What is the Best Computer for Writing?
How to know what to choose, and what is right for you.
Being the designated tech person in my family and friend group has me constantly being asked, “What computer should I buy?” Or even “What is the best computer to buy?” Unfortunately, there isn't an easy go-to option for everyone. The answer depends on a few simple follow-up questions I have to ask.
1-What are you going to use it for?
2-What is your budget?
When it comes to writing, both fiction and non-fiction, the answer is still not so cut and dry. So what are the options, and how do you find what is best for you?
The Short Answer
If you want to write, and nothing else, then the best option to get started is to use what you already have. If you are reading this post, you more than likely already have a device capable of writing. Whether it is a smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can use what you have to understand what features you are missing that you wish you had, and that will make it easier to determine the best computer for you. Alternatively, if you have good handwriting, a notepad and pack of pencils can generally be bought for only a dollar or two.
If you know you want a new computer, the next question is what is your budget. This can be the deciding factor in what your options are, and perhaps you should save more before making the purchase. The last thing you want to do is buy something you end up hating because it was all you could afford at the time. You do not need the top of a line computer to write. You don't even need a computer generally.
Get what you can afford, but if you need something with more features outside of your budget, save up and use what you have currently. You can get creative with a small budget, and you don't need to spend your entire budget if you don't need a ton of features.
The Long Answer
So you have decided to upgrade and know what your budget is. The next challenge is what you are going to use it for. Again, if your only goal is to write and nothing else, you can use almost anything. If you want specific programs, or plan to do more than writing, that can help narrow down your choices.
Let's say you want to play games or stream yourself playing games online. You would be best with a Windows-based machine. Sure Macs might be getting better, but they aren't quite there yet. What if you don't care about the software, but are tired of typing on your phone's small screen keyboard, and want something a little more apt for the job, but you have a smaller budget? The best option then might be a Chromebook. Sure you might be lacking certain features, but it will get the job done without breaking the bank.
Desktop or Laptop Computer?
This question alone can be a difficult one to decide on. Depending on your budget, you might not have to. The first thing to consider though is when and where you plan to use your computer to do your writing. Do you have a dedicated place to set up a computer? Or do you like the flexibility of being able to write almost anywhere you want?
While that might be the main consideration, there are other things to consider. The cost to capability is largely different from most desktops to laptops. Generally speaking, you will get more bang for your buck going with a desktop. More RAM, more storage, better GPU and CPU. Does that even matter when it comes to writing? Not always, but if you are dealing with large documents (novels) or want a computer that reacts quickly to your inputs, you don't want to get the cheapest model from Wal-Mart.
So what if you want the option for both a desktop and a laptop and don't mind spending a little more on the laptop option? Well, many laptops have the capability to be connected to an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Depending on what you end up with may depend on how easy the transition is, but it can be done for most. In some cases, you can have everything hooked up on your desk, and plug in your laptop with a single cord to have the full desktop experience. Alternatively, you can even just set your laptop on a desk, and use it as it is in the comfort of your computer chair.
The laptop has the option for writing anywhere, including at a desk, but at a higher cost. If you like the flexibility, go with a laptop. Want a more powerful machine that is in a dedicated space for writing and other work at a lower cost? Go with a desktop.
The Software/Operating System
No matter what you do on your computer, whether solely writing, or some gaming and other work on the side, the operating system, and software you chose can make a huge difference.
You have three mainstream options (and a few more niche options) when it comes to the operating system. Windows, macOS, and ChromeOS. At the end of the day, all three will allow you to write, but each has its own benefits over each other. Windows and Mac are likely the most well-known, but Chrome is not to be dismissed.
For writing software specifically, all operating systems have free options built in. Windows has Wordpad, Mac has Pages, and Chrome has Docs. All very similar, somewhat limited, but will get the job done. With the exception of Docs, these are exclusive to each operating system. These may work perfectly fine for the type of writing that you do.
What if you want software more tuned for writing that has more features? Well, there are a few options depending on your needs. Two of the most popular writing software choices out there are Microsoft Word and Scrivener. Both have pros and cons, and both have a cost.
Word although made by the same company that makes Windows, can in fact be used on macOS and ChromeOS. (There may be some limitations with the Chrome versions as ChromeOS technically is running the Android version.) There is a cost for the program, and although they push for their monthly subscription, which has its benefits (such as seamless cloud storage), you can pay a single-time cost that will last you for years. Word is considered the industry standard when it comes to writing. Sending your manuscript to an editor or agent? They will likely expect it in a Word format. (Most other writing programs can export to a Word format, so the options don't end here) That being said, it is not a program directly created for creative writing, so you may wish it had more capabilities.
