Oct 14, 2009

All you need to know about buying a laptop for college

These days it seems like every student has a laptop and now that it looks like fees won’t be coming in, you’re probably considering buying one yourself. If you’ve never really looked into buying a computer the task can seem quite daunting. You’re presented with pages filled with abbreviations you’ve never heard of and asked to decide between the 2.2GHz, 800MHz, 2MB processor and the 2.26GHz, 1066MHz, 3MB processor.

Before you even get to the stage of deciding how many RPM your hard drive should have, you have to first decide what brand of laptop to buy and where to buy it. You’re best off sticking with reputable brands, such as Apple, Dell, HP or Sony, as they tend to have good support and warranties. As for where to buy your laptop, most brands have their own online stores you can order from. Occasionally some electronics stores such as Peats or PC World have good offers on major brands, so keep an eye out if you’re willing to wait.

Every year IS Services provide students with special deals for laptops. Currently there are discounts from both Apple and Dell, which can be found through the IS Services website (isservices.tcd.ie). Apple offers students a 10% discount on laptops from their online store, while Dell have three of their models on offer at a discounted price.


If you need to decide between getting an Apple laptop or a Windows-based laptop, it is really just up to personal preference. Neither type is empirically better than the other; Apples are not “better for designing things” and Windows is not “easier to use”. The only real difference is that there is some software that only runs on Apples (such as video editing suite Final Cut Pro) and some software only runs on Windows (such as design and drafting tool AutoCAD).

Once you’ve decided what brand you want and where you’re going to get it, you still have to decide between dozens of models and configurations. To make this decision, you have to know what you’re going to use the laptop for. The majority of students that want laptops just need them for browsing the web, typing up essays and procrastinating in lectures. Luckily you don’t need a multi-thousand euro machine to do these things, unless you have a very strange way of procrastinating.

The main things you want to look at when buying a laptop for these basic needs are memory (or RAM) and hard drive capacity. These days 2 GB of memory is pretty much standard and is all you will really need unless you do a lot of work with graphic design, video editing or publication production. As for the hard drive, most laptops come with 160 GB by default. This will be more than enough for most people, unless you want to keep a lot of music, photos or videos on your laptop, in which case you might consider paying for an upgrade to 250 or 320 GB. If you do find you’ve made a mistake and need more memory or a bigger hard drive, these components are fairly easy and cheap for you (or your tech-savvy friend) to upgrade.

For a lot of the other components a good rule of thumb is that if you don’t know why you would need the more expensive option, you probably don’t need it. The basic options for the processor, video card, and DVD drive will normally be enough for what most students are going to use their laptops for, so sticking to the basics is a good way to save money. Upgrading the battery is something you may want to consider if you think you’ll be using your laptop away from any power supply for long periods of time.

One last thing to consider when buying a laptop is something that a lot of people don’t think about — the weight. If you’re going to be carrying your laptop around campus from lecture to lecture every day, the weight is going to be an important factor. Most laptop suppliers list the weight in the specifications, so make sure you’ll be comfortable carrying it around on your back all day. If you’ve decided to upgrade the battery, this will add quite a bit of extra weight.

Finally, when you’ve settled on what your new laptop is going to be you might want to run it by someone you know with a bit more technical knowledge, just to make sure you haven’t made any massive blunders.

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