If you are a regular reader here you have probably noticed that I like to add a section called “Who’s it for?” where I describe if types of buyers would benefit from that particular model I am looking at. Because I never did go into detail what the individual categories mean and what I look for when in a laptop when I recommend it for one particular group or other I decided to describe the 5 types of laptop buyers and their needs.
Categories based on user needs
When I first considered making the 5 laptop buyer categories I looked at what are some typical ways laptops get used by different people every day. If you look at how you use a laptop day in and day out, you quickly recognize that different people use their laptops very differently. The requirements on what a particular laptop needs to do depend on how you intend to use it.
Some people need their laptop to work grate while on the go for a long time, while others keep the laptop plugged in most of the time and occasionally use the battery. Of course then there are those that don’t care about battery life at all and use their laptop as a more compact PC and always have it plugged in.
Some laptops come with a built in dedicated graphics card which is a must for someone wanting to play games. For people just looking to browse the web and watch youtube videos on the other hand, it’s just a waste of money and energy. It’s a feature that isn’t required at all in this case.
Others require something particular from their laptops like a VGA-Port for example for presentations. Or an optical drive to install software only available on CD or DVD. While these are nice to have on a laptop, most of today’s users will never use these features.
Just based on these example of the top of my head you notice a large range of what a particular laptop has or doesn’t have to do. So let’s see what I think are the 5 laptop buyer types and what they tend to look for in a laptop.
The 5 usage/needs types
The casual user
Lets start with the most basic requirements for a laptop. A casual user is someone who only uses a laptop because they have to. If you are a casual user you only need your laptop to be fast enough for you to be able to browse the web, read the news, check your emails, write some basic documents, maybe some printing, you might use it to play some music or watch some videos but that’s pretty much it. You only start that laptop up on occasion and don’t really use it every day.
A lot of people just stating out using computers tend to be in this category. Older people trying to get the hand on this “internet thing” also fall into this category.
A casual user is usually someone who doesn’t really care or is interested in what is under the hood as long as it gets the job done. The only important criteria here is that the laptop is affordable and well built enough to last a couple of years. In the case of the average casual user almost any laptop should be enough to get the job done. No need to overspend on something you will probably never even use.
The business user
One step up from the casual user is the business user. If you use your laptop every day, have Outlook running all they long while you write a lot of documents and spreadsheets then you probably are a business user.
Compared to a casual user, a business user needs to have a full sized keyboard with numpad to be able to input all those numbers and data. A good keyboard also tends to be very important here. A business user needs above average battery life and a light laptop so that he can work while on his way to the next meeting.
Presentations do tend to show up every now and then, so a possibility of VGA output is required. The VGA-port has been mostly fazed out by now and it has become a very rare sight on newer laptops. Thankfully there are plenty of HDMI to VGA adapters to solve this problem.
A final feature I usually look for on a business laptop is an optical drive. As much as most people can download all their software nowadays, most business software still comes on CDs or DVDs. Very often you also need to write CDs or DVDs with information for your clients and business partners.
Now the laptop body itself also has something particular for business users. Sober and serious designs tend to be preferable in a business environment. Having a bright green backlight laptop in an office does tend to be off putting. The body needs to be sturdy and well built to sustain daily usage and transport. You have to realize that for business users the laptop is just a tool to get the job done.
The performance needs of business users usually tend to be very similar to casual users. There is no need to get a dedicated graphics card in a business laptop. There’s no need to get the latest and greatest Intel Core i7 Processor just to run an email client and a word processors. Most business software is just a means of inputting and logging a lot of data. There is basically no processing requirement involved and most average or below average processors are more than enough. Average and above average RAM may be useful for a long term purchase. Hybrid storage is also very useful in a business laptop for very fast startup and loading. While SSDs sound cool and all, if one goes bad you’ll lucky to recover any of your data. Sticking with a HDD may be better here.
So with all this in mind I think that most laptops in the 13 to 15-inch range are well suited for business use. You just need to make sure they come with the required ports and features. Ultrabooks tend to be the ideal business laptop, if you go the external VGA and optical drive adapter route. The fact of the matter is that both of these features are rarely used and you can use an adapter on the occasions you need to. On the other had if you regularly do presentations and write disks you really need to get a laptop that has these features built in so that you don’t have to carry external accessories with you all the time.
Student and business users needs tend to be very similar for most people. The difference comes when you are a student in any STEM field or have anything to do with photo/video editing. For people studying in these fields require a lot more processing power than other students.
