I have been asked this question thousands of times more than I can count (What laptop or computer should I buy?) over the years, and since today I was asked again I figured I might as well post my advice and analogies to benefit others who are wondering what exactly should they consider purchasing.
Intel’s CPU’s performance are in the following order with a simple analogy I like to compare to some cars:
Intel Atom (Prius) Lowest power consumption Intel Celeron (Corolla) low power consumption but slightly faster performance Intel Pentium (Camry) entry processor Intel i3 series (V6 Camry) faster performance entry processor Intel i5 series (V8 Sports car) powerful processor Intel i7 series (V12 Sports car) be sure to buckle your racing harness, this chip has lots of powerIntel Xeon series (Formula 1 racing) Usually used in very high end workstations and most servers but the processor alone can set you back over a grand just for the chip alone.
Without getting too in depth with the cryptic model numbers there are currently 4 generation of i series CPU’s. Even a first generation i3 is going to have a lot more power over the Celeron chips and is a first gen i series came out around 4-5 years ago.
AMD also has some comparable offerings and is cheaper than Intel. There are arguments for one over the other and I’ve ran AMD, Intel, and even Cyrix CPU’s who IBM bought out and ran into the ground back in the 90’s 🙂 AMD now also owns ATI which is a competitor to Nvidia.
Depending on what your uses will be as well as your budget.
If you want something for gaming then you need to find a balance between your budget, i5 or higher CPU and Video card or APU combo by AMD.
If you have no budget, but only surf the web and write emails and word documents then an entry line i3 would be a good possible choice to consider.
In the event that you prefer snappy response Solid State hard drives (SSD) is definitely the way to go, however note the smaller size and higher costs and if it warrants it in your case.
The processor isn’t the only thing that effects performance either so don’t get hung up on wanting to buy only a certain processor. I’ve had people bring me a new i7 laptop with a 5400RPM drive and they complain that it’s slow. Yea, it will be since the tires on the car can only go 54 MPH even though it’s got a Ferrari engine in the thing. Replace it with a faster drive or look into the hybrid variants for something in between price point wise but with larger storage capacities. Apple is notorious for this for mny years. Almost every Mac had 5400RPM drives and they would charge a LOT more to put in a 7200 RPM “certified” drive. Now days more and more is becoming flash storage but that is for another article on Apple’s extortion techniques. Still a great product but you pay for the name and their modified firmware to allow TRIM (keeps things fast over time) on their SSD’s.
Below is a general list of common bottlenecks that will slow down the system by creating a larger hose connected to a smaller hose which creates back pressure or in other words the computer will queue up stuff to do because it’s waiting on another component to finish it’s job before starting another.
Hard Drive (5400RPM / 5900RPM / 7200RPM / 10,000rpm / 15,000 rpm / Solid State (SSD) / Hybrid Solid State (HSSD) / Apple’s Fusion Drive / RAID Arrays.
Graphics card (Integrated or discrete / add-on)
RAM (Most systems nowadays come with 4GB of ram which is sufficient for almost anything except video editing and some games.)
So before you as What laptop or computer should I buy you should determine what the use will be, the budget and then ask based on that information ask you question for a better response.
UPDATE in 2020: In 2019 I purchased a Dell Inspiron 3000 14 model 3493
Here’s a video on the good aspects of this very affordable powerhouse of a budget laptop.