Choosing a Laptop for University

You’ve got your exam results, and you’re into uni – now you need a laptop. But what are the best laptops on the market for students? What’s the difference between an HDD and an SSD? And should you opt for a Windows or Mac?

Going to university without a laptop is pretty much unheard of these days – it’d be like going to school without pens and pencils. Going away to uni without one instantly puts a limit on your ability to do your best. While they don’t come cheap, prices are coming down, and many universities offer refurbished models at a discounted price, or offer them on a loan-based system. But choosing the perfect laptop for your needs should be taken slowly. Unless you’re a computer whiz or already work in IT, the laptop market is likely going to be a complete minefield.

The first thing that will probably come into your head when buying a laptop is price. Laptop prices range from around £200 at the lower end, to in excess of £2,000 at the upper end. We would suggest you choose a budget early, and work around that. While the cheaper model might seem tempting, it might have a short life span, causing you problems down the line. What if the hard drive crashed and your uni work was lost? That doesn’t mean you have to spend through the roof to find a decent laptop for university, though.

What about the operating system? There are essentially three main operating systems that dominate today’s laptops – Windows, Mac OS X and Chrome OS. Windows is by far the most common OS you’ll find on laptops, and it’s the one that most of us grew up using and are therefore most familiar with. Mac OS X is popular with graphic designers and Apple aficionados who like to link up their laptop, iPhone and iPad. Chrome OS is a relatively new operating system that has recently become available on the very inexpensive Chromebooks. Unless you need a high definition screen and the raw power that a Mac offers, we’d suggest going for a Windows laptop. While Macs are nothing to sneer at, they come with a hefty price tag. Chromebooks with Chrome OS are limited in what they can do, and have a tiny amount of internal memory – data is designed to be stored on Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage system.

What about specs? Laptops come with internal storage in the form of hard disk drives (HDDs), and more increasingly commonly, solid state drives (SSDs). Some manufacturers install a small amount of solid state memory alongside a hard disk drive, known as a solid state hybrid drive (SSHD). HDDs are mechanical, and work by reading/writing data to and from magnetic platters. This can cause issues if you’re accident-prone, as even a tiny knock to a spinning HDD can cause a head crash, meaning an expensive data recovery bill – if data recovery is even possible. SSDs, on the other hand, not only offer increased speed and performance, but they don’t contain any moving parts. The downside is that the NAND flash chips used in SSDs are expensive, so you’re looking at a laptop with a storage capacity of 128GB or 256GB, possibly 512GB if you budget can stretch that far. Then there’s RAM. RAM is where temporary work, like Photoshop layers yet to be saved, are stored. The very minimum amount of RAM you’ll want in a laptop is 4GB, although that’s now the lower end, with many laptops packing 8GB and 16GB of RAM. This is a particular concern if you’re studying a subject that requires intensive software like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, or Final Cut Pro. Display is another key aspect when buying a laptop for uni. Depending on your course and what you want to use your new laptop for, you should consider either an HD screen, HD+ screen, or Full HD (FHD). The very minimum we’d suggest is 1366x768.

In short, choose a price range, and then find a laptop that is at least useable for basic tasks but can also offer you an edge in the subject you’re studying. For example, a history student might not want to opt for a laptop with a Full HD screen, since they’re likely to be using word processing software and browsing the internet. On the other hand, graphic design and architecture students might want to opt for a laptop with a high screen resolution, and a high amount of RAM to power through designs.

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