Choosing a new laptop can be as confusing as it is exciting. There are so many options, so much jargon, so many brands, but we're here to help you narrow down what you need to make the most of your budget and find something you enjoy using.
1. Are you a Windows person, or an Apple fan?
Or both? These are the main two types of laptop. Windows laptops are made by lots of different brands, including HP, Dell, Lenovo and Asus, while Macbooks are only made by Apple.
If you're not sure which to go for, pick the one you're more familiar with. For instance, if your last laptop was a Macbook and you got on well with it, it makes sense to get another. Or if you're familiar with Windows from your work PC, you'll find it easier to get set up on another Windows machine.
Generally speaking, a Windows laptop offers more choice in terms of budget, manufacturer and features. There are fewer Apple laptops, but people who use other Apple products (like the iPhone or iPad) often prefer them because it's easy to get everything working together.
You also have a third option: Chromebooks. Rather than Windows or Mac OS, these run a Google operating system called Chrome OS (like the Chrome internet browser). They're designed to be relatively inexpensive and very portable, though their software mostly works via the internet, so they're better for people who are usually in range of wifi.
2. Will you be travelling with it?
Although of course all laptops are designed to be portable, some are more mobile than others. Think about how much time yours will realistically spend on your desk, and how often you'll need to carry and use it outside the home. These factors make a big difference to the type of laptop that will be best for you.
If you'll be carrying the laptop a lot, consider a smaller screen and lighter weight to make it more portable. You might also find a hybrid (a laptop that can turn into a touchscreen tablet) a useful compromise, or a convertible that can be used in different positions. Take a look at the Ultra Mobile section for our selection of light, ultra-portable computers.
You'll also want to think about battery life: are you likely to spend a lot of time away from a power socket? If so, go for a model with a higher battery capacity – although bear in mind that'll make it heavier.
If your new laptop will spend a lot of its time in the same place, you might like to choose a model with a larger screen, longer battery life and more ports to plug things into. These things make the machine a little larger, but still easy to carry when needed.
3. What kinds of programs will you use it for?
If you mostly use your laptop for web browsing and word processing, you won't need as high-performance a machine as you will if you do lots of image editing or gaming. High-powered machines cost more, so consider what you really need the laptop to do for you.
The two main things to consider in terms of performance are the processor (also known as the CPU, or central processing unit) and the RAM (random access memory, often just called 'memory').
For more intense activities, you'll want a processor with several 'cores' (subdivisions, like the halves of the brain) and a higher speed for each one. For instance, a processor with four cores that each run at 2.3GHz is better than one with two cores that each run at 2.3GHz, and it's also better than one with four cores that each run at 1.6GHz.
RAM is measured in GB (gigabytes, like hard drives) and is a little simpler: a higher number is better, but it needs to be paired with a good CPU too.
4. What kind of storage do you need?
You might also like to consider a laptop with an SSD: a solid-state drive. This is a type of hard drive that has no moving parts, which makes it more reliable and much faster than the regular type. Some laptops have a combination of a normal hard drive and an SSD for the best of both worlds, sometimes called a 'hybrid drive' or SSHD.
A laptop with an SSD will cost more than one with a regular hard drive, but it'll start up faster and run quieter, too.
5. What other features do you need?
For instance, will you need a DVD or Blu-Ray drive? Lots of laptops don't include those anymore, because they take up a lot of space and aren't as frequently used as they used to be. If you want one, double-check before buying.
Another feature that's sometimes omitted from thinner and smaller laptops is the ethernet port, otherwise known as the socket you plug the internet cable into. Since many people only use WiFi now, some laptops have sacrificed ethernet to save space. If your WiFi is poor or you prefer to use wired, make sure the laptop you pick has a socket for it.
There are more extras you might want to consider, including 4K (ultra-high definition) screens, touchscreens, a 360° hinge so you can use it in different positions (like presentation mode), detachable keyboards, and even colour choices (especially if the laptop is a present)