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How to shop for the best laptop for school 2021

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  • Consider your budget and how you’re planning to use your device when buying a new school laptop.
  • Students should also look for education discounts and consider the resources available on campus.
  • It’s also important to consider whether a MacBook, Chromebook, or Windows PC is best for your needs.

As a college student, your laptop is your lifeline. Whether you’re working on a paper, watching movies in bed, or blasting music before a night out, your laptop is at the center of almost everything you do.

That’s why picking out the right one is so important. There’s a lot to consider when shopping for a laptop, but there are two key questions that will guide most of your decisions: What do you intend to use it for, and how much are you willing to spend?

There are many other factors, but those two questions should be at the center of your search. A student studying history or English, for example, will experience very different workloads than those pursuing a major in graphic design or video production.

Here’s a look at what to consider when buying a laptop for school.

Know what you’re getting for your money

dollar bills money

Budget is the biggest consideration when searching for a new laptop. The best laptops usually cost around $1,000 or more, but you can find worthwhile picks below that price point.

Laptops that cost around $1,000 will typically have the latest processors from Intel in the Core i5 or Core i7 line, which means they should offer fast performance and last for at least the typical four years of study. These laptops also usually have high-quality durable designs, 13-inch screens that have a resolution of at least 1080p, and enough memory and storage to handle most workloads. It’s good to think of $1,000 as a baseline price for a new laptop.

Laptops in the $300 to $600 range will typically come with less powerful processors and usually top out at 8GB of memory (RAM). Laptops closer to the $300 end of the spectrum or lower will probably run on an Intel Celeron or Pentium processor, meanwhile you’re likely to find Intel Core chips closer to the $600 range. Many devices in the price bracket will be Chromebooks, which are best for those who just need a laptop for getting online and using Google’s suite of apps like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Sheets.

If you’re spending $2,000 or more on a laptop, you can expect to start seeing options for features like dedicated graphics, Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processors, larger screens with sharper resolutions, at least 512GB of solid-state storage, and at least 16GB of RAM. Most students won’t need to spend this much on a laptop unless they’re planning to use it for gaming in their spare time.

Learn about the tech resources available on campus first

Working on computer
Young food blogger entrepreneur writing blog post and working online on laptop from home office.

Even if you are planning to pursue a major that might require heavy-duty computing, most colleges have computer labs on campus and allow students to rent tech equipment. The facilities will vary depending on the campus, and schools known for specializing in certain fields like technology or design may have more advanced computer labs than others. 

Regardless, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the resources available on-site before investing in your own computer. Make it a priority to see the computer labs during a campus visit, conduct some online research by browsing the college’s website, or even reach out to the admissions office for more information if you have questions. 

This will help you gain a better understanding of whether you’ll be using your personal computer for the majority of your classwork, or if you’ll be able to rely on the school’s resources for more demanding workloads.   

Look for student discounts before you buy.

College student graduation

Many laptop makers offer special deals and discounts for students, so be sure to browse their education programs before buying. 

  • Apple offers year-round education discounts that take $100-$200 off the price of a MacBook laptop depending on the model. As part of its special back-to-school promotion running through September 27, Apple is also throwing in a free pair of standard AirPods. 
  • Acer’s student discounts provide a 10% discount and free shipping for those who qualify. 
  • Dell also slashes 10% off the prices of select electronics for students in addition to offering other sales on laptops for the back-to-school season.
  • Lenovo offers a 5% discount, but that doesn’t apply to products that are on doorbuster or clearance sales. 

Check out our full guide to the best back-to-school discounts for more deals.

Decide whether a Mac, Windows PC, or Chromebook is best for you

Microsoft's Windows 11 software being shown on the screens of various laptops.
Microsoft’s Windows 11 update will better bridge the gap between laptops and tablets, an ambition it’s pursued for almost a decade.

Aside from budget, choosing the right operating system is the most important decision you’ll make when buying a new computer. For most people, this decision comes down to which software they’re most comfortable and familiar with. But each operating system offers certain benefits that are worth considering.

