It's not always easy to choose a laptop, especially if you're taking your first steps into the wide world of computing. But getting the right one for you can make all the difference and save you money in the long run.

We've listed everything you need to consider when making that big decision, whether it's your first laptop or just another step up from what you're used to. We'll try not to overwhelm you with technical jargon and arcane acronyms. And we promise not to tell you how great Windows 8 is, either.

1. Decide How You'll Be Using Your Laptop: 

There are two basic types of laptops: those meant for regular home and office use and those made for performance, created to handle particularly heavy workloads.

The former is traditionally less expensive, but also generally has smaller screens, fewer connections, and slower processors. They're more mobile than powerful, meaning they're great for on-the-go computing that doesn't require much processing power or memory. You'll want them if you use your laptop primarily for e-mail, surfing the web, and doing homework checking Facebook every now and then won't put too much of a strain on its capabilities. These laptops will do just fine with most programs and applications as well, including basic photo and video editing software. Just don't expect it to run Crysis 3 at maximum settings anytime soon.

Performance notebooks are just what they sound like, with beefier processors, more RAM, faster hard drives, and better graphics cards. These machines are made to handle high-intensity work for hours on end, whether that's editing photos or video, crunching numbers in Excel spreadsheets, or performing some other demanding task. They're not designed specifically for heavy gaming but can still run most modern games reasonably well if you put the settings down a couple notches. Just remember that power has its price; these laptops will generally be bigger and heavier than their sister machines because of all that extra hardware inside (and because they need beefier batteries to keep everything running smoothly). Don't expect to take them everywhere with you. Their screens might be smaller, too.

Budget: Good: than $500 Better: $500 - $900 Best: $900 and up

2. Consider Your Budget

There's a pretty significant difference in price between a computer designed for basic use and one built to handle heavy-duty work all day, every day. If your budget doesn't have room for a high-end model, don't despair — solid mid-range laptops can usually get the job done just fine if you're not looking for bleeding-edge performance or a machine that can play games on ultra-high settings (see the chart above). And remember, you'll always get more performance from an Intel Core i7 processor than from an AMD chip.

Budget: Good: than $300 Better: $300 - $600 Best: $600 and up

3. Start with the Processor (and RAM)

The processor is one of your most important hardware choices, as it's what drives everything on your laptop — including the graphics and how quickly you can run applications and programs. Most newer laptops will come with either an Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 for their processors; if possible, try to match those numbers up to the ones listed in our reviews to see how they'll perform relative to machines we've already tested. You may also see some machines with AMD chips instead of or in addition to Intel — just know that the latter generally offer better performance at a similar price.

RAM (random access memory, or memory that your computer can access instantly) is less important in most situations, but you'll still want at least 4GB for decent performance (although more is always better). If you're buying a low-end laptop, make sure to check how much RAM it comes with when configuring it on the manufacturer's website; if it doesn't list this information online, call customer service and ask about it before you make the purchase. Odds are they won't tell you what type of RAM your laptop will have (it's usually printed on the bottom of the machine somewhere), so don't be afraid to hang up and go somewhere else if you don't like their answer. Note that laptops will come with either DDR3 or DDR4 RAM, which is backward-compatible but not always backwards-compatible. So buying a laptop with an older architecture won't save you money — in fact, it'll probably be cheaper to just get a machine that can accommodate your needs now and upgrade its RAM later if needed.

Budget: Good: than $500 Better: $500 - $900 Best: $900 and up

5. Size Matters

Size isn't everything when it comes to laptops, but the bigger the screen the better most of the time — especially for games, movies, and other multimedia content. In most cases, you have four standard sizes from which to choose: 15 inches (typically the smallest kind of laptop) 14 inches 13 inches 12 inches.

Battery Life: Good: More than six hours Better: More than five hours Best: More than four hours

6. Think About Battery Life and Portability

Today's laptops don't have to be tied down to a wall outlet — many of them now offer impressive battery life that can last upwards of six or even 10 hours, depending on the machine you buy and what kind of tasks you're performing with it. The longer a laptop lasts away from an outlet, the better — but don't sacrifice graphics performance for longevity; any computer you buy should still at least be able to give you a few hours off the grid if need be. In addition, think about portability as well as weight when picking out your ideal machine. A laptop that weighs five pounds or less is usually considered "light," and anything more than six pounds tends to be on the heavy side.

