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Laptop computer buying guide

Laptop computers combine portability with power to give you a device ideal for both work and play on the go. Here's how to pick the best laptop, netbook or notebook for you from the many designs available.

Which kind of laptop do you need?

The best way to start looking for a new laptop computer is to decide whether you're a low, medium, or high demand user.

Laptops vary in price from around £149 to over £1000. If you're just using it for basic office-style tasks, you'll probably be comfortable with a less expensive model. But if you were to start doing more complex tasks, you could find yourself coming up against limitations.

Low demand – Word processing, Excel, web browsing, social media, watching videos online.

Medium demand – Low-res video editing, basic design, gaming, complex spreadsheets, music recording.

High demand – HD video editing, animation, professional design, advanced gaming.

Choosing the right size

Choosing your best laptop means getting the right balance between size and power.

The smallest, lightest laptops are usually the least powerful because they simply can't carry as many components inside. To get something more powerful would mean choosing a device that's a little larger and heavier.

10 – 11.9 inches
Low demand

The lightest and thinnest laptops available. These are great for frequent travellers and ideal for light work and web browsing, but are less comfortable to use for more serious work.

12 – 13.9 inches
Low – medium demand

These offer a good balance between being portable and comfortable to use. Generally they're less powerful, but are good for doing more serious work on the go.

14 – 15.9 inches
Medium demand

The most popular size for overall performance. The extra weight can make them harder to carry for longer periods. Slimmer, lighter models are available, but generally cost more.

16 inches and above
High demand

The size that comes closest to desktop level performance for high demand jobs. They're best used as a flexible work station rather than for regular travel as they're heavy.

Laptop, netbook and notebook – what's the difference?

Notebooks and netbooks were developed to be lighter alternatives that sacrificed some of a laptop's built-in parts to reduce weight. While that's still broadly the case, the distinction has become less meaningful as many laptops today are made in the same way. It's better to pay attention to size, weight and features rather than the device name.

Chromebooks are different

Chromebooks use a Google operating system that runs many applications via the online cloud, meaning less inbuilt components and memory. This makes them incredibly light and slender, but does mean performance outside of Wi-Fi areas can be limiting.

Shop all Chromebooks >

Laptop PC or Mac?

Is a PC or a Mac the best laptop computer? That depends on your personal preference.

Typically Macs are much loved by those working in creative industries because a number of industry-leading programs were developed for the Apple operating system OS. Although PC versions are available, the fact that they weren't initially developed for Windows arguably means that they don't perform as well.

Shop all Macs >

Laptop PCs, however, are much more customisable. They're also available at a variety of price points, whereas Macs are typically priced at a premium.

Shop all Laptop PCs >

Weighing up Laptop specs

To help you navigate your way through the specs, we've used our low/medium/high demand groupings to help you decide what to look for in each of the essential spec categories.

What is a processor?

The brain of the computer, the processor's performance is measured in gigahertz (GHz). The more powerful the processor, the more complex work you can do and the faster you can do it.

Processor comparison

There are a diverse number of processors available. Some of the most common are:

Low demand
Intel Pentium
Intel Celeron
Intel Atom

Medium demand
Intel Core i3 and i5
Intel Core m3 and m5
AMD A4 through to A8

High demand
Intel Core i7
Intel m7

The benefit of a faster processor

A laptop with a faster processor helps to reduce the risk of frustrating performance issues. While you may spend a lot of time on low demand tasks, if you found yourself working on something more demanding, like editing a home movie, your laptop could start slowing down.

What is a processor core?

What if your laptop has more than one brain, what if it had two, or four? Processor cores don't make your computer faster, but they do allow you to do more things at once without slowing your machine down

Low demand
Dual core

Middle demand
Quad core

High demand
Octo core

The benefit of more cores

More cores means less slowing down. If you had a Quad core and were listening to Spotify, checking your emails, and updating a spreadsheet, each of those tasks would have its own resource to draw on. If you had just two cores however, performing more than two tasks could start to slow you down.

Laptop memory

The amount of storage available for all your files. Memory is measured in gigabytes (GB). A terabyte (TB) is a 1000 gigabytes.

Typically memory is held on a hard drive, which has moving parts. You can now get drives with no moving parts called solid state drives. These are quieter, quicker and more energy efficient, but hold less memory.

The benefit of more memory

Typically it's the most expensive laptops that have the best battery life. Some low cost models may have a longer life, but that's a reflection of their reduced processing power, which requires less battery life.

Remember battery life is an estimate. High demand tasks will use up battery power faster than low demand tasks.

Memory is something laptops often compromise to reduce their size. Fortunately, extra memory can easily be added via a USB hard drive or by using cloud (online) storage.

Word documents, spreadsheets, etc. don't need lots of memory. It's when you store video, design and music files that you may find yourself needing more storage space.

A solid state drive can make a big difference because of the speed. You can load files a lot quicker, which is a big plus if you're gamer and hate load times.

What is RAM?

Also measured in gigabytes, RAM is your laptop's short-term memory. It is the space your computer needs to work on the jobs it's doing at any given moment. If your laptop doesn't have enough working space then, no matter how powerful your laptop is, it will slow down.

Low demand

Medium demand

High demand

The benefit of more RAM

Having more RAM allows you to work on more complicated tasks smoothly. As with processing power, you might not need it all the time, but when a more complicated job does come along, you could be faced with limitations.

What is a graphics card?

A graphics card processes and creates the images you see on screen. Laptops either have a shared card (low demand) or a separate dedicated graphics card (medium – high demand).

A shared card creates images by using the laptop's RAM – it shares the rest of your device's resources. A separate card has its own resources, so it should not disrupt, or be disrupted by what else the computer is doing.

There's a great variety of cards available, but AMD and nVidea are the most popular brands:

  • For AMD, 260 and upward will provide great visuals.
  • For nVidea, aim for a 960 card or above for gaming, but a 750 card will work for design/video.
  • iMacs may come with a special Intel card, which is specially suited for design/video work.

The benefit of a good graphics card

The images on your laptop will refresh faster and more smoothly with a good card. If you're a gamer or plan on working with images, design or video then a separate card is essential.

Battery life

Typically it's the most expensive laptops that have the best battery life. Some low cost models may have a longer life, but that's a reflection of their reduced processing power, which requires less battery life.

Remember battery life is an estimate. High demand tasks will use up battery power faster than low demand tasks.

Other things to consider...

CD/DVD drive

Very few laptops today have a 'flash drive', certainly no laptops under 14 inches. If you use physical media, you will likely need to buy a separate USB plug-in player.

Shop all CD/DVD players >


Laptops have built in Wi-Fi, but if you want to access the net anywhere else, you'll need a dongle. Dongles use the same networks as smart phones, so you'll need to purchase a data plan from a phone provider.

Shop all Dongles >

Laptop case

This is essential to avoid damaging your laptop and for carrying other essentials like your charger.

Shop all Laptop Cases >

Delivery & payment

If you've settled on which type of laptop computer to buy, then you're ready to shop. Still not quite sure? Our Customer Services team will be happy to give you more information and advice, or why not check out our desktop and tablet buying guides?

Home delivery
We'll deliver your laptop computer for as little as £3.95.

Collect in-store for free
Buy online and collect in-store in as little as 60 seconds from our dedicated counter.

Same Day Delivery
Buy online before 6pm and we'll deliver by 10pm for only £3.95, 7 days a week.

Reserve online
Reserve your laptop computer online and collect and pay for it in-store.

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