Buying a laptop for college or work? Here’s how to not get ripped off

User Types

Lets first establish the types of laptop users that out out there. Identifying what category you belong to will go a long way in helping you know what you need. You’re gonna be one of these three user types, so take a moment to evaluate and decide which category you fit in best.

  1. Write reports with applications like Microsoft Word
  2. Work on spreadsheets with applications like Microsoft Excel
  3. Browse the internet, make video calls and do other internet things
  4. Watch movies
  1. Edit photos and videos with applications like Adobe Photoshop and Sony Vegas Pro
  2. Create graphic designs with applications like Adobe Illustrator
  3. Do some light gaming at 1080p resolution or lower
  4. Develop mobile applications with programs like Android Studio.
Most people want laptops for tasks that aren’t very resource intensive
  1. Do everything the middleweight can but faster!

Fundamental Laptop Components

When shopping for a laptop, a long spec sheet can be intimidating and it is sometimes intentionally fluffed up with marketing jargon. This section goes over the only technical specifications you need to care about in a laptop and briefs you about what they are. Some of you may already know these things, so feel free to skip to the next section.

AMD’s Ryzen series of processors offer the best value-for-money
You’re better off gaming on a desktop: Know that laptop GPU’s often perform considerably worse than their desktop counterparts (pictured above)
  • Buy a laptop with a regular HDD
  • Swap the HDD with a good 256GB SSD which you can get for about ₹3,000 (US$ 40).
  • If you’re worried about how to swap drives, know that there are so many instructions available online and even a child could do it (though, I wouldn’t recommend that).
  • Now, you can boot Windows in seconds with your SSD and your old HDD won’t be wasted either. Put it in a ₹300 (US$ 4) cover and use it as an external hard drive.
SSDs, unlike HDDs (pictured above), don’t have any moving parts and are many magnitudes faster than them
This is not a practical USB port configuration
  1. Keyboard backlight: This is something you will definitely appreciate, but you shouldn’t prioritize it over more important factors.
  2. Webcam: Webcams are all the more relevant in today’s times. Almost all laptops today come with built-in webcams, although quality will vary. You should strongly consider a laptop’s webcam quality, but make sure you don’t compromise on performance because of this. Good quality external webcams come very cheap these days.
  3. Optical disk drive: You don’t need a CD drive in your laptop. Also, external optical drives are very cheap to buy.
  4. Touchscreen and backward foldability: These features will add a significant premium to your laptop and you won’t get the performance specifications you’d otherwise receive on a normal laptop for the same price. I’d just not even consider laptops with these kinds of features when value is prioritized.
  5. Keyboard and touchpad quality: The quality of your keyboard and touchpad will greatly affect your long-term experience with a laptop. But then again, make sure you’re not wasting money on unnecessary conveniences. You’re better off spending on an extended warranty to cover for instances when your laptop components go bad (including the keyboard and touchpad). Also, good keyboards and mice are very cheap to purchase, these days and most heavy laptop users straightaway buy a mouse.
  6. Fingerprint reader: Just not necessary.
  7. Audio ports: Every laptop should come with either one input/output 3.5mm audio port or two 3.5mm ports, each for input and output. Generally, it doesn’t matter which one you take, and you can expect the quality of the ports to be tough enough for regular use (long as you’re not buying from some shady manufacturer, that is).
  8. Expandability: Some laptops will come with an expandable slot where you could fit in an additional storage or CD drive. This is really great and the good news is that even some low-end laptops come with this feature. Besides this, most laptops should provide an additional RAM slot for you to increase your RAM. This extra RAM slot is something that’ll be really valuable especially if you’re in the flyweight user category. Know that buying an extra 8GB RAM card for your laptop should cost you less than ₹4,000 (US$ 55).
  9. Speakers: This is a subjective area mainly because some people will be really affected by a laptop’s speaker quality and some won’t care at all. You can’t expect the best sounds from lower-end laptops but they will be functional and like most things in this list, remember that you can buy good external speakers for cheap.
  10. Wi-Fi: All modern laptops should come with Wi-Fi capabilities built-in. Some retailers may try to sell you on the speed of a laptop’s Wi-Fi receiver but be swayed but that. Stuff like Wi-Fi receiver speed are just one of those things where if you need it, you’ll know.
  11. Monitor brightness: Another common and rather overstated selling point for most laptops. Just don’t go for anything below 250 nits if you want to be able to read your screen in the daytime. 300 nits is more than enough for working in the balcony of a trendy coffee shop.
Keyboard backlights area great feature but shouldn’t be prioritized over other factors

So what laptop is good for me?

So this is it. Time to decide what type of laptop you should get. Well, it’s simple as pie.

Laptop components’ longevity

How long should you expect your laptop’s components to last? Well here’s what I’ve gathered from experience:

  1. CPU: A laptop’s CPU could last up to a decade on normal use. Performance may gradually degrade over time, but you’ll likely never need to worry about it.
  2. GPU: Just like a laptop’s CPU, its GPU will likely outlive most other components.
  3. RAM: This is another component that you can expect to work for up to a decade — well beyond the expected lifespan of most laptops.
  4. Battery: A laptop’s battery is probably what will show its age the earliest. Expect to need to change your laptop battery after about two years if you don’t want to be carrying a charging cable everywhere.
  5. Storage: While SSDs are expected to last more than a decade, HDDs are likely to slow down much sooner. If you haven’t already swapped your HDD for an SSD, you’ll strongly be considering it by three years.

What about an even cheaper laptop?

Should you go for a laptop priced below ₹30,000 (US$ 400)? I wouldn’t recommend it, honestly. Most laptops at that price-point have a significant compromise that you’ll find out about soon after buying them.

Chromebooks are strictly for people who are content with a laptop-shaped tablet

Brands I’d recommend

There are probably a thousand companies selling laptops under their own brand names, but there are only a handful that are trusted worldwide and these are the manufacturers you should prioritize buying from. Here’s a list of the top five laptop manufacturers I have recommended to friends and family and will continue to recommend in the future:

  1. Dell: Reliable laptops with great customer support, a bit more expensive than competitors
  2. ASUS: Probably the best value for money, some laptops definitely look cheap
  3. Lenovo: Great reliability, basic designs
  4. HP: Usually reasonably priced, lower to mid-end laptops certainly feel cheap
  5. Acer: Value for money, not the best customer support
Lenovo’s ThinkPads are some of the most rugged laptops ever made

Retail vs Online: Which offers better prices?

This is probably something you’ve contemplated before and the answer will vary based on where you live.

New Delhi’s Nehru Place is the go-to destination for buying tech

A word about Macs

You may have noticed that there’s no mention of any of Apple’s products as a choice here. That’s because Apple’s MacBooks are definitely not value for money.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been helpful to you. As you may have noticed, this article is mostly aimed at non-gamers looking to get laptops in prices below ₹60,000 (US$ 800).

Don’t skimp on research!

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