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Cheap Students: Laptop Buying Guide

Monday, August 20, 2012

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For students it's simply a given now that we have laptops, and unfortunately it's very rare for a single laptop purchased before University to last you for the entirety of your degree. So because of this we need to budget, save up and at some point purchase a new laptop to get us through classes, essay's and various other school related projects.


I had the unfortunate problem of purchasing an HP laptop before I started university, it lasted quite a bit of time but it sounded like an airplane, was as hot as furnace, had the battery capacity of a AAA battery and had a screen flickering problem by about a year and a half. Now I'm not saying all HP laptops are bad, I just wont be purchasing one any time soon. During boxing week sales this year I purchased a Lenovo laptop which I haven't had any problems with yet...knock on wood. Before I made that purchase, I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching what laptop to buy, which brand, PC or Mac, battery life vs screen size. The list goes on. Now, since I spent countless hours researching and researching, and being extremely OCD about it, I can pass on some major points to cut down on research time and keep it simple.

Once again, there are people that are gamers, spend countless hours on their computers and require insanely powerful ones to do so...I believe that a majority of you won't be using your laptop for that purpose..and this post is for you.

1. Budget-Determine how much you are willing to spend, this is the most important part, this is how you determine how intense and powerful your laptop is and whether or not you can actually afford an Apple computer (is anyone else aware of the fact that they are just taking over?!)

2. Ask yourself a few preliminary questions.

  • Check out this laptop quiz from Inc. Some of the specs are old in terms of the laptop recommendations. Here's an updated score sheet.
  • If you answered mostly As, you are most likely a gamer or a graphic designer, and you'll need a souped-up machine with optimal power, portability, and versatility. An Intel i7 processor and 10-12GB of RAM will maintain your machine's speed and battery life as you run multiple applications. Opt for a super-sized hard drive (750GB-1TB, 7200rpm) to accommodate your multi-megabyte files. Gamers need advanced 3D graphic chips, along with 2GB of dedicated graphics memory. Geek-up your notebook with more built-in hardware, like a rewritable DVD drive and Bluetooth technology. Wireless broadband access, either built-in or through an access device, will keep you from being tethered to Wi-Fi hotspots. Stick with a 15.4-17 inch screen or wider, allowing you to view spreadsheets and movies with ease. And upgrade to at least six USB ports so you can connect more of the latest peripherals. Example Alienware M17x
  • If you answered mostly Bs (This is probably where most students are), you like to mix business with pleasure. You aren't an obsessive tech geek, but you want the flexibility to watch Family Guy while checking your email and updating your Facebook profile. For work, you'll be doing the basics: email, word processing, spread sheets, and Power Point. But, for fun, you'll also be downloading music and storing digital photos. Permanent data, such as pictures, mp3s, and documents, are stored on the hard drive. The more you plan to download, the more hard drive space you need. You need at least an 500 GB hard drive, and one with at least 7200 rpm will perform better. The computer stores the programs it is running right now in its RAM, or random access memory. In order to run multiple programs at once, quickly—say, a DVD, a music player, and the ESPN.com homepage—you need something with at least 1GB of RAM. A built-in wireless antenna and an Ethernet port will connect you to high-speed internet. Be sure to get something with plenty of USB ports for your speakers, flash drive, and a mouse. For entertainment, get a CD/DVD drive and at least a 14.1 inch screen or less. ExamplesMacBook  Various Dell options 
  • Since you selected mostly Cs, you're all work and no play. Your main concerns should be portability, security, and durability.It's much easier to travel with a smaller, lighter machine, and a 13.3-inch widescreen will fit nicely in your carry-on and on a tray table. A shock-mounted or solid-state hard drive (SSD) will give your information some extra protection, and a spill-resistant keyboard is also important. And you'll definitely want a fingerprint reader – a security scanner built into the palm rest that allows you to enter multiple passwords with the swipe of a finger. If business takes you on the road, make sure you can use an extended battery and that your notebook is equipped with 802.11 agn Wi-Fi. Frequent travelers should look for EVDO or HSDPA options—mobile broadband connections that don't require internet hotspots. Bluetooth technology will let you sync the laptop with your smartphone and also let you use a wireless mouse, but you'll also want some USB slots to accommodate an external optical drive or hard drive, as well. Look for 1-2GB of RAM and a 100 GB hard drive, but keep in mind that more memory will mean more weight. Examples Dell Business Options Lenovo Thinkpads

3. What's are the most important features for you?

  • Does it need to be pretty/nice looking? (this may knock business laptops out of the running)
  • Do you need long battery life? (Apple kills this)
  • Large screen size or small screen size? (ultrabook or netbook or laptop?)

