The Home Laptop Sweet Spot
Finding a laptop that best fits your life and budget can be straightforward if you know what to look for. Before you start your laptop search, consider the following recommendations to help you balance features, power, and price without having to compromise on what’s most important to you.
Most home laptops come in a clamshell form factor, where a screen flips up to reveal a keyboard and a trackpad. This popular form factor protects your laptop’s screen when closed, and it typically leaves enough room for comfortable typing and mouse use whether sitting at a desk or on a couch.
Another form factor option, the 2-in-1, allows owners to either detach the keyboard or fold it behind the screen, at which point they treat the laptop’s screen like a stand-alone touchscreen tablet. 2-in-1s offer the best of both worlds—the performance of a PC and the fun of a tablet—in one sleek device.
Unlike other laptop categories, home laptops don’t necessarily have to be the thinnest, smallest, and lightest, especially if you plan to primarily use your laptop on a desk or a table. Larger home laptops can fit more keys on their keyboards, like a 10-key pad, which can be useful for bank statements and other personal projects. They can also include bigger screens, additional ports, optical (DVD or CD) drives, and more gaming potential, all of which we’ll cover later in this article.
Still, if you prefer to rest your laptop on your lap or you like the option of tucking your home laptop into a bag and using it at a cafe, you may want to opt for a smaller, lighter form factor. You can still expect to get plenty of power, expandability, and screen quality from a smaller home laptop.
The size of a laptop’s screen will directly influence its weight and price. Laptops are typically categorized in stores and online by the size of their screens. Common screen sizes for laptops usually start at 11 inches and continue up to 17 inches.
A good home laptop should support a big enough screen to accommodate your most intensive uses. Thankfully, newer laptop screens support high resolutions, which you need to pack more windows and apps onto a single screen. If you imagine only using a laptop for basic tasks, such as web browsing, email, and word processing, a 13-inch screen could be a great choice.
One way to get the best of all worlds is to set up an external monitor at your home laptop’s ideal desk or table. By connecting an external monitor to your home laptop, you’ll be able to view and manage more apps and windows across all visible screens. When you don’t need as much screen real estate and want to take your laptop to another room or on the go, simply disconnect the external monitor, just like you’d disconnect an AC power plug. If you like the idea of connecting an external monitor to a home laptop, be sure to read the “Ports and Connectivity” section.
If connecting and disconnecting an external monitor doesn’t sound ideal or you’d like to increase the size of fonts for easier readability, look for a 17-inch model. For your primary home laptop, a larger screen will go a long way toward making your computer investment last. Seventeen-inch models typically weigh more, but for home laptops meant for a primary desk or table, weight might not be a primary purchasing factor.
For a good balance between mobility, performance, and price, check out some 15-inch models. Many weigh four pounds or less and are targeted for the mainstream consumer—meaning you’ll probably find more features you want, such as more ports, an optical (DVD or CD) drive, and better battery life.
No matter what screen size you select, you may be able to choose a touchscreen panel on your home laptop of choice. This option is often available without costing much extra and can be useful when you want to forgo using a built-in trackpad or external mouse for activities like web browsing.
PC vs. Mac
For many computer users, the divide between PC and Mac options has been flattened by a number of factors. Commonplace apps and services like email, social media, productivity/office suites, and video streaming now rely on web browsers, which often work identically on a PC or Mac. And many other installable apps work nearly the same on PCs and Macs, with the biggest exception being any apps made by Apple, although these typically have PC equivalents.
PC home laptops have a few considerable advantages over Mac offerings.
- Variety: Apple intentionally limits its selection of laptops to a few models, and these do not include options like 2-in-1 form factors, built-in optical drives (CD or DVD), or built-in touchscreen functionality.
- Cost: The increased variety and competition between PC home laptop manufacturers means you can pick from a larger variety of configurations—and thus a wider range of prices. Comparing prices between PCs and the latest Macs is difficult because they usually have different preinstalled software and configurations. You may find a bargain in the form of free, bundled software with a PC home laptop purchase.
- Gaming potential: Some of the most popular video game storefronts on computers, including Steam, Microsoft Store, GOG, and Epic Games Store, offer more games that are partially or exclusively compatible with Windows rather than with macOS. If you want to install and play demanding 3D video games on a home laptop, you’ll need an add-on known as a graphics card—and PCs are compatible with a wider variety of graphics cards than you’ll find on a Mac.
