So, you’re ready to buy a new Windows computer to replace that old laptop you’ve been using for years — the one with the worn-out keyboard and cracked monitor — and you’re trying to figure out where to get it. The short answer: it depends. Do you prefer to try out keyboards before you buy? Do you like to peruse technology in a store dedicated to one brand, or compare various computers side by side? Or maybe you prefer to compare options online and build exactly what you want.
With Windows 11 now offered on most systems, there are certain minimum specifications to keep in mind. The hard drive and RAM, for example, can be difficult to upgrade later on — especially on some laptops. These days, with the ability to move data online or onto USB flash drives, getting a larger main drive isn’t as critical as it used to be. I rarely see Windows laptops sold now with less than 256GB of storage, but that may be enough for most users. And typically, to support Windows 11’s minimum processor requirements
With the basics out of the way, focus on the keyboard. Some laptop users prefer tactile, “clicky” keys; others want something softer. You might need a numeric keypad built in or, conversely, want to avoid anyth ing that makes a laptop too bulky. I find I have different needs for different tasks. For travel, I want my laptop to be as small and light as possible, even if that means getting a keyboard that’s less than ideal. (I found that the original Surface Go laptop had a better keyboard for me than a newer model, so I went for a Surface Pro 7.) Try different keyboards to find one that fits how you type.
Next, decide on size screen size and consider how light weight you want the laptop to be. Keep in mind that size and weight often affects future do-it-yourself repairability. The smaller and lighter a computer, the more difficult it is to open and replace a hard drive or upgrade memory. (These items are often permanently mounted and can’t be easily changed.)
Note: the ability — or lack thereof — to open a computer and fix a component has pushed the European Union to demand that consumers have a “right to repair,” which could play a role in laptop buying decisions down the road.
That’s not the only change to emerge in recent years. At one time, you could purchase a netbook with Linux. Now, you either need to take an existing computer and upgrade to Linux or find a specialized manufacturer that offers Linux machines. And if price is a major issue, a Chromebook that hooks into the Google ecosystem is now the preferred platform for an inexpensive laptop that allows cloud storage and integration with Gmail.
Perhaps what’s changed the most over the years is that the Apple platform is now seen as a viable option for business. In fact, Microsoft is releasing more and more tools that integrate well with Apple hardware. (Most users don’t jump between Windows and macOS routinely, but it is an option now.)
Another factor to consider is each store’s return policies. Make sure you have enough time to evaluate the new hardware and take it back if it’s not a good fit. Some vendors offer a 14-day return policy, others like Costco give you 90 days. Some require the box and original packaging to get a full refund — so keep them around in case you need them. And some vendors offer technical support as part of the purchase process, either for free or as a separate purchase. Just be aware that you might have to purchase extended technical support within a certain time frame.
Once you’ve made your decision, I recommend not trying to migrate software from one computer to another. If you’re changing operating systems, you might also need to upgrade your printer as well as any critical software you use. (If you relied on specific PDF software in Windows 10, you could find that Windows 11’s native print to PDF works well enough.)
The bottom line, given that most people keep computers for a long time: purchase a computer that’s maybe a bit larger, a big beefier, a bit more powerful than you think you need. You won’t outgrow your hardware too soon and it’ll remain a solid investment for years to come.
Technology is ultimately personal. Take the time to get the right computer for you.