For our full take on what to look for in a laptop, see our guide Choosing the Right Laptop. The condensed version (even if your budget is limited) is to try to get at least an Intel i5 processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. 16 GB is even better. Recent versions of Windows (both 11 and 12) use an astronomical amount of RAM (sometimes as much as 6 GB in my testing). If you only have 8 GB total, that doesn’t leave much RAM for applications, and results in a slower laptop.
Aim for these specs: Try to get a laptop with at least a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage in the form of a solid state drive. We suggest getting a 13- or 14-inch display that’s close to FHD (1080p resolution). If you’re going to use it for watching movies, consider a 2-in-1 model (although these do tend to cost more).
If your budget is tight and you want the most bang for your buck, or you just want to keep something out of the landfill, consider the used or refurbished laptop market. I’ve had great luck buying used laptops on eBay from all sorts of sellers (both pros and regular people).
To score the best deal, make sure you know the market. Do some research to figure out what kind of machine will suit your needs. The easiest to come by, and therefore (usually) the best deals, tend to be the more boring, business-oriented models. I happen to like ThinkPads, which are used by—and then dumped all at once by—large corporations, which means there are lots to choose from, and they’re cheap.
Finding used laptops on eBay: Once you know what you want, search for it on eBay. Scroll down and check the option to show only “Sold Listings.” Now take the 10 most recent sales, add up the prices, and divide by 10. That’s the average price; don’t pay more than that. Keep the lowest price in mind—that’s the great deal price. Now, uncheck the Sold Listing option. See what’s between the lowest price and the average price. Those are the deals you can consider. I suggest watching a few. Don’t bid or participate at all. Just watch them until the end and see how high the auctions end up going.
Once you have a feel for the market and what you should be paying, you’ll know when you’ve found a deal. When you find it, wait. Don’t bid until the last few minutes of the auction. You don’t want other bidders to have a chance to react. Remember that if you miss out on something, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always something new being listed on eBay.