The Best Laptops for College Students

A Laptop That Lasts

If you're a student, a laptop is as essential as your textbooks and school ID. And it's not just for school work. It should also be able to handle extracurricular activities, such as social networking, watching movies, listening to music, posting photos, gaming, video chatting with the 'rents back home, and so on. And of course, the best laptops for college students need to last for the long haul, preferably through four years of undergrad and maybe a year of grad work. Lucky for you, we have a bunch below that fit that description perfectly—and they won't drain your savings account.

Here are the basics you should keep in mind while looking for a laptop for college.

Ask Questions

The first, and most important, thing to do is check with your school for specific system requirements. Some colleges and universities want their students equipped with Windows-based laptops, to cut down on software incompatibility issues. Others don't care what operating system you use, whether it's Windows, macOS, or even Linux if you're a hard-core type. Many institutions have on-site repair centers that only service university-bought laptops, where the turn-around time is much quicker than if you were to send it overnight to the original manufacturer. Also note that most schools offer price breaks for particular vendors and include extensive software bundles, which can shave off a good amount from your laptop purchase.

Keeping It Light

A big screen may not be such a good idea. It's nice to have a mini home theater in your dorm room or play the best games in full 1080p glory, but a laptop with a big screen will be a real chore to haul across campus while you're running from class to class. You're better off with something that's light: If screen size matters less to you than convenience, a super-thin ultraportable might be the way to go. But for most people, a maximum 13- or 14-inch widescreen is ideal, as it will make room for other items in your backpack and minimize the weight burden. Depending on your tolerance level, a smaller display works as long as you understand that full webpages and productivity applications involve more scrolling, and fonts appear smaller than they do on larger screens.

 

Essays, research papers, and chatting online with your classmates will take up most of your computing time, so a full-size keyboard and comfortable touchpad are crucial. When you venture below a 13-inch platform, you run the risk of not getting the same typing experience. The easiest way to ensure that you have the best keyboard is to stop by a brick-and-mortar store and spend some time typing on prospective choices. (If you decide to buy a smaller, less expensive laptop, it's probably worth investing in a standalone keyboard you can keep at home for when you need to do a lot of typing.)

How Much Power Do You Need?

Depending on your budget, laptops offer a wide selection of processors—for instance, you can choose one that maximizes performance or one that favors battery life. Or you can select one that plays to both strengths: Intel Core CPUs have the benefits of both power and battery efficiency. If you desire all-day battery life, it's best to go with a chromebook, which typically run on a low-powered processor. If performance ranks high on the list, an Intel Core i7 CPU gives you the most oomph but at the expense of battery life.

If you like playing games in your downtime, you might want to splurge on a more expensive gaming laptop. Most general-purpose machines, especially at sub-$1,000 prices, won't have the discrete graphics card necessary to make the hottest AAA titles look good and play smoothly. A powerful GPU can also help when transcoding a video or watching a Blu-ray movie, but, like a processor, they also feast on the battery.

The good news is that, in every other case (unless you're an architecture major with a heavy reliance on CAD software), most integrated GPUs should be more than enough for the day-to-day tasks you'll face.

Storage Solutions

With the increasing prevalence of cloud storage and web applications, having plentiful local storage space is somewhat less vital now than it used to be, but you should still make sure that your laptop meets your needs. If you plan to install a lot of programs or want to hang on to files, you'll need 256GB of space or more. If you don't foresee needing all that local storage, or are content with leaving a lot of your work online, you can get by with a laptop with less space.

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