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If you've got no idea whether it's better to storm Best Buy for deals on Black Friday, click through heaps of price drops on Amazon Prime Day, or wait patiently for back-to-school sales in the fall, then you're in the right place.
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We've put together a definitive laptop-buying guide to help you get the best deal and the best computer possible.
When Is The Best Time To Buy a Laptop?
It's easy to buy the latest-and-greatest machine as soon as it comes out, but you'll be paying a premium for it. Practice a little patience (and realize a year-old laptop is still a very good laptop), and you could save some serious cash. These are the three best times to buy a laptop.
1) Black Friday/Cyber Monday (Late November)
(Mostly) gone are the days of waiting out in the cold in a line of hundreds of people to snag that laptop deal at Walmart at 3 a.m. But Black Friday lives on—mostly on the internet. But then again, Cyber Monday is only three days later. So what the heck is the difference? When will you get the most bang for your hard-earned buck?
Cyber Monday has only been around since 2005, but it feels like it's been around for ages. It didn't take long for the new shopping holiday to become popular as more and more folks began buying their first laptops. Black Friday, meanwhile, has been ingrained in America's capitalistic holiday shopping repertoire for decades, and continues to take companies from the red into the black.
⚠️ Just because it's holiday shopping season does not necessarily mean that you're getting a great discount. If you're shopping online, try using a browser extension or plugin that tracks product prices. I personally use the Chrome extension for Capital One Shopping, and it's a breeze to use. Even if the add-on doesn't find you a better deal, it tracks discount codes and can automatically apply the best one to your cart. Beyond that, you can even earn cash back for shopping on certain websites. Win-win.
Okay, but you want to know which day is better for good deals, right?
Well, the two days are just different animals. If you're looking for something from a department store, like a massive 4K HDR television, it's hard to beat Black Friday. But for purchasing laptops, you're better off waiting until Monday, according to Honey, a coupon and discount browser extension. That company's research showed that in 2019, Cyber Monday savings per user, per purchase topped out at about 21 percent, while Black Friday shoppers saw an average of 18.5 percent peak savings.
2) Back-to-School (June to September)
You don't have to be a student to cash in on the savings around back-to-school season. According to Consumer Reports, July and August rival November and December for the best months to buy a laptop.
"There is a best time to buy notebooks, and it is exactly when you think it is, between the last week in July and the first three weeks in August, when the back-to-school merchandising frenzy is in full force," Analyst Stephen Baker, who studies laptop pricing and sales for the NPD Group, a market intelligence firm, told Laptop Magazine. That's for both Macs and PCs.
Traditionally, these savings are spurred by back-to-school shopping, but Amazon Prime Day is increasingly to thank for ushering in these deals.
3) Right Before or After Big Product Releases
The last thing you want to do is pay top-dollar for a brand new laptop, only to see that a few weeks later, it's a few hundred dollars cheaper, and no longer the latest or the greatest. You can thank the never-ending hype cycle of product release events.
If you're into Apple products and want to buy a MacBook, you'll usually see deals popping up around its special product event, which is always in September. By contrast, if you're waiting to shave off a few dollar signs from that Microsoft Surface Pro, you'll find luck right around the company's massive October event.
If you're not sure when the manufacturer of your favorite electronics hosts its product release events, be sure to at least look those up before buying a laptop—because if it's only a month or a few weeks away, you'll start to see discounts soon.
What Do Those Laptop Specs Mean?
Sometimes, it's easier to shop with your eyes than with your brain. That's especially true if you have no clue what the heck RAM is, why CPU matters, or which features to focus on for your intended purposes. After all, if a gamer, a graphic designer, and a programmer walked into a Best Buy, they might all leave with a different laptop.
CPU: This stands for Central Processing Unit and it handles the underlying calculations that your computer must perform to complete an action. It affects the speed and performance of your computer, so you'll want to make sure your choice includes enough CPU cores, which are tiny little computing units of their own accord. Basically, CPUs come with a certain number of cores built in and you want that number to be higher if you require a more powerful machine.
GPU: The acronym stands for Graphic Processing Unit and, like a CPU, must perform calculations. However, this process is different because the computer math is all related to photos, videos and animation. This is a spec that really matters if you're a professional photographer, designer or some other type of creator.
RAM: Random Access Memory is what helps your computer multitask, essentially. The more RAM on your computer, the better, because it's what helps keep your computer from crashing when you have 30 tabs open while you're working. More RAM power usually means faster performance because it can handle large files. If the RAM gets overloaded, that's when data is sent to your hard drive, which makes things...turtle paced.
4K: This is just a fancy way of showing that a television set or laptop screen has more pixels than older models, meaning it's able to create a clearer picture. Specifically, this means that the monitor has a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels—hence, the name. While that's slightly less than 4,000 pixels, 4K is just easier to say.
