The Best Computer You Can Buy For: $1,00009 Feb 2021
To wrap up my blog series, The Best Computer You Can Buy For $X, this post looks at what you can get for up to $1000.
Just Buy a MacBook Air
The best computer you can buy for $1,000 is the new MacBook Air with the Apple M1 chip. That’s it, that’s the end of this post. There is no other competition.
Seriously though, all the reviews of the new Macs with the M1 chip have been outstanding. The performance benchmarks look great, the battery life looks great, and everyone who uses it says it feels noticeably faster than what they used before. It blows the competition away. It out-performs $4,000 computers from a year ago. The only reason to choose anything else is if you don’t want to spend a full $999 or if you absolutely need Windows or Linux.
New Windows Laptops
$1,000 goes pretty far for a new Windows laptop. You can buy an XPS 13 for $989 with 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and an i7-10710U processor. From Lenovo, you can find a variety of ThinkPads around our price point, like this ThinkPad L13 with 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and an i7-10510U. If you like the Microsoft Surface line, you can get a Surface Laptop 3 with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and an i5 for $999. With the Surface, however, you’re getting slower performance compared to the other options - in exchange for the nice Surface brand and design.
With any new laptop, you should be getting the latest generation of CPU, which should out-perform the previous generation by at least a little bit in both speed and battery life. The only way to really choose poorly when you’re buying a new laptop that costs this much is to spend a lot of money for things you don’t need. For example, if you don’t plan on using a touchscreen, see if you can save money by buying a laptop that doesn’t have one. Similarly, decide if you want to have a 4K screen or if you’d rather put that money toward performance and you can get by with 1080p. Do you need a lot of storage space and you want to upgrade to the 1TB hard drive, or are you OK with a 256GB option? You can get a really nice new computer for about $1K if you spend your money on the things that are important to you. Or, maybe you want to get the best options on everything and spend well over $1K on your new machine. It’s up to you!
Is it worth spending $1,000 on a refurbished laptop? Maybe. Near the $1K price point, the gap between new systems and refurbished systems seems to shrink. (The refurbished system you’d buy for $1K is probably only a year or two old anyway.) So I think it’s worth it to look at the new laptop you’d like to buy, look at the refurbished laptop you’d like to buy, and see what the differences are. Maybe there’s a sale on new laptops and you can get something brand new without paying much more. Or maybe there’s a sale on refurbished machines that’s too good to pass up.
The search process I’d use for a $1,000 refurbished laptop is very similar to my process for a $500 refurbished laptop. That is, I’d use the filters on a site like Newegg to filter for better and better hardware (processor and RAM) until I reach the price I want, and then I’d compare some of the options. Doing this leads us to something like this Refurbished Dell Latitude 5411. This is a 2020 laptop (so only a year old). It has an i7-10850H processor with 32GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. Let’s compare this to the XPS 13 we could have bought new. Using a CPU benchmark comparison tool shows that the processor on the Latitude 5411 is actually a little faster. We can also get double the RAM (32GB vs 16GB) by going with the refurbished option. But the new XPS 13 has a bigger SSD and a 4K screen (compared to the 1366x768 screen on the refurbished Latitude). So in this case, we could improve our performance a little by choosing this refurbished option, but the screen and SSD aren’t as good. (Maybe a different refurbished option would have a better screen.) In any case, it’s pretty close, so either option is a fine choice.
At the $1K price point, Apple is currently dominating the market with it’s M1 MacBook Air. It will be interesting to see if any competition emerges for that in the next year or two. With about $1,000 to spend, you can buy a very nice brand new machine with either macOS or Windows, and on a Windows computer you might be able to get a little extra performance with a used machine compared to a new one. But as I said at the start, the M1 MacBook Air is currently the best machine you can buy for under $1,000, and that’s what I’d get, no question about it!