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Can I buy a future-proof laptop for the last 10 years? | Technology




I want to buy a Windows laptop that is as future-proof as possible. I have looked at those with at least one Core i7 processor, 1

6GB memory, USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 13-14in high resolution display. I really struggle to identify the one I should get.

I realize that the specifications may be overkill for my mix of office productivity programs and media usage. However, I plan to keep this notebook for seven to ten years, and I want it to be able to handle updates and new software in the future. My budget is about £ 1,500 – £ 2,000. Ed

It's not easy to buy a future-proof laptop because the industry is moving in the opposite direction. The trend is toward ultra-thin laptops where the processor, memory and storage chips are soldered and cannot be upgraded. Furthermore, sealed saws make it more difficult to replace failing keyboards, cracked screens and glued batteries. Unless laptops are still under warranty, replacing them may be easier than repairing them.

If you want to buy a laptop for long-term use, check the iFixit website for a demolition and a repair point. At the moment, Microsoft's Surface Laptop is the worst product, with a score of zero. This beats dozens or so Apple MacBooks that all score 1 out of 10. On the good side, the products score 10, such as the HP EliteBook 840 G3 and the Dell Latitude E5270. The HP EliteBook 1050 is among notebooks that score 9.

iFixit doesn't make many teardowns – and shockingly hasn't made the Lenovo ThinkPad – so you should try other sources like Laptopmain, Notebookcheck and AnandTech. Also search the web for a portable service manual to see how easy it is to repair and upgrade. The harder it is, the less future-proof it is.

Generally, it is safer to buy laptops intended for business users rather than consumers. Many IT departments expect to be able to replace batteries and install memory and SSD themselves.

Predict changes

<img class = "gu-image" itemprop = "contentUrl" alt = "Predictable increase of the USB-C port and Thunderbolt 3 would have been an impossible task a decade ago.

<img class = "gu-image" itemprop = "contentUrl" alt = "19659010] Predictable increase of the USB-C port and Thunderbolt 3 would have been an impossible task ten years ago. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

As the old adage has it, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Ten years ago you might have chosen quick FireWire ports, but you wouldn't have expected the importance of M.2 slots for SSDs, the change from USB Type-A to Type-C ports, or Thunderbolt's adoption . And if you had it, it wouldn't be important, because there was nothing you could have done with them.

In fact, you only have three things to worry about: memory, storage and battery life.

Now, the first option is to buy as much as you will ever need. This means you will pay the highest possible price – especially if you buy a MacBook Pro – and you will almost certainly buy more than you need.

The alternative is to buy a well-equipped laptop that you can upgrade for five years or so. Barring disasters, memory chips and SSDs will be cheaper and your system will benefit.

To do this, the laptop must have one or two memory slots, one or two M.2 slots, and possibly a drive bay that will accept an SSD or a traditional hard drive. (For space-saving reasons, rafts are on their way out.) You should also be able to change the battery, because what is not included will last for ten years.

Possible Options

There are three classes of laptop to consider. First, the business machines are mainly aimed at large companies. The leading brands are Lenovo ThinkPads (originally an IBM brand), Dell Latitude laptops, and HP EliteBooks. Second, you can choose a mobile workstation as these usually offer multiple configuration options. Models to be considered include the ThinkPad P1, Dell's Precision range and the HP ZBook 14u G5. Third, there are portable laptops, such as Gigabyte Aero 14 and Razer Blade Stealth, which are now available with a 13.3-inch display. Dell, HP and Lenovo also sell portable laptops.

If you really need power for business reasons, ThinkPad P1 and HP's ZBook 14u G5 are excellent choices, and I recently recommended P1 in another answer. But you don't.

If you needed powerful graphics to play games, laptops offer high demands at affordable prices. But you don't.

However, a configurable laptop would be a good solution by being able to purchase a lower specification and upgrade it later.

