Choosing a New Laptop

With so many hundreds of confusingly similar or even more confusingly different choices, finding the best laptop for your needs can be complicated and frustrating.  This new article series will help you.

This is the first part of a new article series on choosing a new laptop.  Links to the other four parts of the series are at the bottom.

Many of us might find our plans for a new laptop (or desktop) computer brought forward with the incipient advent of the new Windows 11 operating system.  The new operating system, on the face of it, something to be welcomed, is turning out to be a double edged sword.

The good news is that Windows 11 promises to be generally “better” and also slightly faster than the Windows 10 that has been out there since July 2015, and the even better news is that Microsoft will allow us to upgrade to Windows 11 for free.  Windows 10 development has of course ended, and the support and fixes for Windows 10 will end, although not until 2025.  But, effective now, all new features, capabilities, and improvements will be directed to Windows 11 rather than Windows 10.

There’s a sting in the tail of that good news.  Windows 11 will not run on most computers that are more than two or so years old, and some readers have even advised that their newer and reasonably high-end computers won’t be capable of handling Windows 11 either.  This is ostensibly due to Windows 11 having more built-in security that relies upon some physical features of the hardware in the computer itself combined with capabilities of the CPU, and both these things only started to be common about two years ago.

Yes, Microsoft certainly could have made it an optional feature, allowing Windows 11 to run on older machines too, but without the full new security features.  For whatever reason, it has chosen not to do so.  That not only requires us to consider getting a new computer if we want to upgrade to Windows 11, but also, and obscured by the “bundled” price of the new computer, included in that new computer cost is the price of a new copy of Windows 11 too.  Clearly, Microsoft’s “free” upgrade will generate a large measure of fresh income to itself.

It was eight years since I’d last bought myself a laptop, and five years since buying a laptop for my daughter, a decision that seemed to have been based more on the “cool factor” of its appearance rather than any underlying functionality.  My original confidence at being able to quickly identify the “best” choice now was quickly shaken.  Perhaps I should not have been surprised at the many changes in eight years.

But these changes were not just the “obvious” things like faster processors, more memory, and greater storage capacity.  The entire paradigm of what a laptop should be, and should include, has changed.

To open the article with its conclusion, but to give context to my deliberations and discussion, I ended up buying an LG Gram laptop with the following specifications :

  • Intel 11th generation i7-1165G7 processor
  • 32GB of LPDDR4X 4266MHz memory
  • 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • 17″ screen with 2560×1600 pixel resolution
  • Intel Iris Xe Graphics
  • 80 Whr battery and “up to” 19 hours battery life
  • 65W USB-C PD charger
  • One HDMI 2.0, two USB-C 4.0 Gen 3×2 or Thunderbolt 4 ports, and two USB 3.2 ports
  • Audio port, DTS X:Ultra sound
  • Micro SD Card reader
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Webcam and dual microphones
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Intel Evo certified, CES 2021 Innovation Award honoree
  • Windows 10 Home
  • 14.97″ x 10.24″ x 0.70″ and 2.98 pounds
  • Two year warranty

I bought it through Costco.com, where it is currently on sale for $1649, down from the normal price of $1849.  PCMag describes this computer (but not the exact same configuration) as “It’s unquestionably the best 17-inch laptop you can buy if you’re not a gamer or multimedia content creator.”

Costco is selling a series of other LG Gram laptops on sale at present (August, 2021).  This table summarizes them with links to the Costco pages (the configuration I chose is at the top) :

Screen Memory SSD Storage CPU Other Price
17″ 2560×1600 32GB 1TB i7-1165G7 Latest gen ports $1649
17″ 2560×1600 16GB 512GB i7-1165G7 Latest gen ports $1249
16″ 2560×1600 16GB 512GB i7-1165G7 Latest gen ports $1399
15.6″ 1920×1080 16GB 512GB i5-1135G7 Older ports $799

Many people will find the 16GB/512GB configurations more than adequate, and the impact of the older ports and less powerful processor on the astonishingly bargain priced $799 unit is minimal for most normal usage.

Just to be clear, this article is not an advertisement for LG laptops.  I have not been paid to feature them, and get nothing if you buy one.  I’m simply sharing my thought processes, what to look for, and what I believe to be four excellent value choices.  I’m sure there are other laptops that are similarly good, maybe some that are even better value (please let me know if you find them!), and, at the risk of stating the obvious, when these go off-sale, and with new laptops appearing all the time, they may not remain in the “sweet spot” of best value for long.

Lastly in this section, a warning – be careful if you are choosing an LG Gram – there are earlier generations of the Gram also out there and being sold as new too, without revealing they incorporate previous generation technology and capabilities.  That’s not to say they are bad, but definitely be sure that if you are buying a 2020 or 2019 model Gram that the price is suitably reduced to reflect that.

How Much to Spend – Why Sometimes, More is Less

Of course you want some warranty with your laptop, possibly even an extended service contract.  We discuss these in the next part of this article series.  But although a warranty and/or service contract will (hopefully) fix your computer if it breaks (but probably not if it breaks due to your rough treatment), they won’t extend your computer’s useful technological life.

If the last almost four decades of personal computers has taught us anything, it is that they continually evolve and improve.  Yesterday’s state-of-the-art highest-specification computer is today’s normal computer, and all too soon becomes tomorrow’s obsolete slow monster that no-one wants to touch.

These days, hardware evolution has greatly slowed, and so too has the pressure on hardware by ever-more-complex and demanding application software.  But the pace of progress and the need for improved performance has not stopped.  It is still continuing, just more slowly.  For that reason, you don’t want to buy a low-end computer that quickly becomes obsolete.

The Cost/Benefit of Future-Proofing Your Computer

I usually try to buy a computer that is in the upper quartile of options in terms of present day performance, in the hope it will last longer before becoming functionally obsolete.  I never buy the very best, highest-performing unit, because the extra cost for this is not reflected in a proportional gain in longevity, but going from “average” to “above average” usually results in another year or two of useful life, and that is often worth the modest extra cost up front.

Here’s a simple formula :  How many years do your computers typically last?  If you answer, for example, three years, is it worth paying an extra 33% in cost now to buy another year of life before you upgrade it?  If you answer five years, then the extra year would be a milder 20% extra consideration.

Actually, the cost of a replacement is more than the price of the new computer itself (and don’t forget to add the sales tax to the cost!).  It is the massive disruption in copying over data, re-installing and configuring software, sometimes even in needing to buy new software if the software is licensed by the machine and can’t be transferred over (like some versions of Microsoft Office) and possibly in buying other accessories too (because the new computer might have different connectors and capabilities).

So, if you’re looking at a machine that you expect would last four years and costs $1500, why not spend $1900 to get a machine that will last five years?  Not only do you defer the disruption of computer replacement, it also means that for the first four of those years, you’ve got a better/faster/more capable machine.

That’s a win-win every which way, every which day.

Which Laptop is Best for You?

You now know which laptop I chose.  But which is best for you?  How much memory and storage do you need?  How big a screen?  And so on?  Please now click on to the subsequent parts of this article series :

Introduction and “The Chosen One” (The laptop I selected for myself) – this article!

The Invisible Bits (Memory, Storage, CPU, Warranty)

The Visible Parts (Screen and Keyboard)

The Other Things (Connectivity, Battery, Size/Weight)

External Extras (Screens, Hard Drives, Mouse and Keyboard, etc)

Connecting it All (An External Hub)

Bonus Article :  Choosing a New Desktop – Beware The Huge Lurking Trap!  –  to be published

 

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