The Best Time to Buy a Laptop
Nothing causes buyer's remorse quite like seeing the laptop you bought last month for $1,000 go on sale for $750. It's equally unpleasant to buy a pricey new Dell XPS 13 in November and then watch as Dell unveils a much faster and more technically advanced model in January.
The price on most laptops drops eventually, and newer models are always coming around the corner. So when is the best time to buy a laptop? The answer depends a great deal on your circumstances.
Do You Need It Now?
The best time to buy a new laptop is when you really need one. If your current notebook is broken, you need stronger performance for work or play, or this is a child's first computer, there's no good reason to delay your purchase. However, if you have a competent but aging laptop that you plan to replace in the near future, you might save money or benefit from newer technology if you wait strategically.
Apple refreshes its laptops around once per year, though the company doesn't always release all the new models at once or follow a consistent schedule. Apple last refreshed all of its MacBooks, including the 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Pro 13-inch, a MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar, MacBook Pro 15-inch (also with Touch Bar) and MacBook Air in June 2017. Except for the Air, all of the MacBooks are now running on Intel's 7th generation "Kaby Lake" processors.
However, Intel released many of its 8th Generation "Kaby Lake Refresh" processors in fall 2017, putting the 13-inch MacBook Pro at a technical disadvantage relative to its PC competitors, which have 8th Gen Core now. The MacBook Pro 15-inch uses a 45-watt H-series processor which Intel hasn't upgraded to 8th Gen yet while the 12-inch MacBook uses a low-power Y-series processor that's also still on 7th Gen.
We expect Apple to refresh its MacBook Pros sometime in late spring 2018 in order to add Intel 8th Gen Core processors. It's also possible that Intel will have refreshed its H and Y series processors by that time. Considering that Intel 8th Gen Core CPUs are as much as 92-percent faster than their predecessors, the performance might be worth the wait.
Bottom Line: Wait. If you're buying a MacBook Pro or MacBook, much faster models will probably be available within five months. However, the MacBook Air is unlikely to get an upgrade.
PC Laptops Sale and Refresh Schedule
The major PC manufacturers release new laptops at three times of year: back-to-school season (June to August), holiday season (September to December) and spring (February to April). New models usually ship at the beginning or middle of these windows. However, the best deals tend to appear in July/August and November/December, which are the heart of the school and holiday shopping seasons.
"There is a best time to buy notebooks, and it is exactly when you think it is, between the last week in July and the first three weeks in August, when the back-to-school merchandising frenzy is in full force," said Analyst Stephen Baker, who studies laptop pricing and sales for the NPD Group, a market intelligence firm. He noted that this time frame applies to both Macs and PCs.
Not surprisingly, we've found that prices can be just as low if not lower at the end of the year, when consumers are busy buying gifts for family members or for themselves.
For example, the 12-inch Apple MacBook (Core m5, 256GB SSD) started at $1,299 on Amazon in March 2016 but sank to $1,149 in August, before shooting back up to around $1,250, until November, when it went back down to $1,149 for a short time and then up again to $1,199.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee the product you want will be any cheaper in August or December than it was in April. You may find a newer model at the same price, though.
Bottom Line: You'll find more deals in the July/August and November/December time frames and will see new model releases in early spring, midsummer and fall.
Intel CPU, Nvidia GPU Refreshes Lead the Industry
Though PC vendors tend to release new products at three times of year, they usually don't refresh each model more than once a year. Business notebooks in particular can stay on the market unchanged for as long as 18 months. Most updates are timed to coincide closely with Intel's CPU release schedule, as manufacturers want their laptops to carry the latest generation of processor nearly as soon as it's available.
Intel announced its new 8th Generation "Kaby Lake Refresh" chips in August 2017, and new laptops with the processors began rolling out in late September. The 8th Gen Core refresh is more significant than most prior CPU updates, because the mainstream U series has been upgraded from two to four CPU cores, which provides much better multitasking and productivity performance. In our tests, laptops with the new chips were as much as 92-percent faster than their predecessors on certain tasks. This is a processor upgrade that's definitely worth waiting for.
In January 2018, Intel unveiled the business-friendly, versions of the 8th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 U series chips. Dell is already selling refreshed versions of most of its Latitudes. Lenovo has announced all-new ThinkPads, but hasn't put them up for sale as of this writing. HP still hasn't unveiled any new ProBooks or EliteBooks based on the new chips. If you're considering a ThinkPad or an EliteBook, you should definitely wait for the new models.
The chipmaker also announced its new Kaby Lake-G CPUs, which feature a 45-watt Intel processor paired with AMD Radeon graphics. A couple of laptops, including the XPS 15 2-in-1 and HP Spectre x360 15-inch will have it.
