What to Know About Buying a Laptop in 2023

By Joe Callison
12 February 2023

What to Know About Buying a Laptop in 2023

It is getting very difficult to provide recommendations for new laptops to people because most are not designed for long-term use anymore. Planned obsolescence seems to be the goal, whether the products are Apple, Windows, or Chromebook based. They seem to be following the same pattern as Apple and Android smartphones both in their construction and lack of long-term support. Operating systems are generally supported with security updates for about 3 years after they come out. Updating the operating system is expected yearly and is generally possible for about 5 years before the hardware no longer meets all of the requirements of the latest operating system. Most are not designed with repairability in mind. Even replacing a battery can require a difficult and expensive teardown.

It used to be a given that laptops had upgradeable RAM and storage drives as a minimum. Now many models have soldered-in RAM or eMMC for memory that can’t be upgraded and is impractical to repair. Some even have soldered-in storage drives. These components have hundreds of individual microscopic solder connections. Any single connection that fails can cause the laptop to no longer function. It may not be easy to determine if a laptop model has soldered components. It may be mentioned in detailed technical specifications or in some of the better technical reviews.

The top-selling laptops are from major brands like Apple, HP, Dell, and Lenovo. They all have several tiers of models with various features and prices, from budget to gaming capable.

Apple has MacBook Air (M1, M2) and MacBook Pro (M1, M2) models.

HP has HP (no name), Pavilion, Envy, Spectre, Omen

Dell has Inspiron, Vostro, Latitude, G Series, XPS, and partner Alienware

Lenovo has IdeaPad, ThinkBook, ThinkPad, Yoga, Legion

I prefer to order computers directly from the manufacturer’s website rather than a big box store or Amazon, Sam’s, or Costco. That way I can look at the details of the configuration and even change items if I want. Just watch out for the sneaky $9.95 per month warranty that Dell put in their fine print that starts billing the second month. After much complaining by customers, they may have changed that by now.

The low-budget non-Apple models are generally of plastic construction, rather flimsy, and are often provided with lower resolution displays, such as 1366 x 768 (HD) instead of 1920 x 1080 (Full HD). The higher resolution display is much preferable. Touchscreen is an unnecessary option for laptops in my opinion unless designed for tablet mode (two-in-one, flex, etc.). The better laptops have at least some carbon fiber or aluminum in their construction.

Windows laptop processors are generally either Intel or AMD. They range in price and performance from low to high as follows.

Intel – Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5, i7

AMD – Athlon, Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7

A good experience can be expected with an Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor or better. Intel i3 or Ryzen 3 should be the minimum to consider for even a very low-budget Windows laptop. Chromebooks can get by with lesser processors.

The amount of RAM in most new Windows laptops is at least 8 GB these days, which is enough for most users. If you must get a model with soldered-in RAM, it might be wise to get 16 GB unless there is a socket for expansion beyond the basic 8 GB of soldered-in memory.

The storage drive should be at least 256 GB for most Windows users. The typical actual used amount I see for a user is around 60 GB. You want to allow for at least double that amount without exceeding more than about 80 percent of the drive capacity, so the smallest available size meeting that typical usage example would be 256 GB. If you want to store a lot of photos, music files, or videos, it would be best to put them on an external drive.

If you care about the audio quality of a laptop, look for models with either front or top-facing speakers and a premium audio name like Bang & Olufsen, Harman Kardon, Beats, Dolby, or DTS.

A 2023 mid-level 15-inch laptop with 11th or 12th generation i5 or a Ryzen 5 processor, 1920 x 1080 display, 8 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD should be available in the $600 to $800 price range.

Posted by Joe Callison

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