2021 Laptop Buying Guide | Things to Focus on and Things to Avoid

Needless to say, the last year and a half have been mighty challenging for all of us — the... | 1. October 2021

Needless to say, the last year and a half have been mighty challenging for all of us — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s plans, and no one’s all too sure what to think or how to feel about the future. One thing, however, became apparent: the tech we use “on the daily” definitely made our lives easier, which is why a 2021 laptop buying guide is more than warranted!

The things one should focus on haven’t really changed much over the years, and that’s good. The market, however, did. We’re not talking about any huge, tectonic shifts here, but the nuances matter, too! First of all, some of the top-tier features (and nice-to-haves) have trickled down onto the mid-range segment of the market which, in short, is absolutely stellar news. That means that you’ll get more bang for your buck, basically.

Secondly, both Intel and AMD have exceptional processors and APUs to offer, which means you can’t go wrong either way. Intel might be a bit better when it comes to single-core performance, but AMD is still kind in all kinds of multi-core workloads, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Moreover, integrated graphics have improved a ton, which means you’ll be able to game comfortably on both Intel’s Xe graphics and AMD’s Vega ones. Just don’t expect any miracles as these are low-powered APUs, after all.

So, with that out of the way, let’s focus on the most important things you should focus on when buying a laptop in 2021!

2021 Laptop Buying Guide | Display

The laptop’s display is, naturally, of the utmost importance. Make sure it’s an IPS panel with at least 300 nits of brightness. If you can find a model with 400 nits, that would be even better, and any more than that is, in a way, somewhat redundant.

A surprising number of manufacturers have started implementing 16:10 displays into their laptops which, in short, is great news for anyone looking to use these machines for productivity rather than just content consumption. We’re talking about a world of difference here! If you’re into that sort of thing, definitely make sure splurge a bit more as it’s quite an impactful addition, one whose benefits you’ll no doubt harness over the years to come.

Last but certainly not least, think about screen size in general. 13.3″ might be a bit too cramped for most people, with 14″ being somewhat of a sweet spot. Then again, it’s all highly subjective, so make sure to test as many laptops as you can at your local IT store before making any sort of final decision.

Display Size Invariably Influences Performance

This heading might seem strange, but hear us out: 13.3″ laptops are often limited to integrated graphics or dedicated MX ones from NVIDIA. The only two mainstream laptops that small with dedicated GPUs are the Blade Stealth 13 from Razer, and the ROG Flow X13 from ASUS.

At 14″, however, you can go as high as an RTX 3080 — the times we live in! Laptops with 15.6″ screens obviously have the most potent specs and the beefiest cooling solutions, but they’re not necessarily better in any regard. Some models are, for sure, but it varies wildly from one manufacturer and model to another.

RAM — How Much do You Really Need?

Smaller laptops often have RAM soldered onto the motherboard. That, in short, means you won’t be able to upgrade your memory further down the line which, depending on your workflow, may or may not be a problem. 16GB should really be the bare minimum these days, with 8GB being acceptable only for the most undemanding of tasks like web browsing and light “office-type” work.

Last but certainly not least, make sure to buy a laptop that has a dual-channel RAM configuration. That’s pretty much an absolute must in 2021 as it’ll not only improve the “snappiness” of your operating system but your in-game FPS count as well — by quite a wide margin, too!

Laptop Buying Guide 2021

2021 Laptop Buying Guide — Things to Focus On

Cooling Solution & Thermals

Some laptops have better cooling solutions than others. That might be a no-brainer, but it really does warrant a bit of granular analysis. You’re buying a laptop which you’ll be using for the years to come, and if it’s too warm to the touch or sounds like a jet engine, then you’ll find yourself in quite the pickle.

That’s why it’s so important to watch as many reviews for that specific model you’re interested in as these things cannot be changed or improved further down the line.

You can, generally speaking, underclock the CPU (and GPU) and implement a myriad of tweaks in the BIOS and what have you, but these adjustments should only be reserved for the tech-savvy among you — it’s not something that should be done by inexperienced buyers or “casual” users.

And, well, if you’re not particularly partial to Windows and gaming, you might as well go for Apple’s M1 MacBook Air — the one that’s passively cooled — as it’ll provide you with the absolute best user experience you can possibly get in that price range. Heck, it’s so good it doesn’t even make sense.

Port Selection

Most thin and light laptops these days come with a couple USB-C ports and that’s it: no USB-A, no SD card readers, no HDMI ports, nothing. That’s not necessarily a problem if you’re okay with lugging around a bunch of adapters and USB-C hubs and what not, but it’s still a hassle and is worth mentioning.

Windows laptops are noticeably better in that regard, but if you’re looking to buy a true ultrabook (one that’s almost impossibly thin and light), we’d be lying if we didn’t say that Apple’s trend of cutting down on I/O hasn’t caught on with companies like Dell, Lenovo, HP, and many others. The smaller the laptop, the fewer the ports. That’s just the world we now live in.

Think Long Term

Try to think about the bigger picture. Will you still be using this laptop in a few years’ time? Will it be for work, leisure, or a mix of both? Will you game on it to your heart’s content, or will it solely be used for web browsing and the like? These are all hugely important questions and they should definitely influence your purchasing decision.

No two laptops are “built” the same. Some are engineered to last longer than others, and the more you invest the better the odds of it surviving the test of time. In any case, 2021 is fairly forgiving if you’re willing to spend upwards of $1000 on a laptop, be it for gaming or any other workload! Just make sure to do a bit of research before taking the plunge!