Buying Guide to College Laptops

Having a computer of your own is practically a necessity for college students today. We complete and submit assignments, type out our term papers, do our research, and of course, entertain ourselves in the little free time we have, all with a computer, and almost always with a laptop. Here are some pointers to buying a laptop, provided they fit into your budget.

A laptop shouldn’t be too heavy, and it should be moderately sized. Too small and it’s no good watching movies on it, but too big and it gets heavier and harder to carry around. 14″ to 15.4″ is a good place to stick to in terms of screen sizes, which determine the size of the laptop. Thickness isn’t much of an issue, but obviously the thinner the better. In terms of weight, the laptop shouldn’t weigh much more than six pounds, maybe seven, especially if you plan on carrying it around a lot. Typically the lighter the laptop gets the more it costs, so it really depends on your budget.

Wireless capability is a must. If your laptop doesn’t come with a built-in wireless antenna, be sure to buy a wireless card to use with the laptop. Whether it’s sharing an Internet connection with your roommates or checking Facebook during a lecture, you can’t really have a laptop in a college environment without wireless access.

A long battery life is always useful, but it especially helps if you take notes in class with your laptop. The more lectures your laptop can last through, the better off you are. Depending on how far off campus you live, you might not get a chance to charge during the day. A good laptop should claim to last at least three hours or so on a full charge; don’t expect it to last quite that long, but it usually gets close if you’re using a word processor, Internet browser, or other simple application.

In terms of performance, you really don’t need much. Technology changes too fast to be able to use an affordable laptop to play video games, especially for more than a couple of months. So basically the most intensive application of your laptop would probably be DVD playback, which doesn’t require much from your computer. Try and find a computer with 1GB of memory, though, because from my personal experience I found that 512MB wasn’t enough once I’d installed some programs I needed.

If you have the choice, spend the extra money to get a faster hard drive. But don’t spend any extra money to get a bigger hard drive. If you run out of space, just buy an external drive. You’ll end up saving money in the long run. But a slow hard drive will annoy you forever. The hard drive is the slowest component of any computer; it’s worth the money to make it run that much faster. (Hard drive speeds are denoted by their spin speed, which in a laptop is usually 4200, 5400, or 7200RPM.)

Get an extended warranty. I can’t stress this enough. I paid around $300 for a 3-year warranty on my $1,200 laptop, and so far it’s given me around $3,000 in repairs in the first year for free. If you carry your laptop around like I do, it’ll get damaged in transit. Make sure you have a warranty, unless you don’t have a problem just buying a new one when it breaks. Depending on the cost of your laptop, this could be a better option, since replacing a laptop almost always means you’re upgrading it as well.

So, depending on your budget, try to incorporate all the things I’ve said above. I’d like to point out again that there’s no point in buying a laptop to play video games on, unless the games you’re playing are fairly old. Playing new games takes enormous amounts of computing power, something your laptop can only deliver if its components are comparable to that of a high-end desktop, something which adds weight, size, and power consumption to a laptop. There are laptops like this, known as desktop replacements, but that’s not what you need when you go to college. If you really want to play games, take a desktop too. That’s what I did, and it works out fine for me.

Hopefully this guide helped you in your laptop shopping experience. If you follow the guidelines I’ve laid out, you should be able to find an affordable laptop that fits your needs, but doesn’t give you anything you don’t need.

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