In the changing world of laptops, knowing what to buy can be a complex process.

1. Choose your form factor

In the changing world of laptops, knowing what to buy can be a complex process.

Everyone wants the best performance, but what about price? How big a screen can you get before you sacrifice portability? How many ports do you need, and what size hard drive will do the job? Do you want a hybrid? Do you need a touchscreen for Windows 8, or can you go without?

Your best weapon before you go shopping is to be informed. To help, we’ve created this guide with a few pointers on what you’ll need to consider before buying a laptop.

Need more help? You might also like:

  • 5 things a laptop sales person will tell you that aren’t true
  • Your say: 6 more things a laptop sales person will tell you that aren’t true
  • Making the switch to Mac: Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

We break down laptops into three basic categories by weight, with some overlap: ultraportables (

Ultraportables used to mean expensive, full-featured, yet light laptops. But now, even Sony’s Vaio Z has disappeared from the market, leaving it to Intel’s ultrabooks and the MacBook Air. Occupying the 11- to 14-inch space, these laptops can now genuinely claim great portability with minimal performance sacrifice, thanks to SSDs and reasonably speedy dual-core CPUs. Going for between AU$799 and AU$2800, depending on build quality, aesthetics, screen quality and storage capacity, they usually come with good battery life. They’re generally not gaming or high performance machines, but should address most of your everyday tasks.

Mid-weight laptops are going through a transition. This has typically been dominated by 15.6-inch budget laptops under AU$1000, but you can get everything from your basic budget laptop up to a powerful gaming laptop. They’re usually bristling with ports and will have a DVD or Blu-ray drive built in. Unlike ultraportables, you’ll usually get a dedicated graphics card here (to the benefit of games, but detriment of battery life), lots of ports (including a few legacy ones) and you should be able to get quad-core CPUs with little worry.

Thanks to laptops like the MacBook Pro with Retina display and the Samsung Series 9ditching the optical drive, but still providing power, it looks like the ultrabook mentality is starting to reach this category as well.

If you want desktop power, you need a desktop replacement. With screen sizes of 16- to 18.4-inches, weight as heavy as 6 kilograms and average battery life of less than three hours, these behemoths are not for people on the go. However, they can accommodate a wide range of performance parts and are just right for power users of all kinds — especially gamers. Here, as far as cost is concerned, start at around AU$1500, and the sky is the limit.

While there are three major categories, thanks to Windows 8, we have to accommodate a fourth within those categories — hybrids. These are laptops that somehow transform into touchscreen tablets — whether by removing the screen, rotating the screen and then folding it back against the keyboard, flipping the screen around or otherwise. Some even have two screens.

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