Laptop Buying Advice

Because I have just enough computer knowledge to be dangerous, family often comes to me for help. I’ve been in the Apple universe so long, I was a bit stumped with my sister-in-law’s windows laptop question.

Her laptop is almost dead. She asked what one she should buy. I took a look at Best Buy’s offerings, which brought back the horrors of picking a windows computer. So many choices.

She is a casual user. She uses the laptop to surf the internet, check email, participate in social media, and use Word. She also designs some simple handouts, and I’m not sure what software she uses for that.

Do you have some suggestions? She doesn’t need a lot of power, obviously, but wants something decent. Can she get something that would fit that bill around $500? Money isn’t a huge issue, but I hate to have her buy something with more power than she would ever use.

I’m hoping you could help me narrow down the myriad of choices. Thanks!

First question is [why] does she need Windows? A chromebook is probably fine. It doesn’t run MS Word, but it does run Google’s clone of Word. It’s far cheaper, and probably more secure, and more reliable (being able to be easily reset (called power wash) and having the online backup (Google cloud) as an integral part.

If she really has to have Windows, then choose a brand name you trust and buy the laptop from them that has the screen size she wants with at least 8G of RAM and at least 256GB of flash storage. Brands I would recommend are Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo.

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She really wants to use Word,so there’s that. :upside_down_face: Otherwise, a Chromebook would be a great choice. I see a lot of laptops with 4GB of RAM but that just seems subpar. I appreciate the recommendations!

Have her try living on the Office web apps (, see if they work. Their web offering is quite full featured these days. I don’t even have the Office suite installed locally anymore. If it works, a Chromebook would probably fit the bill perfectly.

If it doesn’t work out, and ya’ll decide a traditional Windows laptop is the correct route, I can only recommend Lenovo’s Thinkpad line -

I know it’s outside of your budget. Personally, I’ve never found a system I like under ~$800. I don’t think “cheap and cheerful” is a thing in the Windows world these days. I’m sure others will disagree.


Don’t forget there’s a healthy refurb ThinkPad market as there are so many used in business. Amazon and others do them. A good choice if you just want a solid laptop. Very easy to upgrade too.


The laptop market is booming and quite overpriced at the moment. I would wait if possible otherwise as others have suggested go with something name brand directly from them to avoid markups.

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I went to BestBuy dot com (note I am Canadian, and I wouldn’t normally go there) and entered “laptop” into the search. The first few options were cheap garbage, but then this one came up. It seems like it would be a decent little machine, and it’s only slightly beyond the $500 budget.

I’ve heard that you can get good deals at Costco, and they have a better return policy, but I’ve never been to a Costco in more than a decade so I am not suggesting that you go either, just an option if you happen to be a member.

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If you go for something new, check the CPU is a current generation model or previous gen at the oldest. If you go for intel then you might manage to get an i5 if you’re lucky but more likely to be i3. Also make sure you get a SSD. Most of them come with SSDs these days but there’s always someone churning out crap. Agree with pholder, 255GB storage and 8gb RAM minimum too.


Thank you all for the suggestions. She is not dead set on $500, so there is some room. I was looking past i3’s, hoping for i5. I think 250GB storage would be enough. I haven’t had a laptop for ages, so I was surprised how many have less than 8GB of RAM. 8 would be enough for her.

Sticking with Dell, Asus, Lenovo, HP for sure. Last time I bought a Windows computer, Dell was a bad word (it’s been a long time), so they must have improved. I’ve heard Leo talk up Asus on The Tech Guy. I’ve just not paid too much attention to Windows talk.

Let me put it this way. She and my brother just bought new iPhone 12 Pro’s, & opted for 64GB… They didn’t ask me about that one. She also has an iPad. I thought a Mac Air might be good for her (obviously more expensive), but they insist she would not know how to use it. They are definitely casual users who know how to do a specific number of tasks, then don’t pay any attention to anything else to what the computer/iPad/iPhone can do.

Any other suggestions please feel free to share. Thank you all so much.


There is a free web version of MS Word, which works great on a chromebook thru the browser. It works thru the browser. I started using that, but now I normally just use the free Google docs.

You can also use the android versions on the Chromebook too, but I personally prefer the free browser versions over the android version when using a Chromebook.