However, any laptop that currently uses a more powerful, Intel H Series CPU or a low-power Intel Y Series CPU will not be getting an 8th Generation Core refresh for many months, probably not until at least late spring of 2018. Budget laptops that use Intel Celeron, Pentium or Core i3 processors also won't be refreshed for a long time.
When shopping for a new system, you can tell that a laptop's processor is 8th Gen Core if the first digit of its four-digit model number is an 8 (ex: Core i5-8250U). Older, Intel 7th Generation "Kaby Lake" chips use a 7 at the beginning of the model number (ex: Core i5-7200U).
For many years, AMD's laptop processors were nothing to write home about as they appeared on a handful of low-performance, low-budget systems. However, in November 2017, the company launched its new Ryzen Mobile chips, which are about as fast as Intel's 8th Gen Core i5 and i7 U Series CPUs. So far, only a couple of Ryzen Mobile laptops have been announced.
In the world of gaming laptops, graphics chip updates are even more important than CPU refreshes. In August 2016, Nvidia released its new "Pascal" GPUs, which carry model numbers beginning with 10 (ex: GTX 1060, GTX 1070). Gaming laptop vendors such as Alienware, Asus and MSI immediately began refreshes of all of their models to incorporate Pascal, which offers significantly faster performance and VR-readiness than the previous generation of Nvidia 900 series (GTX 960, 970 and 980) chips. We don't expect new Nvidia GPUs until at least late spring of 2018, if not later.
Because most gaming laptops use Intel H-Series CPUs and Nvidia GPUs, we don't expect to see new models until late spring or early summer. They are likely to be announced at the Computex show, which takes place at the end of May.
The evolutionary improvements in performance and battery life between two generations of Intel processor — 6th Gen to 7th Gen, for example — may not be significant on their own However, manufacturers often use a CPU or GPU refresh as an excuse to make a laptop lighter or add new features like a higher-res screen, a faster SSD or new ports. Lenovo's 2018 ThinkPads all have USB Type-C charging and a physical webcam cover, neither of which is related to their new processors.
Many times, a chip refresh also leads to the release of completely new products, such as the attractive Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, which is launching with Kaby Lake G. Other times, it leads to major design changes to existing models as we saw on the ThinkPad X280, which is half a pound lighter than its predecessor and features a new, non-removable battery.
Bottom Line: Wait for Intel 8th Gen Core (or Ryzen Mobile). Most consumer laptops and many business laptops already have it. But, if the laptop you want is still using a 7th Gen CPU, delay your purchase.
Older Models Don't Often Get Cheaper
You would expect to see great prices on the old models after a refresh, but more often than not, the original manufacturer discontinues these versions without offering a discount. You can always find a third-party retailer selling last year's model, but it might actually cost more than the current unit does.
For example, a configuration of the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro gaming laptop came out in October 2014 with a price of $2,300, but by August 2015 it was down to $1,899. After newer versions with faster CPUs had replaced it, the old model jumped up as high as $3,319 and then settled at around $2,649, while the new model costed just $2,199.
There are a few noteworthy exceptions, which usually occur when the vendor keeps producing the old model at a lower price. For example, Microsoft cut the Surface Pro 3's price by $100 after releasing the slightly better Surface Pro 4.
How to Know if You're Getting a Good Deal
Whenever you find a laptop sale — in December, August or April — it can be hard to tell whether you're actually getting a great price or just a slight discount off the MSRP, unless you know what the product normally sells for. There are a couple of ways to tell:
- Use a price-history tool: A couple of sites track price changes over time so you can see if today's price is really the lowest it has ever been at one particular retailer. Camelcamelcamel.com (and its Chrome extension) will show a price-history graph for most products on Amazon, while the Hover Hound Chrome extension does the same for Newegg.
However, we haven't found a service that tracks the price history from other key services, such as Dell.com, Lenovo.com or Microsoft Store, all of which offer great prices. We're also yet to find a tracker that shows the price of the same product across multiple retailers. So Amazon.com's lowest price ever may still be higher than someone else's.
- Visit deal aggregators: Deal news sites keep an eye on pricing and call attention to the best deals in their posts. We maintain an up-to-date list of deals at Laptopmag.com, and you can also check out sites such as techbargains.com and bensbargains.net.
To Wait or Not to Wait?
When deciding whether to buy now or wait, you have to consider both price and obsolescence. No matter what type of laptop you want, you are likely -- but not certain -- to get the best prices in either the back-to-school (June - August) or holiday (Mid-October - December) time frames.
If you're worried about your new laptop becoming obsolete soon after you buy it, you need to make sure that the model you get has either an Intel 8th Gen Core or an AMD Ryzen Mobile processor inside. Most mainstream consumer laptops now have 8th Gen processors inside and some business laptops have them also. However, gaming laptops, low-power tablets, budget systems and mobile workstations won't get 8th Gen upgrades until much later in 2018.
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