What to look for in buying a new laptop

There’s a lot of features to consider when you’re in the market for a new laptop.

I recommend you read through this. Then go to Best Buy and bring this list up on your phone. Look around at laptops and prices in the store, then go thru this list with an actual device in your hands. That’s the best way. Best Buy last I looked (2024) had good prices. Almost as good as Amazon.

So, then, here are my 16 features for you to ponder.

The first one is a word of caution / recommendation.

The next 12 are up to your personal preference.

The last 3 are price-performance.

Table of Contents:


1. No Intel OPTANE Memory

I do not recommend Intel Optane memory. It adds complexity and bugs and provides little benefit. As of mid-2022 there has already been one major, publicized Optane bug.

Most devices in 2024 have SSD storage (Solid State Device, rather than the older HDD Hard Disk Drive). I recommend SSD unless you really want to save a few bucks. SSD is not much more expensive in 2024. When you have the speed of SSD already, Optane provides little or no benefit.

2. Screen size

Maybe the most important factor in choosing a laptop is the screen size. It varies greatly.

The most common size is 15.6″.

Next most common is 14″.

A small, “chromebook” like laptop might be 13″, 12″, or even 11″. These are small enough to put in your purse. Highly portable. Easy to carry around. Very light.

The largest common laptop is 17″. Not that common. Hard to fit in a backpack or bag–but possible in a bad designed for them. Heavy. But they do give you lots of screen area if that’s valuable to you. Usually 17″ laptops are high performance too.

3. Touch Screen

Touch screens in laptops are becoming a little less common in 2024. There was a time 2020-2021 when it was all the rage. Since when using a laptop your fingers are often on your keyboard or touchpad, moving your hand up to the screen is not really the most convenient. So this is a personal preference. My suggestion is if you don’t have a touchscreen, you’ll never miss it. If you do have one, you might use it occasionally. (Apple Macbooks famously have never had a touch screen.)

4. Display Flip

Many laptops today, especially touchscreens, open all the way up and flip all the way around to flat again. In this configuration, the keyboard is facing down the laptop looks like a tablet.

These are often called “360” or something.

This feature is mostly marketing and not that useful in actual practice. People want to use their keyboards.

Often these laptops have “tent mode”. Again, only occasionally useful, maybe when watching videos.


5. Weight.

An 11″ or 13″ chromebook or similar scaled-down laptop might be as light as 2.5 lb in 2024. Feels as light as a cracker. You’ll feel like you can play Frisbee with it (but don’t 😉

A typical laptop will be more like 3-4 lbs.

A higher performance / larger laptop could be 5-6 lbs. You’ll notice this weight carrying this around.

Of course if you want to pay more, you can get a light and yet high performance laptop.

6. Keyboard.

Type some things. How does it feel.

Pay attention to the location of these important keys:

  • ALT
  • CTRL

Make sure they’re in the locations your fingers are used to.

Is the Function Key (Fn) required for arrow keys (not usually).

Consider also the following keys. You may never use them, in which case, don’t worry about them. These keys vary laptop by laptop. Sometimes you need to hit the FN key for them.

  • HOME
  • END
  • PG UP

Is the space bar long enough and comfortable to type.

Do you want a number keypad on the right? Only bigger laptops (some 15.6″ and 17″) have them.

A slightly premium feature is a “lighted keyboard”. It can be helpful when typing in dim environments.

7. Battery

How many hours of battery time does it claim? You’ll get close to that when new, and it will decrease every year you have it.

After about 3 years, it will be 1/2 as long.

Is the battery removable

Most in 2024 are not removable. But you have more options in the future if it is. Not a big issue.

8. Touchpad

This is about the touchpad below the keyboard not the touchscreen.

Is it smooth or sticky as you slide your fingers.The best are smooth like silk or glass.

Is it big enough to move around freely.

I do not suggest tapping to click. But if you want that, how does the tap sensitivity feel. Is it too sensitive or too heavy? (It is adjustable a little after you buy it).

How does clicking feel. Not all touchpads click. Most do. If the touchpad doesn’t click, you’ll have to click with the mouse buttons.

If the touchpad itself clicks, what pressure is necessary. How does it feel. Does it click evenly an all areas of the touchpad? Top, bottom, left, right?

