When you’re preparing for college, the checklist of necessary items can seem daunting. Picking out sheets and towels is easy, picking out the perfect laptop for college? Not so much. The range of potential devices has grown. So which is best for you? Ultrabook, netbook, notebook, Windows, Mac? Here are five quick tips to help you decide:
1. Size Matters
The key to a good student laptop is portability. Running from the dorm, to the library, classes and back again, you are not going to want to carry around a giant heavy laptop. The textbooks are heavy enough, trust me. While 15 inch screens are often tempting for students who love to watch movies, TV or play games on their laptops, the most important thing is practicality. Unless, you’re not planning on using your laptop outside of the dorm, a 13 inch display will do just fine. It’s a compromise between the slightly over large 15 inch and the undersized 11 inch.
2. The Right Design
No matter what laptop you choose, you’ll absolutely want to make sure that the build quality is good. If the laptop feels cheap, the case bends or seems fragile, obviously steer clear of that one no matter the low price tag. You really do get what you pay for. It’s important that the laptop isn’t too clunky or heavy, but a device made of cheap plastic is sure to get damaged under that pile of unwashed clothes in the dorm room. A metal lid is an excellent choice in terms of durability, plus, it looks cool. For example, the HP Sleekbook is only $599 and has a brushed aluminum finish on the lid and the bottom has a good gripable finish.
Another key design element to keep in mind is the keyboard. In college, you do a lot of typing, Twenty page papers aren’t so fun when you have a bad keyboard with no flex or feedback. The keys should feel springy and respond well as your fingers tap away. You’ll also want to avoid small, crapped keyboards which can tire out your hands and increase mistyping.
The touchpad goes hand in hand with the keyboard; if you ignore it, you’ll be sorry. If you hate having no clear mouse buttons, you love scrolling or you’re a fan of the pinch and zoom, make sure you get those features on your new laptop’s touchpad. And it’s always good to test out how well the touchpad responds too.
3. Let’s Get Technical
If you’re like most people and not too, too tech savvy, understanding the spec sheet can seem like reading a foreign language. Since the CPU packs all the power that will be driving your device, that’s the first thing to look for. Intel’s third generation core processor, called Ivy Bridge, provides up to twice the 3D graphics performance. That means good news for gaming (although perhaps not for studying 😉 ). The second generation will also do the job, but avoid Pentium processors, which don’t really have the longevity a student needs.
While 4 GB of RAM is certainly enough for most, if 6 or 8 GB are in your price range, by all means, go up. The amount of storage drive a laptop has is just as important as the processor. Solid State Dives, or SSD’s are a good option for expansion and improve the overall performance of your machine. It’s an additon to consider.
When it comes to traditional hard drives, go with one that has 7,200 rpm speed and, if you can, try for 500 GB minimum (320 GB will get you by, but I don’t really recommend it).
Battery life is also of the utmost importance. Students often forget to charge, or watch so many movies that their battery peters out in the middle of writing their final paper. With such disasters in mind, get at least 5.5 hours of battery life on that new laptop. There are a lot of laptop reviews on the web and on our blog, so do your homework and see the real numbers instead of the marketing.
While it can seem too expensive, the 13-inch MacBook Air amazed with its 8 plus hours of battery life. The Sony VAIO S Series 13 ($899), lasts more than 6 hours in our test but features an optional battery that can double that.
4. Consider the Ultrabook
Ultrabooks are super light, super slim and very popular right now. Intel is targeting the student market big time with their line of sleek and slender ultrabooks. These super responsive devices even make it up to 5 hours of battery life.
These notebooks are a wee bit more expensive, but there are some models out there such as the 14-inch Dell Inspiron 14z (4.2 pounds, $699) and Toshiba Satellite U845 (3.9 pounds, $749) that can turn the head of any cheap skate or bargain hunter.
Cheaper Ultrabooks include a solid state drive and a traditional hard drive, which is fine for students. Their more expensive and high-end siblings like the 13-inch MacBook Air and ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A, have all-flash memory – 128 GB of storage moving to the speed of light.
5. Mac or PC
This final choice should be easy. Most people know if they’re a Mac or PC person. Conversions have been known to occur, but usually you just know. Mac’s tend to be elegant, design conscious and very secure. Windows’ are usually cheaper, offer more varieties from high to low end and offer more programs, especially games.
If you love the design of Macs but are afraid of compatibility issues, don’t worry. With so much computer use occurring in the ether, the operating system doesn’t matter too much in terms of compatibility. If you want something simple, beautiful and virus free, and you’re not too attached to PC’s try out a Mac. If you hate it, there are some rocking Windows devices out right now and with Windows 8 launching in October, it will be a whole new world.