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Make sure you know a laptop's specs before you buy one

If you're like a lot of people, you either already switched from a desktop computer to a laptop, or you're thinking about it. For your home office or your small business, desktops aren't always practical. If you travel a lot, or just want to take your laptop to another room or a coffee shop, you need the portability and functionality of a laptop.

Laptop sales have been reflecting this shift. Sales were up 11% in third quarter from the prior three months, according to Barron's. In September alone, sales hit 13.65 million laptops, up 21% from August.

Fortunately, laptops these days are better than the desktop computer you bought just a few years ago. You can easily find PC laptops or Mac laptops with lots of RAM and storage, large screens and cameras. Of course, many of them are lightweight.

You can find laptops in many price ranges. There are high-performance laptops for less than $500, and some decent ones for less than $300. These might be perfect for your kids or grandchildren, or you.

You can find high-end laptops that far outshine any desktop you've ever had. Some top-of-the-line laptops can set you back well over $1,000. But features like Retina display, long battery life and fast processors make them worth it.

So, what features should you look for when shopping for a laptop? Whether you're buying a PC laptop or Mac for your family this Christmas, or if you're just ready to upgrade, you need to start by establishing your budget. Then, look for a few must-have specs, to begin your search.

Next page: Microprocessors, RAM; buying guides
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