9. Touchpad Buttons / Mouse Buttons

Sometimes they’re physical and separate. Sometimes they’re integrated in the touchpad.

Sometimes they’re in the touchpad but not marked in any way.

The bottom right of the touchpad is often Right Click. Often this is selectable in the settings of the laptop after you buy it.

Usually clicking anywhere on a clickable touchpad counts as a left-click (except perhaps the lower right.)

10. Camera

If you can, use the Camera app in windows 10 and see how the image looks.

Too bright / dark?

Good colors?

Good resolution or grainy?


11. WiFi

How many antenna and modes does it have?

1 is low end.

2 is mid-range.

4 antenna is high-end.

MIMO is a good sign. Often you’ll see 1×1, 2×2, 4×4. More is better. 1×1 is still functional.

12. USB ports / Card Reader



USB-C (smaller and oval. Highest bandwidth.) It has become the new standard in 2024.

USB 3.0 (large, standard size. High bandwidth. Still good for external drives and flash drives.)

USB 2.0 (large, standard size. Good for mouse and keyboard.)

How many ports?

Many have just 2. And that is enough for everyday use.

But if you’re plugging in a external drive, and flash drive, or an external mouse or keyboard, then you might run out of ports with just 2. (You can buy a port hub after, but it’s not that convenient.)

Many laptops today are using a USB-C port to charge the laptop. Well, that uses up one of your ports when you’re charging. That can leave you with only 1-3 left to plug peripherals into.

4 ports is a nice, generous amount. Especially if one is going to be used for charging.

Card Reader

Most laptops come with a built-in card reader. Most are full-size SDcard size which will read the memory card from a camera. With a micro-SDcard size-adapter, it will read the memory card from a phone. These are very useful for transferring pictures.

If it doesnt have one, you can get a separate card reader device that plugs into a USB port–but it will use up one of your USB ports so keep that in mind.

13. CD/DVD/Optical Drive

These days (2021-2024) an optical drive is uncommon. And there’s not that much reason for one.

If you think you need one, you’ll have to search for it. Larger laptops (15.6″, 17″) are more are more likely to have one.

You can get an external one later if you need it.

The remaining feature tradeoffs are close to pure price/performance not nearly as much personal preference

14. CPU (price performance)

The CPU or processor is the brains of the unit. One of the most expensive pieces (with the display, or hi-perf, gaming graphics, battery), and is a high power consumer (again along with hi-perf, gaming graphics and the display screen).

AMD processors save you money. They are 98% compatible with everything that’s out there. Most AMD processors are very low performance. If you need service on one 3-8 years down the road, there are fewer options.

I usually buy Intel processors.

I recommend Intel Core i3 or i5 or i7.

Anything else is lower performance. I would characterize their performance this way:

i3 – basic performance. not snappy, but functional.

i5 – pretty fast most of the time.

i7 – snappy, fast and responsive.

However, there are different versions of i3, i5, and i7.

The best bet is find out exactly which variant of the processor is included, and go to cpubenchmark.net and look it up. Hi-end or Hi-mid-range are very good. You can save money by going lower. Lower than mid-range will result in noticeably slower performance.

15. Memory (price performance)

For Windows 10 I recommend a minimum of 8GB.

16GB is becoming more common in 2024 and is more than enough for most people.

Unless you’re doing intensive computation, video, graphics, you don’t need 32GB.

16. Storage size / HDD / SSD (price performance)

Since 2021 I recommend almost always an SSD. They cost only marginally more but are 2x to 4x faster and have become standard.

128GB SSD is not that common anymore. It is small. If you have a lot of pictures it’s not enough.

256GB SSD is often available in budget laptops. It’s probably big enough for most people. If you have A TON of pictures (thousands), and a bunch of videos (hundreds), maybe not.

512GB SSD pretty standard in 2024, and big enough even for a lot of pictures and some videos.

In 2024 1TB SSD size is becoming common and reasonably priced. 1TB = 1,000GB.

If you have A TON of pictures (thousands to tens of thousands), and many videos (hundreds to thousands), you will need 1TB, maybe even 2TB. A one hour video can be 1GB in size. 1GB can hold several hundred pictures. At 2TB you might notice the difference in price between SSD and HDD. Maybe $100.

That’s it! Have fun shopping! Call me, John, at 609.613.8815 if you want more help.