Windows

Windows is the most popular laptop operating system and offers the most flexibility. You can find Windows devices at almost any price range, unlike MacBooks which start at $899 for the newest MacBook Air with a student discount. Certain Windows laptops are also available in 2-in-1 designs with touchscreens that allow them to serve as both laptops and tablets. That could make Windows a better choice for those who plan to use their laptop for entertainment, too.

Mac

Apple’s macOS is the operating system that powers MacBook laptops. If you own an iPhone, you might feel most comfortable with macOS since Apple’s smartphone and laptop software share many apps and features. For example, iPhones and MacBooks each have apps like iMessage, Safari, Maps, Mail, and Calendar. Plus, you can pick up from wherever you left off in most of Apple’s apps when switching between iPhone and Mac through a feature called Handoff. 

Chrome OS

Chromebooks, on the other hand, run on Google’s Chrome OS. It’s a very simple operating system that’s designed around using web-based apps like Google’s Chrome browser, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. They’re best for those who just want an affordable laptop for getting online and performing basic tasks like notetaking, researching, and web browsing. If you don’t anticipate needing much software for your schoolwork other than Google’s web browser and word processor, a Chromebook might be the right choice for you.

Choose a laptop with the right specifications for your needs

MacBook Air red open

Next, you’ll want to think about factors like how much processor power you need and what size you’re looking for in a laptop. Here’s a rundown of the most important specifications you should consider during the shopping process.

Processor and memory

A laptop’s processor is the biggest factor in determining its performance. Most laptops run on Intel processors, but you’ll occasionally find some powered by AMD chips as well.

In general, it’s best to avoid buying a laptop with a processor that’s more than two generations old. That’s because you want to make sure your laptop remains fast and capable for at least four to five years. Investing in technology that’s several years old could result in you spending more money in the long run since you might have to replace it sooner than expected.

When it comes to memory, you’ll ideally want a machine with at least 8GB of RAM. The RAM often determines how good your computer is at juggling multiple tasks, such as opening dozens of tabs in a web browser, and buying a laptop without enough RAM could result in slower performance under heavy workloads.

In general, a laptop with an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM is plenty for most tasks. But an Intel Core i3 laptop will also suffice if your budget is a little tighter and you don’t anticipate that you’ll be using your laptop for much more than browsing the web and watching Netflix. It’s common to see Chromebooks with lower-end specs when it comes to the processor and RAM because they’re only meant for basic tasks like these. 

Display quality

Just like anything else, your laptop’s display quality and size depends on how you intend to use it. If you’re mostly using your laptop for writing papers, taking notes, and conducting research, you probably don’t need a super high-resolution screen. Many laptops come with a screen resolution of at least 1080p, which is all you really need for basic word processing and research. 

If you’re already planning to spend $1,000 or more on a laptop for other reasons, like the processing power, your laptop will probably have an even sharper display with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 or 2,560 x 1,200. Touchscreens can also add to the price, so consider whether that’s a priority for you before buying. Some laptops come with the option to upgrade to a 4K display, but it’s usually more money than it’s worth, especially considering it can impact battery life. 

Size

Many laptops come with 13-inch screens, but you can also find larger models with 15-inch or 17-inch screens, and smaller-sized 11-inch laptops. Larger-sized models are more expensive and usually come with more powerful processors, while smaller-sized laptops are tailored for convenience and portability and are generally equipped to only handle the basics. 

Laptops with 13-inch screens fall right in the middle and usually offer the best combination of screen space and portability for most people. 

Consider how you plan to use your laptop before deciding which size is right for you. Is having a device that’s lightweight enough to squeeze in a small bag and carry around campus your main priority, or are you planning to primarily use your laptop at your dorm room desk?

Storage

Many laptops come with at least 128GB or 256GB of storage, except for Chromebooks since they rely on cloud storage. This should be enough storage for most people, but students working with large video files and photos might want to upgrade to a laptop with 512GB or more. 

Just remember that storage drives up the price, so it’s important to carefully consider how much you need. If you’re not sure how much storage to get, you can always opt for a laptop with 128GB or 256GB and purchase an external hard drive later if you need it. 

Our guides to the best laptops

Dell XPS 13 2

Still not sure where to start? Check out our laptop buying guides for our favorite picks.

The best laptops for college students

The best laptops overall

The best budget laptops

The best Chromebooks

The best MacBooks 

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

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