February 18, 2022

The Laptop to Buy

The Question

Being “the computer guy” and in general a “computing enthusiast” (?🤦‍♂️), I’m often asked by friends and family for recommendations when It comes time to buy a new laptop or desktop.

For immediate family, I generally offer to custom build a desktop. This can be rewarding as it tends to produce a long-lasting and quality-in-the-right-places solution that people value.

But laptops, that’s another story.

Custom built laptops generally don’t deliver on the quality of a custom built desktop. While they exist, and can produce a decent product, there isn’t a ton of competition in the space (Clevo… and… ?) and the prices and quality just aren’t that great.

Not compared to the available options from the big laptop manufacturers.

I recommend any enterprise-grade laptop.

In my mind at least, I categorize laptops into 3 categories:

  • Consumer-grade (Lenovo IdeaPad, Dell Inspiron, HP Pavilion)
  • Pro-sumer/Business/gamer grade (Lenovo ThinkBook/Legion, Dell XPS)
  • Enterprise grade

Consumer-grade is the huge percentage of the laptops people are actually looking to buy when they ask me this question.

They’re the ones they see when they’re looking through Best Buy advertisements thinking “that seems like a good price!”.

Pro-sumer is your Dell XPS, Apple MacBooks, Razer’s offerings, maybe Lenovo’s ThinkBook line. These are probably the laptops people would buy if they ever found themselves flush with cash.

The Bottom Line

Buy a laptop from one of the following product lines:

  • Lenovo ThinkPad
  • Dell Latitude
  • HP EliteBook

Product lines exist that surround these lines that have varying levels of suitability. Ultimately, these are what I recommend.

The Apple Addendum. Now, if you have set aside decent money to buy a laptop, you’ll never go wrong with a MacBook. Even the cheapest models (I’m thinking of the current crop of M1 MacBook Airs) are great purchases. While more expensive than most are willing to pay, unlike pretty much any other laptop anyone sells, this laptop will actually keep it’s value. When the eventuality comes to get a new laptop, you’ll be able to sell your old one for something instead of it just becoming more E-waste.

The ridiculously cheap Addendum. There is also an odd addendum surrounding Walmart laptops. Walmart will sell laptops under such brand names as “EVOO” that are hard to ignore. Generally these laptops go on sale for around $300. I would generally not compare these to $300 laptops from the established brands. While at this price point I would probably go find an ancient used ThinkPad to fix or upgrade, It’s hard to ignore this value. Check the reviews to make sure there aren’t any real deal breakers, and don’t expect the machine to out-last… well just about anything else. Buy one of these if you’re OK with (1) supporting Walmart. And (2) it becoming e-waste as soon as you’re done using it. Otherwise, enjoy!

How to Afford It

The issue with buying these corporate ready enterprise laptops is generally cost. New, these product lines are often times more expensive than the Pro-sumer lines. The key to affording a laptop from these product lines is buying refurbished, off-lease, or second hand.

People feel uncomfortable with buying a computing device they feel may already be obsolete. But, even if you don’t want to go so far back on the timeline, 2 or 3 models old of these product lines are still plenty fast and can be had well under $700.

I’ve had great success purchasing off-lease enterprise-grade equipment from online retailers such as systime.com. These machines aren’t going to be as thin and sexy as some of the consumer laptops you may see advertised, but what you will get is function over form. More about this below.

You can find some astoundingly good deals if you’re willing to deal with having old equipment. For most uses, even old equipment works amazingly well. I was able to buy a Lenovo x220 on eBay for $80. It didn’t have a hard disk drive or memory. I had a spare 2.5" SSD and I invested in 16GB of memory and a replacement authentic used Lenovo keyboard for it. It still works great, my wife uses this laptop with Windows 11 and no problems. The speakers are tinny, the display is cramped, and the camera quality is atrocious, but it’s a solid, fast laptop with a world-class keyboard, and it has no problems with modern workloads.

I often think about what I would do if I found myself in a dire financial situation. In the United States, you’ll often times need a car. Since I work in information technology, I would need a computer. Those two things can make me the money I need (as long as I have my health of course).

A used Honda Civic or Ford Crown Victoria, and a $300 Walmart EVOO or used ThinkPad off of eBay would get the job done.


Now for the compelling reasons why.

First, they’re much better built. The build quality and materials used are top notch. These laptops will hold up to a beating and you will notice the quality of feel. While they won’t have the resale value of an Apple offering, these do OK for resale. They’re not e-waste as soon as they’re purchased.

Second, they use quality technology. This is not readily apparent when you’re not familiar with quality technology components. This may also be difficult to explain, so I’ll attempt it. Have you ever seen a cheap laptop screen that had a dim screen, where the text wasn’t clear, and the colors are dull instead of vibrant? Often times you may not notice it, or know there is something better until you see a quality display. It can make your eyes feel nice. Some Apple users may notice this when using iPads or iPhones as opposed to a cheap Big Lots tablet. Another example: Have you ever had a consumer-grade laptop that never has a smooth video conferencing experience? It seems like your Wi-Fi is glitchy, but you’ve triple checked it, and your iPhone works just fine on the Wi-Fi. Often times this has to do with a poor quality Wi-Fi component in your laptop. A consumer-grade laptop will have the cheap Realtek or Broadcom cheap radio of the day with questionable software provided. An enterprise-grade laptop comes with a, perhaps slightly older Intel card with better radios, better components, and better software. These differences can be difficult to show on paper. Keyboards are the same, use a high quality keyboard for any amount of time and before too long you will begin to notice what the cheaper ones lack.


If nothing is preventing you from buying an Apple product, (the need for Windows, the cost) I would recommend purchasing one of those. The current crop of M1 powered MacBook Airs are a fantastic value, and you’ll actually be able to sell the laptop when you’re done with it.

If that won’t work for you, buy a couple year old enterprise-grade laptop. You won’t go wrong with a Lenovo ThinkPad from the X, T or P series.

The X series are generally the small and light, the T series is the slightly larger workhorses, the P series are the workstation class laptops for serious work, and these will generally have a price-tag to match.

While E series are not terrible purchases, avoid the L and C series, unless a Chromebook works for you.

© Andrew Brossia 2022