Laptop Shopping Tips: What You Get for Your Money

VIDEO: Advice on buying a laptop computer.

Buying a laptop is one daunting task, perhaps one of the most daunting tech-buying tasks. There are a lot of factors to consider: screen size, RAM, hard drive size, software and price.

That price aspect could be one of the most confusing things about buying a laptop. Stroll through a Best Buy or even just look at the laptop pages on Amazon and you'll see laptops across a number of different price ranges – some cost less than $450, some hover in the $800 range and others can go for as much as $2,000.

Whether you're buying a laptop for school, someone going to school or you're just in need of a new system, you need to zero in on what you need and how much you want to spend. Below is our guide to what you can get in the laptop aisle for your hard-earned money.


PHOTO: HP's Pavilion G6 is a budget laptop that starts at $400.
$300 to $600

This is obviously the bottom price bracket: laptops between $300 and $600. These are budget laptops, which means you're going to get less on the spec and design front.

Laptops in this price range typically have:

Last years' processors, an Intel Pentium or base AMD processor (if you are lucky, you can find one with an Intel Core i3 processor)

No more than 4 to 6GB of RAM

320GB to 500GB of hard drive space

And a cheaper, mostly plastic build

These machines are fine for web surfing, word processing but not video editing or heavy gaming or lots of multitasking. The biggest thing you give up in this category is build quality: The screens are not very good, and the machines are made mostly of plastic. They will get the job done though.

Good choice: The HP Pavilion G6 for $359.99 is one of the better laptops you can get in this price range. It's made entirely of plastic, but it's perfectly capable, and HP did a good job on the keyboard. The $400 version gives you a Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM and 320GB of hard drive space.


PHOTO: The Samsung QX310 laptop has a 14-inch screen and up to 1 terabyte of hard drive space.
$600 to $900

Moving on up are laptops between $600 and $900. This is where most mainstream laptops fall these days, and they offer the best balance of affordability, specs and build.

Laptops in this range can have:

Core i3 or Core i5 processors

6GB to 8GB of RAM

A bit more hard drive space, between 500GB and 1TB

Discrete graphics from AMD or Nvidia

A better build quality than the previous bracket

You will get much more power out of a system in this range. And like we've said, the make of the system will also be better than in the lower price range, but it's more like a mid-range car – design might be good, but you might not get the leather interior and nicer dashboard.

Good choice: The Samsung QX411 is a great example of what you can get in this range. For $659.99 you get a Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. The laptop has a metal palmrest and a nicely arranged keyboard.


PHOTO: The MacBook Air starts at $999; it is thin, light, and has a long battery life.
$900 to $1,200

Welcome to the world of higher-end laptops, those that cost between $900 and $1,200. This is the ideal price range if you are looking for a higher performance machine. There are two types of systems in this range.

The first is the new category of utrabooks. Most of these cost $999. They don't have CD drives, but they are thin, light and have fast hard drives called SSDs, or Solid State Drives. For the entry-level price, you get a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. You get less storage space than cheaper laptops because the drives are so much faster.

Then there are bigger, mainstream systems in this price range, which will have stellar graphics, higher resolution displays, and better-build quality. Typically, you'll find laptops with Core i7 processors, discrete graphics and at least 1TB of hard drive space. It's also where you really start to get a very nicely built system – much more metal than plastic. That's really the biggest difference.

Good choice: The MacBook Air is one of the best examples of what you get for a laptop in this category. At $1,200 for the 13-inch model, it's very well made, fast, and has long battery life. While the Windows ultrabooks at $999 are made well, the Air has had the edge in build quality and in trackpad and keyboard comfort.

Best of the best

PHOTO: Asus' Zenbook ultrabook is one of the best Windows 7 ultrabooks around.
$1,200 and up

You've reached the top, though your wallet might not be happy. This is where you get the best of the best: laptops with premium parts, much higher resolution screens, and top-of-the-line specs.

You also start to get into this price bracket when you add on to laptops if you configure them online. Add more hard drive space or better graphics to a laptop that starts at $900, and it will be easy to verge into $1,200 to $1,400 territory.

Apple's laptops usually fall into that range, and some others from Sony, Lenovo, Samsung and Asus do as well.

Good choices: The Samsung Series 9 ultrabook, Asus Zenbook Prime, Dell XPS 15, and HP Envy are some of the best Windows laptops in this range. Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts at $2,199.00 because it has the highest resolution display on any laptop on the market.

Long story short: more money, better specs and better look and feel. It will all seem a lot less overwhelming if you know what you need, and what you want to spend.

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