Modern Laptop Buying Guide for the Regular Joe
The exciting innovations are in the laptop market. From high-performance quad-core processing Intel chips to the possibility of raytracing-capable Nvidia graphics cards, the performance revolution on laptops is difficult to ignore. Hardware-wise, we've also been seeing some giant changes. Of course, we have the fully functional tablet computers with full desktop OS since 2015. They're excellent for getting work done on-the-go. But, we're also seeing the emergence of tablets equipped with a mobile OS that's also proficient in accomplishing specific types of work. The iPad Pro, for example, has now become a more-than-adequate digital drawing device and 4K video and photo editing machine that professional creatives just adore.
All of these muddles the playing field because when it comes to portable computers, laymen have never really had this much choice before. So, I've compiled a list of important considerations that your everyman needs to consider in buying a laptop. This means specialty computers such as high-performance gaming systems wouldn't be considered.
Perhaps the biggest revolution in laptops is in the form-factor. Previously, we've had just one option - the clamshell. Now though, we have 2-in-1s, tablets with keyboards, and ultraportables.
2-in-1 (Detachables and Convertibles)
When Microsoft began tinkering with the ARM-based Surface tablets way back in 2011, the project failed. They were seen as tablets that didn't have much use other than content consumption. The worst part of it is that you had to buy the keyboard separately.
Other manufacturers followed suit. Nowadays, we've got Samsung Galaxy Book 2 and the HP Spectre Folio that both have keyboards out of the box. Due to space constraints, they're a bit underpowered. So, don't expect these detachables to have discrete graphics and other space hog components.
Another iteration, the 2 in 1 convertible, started around the same time is best represented by Lenovo's Yoga line.
These laptops are designed to have a keyboard that you can move out of the way when you want to use it as a content consumption machine. However, when you need to create content, it's easy to get the keyboard functionality back through a simple folding or re-attaching. This versatility as a content consumption and creation machine is where it proposes its value. Especially now that a lot of workers telecommute, this versatility is important.
The iPad and all of its iterations have always been the best in this category. But they've all been seen mostly as content consumption machines. The touch interface is just not very intuitive to use for work. So, we're pretty hesitant to call tablets a computer.
However, the most recent iteration of the iPad Pro seems to have positioned itself more as a computer than as a tablet. By introducing full versions of apps such as Photoshop, with other creatives-oriented software slated for release, it looks like it's succeeding where the original Surface computers failed. It's a tablet with which you can actually create content with albeit through specific media.
In a way, the Surface Pros, are part of this too because the keyboards are sold separately. But, in the consciousness of most of its fans, the keyboard is more of an automatic buy rather than an add-on. That's some clever marketing tactic, Microsoft!
Of course, the traditional form-factors cannot die. There are compelling reasons for getting the traditional clamshell. One of it is cost. The addition of touchscreen digitizers can add quite the chunk of change in any given system.
But, clamshells have also gotten some sort of revolution. From the addition of premium materials such as Dell XPS's carbon fibre and the MacBook's all-aluminium unibody, clamshells can't say that they've been neglected.
A computer's capability is largely limited by its specs. So the improvement in the internals has been extremely important in the way laptops develop.
In the processing power department, we've had a lot of developments. From AMD's overclockable Ryzen chips to Intel's new Quadcore Coffeelake chips, the trend is moving towards more power efficient chipsets.
Mobile chipsets have also gotten so powerful that they're now powering computers as well. They're called always-connected PCs which take advantage of built-in LTE. They're often the latest Snapdragon chips often seen in the most advanced smartphones currently in the market.
Apple's A12 Bionic chip also belongs in this tradition. But unlike the Snapdragon chips, it blows the competition to bits in the efficiency category.
So if you're looking for a modern laptop to carry around with you on the go, it's important to look at the CPUs power efficiency.
If graphics processing is more important to you, then you're in luck. Graphics cards have gone down in price recently so laptops with discrete graphics should go down in price as well. With the release of the first-gen raytracing-capable cards with the RTX line, the previous models should go down even more. But, if you're in it for pure power on a laptop, you're unfortunately going to have to go with the top specced GTX 1080ti. Laptop RTX graphics still aren't ready yet.
Some of the systems that have these cards have also shrunk thanks to the magic of innovation. A portable gaming laptop, therefore, has become possible.
When it comes to actually navigating through your laptop. The OS is the most important component.
When it comes to computer operating systems, Windows have been the most dominant. Its heavy integration in the enterprise segment makes it an ideal laptop OS if you're going to use it for work and play. The current software and interface changes also dictate that Windows 10 is the way to go.
Other than that, it's such an open ecosystem that you don't really need to buy into the Windows ecosystem. The best
The best part about it is that you can come in at any price point.
Mac and iOS
If you're already invested in the Apple ecosystem, then there's only one real laptop OS choice - Mac OS. It's a great system if you're already living within it but if you're not, then tough luck trying to get your non-Apple peripherals to work on it. That's a premium that you have to pay to stay in the ecosystem.
For light computing, Chrome OS should more than be enough. This includes web browsing and video watching. But, if you want to do more than that on your laptop, you may be better off looking elsewhere.