How to choose a laptop?

February 24, 2020


This time we'd like to talk about choosing a laptop. In the first glance, it seems as if it is pretty simple - you go to the store, ask the merchant for some recommendations and you have it.

The main reason for this writeup would be an anecdotal case where a person we know did exactly the above. In addition, they had the idea that the more expensive it is, the better.

Surely we wouldn't want to declare to be creating the best guide there is, but this also isn't a guide to choose a computer for merely playing games.


When choosing a display, you must take in account 4 components:

Glossy or matte

Our preference is a matte display. With this you can do work without seeing your surroundings reflected off the screen. An interesting nuance that speaks in favour of matte - in an open-space working environment, where usually headphones are also used, the glossy screen would quickly turn into a nuisance. This is because you are seeing everyone that passes you from behind you or beside you off of your screen and even if you don't want to, you keep reacting to these and wondering who the people were who passed. The same problem goes for lighting reflections. If you're working a lot outside, in bright conditions or in the sunlight, then the matte screen is definitely more useful. Our recommendation: matte display.

Diagonal and resolution

The display's diagonal and resolution go hand-in-hand. Firsly about the diagonal. Choosing the display diagonal you should consider what will the main purpose of using the laptop will be. If it is for graphical or projecting work, the large diagonal is more important. But if you're a traveller, the smaller diagonal and thus weight, is more important. Mostly laptops are with 14 to 15'' diagonal. Why I joined together these two arguments is precisely because 4k or UHD (3840 x 2160) resolution on a 13'' screen is difficult to use, yet on a 17'' display it is usable. Resolution shoulds how many dots are on your screen in both horizontally and vertically in a row. So the larger the number of the dots, the smaller and further away the picture on the screen appears. Old people tend to say about large resolutions "flea poop", because the text and icons are very small. With resolution, there comes another problem. Namely, the resolution of the screen is changable, but every display has a native resolution or best resolution where the picture is still sharp and beautiful. On other resolutsion the picture is blurry and for instance for graphical designers and photographers, it is unusable. The native resolution is always marked down in the laptop specification sheets. Our recommendation: It is hard to recommend anything in particular, because it depends on the particular context of use, but for office work and home usage, we recommend 14 to 15'' diagonal with a resolution of 1920 x 1080.

Physical strength and hinges

The display's physical properties' importance comes out with experience. Namely, if you're a very active user of the laptop, in other words if you move around a lot with your laptop, then with that in choosing a laptop it is also important how physically resistant a laptop is. Otherwise the lifespan of the laptop might be too short. With the screen strength I can bring up a specific example. Forgive me now, Lenovo, but for instance the Lenovo V130 screen is OK for a home user, but the shell of the screen is very fragile. The shell is overflexing and if you try closing it again from one side of the screen, the screen bends. I cannot imagine what would happen to this laptop in the hands of an user with an active lifestyle.

If the laptop is in the bag and gets a bit pressured inside of it, it might end badly - for example the screen is rubbed against the keys of the keyboard. Surely lots of people have seen laptops with glossy lines across the screen from this effect. These lines come when the laptop is carried in a bag, the shell of the laptop has weak construction, then the surface of the screen is bent against the keys and that friction is doing the screen polishing effect.

The laptop hinges are a weak component, of which the quality is one of the most important ones for the sake of laptop's durability. Since it is one of the most moving parts of the laptop, it also tends to wear down the quickest. The quality of this is affected by how the screen is designed and what materials have been used in the production of the hinges.

Our recommendation: Do research on the selected laptops, you'll certainly find reviews on the web about different models. When you hold the laptop in your hand and it feels like jelly and flexing the screen gently it also seems too soft, then we would be looking for something else. A good test to do in the store is to hold the laptop from one corner and feel how much the whole laptop flexes under its own weight.

Hard drive

Nowadays we would completely ignore all laptops which ONLY have a rotating oldschool hard drive. The rotating hard drive, contrary to its name, is not that hard: if you drop the laptop, the hard drive breaks. In additon, compared to modern hard drives (NVM, SSD), these are very slow. Also a big difference between the oldschool hard drive against NVM and SSD-s has is that the hard drive must spin physically to get to the data that you need, which makes retrieving information significantly slower. NVMs and SSDs the data retrieval time is almost unnoticable. So what to use? NVM or as a worse option, SSD. If possible, one should choose NVM that sits on the PCIe slot, which ensures the fastest laptop. We're bringing out some numbers for data read and write speeds: NVM PCIe 2500/2200 MB/s SSD 550/520 MB/s Kõvaketas 180/120 MB/s So the NVM is ~20x faster than the classical rotating hard drive. Our recommendation: NVM on PCIe slot, with a size of at least 256 GB.


If the hard drive holds the operation system and your data even when there is no power, then working memory is one that is only used when the computer is turned on.