Connectivity: There's a good chance that 2.4-GHz versus 5-GHz means nothing to you, though it's often listed as a key spec on new laptop boxes. It basically has to do with the WiFi connectivity. The 2.4-GHz standard provides the greatest distance, while 5-GHz has the best throughput, but not the greatest distance. If you're looking for speed, make sure your laptop supports 5 GHz.
Ports: How confusing is it that some MacBooks have USB ports, some have USB-C, and others support lightning connections? Uh, very. While the ports keep disappearing from laptops, the remaining ones are always changing. Most new laptops feature only USB-C ports, which are much smaller than your typical USB ports. Don't fear, though: if you require a USB connection, USB-C to USB adapters are super cheap.So, What's a Good Laptop To Buy?
So, What's a Good Laptop To Buy?
First, figure out what kind of laptop user you are. An artist who wants to be able to use a touchscreen? A student that only really needs web-based tools to create Google Docs? Maybe an e-sports wannabe? To help guide your decision-making, here are eight of our favorite laptop models, plus what makes each one so useful.
Lenovo 100E Chromebook: For K-12 Students
Despite the popularity of cloud services, a majority of laptops still store most of your files locally on your computer's hard drive. When it comes to Chromebooks of any variety, not so much—a big part of the sell is that you require less storage and processing power because your files are stored on Google's servers. The Lenovo 100E Chromebook is just one of many options, but it stands out as a great tool for young students, especially because it's one of the cheapest options on the market. The 11.6-inch Chromebook is not only rugged, but comes with Google Classroom, G Suite for Education, and other learning apps.
ThinkPad X1 Extreme (3rd Gen): For the Netflix Binger
Lenovo crafted this 15.6-inch laptop to be powerful. It's suitable for augmented reality and virtual reality applications and boasts spectacular graphics, thanks to its NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics processor. It's also got a 4K HDR touchscreen and supports a full day of battery life. Whether you're a PC gamer, love to watch Netflix on your laptop, or just need really granular screen details for your creative endeavors, this laptop is the one for you.
MacBook Pro 16-inch: For the Artist
Given that this sucker starts at $2,400, it goes without saying that this is not the computer for the passive user that just wants to check out memes and read news articles. This thing is a beast when it comes to graphics, with a 16-inch retina display, and the sound quality is pretty dramatic, considering there are six speakers built inside. This laptop is ideal for the creator—the videographer, photographer, musician or graphic designer.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7: For the On-The-Go User
There's a reason people really dig Microsoft's line of Surface Pro laptops—and that's partially because the device is so versatile, perfecting the art of the laptop/tablet combo. And it's also because the Surface Pro is utilitarian in that, unlike most other new laptops on the market today, it includes all the ports you need to connect your devices. That includes: USB-C (that's the one where both sides are the same size) and USB-A (that's where you plug in your regular old USB type B cord). Plus, the Surface Pro 7 is ultra-thin at just 1.7 pounds, and the Surface Pen is still one of the most responsive styluses on the market. It's the perfect laptop for anyone trying to get from point A to point B without having to carry 18 million dongles around.
Google Pixelbook Go: For the College Student
This laptop comes with a battery life of up to 12 hours and a rugged texture on the bottom for ultimate gripping power. It only weighs two pounds and it's 13 millimeters thin. The battery can get a partial charge for up to two hours of power in just 20 minutes of charging. And, to top it off, the purchase of a new Pixelbook Go comes with a three-month free subscription to Disney+. The new Pixelbook Go has all the basics you really need on a computer, looks cool, and is built to last, making it perfect for the college student.
Razer Blade 15: For the Gamer
Okay, this laptop just straight up looks badass without even knowing what's under the hood. The Razer Blade 15 is the company's most advanced model, yet, and comes with the same NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics processor that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme uses. With loads of memory, fast data storage, a full OLED panel, and 4K touchscreen capabilities, it's pretty much the perfect computer for the PC gamer in your life. That's without even mentioning that this laptop has the first-ever "optical laptop switches" in a gaming computer. It "harnesses the power and speed of light to instantly capture your inputs," according to the Razer website listing.
Dell XPS 13: For the Movie Buff
With a 13.4-inch InfinityEdge display that practically eradicates the bezels on the sides of the screen, and a new feature called Dell Cinema that enhances your cinematic experience through better colors, streaming and sound, the Dell XPS 13 is ideal for movie buffs who really, really care about viewing films as the directors intended.
ZenBook Pro Duo UX581: For the Early Adopter
Just looking at this thing, it's clear that it's not your run-of-the-mill laptop. Above the traditional keyboard is a "4K ASUS ScreenPad Plus" that basically allows you to view items and complete work on the bottom half of the computer, as well as the screen. According to ASUS, this second screen is designed for "the ultimate edge in workflow efficiency." And, it looks like it could be way more useful than Apple's Touch Bar–ScreenPad Plus includes its own built-in apps, lets you complete multi-step keyboard shortcuts with one tap, and you can even write on the touchscreen to input text as if writing in a notebook.
Still not sure what to buy? Check out some of our other expert recommendations:
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