If you’ve been dreaming of treating yourself to a shiny, new laptop and now have the means to, thanks to some Christmas money, we’re going to show you how to make the most of your gift. Our top expert tips will tell you what you need to consider before you part with your cash, and how to make it go further.
You don’t need to splash out to get yourself the right laptop for your needs. Provided you do a little bit of research first, you can make the most of your money and get a model that does all that you need, and then some.
Get this wrong, however, and you could spend way more than you need to. You also risk getting stuck with a laptop that is slow, doesn’t do what you need and spends its time annoying you. Which isn’t what your generous gift giver wanted.
Who knows – if you use our advice and do your research super well, you may even have some of your Christmas cash left over to spend on something else.
For our expert advice on all you need to know about buying a laptop, plus our selection of the best models for all budgets, go to our pick of the best laptops.
Have a good think about what you’ll be using your laptop for, as this will determine how much you’ll need to fork out. If it’s just for the basics, like browsing the web or watching the occasional video, then you can happily save money by avoiding those really powerful, expensive laptops.
Spending less doesn’t mean you need to compromise. We award Best Buys to our top-performing laptops – there are currently three Best Buy laptops in our laptop reviews that come in at less than £550. There’s also plenty of respectable high scorers in our tests that are available at less than £400 from brands such as Acer and Asus.
But if you are willing to compromise, you can find good models for as little as £200.
Use our quick guide below to help you understand what sort of laptop your money will typically get you – and how much you really need to spend:
See our expert pick of the best cheap laptops.
It used to be a straightforward choice between expensive MacBooks and more budget-friendly Windows laptops. But Chromebooks have entered the mix and offer a range of designs – from reasonably priced models to high-end flagships.
MacOS is the go-to operating system for many creative industries. MacBooks are renowned for their power, their good looks and sleek, easy-to-use design. They aren’t cheap, though.
But we know that Apple stands out for customer loyalty – 92% of Apple owners we surveyed* said they would choose Apple again when it’s time to replace their laptop.
If you have your heart set on Apple but don’t want to fork out on top of the line, a refurbished model (scroll down for more on this) might be the way forward. Definitely want to be the first person to unbox it? Then consider a previous-generation model with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.
These will be cheaper than the latest M1 processor and are still an excellent choice if you don’t need the enhanced power and battery life from the newer M1 chip.
Windows is available on a huge range of devices from ultra-budget to super-premium and, for many, is still the operating system they know best. But it’s not without its downsides: Windows 10 updates have been a major sticking point, and the fact that Windows 10 doesn’t run particularly smoothly on very cheap laptops.
But if you’re buying a new Windows laptop, it will now be available with Windows 11. These laptops will have been extensively tested with Windows 11 before going on sale, so should be fine.
Then there’s ChromeOS. This operating system is little more than a fancy web browser, with web apps that work best when connected to the internet. There’s a range of budget devices available, and a few premium options as well.
There’s no faffing with huge updates and since everything is in a browser, there shouldn’t be any problems with programs crashing either. They don’t demand a lot of processing power, which means battery life tends to be good.
A refurbished laptop will have typically been professionally restored by a manufacturer or retailer (Laptops Direct and Laptop Outlet) to the closest it can get to an ‘as new’ condition. They also often come with a warranty.
You could save £100s. So it’s a great way to get a really powerful model and to make the most of your money. You could be looking at savings of up to £370 if you buy directly from the Apple website.
The laptops we more commonly think of as second-hand are typically used laptops sold ‘as is’ by their previous owner, and their condition will be far more variable.
Check the laptop will still get security and feature updates and will do so for years to come. Windows 10 laptops will get updates until October 2025. So it’s important to make sure that any computer you buy now is Windows 11 compatible, as otherwise you’ll have to buy another one or face using a laptop that isn’t getting security updates after that point.
Head to our Windows 11 compatibility checker to find out whether the laptop you’re interested in is likely to work with Windows 11.
Interested in a refurbished Chromebook? We’ve got an easy-to-use Chromebook update checking tool that shows you common Chromebooks that have either already stopped getting updates or will stop getting updates within three years.
Alternatively, you can look up when it will stop getting updates on Google’s Auto Update Policy help page.
For more advice, read our guide on how to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop.
If you already have a laptop, check how much storage you’re currently using as this will be a good guide for what you’ll need in your new laptop.
Storage capacity is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB, equal to 1,000GB).
You could save money by picking a laptop with less internal storage and utilise free cloud storage (typically 15GB or less). If you need more space, you could always buy a cloud storage subscription down the line.
On Google Drive, these typically start from £1.59 per month. There are also other cloud storage options with similar subscriptions including OneDrive, Dropbox and Apple iCloud and all could work out cheaper than buying a laptop with a larger hard drive.
There’s also the option of an external hard drive that you can pick up for less than £50 for 1TB of storage.
If you’ll need to cart your new laptop about, you’ll want one that weighs less than 1.5kg and an 11-, 12- or 13-inch display. Don’t assume the lighter the better, as there are pitfalls on ultra-thin and light models. Namely insufficient ports.
If you do a lot of travelling, a 2-in-1 laptop might be worth considering as it gives you the freedom of using it as a tablet as well as a laptop. So it could be a brilliant companion if you travel a lot and need something that doesn’t take up much space.
If your new laptop will mostly be staying put in a home office, a larger screen size of 15.6 inches up to 17.3 inches will be best, with weight likely increasing to around 1.6kg to 2.5kg. Laptops with large screens are great, but smaller ones are usually cheaper if the specs are otherwise identical.
If you’ve got an existing monitor, you can easily connect it to your laptop at home. Otherwise consider buying one as they really do help to speed up your work and make your life easier – read our latest computer monitor reviews to buy one that’s decent and easy on your eyes.
Alternatively, a desktop PC might be something to consider rather than a laptop. These have been given a facelift in recent years, so forget the old beige boxes you used to know.
These often work out better as a longer-term investment, as you can upgrade parts of a desktop to improve the specs. Plus our tests have proven that can get you more performance for your money, too.
One test we perform at our lab involves measuring performance when carrying out tasks such as web browsing and demanding photo and video editing work. The table below compares the Windows 10 scores of three desktop models versus all the laptops we’ve tested to see how much you need to pay for the same performance.
|Similar-spec laptop price
Table correct at December 2021.
Want more value for money? Use our desktop PC reviews to pick the right model.
*Survey: online, 7,374 Which? members who own laptops, July 2021.