What is the best computer to buy? From processors to memory, here’s what to look out for when computer shopping plus our favorite picks.
Shopping for a new computer requires reading through and dealing with a lot of jargon. From various types of processors to knowing the difference between memory and storage — there's a lot of information. But the process doesn't have to be intimidating. Arguably, we've never had so many worthwhile options for a laptop or desktop.
As you begin researching your next big purchase, let us help guide you. Below you'll not only find some recommendations for laptops, Chromebooks, and gaming PCs, but you'll also find some advice on what to look for. We start with a few tips on what to keep in mind when you're computer shopping and finish with a few of our favorite product recommendations.
There are many factors you should take into account when looking for a computer. This computer should last you several years (or longer), so don't only look at how you use a computer right now, but also what you may end up needing it for in the future. By future-proofing your investment, you'll save money and keep headaches to a minimum.
Look at the processor that's included in your build and Google the model number. For example, if the processor is an i7-1165G7, look it up to see how old it is. I can tell you just by looking at the number that it's an 11th Gen processor, so it'll support Windows 11 and all of the security features it requires. But, you don't want to find a good deal on a computer only to later find out it's using an older processor that won't let you install or upgrade to Windows 11.
If you're shopping for a Mac, Apple (AAPL) – Get Apple Inc. Report is in the middle of moving away from Intel (INTC) – Get Intel Corporation Report processors and over to its own Apple Silicon processors. Apple will support its Intel models well into the future, but I recommend getting a Mac with Apple's M1 chips. We're already starting to see some features in software updates that are limited to Apple Silicon processors, and that trend is likely to continue with each major update.
For both Windows and Mac computers, you'll want something with at least 8GB of memory or RAM. If you're doing a lot of video editing, photo editing, and multitasking then you'll want to consider doubling the memory to 16GB.
As for storage — I'd shy away from a computer with 128GB of storage or less. The exception to that rule is for Chromebooks, simply because most of your files will be automatically synced to your Google Drive account and not take up space on the device.
It's surprising how fast a hard drive fills up, so either have a plan for offloading extra files and folders to a cloud storage provider like iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, or get a hard drive that's bigger than you think you'll need. Remember, with the exception of gaming computers and some laptops, you're stuck with the specifications of the device you buy — there isn't an option to add more storage or memory yourself.
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Microsoft's Surface line ushered in 2-in-1 laptops that easily switch between tablet and laptop modes, and with the latest generation Surface Pro 8, Microsoft has built an impressive piece of kit.
The Surface Pro 8 lends itself to being a versatile device for creatives, students or professionals. The Pro 8 has a new design, with slimmer bezels around the 13-inch 120Hz display. Inside the 2-in-1 is an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 128GB of storage.
You can customize the build for improved performance, more memory or storage if you need something more powerful. Keep in mind the Pro 8 doesn't come with a keyboard, so you'll need to buy one of the Surface Pro Signature Keyboards separately for $179.
Need a Windows laptop with more power than the Surface Pro 8? Dell's XPS 13 Touch laptop fits the mold thanks to its Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and 512GB of storage. The svelte and thin design not only looks good, but lends itself to portability. It has a 13.4-inch touch-capable display that you can use to tap and swipe your way around Windows.
For those who are always on the go, the XPS 13 makes a lot of sense, however, if you plan on connecting a lot of accessories to it, you'll want to find a USB-C hub or dock. There are only a couple of ports available on the laptop out of the box.
Apple's MacBook Air has long been a top recommendation for students and those who need a reliable computer that integrates with Apple's ecosystem of services and hardware. At $999 you're getting a lot of computing power and battery life.
The MacBook Air uses Apple's own M1 Apple Silicon processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD for storage. There's a Touch ID sensor that doubles as the power button, making it easy to sign in to your MacBook Air using a fingerprint. The biggest downside? It has only two USB-C ports, so you're going to need some sort of USB-C hub or adapter if you need to connect multiple devices to it at the same time.
Apple's newest MacBook Pro models offer more power than the MacBook Air, and have a design that harkens back to the good ol' days. For example, Apple brought back the MagSafe magnetic charging connector, an SD card reader, and an HDMI port.
You can pick between a 14-inch or 16-inch design. There are two new Apple Silicon processors, as well. The M1 Pro and M1 Max both add impressive performance options, with the Max version better suited for heavy video editing and other resource-intensive tasks.
The base model 14-inch MacBook Pro comes with an M1 Pro processor, 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage.
Chrome OS and by extension Chromebooks are no longer relegated to being a laptop that simply runs the Chrome web browser. They're now akin to a full-fledged operating system, albeit one based on Chrome and Android.
The Chromebook Spin 713 has a 13.5-inch display that's powered by an Intel Core i5 processor, 256GB of storage, and 8GB of memory. As its name implies, you can spin around the display to transition the 713 from a standard laptop to a tablet, using Android and Chrome OS apps.
Chromebooks are ideal for someone who doesn't want to spend a lot of money on a computer or someone who relies on Google's services, like Drive and Gmail, for work, school, or daily computing tasks.
Lenovo's Chromebook Duet is an impressively affordable Chromebook that won't exactly blow you away when it comes to performance, but it can easily handle daily tasks like checking email, watching videos or working in Google Docs.
The 2-in-1 design comes with a keyboard and stand that quickly detaches to convert the Duet into a full-fledged tablet. It has a 10.1-inch display, MediaTek Helio P60T processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of storage.
From young students learning at home to those who don't really need a full-fledged computer, the Duet is a solid choice.
NZXT's lineup consists of several gaming PC builds, each one designed to fit a budget and performance requirements. The Starter Plus PC comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, NVIDIA Geforce RTX 3060, 16GB of memory, and a 500GB SSD. That's more than enough power to play any game of your choosing and hit that 60 frames-per-second benchmark.
If you'd rather build a gaming PC of your own but don't want to deal with sourcing the components, check out NZXT's BLD KITs. You get all of the parts, tools, and instructions to walk you through putting it all together. Prices start at $1,399 for a Starter Pro and go up from there.
Want a powerful gaming PC that you can take on the go? The Asus ROG Strix G15 offers just that at a respectable price.
It features a 15.6-inch 1080p FHD 300Hz display that's powered by a Ryzen R7-5800H CPU, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, 16GB of memory, and 1TB of storage. All of those specs translate into a powerful laptop for work and play.
There's even a row of RGB lighting along the bottom deck, and everyone knows that the more RGB you have on a gaming PC, the better you are at gaming.
Prices are accurate and items are in stock at the time of publishing.
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets as a freelance journalist for the last 13 years.