Ports and Connectivity
A laptop can typically get the job done all by itself. But sometimes, you need to connect additional devices to your home laptop to make the most of its potential. Knowing about types of ports will help you decide what may futureproof your home laptop investment. The best news about the following connection types is that they typically come as standard options in modern home laptops.
You may recognize this small ovular port from Android phones and other modern electronics, and it is incredibly versatile. A single Type-C port can simultaneously deliver electricity to your laptop’s battery and connect a variety of external devices.
Some compact laptops may exclusively feature USB Type-C ports, owing to their usefulness and small size. Should you purchase a home laptop with this limitation, you will likely want to add a Type-C hub, which is a little larger than a lipstick tube and plugs into a Type-C port. This small device includes its own bevy of popular device ports (USB Type-A, HDMI, etc.). Type-C hubs can be unwieldy for a portable laptop, but for home use, they can easily connect your most essential devices to a laptop simultaneously.
If you’re concerned about futureproofing your new laptop, check on its box or online listing to confirm that its Type-C version is no smaller than “3.2.” If it says “3.1” or lower, you’ll miss out on some power-user functionality, but you’ll likely be fine.
While USB Type-C has become the most common high-performance port for PC accessories in recent years, Thunderbolt™ 4 offers higher speeds and performance while using the exact same port design as Type-C. Basically, Thunderbolt™ 4 offers everything that USB Type-C does—and more—making it quite versatile. If you want to connect devices like 4K monitors (sometimes labeled “UHD”) and high-speed external storage drives to a home laptop, check its spec sheet for Thunderbolt™ 4 compatibility.
You can learn more about the benefits of Thunderbolt™ 4 in our article on the differences between Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB-C.
If you’ve used computers within the past 30 years, the rectangular USB Type-A port will look familiar. In the past, this port was simply known as “USB.” Home laptops often come with two or three of these ports, and that number should suffice for adding useful devices like external mice to your home laptop. If you want to connect more Type-A devices to your home laptop, the aforementioned Type-C hubs typically include extra Type-A ports. (In a pinch, Type-A hubs also get the job done).
Most modern external monitors and TVs rely on HDMI, a standard that has been around for over 20 years. This trapezoid-shaped plug is the easiest way to connect a second screen to your home laptop to view windows or apps on more than one screen simultaneously. Many laptops include built-in HDMI ports. If your ideal home laptop does not, Type-C hubs often include an extra HDMI port.
In select cases, your external monitor of choice may not support HDMI. Other standards, like VGA and DVI, may require their own converter plugs to connect to your home laptop.
Wi-Fi and Ethernet
If you pay for modern home internet access, chances are you can connect to wireless internet via your home laptop’s built-in Wi-Fi system. All modern laptops support solid Wi-Fi performance by default. The latest Wi-Fi 6E standard supports higher maximum speeds, lower battery usage, and increased security, which will futureproof your home laptop investment.
If you prefer using wired internet for any reason, your home laptop will need an Ethernet port (which looks like a classic phone line port, only a bit wider). This port has become less common in a Wi-Fi-dominated world, but thankfully, the aforementioned Type-C hubs often include a dedicated Ethernet port.
This is not a physical port or plug. Rather, Bluetooth is a handy wireless standard that can connect various add-ons (keyboards, mice, speakers, etc.) to your home laptop without needing additional cables. Nearly every modern home laptop includes a Bluetooth wireless system. What’s more, Windows makes it easy to wirelessly connect and manage your Bluetooth devices, complete with step-by-step instructions whenever you want to add something new to your laptop.
Battery life is always a main concern when it comes to purchasing a laptop. Unfortunately, establishing the battery life of a laptop is no easy task for manufacturers. How long a laptop’s battery will last depends on what you’re using the PC for; it’s best to look at manufacturers’ specs as a general guideline.
Generally speaking, the bigger the screen size of your laptop or the brighter its screen is set, the less battery life it will provide. Smaller laptops use lower-voltage processors designed specifically to offer better battery life. Typically, midsized to larger laptops will offer between four and six hours on a full charge, while ultraportable models can go for as long as 10 hours. When shopping for laptops, look at manufacturers’ websites for battery life estimates or search for and read online reviews for the devices you’re interested in.
If you plan to regularly use a home laptop at a specific desk or table, you may consider investing less in the laptop’s maximum battery life and take advantage of it being regularly plugged into AC power. Otherwise, if you plan to unplug your home laptop and frequently carry it from room to room, keep an eye on its battery life stats.
