How to buy the perfect laptop for college

David Gilbert casts an eye over the laptops on the market to work out which one is best for your needs.

Buying a laptop can be a daunting experience. Walk into any big electronics store and you will be greeted with row after row of laptops, most of which look identical.

It is hard to see the wood for the trees as you are bamboozled with mentions of RAM, GHz, Quad HD resolution and GeForce GTX960M graphics cards. For those about to set off to college for the first time, however, there are a number of key factors to keep in mind when looking to purchase a laptop.

The first thing to consider is portability, as your laptop is likely to be in your backpack wherever you go. This means you should limit yourself to screen sizes under 15in, and the lighter the better. In terms of screen resolution, try and get one with at least 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, which means you get more text on screen and will save your eyes when writing essays and reports.

Durability is also a consideration so if you choose a sleek and shiny new laptop, buying a case or cover for it is a good investment.

In terms of those specs, while these will vary depending on your needs, there are some basics you should look for. Processors should typically be Intel’s Core M or Core i, paired with at least 8GB of RAM so that your laptop doesn’t freeze up when trying to run more than a couple of apps at once.

You should look for at least 256GB of storage, with a faster solid state drive (SSD) preferable to a hard disc drive (HDD). Also, as you will be connecting to multiple wi-fi networks, a laptop which supports the latest wi-fi ac standard is a benefit for faster speeds where available.

Finally, a key factor to make sure your laptop doesn’t die during an important lecture is battery life. Look for a laptop claiming eight hours battery life if possible, with six hours a basic minimum.

Here are five options to suit a variety of needs:

Asus Zenbook UX305 — from €700

Asus Zenbook UX305 — A great all-round laptop which is portable, powerful and comes with a low price tag.
Asus Zenbook UX305 — A great all-round laptop which is portable, powerful and comes with a low price tag.

This ultrabook from Asus is an all round great laptop with a slim and lightweight design. It features a premium metallic finish and the Zenbook UX305 fits a large 13.3in screen into the chassis of an 11in laptop, making it ultra portable. It promises seven hours battery life while offering enough processing power to easily meet the vast majority of tasks.

MacBook Air — from €1029

Apple MacBook Air — Apple’s iconic laptop may cost more than its rivals but is slim, lightweight and features the best keyboard and trackpad on the market.
Apple MacBook Air — Apple’s iconic laptop may cost more than its rivals but is slim, lightweight and features the best keyboard and trackpad on the market.

As much a status symbol as anything else, the MacBook Air is the thin and light laptop which defined the era of ultra portable laptop computing. Available in 11in and 13in models, the Macbook Air is an impeccably designed laptop with class-leading keyboard and trackpad — but it is expensive. The base model only comes with 4GB of memory so if you want to futureproof your Mac, it is best to upgrade to 8GB which will set you back an extra €120.

Acer Chromebook R11 —from €289

Acer Chromebook R11 — At less than €300, this Chromebook offers great value for money as well as a lot of flexibility.
Acer Chromebook R11 — At less than €300, this Chromebook offers great value for money as well as a lot of flexibility.

Chrome OS is Google’s lightweight alternative to Windows or macOS for desktop and laptop computers. While limited in functionality, it has recently been given a major overhaul with the ability to download any of the more than 1 million Android apps available for smartphones.

Among the best Chromebooks on the market is Acer’s R11 which features an 11in touch-enabled screen, making it ideal for using those smartphone apps.

It also features a 360 degree hinge, meaning the laptop’s screen can swivel right around so it can be used like a tablet. While it only has 2GB of RAM and a less than powerful processor, Chrome OS is not as demanding as Windows, and you do get almost 10 hours of battery life.

Not a laptop for video editing or gaming, but for pretty much everything else, a great bargain option.

Microsoft Surface — from €630

Microsoft’s Surface range of tablets has inspired an explosion of 2-in-1 devices which promise the best of a tablet and laptop in one.
Microsoft’s Surface range of tablets has inspired an explosion of 2-in-1 devices which promise the best of a tablet and laptop in one.

Microsoft has pioneered a new class of portable computing with the 2-in–1 Surface range. These devices pack all the computing power of a laptop into a tablet and integrate the keyboard into the cover, promising the best of both worlds. With Windows 10, Surface works really well, easily switching between tablet and laptop modes.

While the keyboard cover may not be as good as a real keyboard, it is still surprisingly efficient, and with the included stylus, the Surface is a really flexible option.

The latest model, the Surface Pro 4, will set you back around €1000, but you can buy the less powerful Surface 3 for around €480 though that is without the keyboard cover which will set you back an additional €150.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 —from €900

Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 — Lenovo’s big laptop is perfect for those who want to combine work and pleasure, with enough power to run most games while on the move.
Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 — Lenovo’s big laptop is perfect for those who want to combine work and pleasure, with enough power to run most games while on the move.

For those who want power as well as portability, then Lenovo’s IdeaPad Y700 is a great option. Designed with gamers in mind, this laptop promises the power of a desktop computer together with great speakers and an anti-glare display.

Lugging it around campus, however, will be slightly more work than a Macbook Air as the laptop weighs in at 2.6kg.

Along with power, this laptop also has a great keyboard and unlike the other laptops on the list, has a physical Ethernet port to make sure your online gaming experience is great.


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