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Which laptop to buy: 2014 laptop buying advice, and the best laptops of 2014

How to choose a laptop - best laptop specs, how much to pay

We explain which laptop to buy. 2014 laptops buying advice - grab a bargain with the best budget laptops, best ultraportable laptops and more. Plus: laptop specifications explained.

There has never been more choice when shopping for a laptop, which can make purchasing the right laptop a difficult process. Do you want a netbook or an ultraportable? Or are you more concerned about price: looking for a budget laptop, mid-range laptop or a high-end laptop? Perhaps you need a Mac laptop or even a tablet?

The first thing to do is to read our unrivalled laptops buying advice, explained in detail below. This explains all the relevant specifications, and shows you how to get to grips with the specs on offer and how to learn the bare minimum requirements for today's portable computers.

Then check out PC Advisor's laptops reviews reviews, which we've broken down into the relevant categories to help you make a selection. Comparing two or more similar laptops and working out which is the best laptop for you is, of course, a tricky task. And even though to an extent this is a subjective decision, we've tried to take some of the pain out of it with the laptops section of our unique, constantly updated best laptops charts.

We present the best laptops available in the UK, in a variety of product categories. And because we review more products than any other UK website, our charts are constantly updating, so you can be sure you're getting good, up to date advice. (See also: Should I buy a Windows laptop or a Chromebook?)

Which laptop to buy: laptops buying advice

'Which laptop should I buy?' A simple question, and the question we are asked the most often. But 'Which laptop should I buy?' is also a deceptively difficult question to answer.

The fact is that the laptops market has become commodified. With the exception of the laptops made by a handful of high-end laptops makers - principally Apple - it is difficult to differentiate between the myriad laptops that flood the market. Indeed, the question is not which laptop to buy, but what specifications you should look for, what manufacturers you should consider, and how much you are prepared to pay.

A good laptop purchased in 2014 should last you for four or five years. But you have to make sure what you buy is fit for purpose. (See also: Should I buy a refurbished laptop?)

Which laptop to buy: what specs to look for

This depends on for what you will be using your new laptop. For the majority of people, a laptop is for web browsing, email and social media, and office work such as spreadsheets and Word docs. There may also be some photo- and video-editing.

The good news is that for such users the specification can be relatively light, and that will save you money. We would recommend that you focus your budget on the best possible processor, the most RAM you can afford (and use) and - a key consideration - that you invest in as much onboard storage as is possible.

So even at the budget end of the market you should be looking for an Intel Core i3 or higher processor. There's nothing wrong with AMD chips, of course, but Intel truly dominates the PC market these days. Unless you are really strapped for cash avoid Intel Pentium or -Atom processors.

In terms of memory, you want as much RAM as possible. If you purchase a 32-bit Windows laptop you will be able to use a maximum of 3GB RAM. For a 64-bit install the more the merrier. You will never regret having too much RAM, as it will keep your laptop faster for longer.

Similarly, storage is critical. If you're lucky it's the aspect of your laptop that will run out the first. These days we all store myriad images and videos, and making sure you have sufficient space will keep your laptop useful for longer. A solid-state drive - or SSD - is always best, as it is much quicker than a traditional spinning hard drive. But an SSD will add significantly to the cost of your laptop and capacities tend to be lower. If you are at the budget end of the market go for a HDD.

Get those three specifications right and you will be off to a winning start. They will all impact on battery life, too. You want the biggest possible battery cell, and ideally it should be replacable. Other key considerations include the size and weight, and the display and graphics. We'll also consider multimedia and connectivity.

With the former, you need to ask yourself for what you will be using your laptop - and where. If you want a laptop as your principal home computer, and it is unlikely to do all that much travelling, you can save money on thin and light and stretch out to a large 15in or 17in laptop. But if you need a laptop for work on the move, you will probably pony up more for a sleek and portable Ultrabook.

Size and weight directly impacts on display size, of course. Things to look out for here: it's not just the physical size of the screen that matters, but the resolution. Ideally you should aim for a 720p or 1080p display, these days. And not all screens are made equal. You'll find that a matte display is better than glossy if you work under strip lighting (or outdoors). Do you want a touchscreen? It can be nice but it will add considerably to the cost. Generally speaking the more you pay the better you get, in terms of richness of colour and flexibility of viewing angles, and so on.

Few laptops have dedicated graphics cards. Unless you are looking for a gaming rig you will be unlikely to need any more than the onboard graphics built in to many mmodern Intel chipsets. But if hardcore gaming is your thing, invest your money here. Finally, if you will be watching movies on your laptop, or listening to music, you may wish to get a laptop with decent front-facing speakers. In terms of connectivity 802.11ac/n Wi-Fi should be a given. Look for an HDMI port if you want to play content from your laptop to your TV. You can never have too many USB ports, and Bluetooth can be useful.

Which laptop to buy: what manufacturers to consider

We can't in all fairness list only a few laptops makers and tell you to avoid all others. But I will say this: laptops are complex and expensive machines. Things go wrong all the time, and you want to know that if your laptop breaks you will be able to take it back to the manufacturer and get it fixed. So I would always err toward a manufacturer with history and a good reputation. There are great deals to be had online, but there's nothing wrong with a physical store into which you can walk with your laptop if you need help.

Check out the reputation of your chosen manufacturer, although do bear in mind that all computer makers turn out the occasional lemon and customers tend not to post online with stories of a good PC delivered on time. And remember, if something looks too good to be true it probably is.

Which laptop to buy: how much should I pay?

Again: work out what you need, and work from there. These days it is perfectly possible to get an adequate web-browsing machine for £300-£350 inc VAT, if you don't need the very best build or the latest spec. But if you want style, portability and performance you will need to shell out for it. Work out the specs you require, then look at what is available online and on the high street. Remember that at the lower end of the market even mainstream supermarkets sell decent laptops these days. But when you see a model you think would suit your purposes, be sure to check that spec against what you can get online to ensure you grab a bargain. For more, see: How to choose a laptop below £500.

Which laptop to buy: best laptops of 2014

Still confused as to which laptop to buy? Fear not. Below are links to our regularly updated laptops group tests, featuring full reviews of the latest and greatest laptops in a variety of key categories.

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