This is where Scrivener comes into play. The program was created for creative writing specifically. It can be had for both Windows and Mac users, but not for Chrome. It should be said that the development team focuses on the Mac version first, and until recently, the Windows version was still on version 1 while the Mac version was on the 3rd. That is a big difference in what you get for your money. The cost for the program is decently affordable (Around $50 at the time of writing, with multiple options for lowering it closer to $40). This is a one-time fee, with occasionally having to pay a smaller fee when a new large release comes down the line. Going into all the features of Scrivener deserves its own article, so ill stick to the basics. It has wonderful organization and tracking tools to help you with writing your next novel, script, or screenplay. It has multiple export options as well depending on how you need your final manuscript. It is also locally saved only. So either have a backup somewhere else or on the cloud, or you might lose all your hard work. The cost is also for single device activation, so you may run into issues if buying and then switching devices.
Without making this list too long, I wanted to quickly touch on Google Docs. The program you will use if you have ChromeOS, but available on almost every other device and computer out there for free. It has fewer features than the other two and can get a little slow working on large documents (novels) but its pros can outweigh the cons. You can access your documents almost anywhere with an internet connection. Smartphones, Mac, Windows, and of course ChromeOS. It also saves as you type, no more forgetting to save after a long writing session or before a power outage. Tied together with Google Drive, you have a convenient place to organize and store all your documents and related information.
So how does this tie into what computer to get? Well if you want Scrivener or another program specifically made/prioritized for Mac, you can end your search here. Want Word or Docs? Keep reading.
Where the tires hit the road, the keyboard may singlehandedly (or doublehandedly) be the most important aspect when it comes to writing. For desktops, you can pick almost anything out there in the market, and for laptops, you are ‘stuck’ with the one it comes with. (If using a laptop in desktop mode, you can connect any keyboard you like) The same goes for mice/trackpads. With desktops, the options are endless, with laptops you get what the system has unless connecting one and use it at a desk or hard surface.
Opinions on what is best for each of these vary greatly. For the keyboard, you want something that feels good to type on, potentially for hours at a time. For a mouse/trackpad, you want something that is responsive and feels good in the hand without getting in the way. That's right, even though we are writers, we need a good mouse/trackpad to work efficiently.
Keyboards can be a large, small, mechanical, membrane, and some in between. Do you want to customize it or take it for what it is? If using a laptop in laptop mode, you want something that will not annoy you and feels good to type on. Testing before buying is the best way to do this. Go to BestBuy, Wal-Mart, and the Apple store to see what each feels like. For a desktop keyboard, the same idea, but it might be harder to find them all on display. You may have to rely on reviews online or find similar ones near you to test.
Mice/Trackpads can have a ton of features or none at all. Unless you game, you don’t need something with a ton of buttons and variable speeds but may want one that has some options. You can pick between wired or wireless, or a sort of hybrid that you can use while charging and unplug for wire-free use later. Trackpads on the other hand are the built-in options for laptops. I have used a variety over the years and found that what the Macbooks offer is unmatched. From size, gestures, feel, and responsiveness, they are in a class above. With Windows or Chrome, it will vary depending on the model and who is making the computer. If you don't plan to use a mouse, a solid trackpad is vital.
In almost all cases, a Mac is going to cost the most whether it be a desktop or laptop for an equivalent with Windows or Chrome. There are some exceptions out there but are the outliers.
As said earlier on, laptops generally are going to cost more, especially if you also opt for a dock, monitor, mouse, and keyboard on top of it. The higher cost does not always mean a better product though. There are plenty of Chromebooks for $500 or less that will be perfect for writing and browsing online. There are also many Macs that are way overkill for general use.
So What Should I Get?
Everyone is going to have their own preference when it comes to writing. You may want the portability of a laptop or the power of a desktop. Figuring out what you plan to use it for, the software you want, and your budget can help you decide. There is not a single perfect answer, but it depends on your individual needs as a writer.
If you want a Mac for the ease of use interface and dedicated writing programs like Scrivener, but are on a budget and don’t need a laptop, the Mac Mini is a great choice. Want a laptop but on a budget and don’t need fancy programs? The Samsung Chromebooks are wonderful. Want something with some real power to game after a long writing session? Gaming laptops with Windows are your best bet.
No matter what computer you go for, one thing to remember is to buy what you need and can afford. There will always be something newer around the corner, so buy when you are ready, or you will always be waiting for the next best thing.
There is no sense in spending $1999 on a Macbook Pro when you can get a fully capable Macbook Air for $1199 that will likely have all the features you need. The same goes for Windows. You don't need an expensive gaming computer if you don't plan to play computer games. Chromebooks generally won't break the $1000 mark, and when they do, it generally isn't worth the price. Most decent ones for writing can be had for $500 or less.
So what computer is best for you? Well, it depends, but I hope this has helped better understand your options to narrow it down at least a little bit.
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