Nowadays all memories are with satisfying speeds and thus the only argument that we'd consider is the size of the memory. For Windows, the minimum should be 8 GB of working memory. Linux is OK with 4 GB, but 8 GB is still better for a more secure future.

Our recommendation: Working memory of 8 GB or more - this covers 70% of people's needs. For gamers and people that do graphical work, they need much more, for instance 32 GB or 64 GB.

External connections

USB ports

Before you purchase a laptop, you should consider what devices you will be using with the laptop and how many of them should be able to simultaneously be connected. From the known USB port now USB3 and USB3.1 ports are used. Like always, as time goes by, the faster they are. The important part is how many USB ports you actually need. On cheaper and smaller laptops usually you only do see 2 USB ports. If by happenstance it does not include the built-in ID-card reader, but you use it daily and you also have printer connected, then it might happen that you don't have enough ports. This has a solution: USB hub, but using any sort of additional devices to use even more additional devices somewhat loses the purpose of a laptop to be mobile. If you're an avid traveller, you should also ensure that when laptop is powered off, then at least one of the USB ports will still give out current. In this case you can use the laptop as an additional battery pack for your mobile phone or other devices.


Modern computers are very slim and unfortunately it also gives less room for some devices. This is also the case for DVD-rom, which most modern laptops don't have any more. You may use an external DVD device. Frequent CD and DVD use also implies one should strongly consider the USB port number.

Docking capability

This is important for a noffice computer, but it might also be useful for a home user. Lately laptops are shipped already with USB-C docking capabilities, but not all of them have this capability, so beware. If you're still unsure what a dock is, then it is a stationary device connected to the laptop which is also connected to the charger, monitors, mouse, keyboard, network cable and more. It allows you to come to the office and connect everything to your computer via just one cable and thus operate it as if it was a desktop computer.

HDMI and DisplayPort

To connect a display to a laptop, there are two common ways: HDMI or DisplayPort. If you tend to connect your laptop more frequently to a TV or a projector, then HDMI is used more frequently. But usually there are adapters to go both ways, so it does not matter that much.

Our recommendation: minimally 3 USB3 ports and at least 1 HDMI or DisplayPort port.


The battery usage time is usually noted within the technical specifications of the computer, but you may multiply this number by 0,75 to get the best-case scenario for real-world usage. For people that deal with games and graphics on battery power, how long the battery lasts is much smaller than that, maybe half. For people who use the laptop in the office docked, the battery life does not matter. Most laptops have a minimum of 4 hours of uptime. Our recommendation: To get a laptop with more than 8 hours of potential use. The better the longevity of the battery, the pricier the laptop.


The given attribute goes together with everything and is directly related to every other component of the computer. But also, usually the lighter the weight, the more it costs too. Whether you need to consider weight depends a lot on how the laptop will be used. If the main place where it is used is in the office and it isn't carried anywhere from there, then weight is not an argument. But if you have a moving type of work and you have to carry the laptop around everywhere, then it becomes important.


Web camera

Most laptops do have a webcam (web camera), but not necessarily every laptop. When choosing a camera you can go very deep in this topic, but the main properties to use for this purpose are the camera's resolution and lighting strength. Even though you can read the camera resolution from the specification sheets, which is most likely to be 720p, then with respect to lighting strength you have to base your knowledge on existing reviews online. You should also prefer laptops, of which the camera is rather on the upper side of the screen rather than lower, because otherwise people will be looking UP at you, not AT you.

Keyboard lighting

For office work, keyboard lighting is not that important. But if you do work in a dim environment and you haven't yet memorized the keyboard, then keyboard lighting will help. Unfortunately it is the sort of addon that increases the price of the laptop a lot.


It should have Bluetooth connectivity as it allows to connect devices to the computer from headphones, photo cameras to mobile phones.

ID-card reader

For Estonians, the comfortable use of ID-card is important. The need for the built-in ID-card reader depends on how much you use the ID-card. If you rather use SmartID, then this is not so important. The need to use ID-card specifically is highest for government workers, notaries and other people who use ID-card a lot daily. There's an alternative - an external ID-card reader. But this isn't usually something you'd like to keep bringing with you everywhere.

Our recommendation: Think through what is it that you are going to be doing with your laptop and what sort of devices you need to connect to it and make the judgment call based on that. A laptop is not like a big desktop computer where you can replace components easily or add them. Laptops tend to be exactly how you bought them in the first place.

In summary, we can recommend picking your computer on the following scheme:

  • Establish your budget
  • Write down your requirements, e.g. based on this article
  • Choose many computers that fit the requements and your budget (also research some more expensive ones)
  • Research about the selected computers' brands
  • Filter out a much smaller selection of computers from this list
  • Do more research and narrow down your selection until you only have 1 in your selection pool, that you are going to buy

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