lists of the best laptop brands from sites like Digital Trends , Laptop Mag , and Mashable . Dell and HP have a bit of an edge over Lenovo when comparing these lists.
However, it also comes down to the particular model you want to buy and how it rates. You'll want to check reviews for any specific product you're considering. In addition, you can factor in cost. We see sales and coupons for all of these brands. Check for the laptops currently on sale, and consider the specs you can get for the money when making a purchasing decision.
Should I get a laptop for a high school student?
Consider a few things before buying a laptop for a high schooler. Students need computer access, but this can often be provided in the computer lab at school, through school-issued devices, on the family computer, or even in the library. Also, students can easily complete certain tasks on a device like a phone or tablet, such as checking email or school websites for assignments or messages from teachers. So, getting a laptop for a high school student isn't an absolute necessity.
If you're considering a laptop for your student's use at home, you may simply find it convenient for the student to have their own machine to work on (perhaps so they're not constantly borrowing yours!). Plus, doing heavier website browsing and using word processing applications can be easier on a laptop than on a smaller device. You may be looking ahead to college, too, when the need for a laptop may be even greater.
If you want to buy one for your student to use at school, check your school's policy on bringing in devices and using them in the classroom. Some allow it, others require school-issued models only, and still others may prohibit use in the classroom. Also consider the potential drawbacks of using a laptop in the classroom .
For those purchasing a student laptop on a budget, Chromebooks can be a good option for using Google Docs, Gmail, and other internet-based apps at a generally lower cost. They're also known for being extra portable. They tend to be light on specs at the lowest price points, but the reliance on web-based applications make that less of an issue, and they're a popular choice for students. Another option to consider is 2-in-1 laptops , as they switch between laptop and tablet modes.
William has been a part of the DealNews team since 2014. He started as a content writer, and has worn hats in a myriad of roles ever since - eventually becoming the head of the Travel team. In that role, he researches airfare, cruise, hotel, and vacation deals galore, and keeps tabs on industry trends. When he’s not sharing travel tips, William is the DealNews resident audio expert — often helping coworkers find the perfect set of headphones or speakers.