Most often Apple's MacBook and MacBook Air covers most on this list, if not all. It just depends on the money you want to spend.

 

4. Check out these sites for various laptops that you can choose from.

5. How to get a deal

  • ebay.ca (A great spot to find cheap Dell laptops, you can also get the warranty switched over to you through the seller, do your research with this, contact the seller etc.)
  • redflagdeals.ca (Great site to find information on various deals through Dell, Lenovo etc.)
  • canadacomputers.com/ &  newegg.ca/ (both often have doorcrashers and various deals)
  • Want an Apple Laptop but for cheaper? Buy refurbished you can purchase Apple care for these as well 

6. Other deals to watch out for

  • Apple often has a student deal available towards the beginning of the school year. It varies, some years it may be free Office, it used to be a Free iPod touch. Bestbuy and Futureshop often try to replicate these deals, so speak to them and see what they can do for you in store.
  • Back to school deals often start in August (I think its cruel personally, we still have a month before school starts! But unfortunately I don't influence these things)
  • Around Black Friday every year (US thanksgiving) Apple, Dell and other large manufacturers have sales on as well as on Boxing Day.

5. Found a laptop your interested in? 

  • Check out CNet's reviews for most laptops. Type in the model number and there's likely to be a review. 
  • Often you can go on YouTube and search the model you are considering as well. There are a ton of video reviews to view.

When you're about to buy..

1. If you collect Airmiles or Aeroplan miles, go through either of the following to collect miles on your laptop purchase. Buying with a credit card that allows you to collect these miles will let you double dip as well!

2. Consider shipping and taxes. These extra's often add up big time when your buying a laptop since it's an expensive purchase

 

3. Warranty or no warranty?

  • Most computer manufacturers will give you a 1 year basic coverage as a warranty that comes with purchase. Now from my experience, laptops, cell phones and other electronics tend to break just after the manufacturers warranty expires (I think they plan it that way...) so adding on an extra year of coverage for $50 to $100 may be worth it for you. Apple's Applecare also seems to be a pretty comprehensive option. Definitely consider it, because we all know how well we take care of electronics. Dell also offers Accidental Damage Coverage-yes this covers spilling beer on your laptop. 

Some Extra Tips

Hopefully this post hasn't completely overwhelmed you but instead provided a great guide for when you're purchasing your next laptop. Good luck!

Lauren Bernardo is a current University of Guelph Commerce student.  Her blog Cheap Students aims to help students save money and keep it. Her writing is inspired by her personal experiences as a student on a budget and by her love for saving money.

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  1. Posted by: Aimee on Aug 21, 2012 @ 11:45pm

    After two hour purchaise computer crash and have bluescreen. VAiO Thailand responce this is software problem and not Sony resposiblity(I guess I need to call to Bill Gates?) Every since, this Vaio computer have crash and have had two major hardware malfunctions. After six month purchaise, this computer have been totall one month out of order. If you like to buy a computer for business, think twice," before considering Sony Vaio S series.
    Sincerely, @Aimee from Cheap AC/DC Adapter for laptop

  2. Posted by: on Aug 22, 2012 @ 9:01am

    From what I have seen online Sony computers are pretty overpriced for the quality you get. Thanks for the advice! I'm hoping you get the computer fixed though, I would assume you can since it's still under 1 year unless VAIO Thailand has a different policy.

  3. Posted by: turkishdiscoprison on Aug 23, 2012 @ 11:20am

    In my experience, the best deals are on used or refurbished models, but be careful. I am a computer technician and two computers I recently booked in for repair were purchased used from private sellers and both had serious issues. If you are considering purchasing a used computer from kijiji meet up with the seller and ask him/her to consider getting it checked. I'm pretty sure diagnostics cost $45 for Apple computers at Jump+ and $70 for PCs at Futureshop.

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