My favorite machine for this purpose is the ThinkPad T480, which I have also recommended before. It is far from being the only option. Newer models are available – including a brand new T490 – and you can use the same approach to other laptops you've reviewed.

Configuring a T480

The basic version of the ThinkPad T480 usually costs £ 949.99 (currently £ 835.99) with a Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. A few upgrades will make this a great buy for your purposes while still leaving some expansion options.

You will obviously want to upgrade the 1366 x 768 pixel-level base screen to an IPS display. The options are 1920 x 1080 Full HD with and without touch, or a 2560 x 1440 pixel display. You can choose the 1920 x 1080 touch screen (£ 58.80 extra) because you don't get all the benefits of having 2560 x 1440 pixels (£ 150 extra) on a 14-inch screen. However, the WQHD screen looks much better and should be more future-proof.

You can expand 8 GB memory to 16 GB (£ 115.20) or 32 GB (£ 346.80), but 8 GB should be good for your purposes. If you really need more later, you can buy another 8 GB memory module and connect it to the second, additional memory slot.

There are many options for upgrading the 500 GB hard drive, and you can also add an optical gas pedal or a 128 GB SSD. The most economical option is to replace the hard drive with a 256 GB M.2 SSD (£ 76.80), even if you can go up to 512GB (£ 211.20) or more if you need space.

The T480 comes with two 24Wh batteries as standard. If you need more battery life, you can replace the battery for a 48Wh version or a massive 17-hour 72Wh battery (£ 6 extra).

Finally, it's the processor. The Standard Core i5-8250U (Passmark benchmark score 7679) will be enough for your purposes, but an upgrade to the Core i7-8550U (Passmark 8292) can add to the lifetime of the extra £ 103.20. The jump to an i7-8650U (Passmark 8820) is not really worth the extra £ 283.20. Core i7 chips are often lubricated in laptops to prevent overheating, so you can't see the type of performance you'd expect on a desk.

If you just upgraded the screen and disk, the T480 would cost you £ 1,085.59 (current sales price, £ 955.32). This should easily be five years old and can last seven or more years. But if it only lasts five years, you've only spent about half of your budget so you can sell it and buy another laptop with whatever new technology has been introduced.

In fact, you can guarantee your T480 for five years by upgrading the three-year warranty for £ 90.99. Even better, go for the five-year on-site warranty for £ 160.99.

Note: There is a newer, slightly smaller version of this machine, the T480S. It has better processor cooling and four PCI Express paths instead of two so it can handle faster SSDs. However, I still prefer the T480 for the battery's extra battery life, heat exchanger battery, drive bay, full size Ethernet port, and the fact that you can upgrade both memory slots. (The T480S has a blank slot, but the base memory is soldered.)

This year's T490 is also slimmer and lighter and offers faster processors: you get a Core i5-8265U (Passport 8084) by default or you can upgrade to a Core i7-8565U (Passmark 9051) for only £ 96. But the T490, like the T480S, has brazed RAM, and it loses the drive bay and the hot swappable battery option. Technically, it's a better laptop, but it's less configurable and has fewer upgrade options.

Chips ahoy

<img class = "gu-image" itemprop = "contentUrl" alt = "Intel's 9-generation Core processor chips eventually run, but only at the highest end of the time. [19659035] Intels 9 Generation Core processor chips eventually exit, but only at the highest end at the moment Photo: Intel Corporation

Last year, Intel announced its ninth generation of Core processors, but due to lengthy manufacturing problems – which the company has apologized – are concentrating on the production of high-end versions, which are more profitable. Core i7-9xxx chips are starting to appear on desktops and some portable laptops, but most machines will still be shipped with eighth-generation processors like Core i7-8550U.

8. Generation chips were a useful advance on the seventh generation versions, so it's worth having a Core i7-8xxx etc instead of an i7-7xxx. From the references, ninth chess does not give enough extra performance to worry about, unless you buy a desk with an 8-core i9-9900K or i7-9700K.

Do you have a question? Send it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

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