As a student you still require a lot of mobility with a laptop that is light and has a long enough battery life to get you through a whole day of courses away from an outlet. You will eventually need to make a presentation of your work, so the need for a VGA-port, just like for a business user still applies. The same tends to go for and optical drive. While for small files you can generally get away with an email of some form of file transfer service, you will have to provide much larger files to your teachers. Flashdrives tend to work, but some teachers avoid them due to the inherent risk of getting a virus or something.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end and the special requirements start. Someone studying anything having to do with CAD, FEM or photo/video editing, say architects or engineers, need a good quality high resolution screen. They also need an above average CPU and at least and average dedicated graphics card. Laptops for STEM students can get very expensive very fast. 17-inch laptops aren’t such a rare occurrence in these fields.
If you are a student in another field, say legal or business administration, you can obviously forego the need for a high performance laptop. That being said, good multimedia features are a godsend for downtime after a full day of courses. Playing a game or two, even if on low settings can be very useful.
A sturdy well built laptop body is far more important here than for business users. Dorm room life can get very treacherous for most electronics with a constant risk of falls, water damage or just plain carelessness of other people. The big advantage comes in the form of not requiring a sober design, so you can go full out with the colors stickers and personalize it how ever you want to.
So, if you are a student and are looking for a good laptop for college, you should be looking for either a good all-round laptop. With average or above average performance, maybe a dedicated graphics card if required and of course, the all important long battery life. As with business users, a good Ultrabook tends to be ideal for most. For those special cases where more power is required there are plenty of laptops in the regular 15 to 17-inch format with a lot more features and power. I went in a lot more detail here.
Power users are a special bunch of users. These are people with a lot of PC experience and that like to do a lot of things with their PCs on a regular basis. If you have more that 5 programs on your task bar running at all time and have at least 20+ tabs open in each web browser you use then you can consider yourself a power users. I like to think of myself as a power user as I use 3 different web browsers at the same time and have multiple other apps running side by side on multiple screens. The name of the game here is excessive multitasking, constant switching between applications and wanting a highly responsive, instant working environment.
For most power users it’s generally function over form. If you need to chose between 2 laptops, the one with the better specs usually wins hands down, no matter how cool or fancy it looks. Performance beats features every time. Some power users tend to look for laptops without an OS, most(all?) take it upon themselves to make a fresh install of their OS as the first order of business when buying a new laptop. No excess software that doesn’t need to be there eating up precious resources is allowed to be running.
I usually don’t go into much detail in the power users section, because…well, most already know what they are looking for, what features are a priority for them and what is important in a laptop. But to keep this guide comprehensive, a good laptop for a power user has large quantities of RAM, a above average CPU and preferably a large SSD. If you can get a system with a large enough SSD and a large HDD you are generally set. Dedicated graphics cards aren’t usually a priority and sometimes some power users can go without one completely. Most though tend to have at least an average dedicated graphics card for those rare times when 3D acceleration may be required. Most other features and flimm flamm are usually not important or required at all. Having enough ports, connectors and connectivity though usually is. Upgrade ability and serviceability also bring bonus points for power users.
A good power user laptop tends to be well suited for most resource intensive usage. You can use such a laptop for CAD, FEM, simulations and any other applications requiring a lot of processing power.
As I have described here the gaming laptop is the pinnacle of requirements on a laptop. While it usually happens that good laptops for power users and gamers overlap, the requirements are quite different.
While a high performance laptop is ideal for power users, high performance alone is not such a good choice for the gaming oriented person. As a gamer you require a laptop that is more multimedia oriented than anything a power user may require. As a gamer you need a good quality, high resolution screen, you do need the advanced audio features and most important of all, you do need to have the best graphics card you can afford.
Compared to power users, a gamer won’t be needing the fastest processor or the fastest storage. What gamers do need, is a lot of RAM. You need to be having a good look at cooling of the laptop. Not a requirement any of the other users have. You obviously, won’t be interested or care much about battery life and size and weight don’t play such a big role in the selection process.
A good gaming laptop is usually very well suited for architects and other users looking to do a lot of photo/video editing. The body and design of most gaming laptops tends to be very sturdy, well built and colorful. Depending on what you prefer, some gaming laptops really do look very good.
When choosing a gaming laptop you very first criteria should always be finding a laptop with a good graphics card. Then choose something with enough RAM and decent cooling. You can always get a cooling pad to help with that. Any above average CPU will do and the storage mostly depends on your preference and what you intend to do.
What category of user do you fall in?
By now I guess you can already get an idea in which category you fall with your intended use and can better select the right laptop for your needs. Maybe if you are a journalist and know you are going to be spending a lot of time on the road, away from any power supply, you can look at a good business or student laptop.
Whatever your needs are, there are sure to be plenty of models available for you to choose from. If you don’t go over the top with your requirements you can usually get quite a deal on models that fit perfect for your particular way of using it.