Since I was the tech guy at my high school a few of my friends decided to ask me for advice on buying a laptop for college. I don’t mind helping out but answering the same way for each person drove me to write these considerations. I like to think of these considerations the baseline for a great laptop.
- Processors – Look for at least a dual core Intel processor. There are laptops with AMD processors but at the same speed, an Intel processor will seem much faster. Additionally, make sure the Intel processor is a Sandy Bridge processor and either an i3, i5 or on the high-end, an i7. These Sandy Bridge processors are the second-generation builds of Intel-i-line processors and go faster and consume less power at the same speed than the previous generation.
- Battery Life – Look for battery life ratings of at least 6 hours. Whatever the rating is, it’s probably overrated so subtract about 1.5 hours from the rating to get a more realistic battery life for real world usage. Smaller laptops have smaller batteries, but then they have smaller screens and often weaker, slower and less power-hungry processors.
- Screen – There are two types of screens. Matte and glossy. Matte screens do not reflect as much light from the background, so it’s easier to see even if there’s a chance for glare. On the other hand, glossy screens reflect a lot of light, so glare is often a concern, but these types of screens usually offer truer color and higher perceptive-resolution.
- Screen – Screens again. Basically, the screen resolution refers to the size of the space there is on the screen. Many screens offer 16:9 ratios and these can safely play high-definition video. Pretty much any screen that is 16:9 will be great.
- Graphics – Newer laptops have a discrete GPU. These are separate processors for videos, games and such. Laptops with discrete graphics are great, but if the GPU additionally offers switching, that’s even better. Some GPUs can turn on and off depending if they are needed, and this can greatly save power.
- Size – There are generally four sizes of laptops. There is sub-13-inches, which is generally a Netbook. Then there are 14-, 15.5- and 17-inch sizes. These each get progressively larger, heavier and more expensive. These machines all have their advantages. The smaller size is lighter while the larger size has a larger screen for movies. The larger size has a bigger battery, but then it also has a huge screen which will take more power. The smaller size has a smaller battery, but it also has a smaller screen. Then there are weight considerations.
- Weight – Weight is a big one. Smaller laptops are usually lighter. If this laptop is going to be taken places often, it should be as light as possible. Anything around 5-pounds is really the comfort limit, and any heavier, it would quickly become daunting to carry. Obviously, lighter is better but there really isn’t a laptop worth it’s weight if it’s less than 2-pounds.
- Familiarity – Many of my friends insist on being in a camp: PC or Macs. I don’t really care, I use all operating systems equally. I tell people to get the kind of computer they are more familiar with. Familiarity will save time and hassle. You can basically do everything with either kind of computer and there is honestly no difference for normal people.
These considerations are what I even kept in mind when I was shopping. In addition to these considerations, I like to tell people this: don’t just get a laptop! Get both a laptop that’s light, easy to use on the go, and fast. Then, for your dorm room, get a desktop that’s powerful enough for games and to do a lot work on. You’ll like having a light laptop, and you’ll like having a powerful work station. Honestly, it will be more expensive in the short run but in the long run, you will be much happier.
Finally, I’ve thought for many years now that laptops last for two years in peak performance. Any Windows computer will degrade over the course of two years, especially when kids use it. My systems last a while longer, but I re-install frequently and I am incredibly diligent. But it’s not only the software that will get old – the hardware does too. Two years in the tech-industry is more like five and thus the technology powering the laptop will be rather dated. That said, buying a better laptop now means that later, the laptop will still be better. Cheap laptops are a joke and they will suck now and suck more later. In two years, you should expect to start looking again for a new laptop. It’s a known cost and you should just plan for it now.
Good luck college shopping!