Modern versions of Windows include built-in options that require a PIN code or even a facial scan to unlock and access any files on a home laptop. For greater peace of mind, check if your ideal laptop includes a Kensington lock slot. This locking mechanism will keep a home laptop tethered in a secure location when not in use.
Random access memory, otherwise known as RAM, is used by laptops to switch between apps and store their temporary files and information. Every home laptop requires RAM and will list its capacity in its specs. The more RAM that’s available, the faster a computer will feel to you. Eight GB of RAM is a solid baseline for average users to juggle web browser windows, word processors, and other popular apps, while 16 GB of RAM is a better baseline for more-intensive use cases like productivity suites and gaming. If you’re interested in learning more about how RAM works, check out our “What is Computer RAM?” article.
Pictures, videos, documents, and other data you’ll want to save for a long time are stored in your laptop’s “long-term memory.” It’s data that may not be used frequently, but it’s pretty important to save, keep, and use when necessary.
Most modern home laptops feature solid-state drives (SSDs), as these have no moving parts and therefore are more reliable and durable. As a bonus, SSDs typically provide faster access and shorter startup times. A larger home laptop may include a hard disk drive (HDD) as well to add more storage space for a cheaper price.
Typical storage sizes on home laptops can range from 256 GB to a little over 2,000 GB (sometimes listed as 2 TB). If you merely plan to store photos and documents on your home laptop, 256 GB of storage may suffice. If you want to back up more-intensive content on your home laptop, particularly videos, 512 GB or 1 TB (1,000 GB) are safer starting points for storage.
The best way to find the lowest price for your next home laptop is to rank your highest priorities.
- Screen size: As a rule of thumb, smaller screens mean lower prices. Screen-specific features, such as touchscreen functionality, number of pixels, and OLED technology for richer colors, can raise a laptop’s price as well, so you may be able to get a larger screen size for less if you decline one or two additional features.
- Storage: More storage for photos, videos, documents, and other files is generally more expensive. SSDs as storage options are smaller, faster, and more durable, so they typically cost more. Some laptops offer a combination of a small SSD and a larger HDD to offer the best of both worlds at a lower price.
- Battery life: If you plan to primarily use your home laptop while it’s plugged into a wall, you can save money by looking for a model with a smaller or slimmer battery.
- Gaming potential: Cutting-edge games run better on laptops with dedicated GPUs. If you’re not interested in the newest 3D video games on a home laptop, you can safely skip a dedicated GPU and save money on your home laptop purchase. You can learn more about GPU basics in our “What Is a GPU? ” article.
- RAM: Much like with storage, lower counts of RAM on a home laptop will result in a lower price. For a modern home laptop, however, we recommend a minimum of 8 GB if possible.
- Ports: Certain home laptop models may feature fewer ports to connect external accessories, like mice, Ethernet cables, and additional screens. These versions may cost less and might be a good cost-cutting option if you don’t plan to plug many devices into your home laptop at the same time.
Gaming and Performance
Video games may require more intensive processing on a home laptop, but exactly how much? This depends on the types of games you’re playing and the services you might access them from.
The biggest gaming specs to look for on a home laptop are its central processing unit (CPU) and its graphics processing unit (GPU), also known as a graphics card. If you want to play modern 3D games on your home laptop, its CPU should have a clock speed of no less than 2 GHz, while its GPU can vary based on the types of games you want to play. Laptop-specific GPUs can do a lot with a little; so long as you have a GPU in your home laptop at all, you’ll get better performance than home laptops that skip the GPU. Faster and more powerful laptop GPUs cost more than entry-level GPUs as well.
If you want to play games on less powerful home laptops, you have a few options. Thousands of popular games are optimized for nongaming laptops, particularly the ones that look like retro and arcade classics of the 1980s and ’90s. And if you have a strong internet connection, you can play powerful games on cheaper laptops via “cloud gaming” services. These render video games on much more powerful computers then stream the results to your home laptop.
Get to Know Your New Laptop
Your new laptop will be an important part of your home for years to come, so be sure to fully test it as soon as you can. Get comfortable with its keyboard, built-in trackpad, and other features either at a physical store demo or within an online order’s return window. Retailer guarantees are in place to make sure you’re 100 percent satisfied with your new home laptop investment.