Working from home necessitates a high reliance on our personal computers. Laptops have become imporant components of our productivity and success at work. A new laptop usually serves its proud owner for 3-8 years. Purchasing a new laptop is a more involved decision now than ever before. Here are some ideas on how to invest in the right machine.

Form factor and size

Laptops are synonymous with portability. Fixed computers at the office are almost always desktops. They are upgradable, modular, and cheaper. One can swap out individual parts in most desktops for a fraction of the cost of the whole machine. This is not true of laptops. Miniaturization requires that all components are fused together on a circuit board. The only replaceable components inside most laptops are the memory and hard disk. This is why buying a laptop warrants more careful consideration. There is always a tradeoff between performance, portability, and cost. In case your place of work is fixed and portability is not a requirement, consider getting a desktop computer instead of a laptop.

Amazon sells over 150 million laptops annually. Standard laptop sizes (screen size in inches) include the 11.6, 13.3, 15.6, and 17.3. Some manufacturers offer less common sizes such as 11, 12.5, and 14 inches. The weight of a laptop and its accessories, such as the charger, can vary widely across manufacturers. Smaller form factor laptops are great for portability, while the larger ones generally offer better performance.

GPU and CPU

A computer's Graphics Processing Unit defines the quality of visuals on its screen. High end laptops come with professional quality graphics supported by chips such as NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 2080. Smaller form factor machines generally have poorer graphics. There is too little space in them to fit dedicated graphics chips. Good graphics performance is a must for animators, video editors, and designers of most visual products. Laptops for everyday office work like emails, video calls, and spreadsheets don't need superlative graphics. The cost difference across laptops with and without dedicated graphics can be significant. Everyday laptops such as the Lenovo Ideapad ($300) and HP Stream ($339) cost a lot less than machines with high performance graphics such as the Dell XPS ($1,243) or the Asus ZenBook Pro ($2,799). Prices for the same make and model can vary across borders. Buyers often send money online to acquire the perfect computer from overseas.

A CPU is the heart of a computer. The best known manufacturer of CPUs for both desktops and laptops is Intel. CPUs come in many flavors. Intel offers a range of popular CPUs such as the Corei3, i5, i7, and so on. Each has a different rated performance output and price tag. The same make and model of laptop can come with multiple CPU options. For example you can buy a Dell Vostro with an i3, i5, or i7. When buying a new laptop keep in mind that you cannot change a CPU without replacing the machine. Choose a CPU that's best suited to your specific use.

OEM support

The quality and reliability of after-sales service from a manufacturer can be an important consideration. Most laptops come with 1 or 2 years of warranty. Extended warranty for each additional year can cost between 15% and 25% of the price of the new machine. Moreover, warranty does not cover any and all issues. For example most warranties do not include replacements for damaged parts. Buyers must carefully read the terms of the warranty agreement. In some cases the manufacturer sends someone to the owner's premises to fix a faulty laptop. The time frame for this can vary. In other cases you have to take your system to the nearest workshop to get in-warranty repairs. The average rate of repairs for laptops is low and most warranties are not comprehensive. According to Consumer Reports the general opinion is that an extended warranty does not make sense for all but the highest end machines.

In summary

If you have owned a laptop for a few years, you can better assess your specific needs. First time buyers should steer away from the latest and greatest offers. Rather, choose a mainstream and practical bestseller with a lot of positive reviews. Just as with cars, service and spares are easier to find for the more common laptop models.

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