Weight: Good: Six pounds and under Better: Five pounds and under Best: Four pounds and under

7. Get a Solid-State Drive (or at least a Big Hard Drive)

Some of today's best laptops offer an SSD, which is essentially a flash drive that stores your operating system and frequently used programs alongside essential files — allowing for much faster boot times and loading of programs when compared with traditional hard drives. However, every model we review will have at least some amount of storage space available on a standard hard drive; these are usually not as fast as an SSD but they'll still get the job done, so don't worry about them too much.

Size: Good: 500GB and under Better: 256GB and up Best: 128GB and up

8. Get an SSD If You Can Afford It

The base models of most laptops come with traditional hard drives (with 1TB or more storage space) for less than $500; while these are perfectly capable, we recommend at least getting a machine with an SSD (see above). These drives will make everything you do on your laptop faster — especially boot-up times, which is always nice when you need to get online ASAP. However, if you can't afford it then don't sweat it; just know that SSDs typically found only in high-end or high-performance laptops so you're unlikely to find one in the cheapest models.

Screen Size: Good: 14 inches Better: 13 inches Best: 12 inches and under

9. Get the Right Size Display for You

Laptop screens are measured diagonally, just like television sets, with 11-inch displays being on the smaller side and 17-inch displays being quite large (though not always cumbersome). If you want something more portable then go with a laptop that has a 14-inch display or smaller, since these tend to weigh less than their larger counterparts — but if you need extra screen real estate for playing games or watching movies then opt for at least a 13-inch machine with HD+ resolution (1600 x 900 pixels or greater) or a 15-inch model if you can afford it.

Battery Life: Good: More than four hours Better: More than three hours Best: More than two and a half hours

10. Know How Long the Battery Lasts!

As with any laptop, battery life is always a concern — but in some cases, certain laptops have batteries that last much longer when compared to other models in their class due to optimized energy usage from both hardware and software. Models boasting long battery lives tend to be pricier, so again only opt for one of these if you really need it — but don't worry too much about this feature unless your work will keep you away from an outlet for most of the day.

11. Get the Right Amount of RAM!

Like a traditional desktop computer, a laptop needs random access memory to function optimally — so if you buy one without enough memory it will run slowly and have trouble multitasking. All current laptops come with at least 4GB of RAM as an absolute minimum, so try to choose a model that has 8GB or more (most mid-range and high-end machines do) if you want the best performance possible; standard models usually offer between 4 and 12GB, depending on price point. Laptops that boast more than 16GB of memory are only meant for those who frequently use resource-intensive applications like graphic design software.

12. Get the Right Processor Type for You!

This is an easy one: laptops come with either of two kinds of processors (also called CPUs) — "unlocked" or "clocked." Unlocked processors are more powerful and allow you to overclock (a process that speeds up your computer by forcing it to work harder than normal), but they're also pricier; if you don't plan on overclocking then go for a clocked laptop instead since these typically offer similar performance at a lower cost. Models featuring Intel i5 or i7 chips tend to be good all-around performers, so only opt for the faster i7 chip if you know you'll benefit from its increased power.

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

While some of the above specs are important to consider, none of them make or break a laptop's performance so don't stress too much over what you're getting! Instead, look at each laptop as a whole and determine its worth based on that. For example, if it has all the minimum requirements needed but is lacking more advanced features like a backlit keyboard or touchscreen display, then you can usually find those options in other models for a cheaper price. Just keep your priorities straight and buy only what you need! And don't forget: read reviews from professional tech sites before making any purchases so you can stay abreast of new releases and see how they fare against their competitors.

Conclusion - How to Pick the Best Laptop Suit For Your Needs!

All current laptops come with at least 4GB of RAM as an absolute minimum, so try to choose a model that has 8GB or more (most mid-range and high-end machines do) if you want the best performance possible; standard models usually offer between 4 and 12GB, depending on price point. Laptops that boast more than 16GB of memory are only meant for those who frequently use resource-intensive applications like graphic design software.

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