The possibilities for laptops and PCs are endless; you could end up spending entire days researching the best one (I know have!). For many people, it can be overwhelming! In this simplified 2022 guide, I’ve done the research for you. The options are slimmed down to just a few, choosing the best laptop or desktop for your budget. Read the full article for more, but if you can’t be bothered, here’s a summary of my findings on the best laptops and PCs for your budget in 2022:
- Best budget laptop for Windows at £300: Acer Swift 1 14 inch laptop
- Best laptop for Windows at £500: Dell Inspiron 3511 model
- Best laptop for Mac at £1100: High-spec MacBook Air with 13″ Retina display
- Best laptop for Mac full stop (£2200): Powerful 2021 model MacBook Pro
- Best budget desktop for Windows at £200: Dell Optiplex i7 Quad Core
- Best desktop for Windows under £500: HP ‘All-in-one’ 21 inch PC
- Best desktop for Mac at £1100: 2021 Apple iMac 24 inch model
- Best desktop for Mac full stop (£3200): iMac Pro 27 inch all-in-one
Key lessons: Go for trusted brands. Aim for the highest GB RAM, the best processor, and the highest GB of SSD for your money; all else will fall into place. The Samsung laptops are also worth a look at for more premium end laptops for Windows; particularly if you already have other Samsung kit.
Note: I don’t cover tablets here for now. I see tablets as supplementary to the main business occurring on a laptop and/or desktop computer; maybe these are more tools for browsing, fun and games. This list is updated as at February 2022.
Important Background on PCs & Laptops
The holy trinity for all-round good general performance for office and business work, with several years of future-proofing is as follows: 8GB RAM (the computer’s working memory); 256GB SSD (solid-state drive, total storage capacity); a decent i5 Intel processor. Go higher if you have the cash. All else, such as displays and ports, will then fall in to place; the rest is frankly aesthetics and minor preferences.
In terms of costs and expectations, a good rule of thumb for new laptops and PCs is as follows:
- £250 will buy you a half-decent Windows laptop. It will have most basic specs that’ll last you 2-4 years (currently approx. 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, i3 (or alternative) processor).
- £500 will buy you a very decent Windows laptop. The specs will be lasting 4-6 years (or until you want a better one!). Currently that’s 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and an i5 or higher Intel processor. Note: Add £500-£600 for Mac!
- £1000+ will buy you an excellent Windows laptop. Double again the RAM, SSD, plus the best processors and displays. The only thing stopping you will be the practical battery life (6+ years). Note: Add £500+ for Mac. My Macbook Pro for example has lasted 8 years and counting.
If you can afford it, I’d recommend avoiding the cheap Chinese brands and things like ‘eMMC’ (poor man’s SSD) memory. Choose what suits your style of working between laptop and desktop PC, though personally I think laptops are the best all-rounder and of course, manoeuvrable. Go for trusted brands like Dell, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Lenovo, ASUS, and HP. I really like the Samsung as a premium non-Mac option, if just for style. First research the ideal model you want, then finding the best variation, setup and price. 13-15 inch screens are a nice size to work with on laptops. Don’t be scared to go for a ‘refurbished’ option from a trusted supplier (normally includes same 1 year warranty) to save £hundreds and/or achieve a higher spec.
Oh, and to clear up confusion: Gone are the days when Microsoft Office was wildly different or a pain to use on Mac. I use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, and Outlook on both a Windows PC and MacBook Pro. The difference is minimal, and performance on both exceptional for what I need.
Laptops: Best Windows and Mac Options
After extensive research, the below are what I would buy based on several budget scenarios: Under £300, £500, £1000, plus just for drools, ‘God mode‘…
My best choice laptop for Windows: Among literally endless possibilities, I have concluded from extensive research you need to spend around £500 to get you the critical holy trinity (memory, storage, processor) for specs at 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and an i5 Intel processor. This Dell Inspiron 3511 model fits the bill and is a great all-round workhorse in a pleasing package, currently at £529.
My best choice laptop for Mac: A relatively high-spec MacBook Air with 13″ Retina display would be ideal. Yes, it’s double the price of Windows-based laptops like Samsung, Lenovo, and Dell, but they’re lovely to work with. You also get the best of both worlds in that Office 365 apps are almost identical to work with, while the world is your oyster with the range of elegant and innovative apps on the App Store available to you. A good target price is around £1,100 and has a decent 512GB SSD memory, providing plenty of room for videos.
If money was no object: I would choose this beautiful new high-spec, powerful 2021 model MacBook Pro. It has a stunning 16 inch ‘Retina’ display, superb storage, memory, and a suprisingly high battery life. I could do all my MS Office work, photography, design, video creation, and all at once. Plus I just find Macs a pleasure to work on. At £2,200 it’s not for the faint-hearted!
A laptop on a <£300 budget: If you are strapped for cash, a reliable brand and half-decent spec model might be the Acer Swift 1 14 inch laptop, coming with an ok processor, 128GB SSD, and 4GB RAM. It’ll be fine for general office tasks like writing, reports, emails, and spreadsheets. 14 inches is a nice size screen, it has a decent battery life and is very portable. It is currently a snip at £289 (RRP £399). You could alternatively consider a refurbished higher grade model if you want to go for the more memory- and graphics-hungry tasks of video editing and higher-end design software.
Desktop Computers: PCs and Mac
As I’ve done for laptops, I provide a similar synthesis of research on what seem to be the best desktop computers, for both PC and Mac. As the name suggests, consider these if you only like working at a desk or table! A couple of other notable differences are that you generally get a better spec for your money with desktops (there’s more physical room to build it in the machine); though conversely for most desktop PCs and the ‘Mac Mini’, you need to buy a separete monitor to see what you’re doing… swings and roundabouts. I provide options below again for budgets of £300, £500, £1000, and my ‘dream desktop‘ for those with greater financial scope.
A Windows desktop on a £300 budget: This renewed/refurbished Dell Optiplex i7 Quad Core is likely the best deal going with a very high spec, at 16GB RAM, over 1TB storage, and backed by a 1 year Amazon ‘renewed guarantee’. Currently at around just £190, this affords money for an associated Logitech keyboard and mouse (£22) plus a smart Dell 24 inch Full HD monitor if you need one for £120. Ok, so £332 in total, but a fantastic set up for the money.
Best Windows desktop for under £500: The HP ‘All-in-one’ 21 inch PC comes with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD storage, looks stylish (emulating the iMac) and will set you back a very affordable £399. No separate base unit also means fewer cables and no additional monitor costs. The reviews look great too. If you have more to spend, look at higher spec HP all-in-ones (e.g. bigger display, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD).
My best choice for iMac desktop: Although the Mac Mini might seem an appealing option, it still requires seperate screen and accessories so can get expensive. I’ve always used iMacs for my desktop computors and the 2021 Apple iMac 24 inch model has a generous display, strong processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. For £1149 on Amazon, it’s a spec that will more than serve most people’s business and creative needs, while stand the test of time. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend several £hundred more on a higher-spec 24 inch model or at least £500 more on the 27 inch range, unless…
A desktop for the dreamers: If you dream big and have the cash, then why not splash out over £3,200 on the iMac Pro 27 inch all-in-one desktop. The processing power, memory, and graphics capabilities are simply astronomical. The Retina 5k display and the machine itself is quite simply a thing of beauty. One can dream I suppose!
Update: Following the 8 March 2022 Apple Event, the iMac Pro has now been discontinued. Therefore, I now instead would recommend their new Mac Studio combined with the Studio Display for the dreamers with money to burn. It’s even more expensive than the iMac Pro as I outline here, but is even better kit for those with advanced budgets.
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