Follow our Guide to Cyber Monday for all the best deals this holiday season.
If you need a laptop and you’ve been waiting for a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal to get it, good news! Although most holiday deals aren’t deals at all, we almost always see a few great prices on great computers at this time of year, and we’ll be posting the best ones throughout the holiday season.
Good laptop deals can be a little hard to spot through the haze of supposed sales that don’t actually save you money and low prices on computers you shouldn’t buy. Over thousands of hours of testing laptops (and half a decade of scouring for Black Friday deals, specifically), here’s what we’ve learned about how to find a great laptop deal, what specs to look out for, and—maybe most important—what to avoid.
Some Black Friday deals have already started, and we’ve seen good price reductions on some laptops we’ve tested and recommend. We’ll be updating this post in the lead up to and during Black Friday when we find good deals; let us know in the comments if you have questions or suggestions. (You can also use our feedback form or hit us up on Twitter.)
A laptop is a big purchase, and anytime you’re spending a lot of money, you should also spend some time to make sure you’re buying the right thing for your needs. Don’t impulse-buy.
First, as a general rule, any Windows laptop under $300 is not worth buying. At that price, get an iPad instead, or a Chromebook. Beyond that, here are some things you should do before looking for a deal:
When you’re shopping for deals online, stick to major websites like those of Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, or the manufacturer itself (or look out for walk-in deals at local stores like Micro Center). Avoid sketchy-looking sites, retailers you haven’t heard of, or sellers with deals too good to be true, like BuyDig. The major sites tend to have the best sales on good laptops, and they have good return policies.
Those policies come in handy when you can’t touch a computer before you buy. As soon as your laptop arrives, open the box carefully, keep all the parts and accessories, and give the computer a thorough test drive. If you spot anything you don’t like, return the laptop to the manufacturer or store as soon as possible. Wait too long, and you’ll be stuck with it—some manufacturers give you only a two-week return window.
Wirecutter Deals editor Adam Burakowski told us that the best deals on laptops come around Christmas, but buying a refurbished model is an excellent way to save money year-round. When you’re shopping for a refurbished laptop, buy from the original manufacturer or an authorized dealer—Apple is especially good for refurbished options. Adam warned against seller-refurbished models from places like Amazon, saying, “It’s questionable whether they’ll come through.”
We’ve tested hundreds of laptops in nearly a dozen categories, and most of our laptop guides include recommended specs for our picks, but if a laptop you’re looking at isn’t one of our picks, or if you’re eyeing a configuration we haven’t tested, here are some general guidelines for what you should look for.
CPU: The best choice is a seventh- or eighth-generation Intel Core i5 or better. Cheap Windows laptops can go down to a Core i3 if necessary, and some Chromebooks with Celeron processors are fine (unless the processor has an N in the model name; avoid those). Laptop manufacturers and sellers love using deals season to unload old stock. Check the part number for the CPU: Intel CPUs use a naming convention like Core i5-7xxx, where the 7 refers to the processor generation. Anything lower than a 7 is more than two years old and should be avoided.
Storage: Storage is the first place cheap laptops cheap out, and nothing makes a computer feel slower from day one than a traditional spinning hard drive. Don’t choose a laptop without an SSD. You can get by with a 128 GB SSD if you use a lot of cloud storage or stream most of your media and augment that with a flash drive, an SD card, or a portable hard drive for more storage. The cheapest Windows laptop we recommend, the $400 Asus VivoBook Flip 14, has 64 GB of eMMC flash storage. It’s not great, but it’s still better than a 500 GB hard drive. The one exception to the storage rule is Chromebooks, which use barely any local storage and can go down as low as 16 GB of eMMC storage.
RAM: Get at least 8 GB. The more RAM a computer has, the more things it can do at once—browser tabs, gaming, almost anything benefits from more RAM. Right now, 8 GB is the sweet spot for most people. Chromebooks can get away with 4 GB; Windows needs more. Gamers or video or photo editors should aim for 16 GB.
Display: Aim for a resolution of 1920×1080 or better. A 4K panel is nice but not necessary, and anything lower than 1920×1080 will be pretty cheap and often have visible pixels. IPS panels display more colors more accurately, with better viewing angles than TN panels. Note: Don’t buy any laptop that lists its resolution only as “HD.” Unfortunately, in laptop land “HD” means 1366×768, not 1080p—that’s FHD. (No, this doesn’t make sense to us either.)
GPU: Unless you’re gaming, you don’t need a discrete GPU; the graphics processor in your CPU will be fine. For gaming laptops under $1,200, look for an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti or 1060. In the $2,000 range, look for a GTX 1070.
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