How about an iPad Air…with a magic keyboard - she’ll know how to use it since she knows how to use the iPhone

Using means using OneDrive. Because of data protection reasons, that is a non-starter for me. Other people have privacy reasons not to put their data online.

Word online is okay for the basics, but a lot of “normal” and advanced features are missing. Under references, about 2/3 of the functionality is missing, for example. Options for ophans and widows is not there, hyphenation is missing, formula editor is missing, but hey, it has a dedicated Emoji button!

Pictograms, 3D-models, cross-references, diagrams etc. are all missing.

As a basic wordprocessor, it is fine, if you can live with the data not being stored under your control. But if you need any advanced features, you still need to use the full-fat client.

It might be fine for @Patchoulifan 's sister-in-law, but she should definitely try it on her existing machine, before taking the plunge and going all-in on a ChromeBook, for example. She should also try the Google equivalent of Office Online, if she is going to have to use a Google Account anyway.

Also a point to take into account, at work, our ERP system makes heavy use of Excel worksheets, but they are created dynamically using Excel automation. That doesn’t work with online versions of Office packages. If she has something similar, she’ll have to either find a web-based equivalent or completely change her workflow.

I’m not saying that the online version is dreadful, it isn’t, but it is still a bare skeleton of a system compared to the well nourished local version and you need to assess whether it meets your needs carefully, before making the jump.

Certainly a large percentage of the documents I write couldn’t be created with Word Online, for example.

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Asus have just released their new ProArt StudioBook One W590. If your sister-in-law isn’t stuck on the $500 budget, it is a mere $13,000! :smiley:

Seriously though, I’d go for Dell or HP these days. Lenovo is great, if you go for their ThinkPad business line, but you will be over budget and over powered (vPro and other remote management features she won’t need).

If it was my money, I’d splash the extra for an HP Spectre class laptop, or even a MacBook Air. But you are probably doubling the budget for that. But they are worth the extra money, if she can stretch that far.

Otherwise I’d look at the Inspiron 15-5505 (Ryzen 4500) or the 15 3000 (Intel i3 11 Gen.) - also available in 14" and 13" respectively.

Have you tried letting her have a play with yours? If she can use Windows, she can use a Mac, the differences are fairly minimal for the casual user these days. The biggest differences are the window buttons on the left instead of the right and the menu at the top of the screen, instead of the top of the window. Things that should quickly be overcome.

Given the Magic Keyboard seems to gobble up about 3/5 of her budget on its own, I’m thinking that might be a hard sell…

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You said the $500 limit is not firm, so here is my recommendation:
Dell Inspiron 14 7000
An overview:

  • Windows 10 Home

  • Latest Core i5

  • 256GB SSD

  • 14.5 inch 2560 x 1600 display. 16:10 aspect ratio provides a little extra space for productivity as compared to a 16:9 display. The 208 DPI will be noticeably crisper than a standard 1920 x 1080

  • Thunderbolt 4 and WiFi 6

  • Intel Evo certified, which means it has good battery life, instant wake, fast charging, and modern connectivity

  • <3lbs

  • $765

Yes, she could learn to use a Mac or a Chromebook, but her saying she “can’t” is at minimum an indication that she doesn’t want to; don’t underestimate familiarity, for better or worse.


“Yes, she could learn to use a Mac or a Chromebook, but her saying she “can’t” is at minimum an indication that she doesn’t want to; don’t underestimate familiarity, for better or worse.”

Exactly on point. She wants to use what she has always used, and has no interest in learning to use anything else. She knows how to navigate Windows PC for what she uses. So additional bells & whistles that might interest most people on this forum, would be lost on her. Efforts to learn to use LibreOffice, Google Docs, or Apple Pages would be aborted by her within 10 minutes. Give me what I know is her mantra…

So basically I’m trying to weed through & find her something basic, that’s not total junk, that will last several years, yet keeping it as basic as possible.

It’s maddening to me, but I think there are lots of people like this. :thinking:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” is a pretty common way of thinking for people who are satisfied with what they have and don’t have the mental energy to be on the bleeding edge. I can’t fully relate, because I like learning new things and I also love me some new tech toys to play with.

Yep; hopefully my suggestion hit the mark.


I’m a fan of new stuff myself, but being at a company that adopted Salesforce a few years ago and recently added Jira as well, has given me deep sympathy for people who just want to stick with what they know.

@Leo have you tried the ThinkPad X1 Nano or the LG Gram?