Stepping beyond the cheapest budget laptops below £500 allows for a better selection of internal components, as well as improving the quality of the build, both in materials and workmanship. Here's our mid-range laptops buying advice. See also: Mid-range laptop buying advice, May 2012.
The result should be a faster machine that's more comfortable to use, and one that will endure longer after daily wear and tear. The most popular screen size is now 15in – typically 15.6in for a widescreen 16:9 display. Beware of budget panels of coarse resolution – 1366x768 pixels is widespread but creates fuzzy-looking text and images. Low-grade glossy screens are also all too common, although better anti-glare matt screens can also be found.
Intel introduced its third-gen Core processors in 2012, aka Ivy Bridge, and these now offer integrated graphics processors capable of half-decent gameplay. Expect to see 2011’s Sandy Bridge Core i3/i5/i7 too, and these are identified by a leading 2 rather than 3 on the part number.
Battery life can stretch to six or more hours, taking away the stress of carrying a charger, but beware that some laptops still struggle to hit four hours.
Build quality is improved over budget models, and expect to see more of the laptop made from durable metals rather than weak plastics.
For connectivity, expect at least one, preferably more, USB 3.0 ports. These allow much faster connections to external hard drives, for example, so you’ll not be left waiting so much to move large files in or out of the laptop. Gigabit ethernet is now standard on all modern PCs, and you may find even faster ports such as eSATA or even Thunderbolt at this price point.
Memory is now cheap enough that any 2012 laptop should pack 4GB; you may find 6 or 8GB offered too. For storage, SSDs give far away the best performance and comfort, but may be very limited in size for a machine costing less than £1000. You can get away with 128GB, or even 64GB, if you don’t mind off-loading media files to external storage.