Modern Trends in Laptop Technology, and how to buy a modern laptop.
As always the world of computers is constantly in motion. This is even more true when it comes to laptops. 2015 has seen many exciting advancements, some have been in the works for years, others are new concepts designed to make things work even better.
Touch and 2 in 1.
Touch is not really a new idea in the world of laptops, I remember going to a keynote speech by Bill Gates over a decade, where he declared that touch was the future, at the time Microsoft designed an OS around it. It was too early and the entire thing flopped. Fast forward a few years and the tablet, then the smart phone made touch a preferred standard. Now the majority of new $500+ laptops have touch in them. The best laptops are foldable all the way back, into a tablet, we call that a 2 in 1. By the end of 2015, 2 in 1 systems took about 12% of the laptop market, but by the end of 2016 predictions say that over 25% of laptops made will be 2 in 1. You can go from a normal laptop to a tablet in just a few seconds. This level of convenience really adds a lot to the laptop experience, though it does add about $100 to the cost and makes the laptops seem more fragile. Some 2 in 1 systems truly can be a tablet, where they keyboard is removable and the screen is actually the computer system, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
One of biggest breakthrough in the world of laptops is in the battery life. For years 2-3 hours was the standard battery life of laptops. Intel has been on the cutting edge of thinking about how to make laptops better and use less power. The first trick Intel did was to create the Atom line of CPUs a few years ago, yes they used a lot less power but they were so slow that they were hard to use. AMD followed with their E Series CPUs. Intel came back with a new generation of Atom CPUs and then a line of faster but underpowered Celeron CPU’s. All of them gave great battery life but the speed was very slow. Everyone started looking at ways to make the system use less power. The emergence of the LED screen saved a lot of power, then came SSD drives which use a lot less power than spinning hard drives, then came DDR3 RAM, and DDR4 ram each using much less power. Now Intel has really, for most people, solved the problem with their new line of U series CPUs. The U stands for Ultra low power. These chips focused on GPU power, and low power consumption. The result is that a Laptop powered by a 6th Gen Intel CPU will give you 3 times the battery life, over 10 hours of usage on a full charge, while still giving you over 30 times the GPU power vs. high end laptops from 5 years ago, all in a CPU that wakes up in under half a second.
SSD (Solid State Drives)
A few years ago Apple made SSD drives standard on all of their computers. The technology really got much better and cheaper during 2015. A 256GB drive is less money now than a 120GB drive was this time last year. The benefits of an SSD drive are massive, they are over 10 times as fast as a spinning hard drive, they make no noise, and they have no moving parts so they don’t die if you drop your laptop. With the prices going down you can get a 256GB drive wholesale for just $25 more than a 1TB Drive Spinning Drive costs. It has been our experience that 90% of users don’t use more than 200GB of Hard Drive space so this should not be an issue, and if it becomes an issue you can now get 2TB external drives for under $100. I really wish more laptop makers would put in SSD drives in their systems, I think 2016 will be the year that they do, enough buyers are asking for them and the cost in now in line. If you are getting a new laptop I would make an SSD one of the top requirements. With windows 10 and a traditional 5400 RPM hard drive I have noticed that a boot takes between 2-3 minutes of 100% hard drive usage before your system is really ready, you can use your system during this time but it is very slow. With an SSD I have noticed that this time is about 15 seconds, a huge improvement.
With all of the chips and boards becoming smaller, laptops have become a lot thinner. About half of modern laptops have removed the optical drive, most people hardly use them any more. They have moved to thinner internal batteries, which makes replacing the battery a pain but can make a computer smaller. Most of the 2 in 1 systems are very thin and light weight. If you carry your laptop a lot then having this lower weight is important.
Screens have become brighter and feature higher resolutions in modern laptops. LED technology really has made things nicer. You want to make sure that you get a screen that you can work with. I travel, and when I do I need to use my laptop a lot, I do not feel comfortable on anything under a 15.6 screen. Other people I know love the smaller size of the 14″ or even 13″ screens. Most people find anything smaller to be too small to work, it is fine to entertain the kids or do simple things on, but work is hard. I would also not want to get a laptop with a screen that is less than 1080p. I can still see well enough to use that. I don’t see the point right now in getting a 4k display on a laptop. I have 4k on both my home and work desktops but the eye has a limit to what it can see and at 15.6 1080p is better than most people can see already. The 4k adds about $300 to the cost right now and it is just not worth it in a laptop, in a desktop is is awesome.
Other notable features to think about.
A backlit keyboard is really nice, it allows you to see your keys in the dark, if you work in the dark a lot, or on planes you will want this. A fingerprint reader is a way to use your finger quick password input. Most people find this hard to use and more work than it is worth, unless you work in a really secure area. In the IT world they have “Business Class” laptops, these are laptops that are made with metal, and are more rugged than the normal laptop, they cost a bit more, and they are hard to find at most retail stores, but if you or your family are hard on laptops seek these out. Because business class laptops don’t appeal to some buyers due to more clunky design, once they enter the used market they are usually less costly than a consumer product. If you are needing to buy a used laptop for budget reasons a good business class laptop is something to really think about. Most people never use more than 8GB of RAM, having more RAM than this will use up more power and cost more, so unless you know you will need more I suggest not going over 8GB of RAM for most people. If you see a computer that you like that has only 4GB of RAM, don’t worry, you can upgrade it to 8 with ease and at a low price.
For me the wanted features would be, in order of importance, a SSD 256GB or Larger, Touchscreen, an Intel 6th Generation CPU, A 15.6 Screen of 1080p or better, 2 in 1 folding. For things I would like to have if I can find them, but it would not be a killer if they were not there, a backlit keyboard, 8GB of RAM, business class chassis, and weight under 5LBS. At this time there is no laptop for sale that has everything I want. The closest is the Lenovo Yoga 15 Series, at the time of this writing they have everything I want execpt they only have 5th Generation CPUs, they will be doing 6th in the next few months. But this laptop is over $1250, way outside of the budget for most people.
For most people $700 is about the max they can spend. A laptop that is well under that has comes packed with some great features is one from HP we have been selling recently. It has a 5th Gen I5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 1TB HD, Touchscreen, backlit keyboard, and great sound for just $645. It is not a 2 in 1 and it does not have the SSD but is a great buy.
The Lenovo Flex 3 comes really close, it is a 2 in 1, it is a 6th Gen I7 CPU, it has 8GB of RAM, it is 1080p, and very thin and light. It still comes with a spinning hard drive though but for just $875 it is a great buy.
Of course if you are in the Phoenix Metro area and would like us to help you select the best laptop for your budget and needs you can call us. We have great sources for laptops so our services will usually save you more than they cost. This is even more true if you are buying in bulk. Contact us today.