Laptop Advisor's Buyer's Guide

Last updated on 12/03/2010


By Liam McCabe

Update 1/11/10: We originally published this post back in October as a holiday guide to help you choose a laptop for you or your loved one. The holidays are over now, but this post has taken on a life of its own -- we get new comments every day seeking advice, too many to keep up with most of the time. We'll keep this post up at the top of Laptop Advisor until the models we listed below are obsolete (which, in the laptop world, is probably another two months). In the meantime, we're busy keeping up with the newest models and planning a major update to LaptopAdvisor.com, so feel free to chime in with some advice for your fellow laptop buyers. Thanks all!

Whether you’re planning to make a switch over from desktop to laptop, upgrading from an old laptop to a new laptop, or just buying a gift for a loved one, finding a new laptop can be daunting. It can be a lot like buying a car. First you have to choose whether you want an SUV, a van, or sedan, then pick a manufacturer, then look at the dozens of other options and find out which features you want or need. Finally you sift through hundreds of cars and find the perfect one for you, only to be left with the choice of color.

Buying a laptop has essentially adopted a similar methodology. That method may be great for some, but for those of you that don’t want to spend hours comparing complex spec lists, and don’t want to look at hundreds of laptops, here’s a different method. We’re going to make recommendations based on interests and specified needs:

So you say, I'm a broke college student...

Today's college students spend several hours in front of a computer every day, whether its watching YouTube, downloading music, chatting, or [ahem] studying. Today's college students also carry a heavy debt load and are looking to save some money wherever possible. If a big screen is a must-have, several models in Toshiba's reliable Satellite line are available in 15-inch configurations for under $500. There won't be too much power under the hood at this price range, but that's fine for the purposes of the average student. If a small screen is OK, a netbook might be the right computer. The Acer Aspire ONE is among the least expensive. Again, it's not powerful, but at $299 and under, it's certainly cheap.

So you say, I love to play games…

Though this class of laptop is generally referred to as a gaming laptop, these laptops are really just high-end laptops with high performance parts, especially a slick graphics card. The myth is that only gamers need this kind of power behind the wheel, but graphic designers, video editors, and several other professions can often make full use of these laptops. In any case, my recommendations here are, hands down, the Alienware m15x and m17x. These will have high price tags, so for something cheaper, check out the Dell XPS.

So you say, I want to unleash the creative personality within…

And yes, finally we come to the Macbook Pro series. I’m not the biggest fan on the Macbook Pro; spec for spec, the Macbook Pro is undeniably overpriced compared to PCs. But, for those of you that either want a Mac or want some creative, easy-to-use programs, such as Garage Band (easy to use music creation software), and iPhoto (easy to use photo editor), there’s no denying that the Macbook Pro takes the cake. This laptop also has the processing power to handle high-end video, audio, and photo editing, making it a favorite among artists everywhere. Also, with their unique touchpad and aluminum unibody design, it’s hard not to feel creative and interactive when using this laptop.

This is hardly an exhaustive list touching for every interest group out there, but we hopefully hit the big ones and at least provided a starting point for the others. Leave your questions below -- we'll try to respond to as many as possible, but if we don't get back to you, it's probably because we already have you covered above or can't provide you with a good answer. Feel free to chime in if you can help. Happy holidays to all!



Loading