Smart Spending

Laptops for College – What to Look For

It is less than two months away from when may Universities start courses and many major computer manufacturers have released new models just in time for the college shopping season.  The current standard college equipment now include a new or relatively new laptop.  So, what kind of laptops should you buy?  With industry lingo confusion and a lot of branding ambiguous (what is the difference between an i5-3317U, i5-3320M, and i5-4320M).  So, here’s a guide to break through the confusion and help you outline what to look for when you’re shopping for laptops for college.


The first thing to consider is the CPU (Central Processing Unit) which drives everything in your laptop.  Its the chip that makes things go.  Today’s laptops, you have a choice between Intel and AMD.  The smart advice, if all you’re looking for is an everyday computer to use in college, is to go with an Intel cpu.  Most of AMD’s current mobile offerings (their A6, A8, A10) are best for people who are looking for light gaming ability.

In deciphering Intel’s offerings, there are some fairly simple rules to go by.  The CPU you will want in your computer will look like one of these: i3-4XXXM, i3-4XXXU, i5-4XXXM, i5-4XXXU, i7-4XXXM, or i7-4XXXU.  These are denote the newest and best from Intel (their Haswell chipsets) which have a significant increase in battery life over older chips along with a smaller increase in performance.  In determining the difference between the “M” and “U” at the end of each chip, the basic trade off is: M= better performance, lower battery life; U=better battery life, lower performance.  If your child is not a power user (someone who has 5+ windows/programs running at any given time) or isn’t going to be studying engineering or the like, an Intel i3-4XXXU should be enough for their everyday needs while offering the best battery life.  Power users are well advised to go with an i5 or i7.  With CPU, the best thing to do is go with what you need, but if you do not know, then an i5 should be good enough for anything outside of intense applications.

Screen Resolution and Size

Many new laptops are also coming with updated and better screen resolutions.  At the very least, you will need a 1366×786 screen, which is standard on almost all computers.  As for laptop size, there is a rough equivalence between larger laptop sizes and heavier weights.  Since this laptop will be lugged around all day, the ideal college laptop will be small and lighter.  There are some expensive 15″ laptops that are very light, but the vast majority of laptops that you’ll be looking at will probably be 13.3″.  This is the point where the laptop keyboard is still mostly full-sized and the laptop weight is usually around 4lb or lighter, even for more inexpensive models.

Hard Drive and Memory

Other important aspects for computers now a days are the RAM (random access memory) which determines how many programs can run on the computer at any given time and the Hard Drive.  Ideally, the RAM would be at least 4 GB and more is better, though it is unlikely that you child will ever need 6 or 8 GB of RAM.  The more important aspect is the Hard Drive.  Today’s Hard Drives are far more diverse than yesteryear’s.  The best laptops for college nowadays contain a solid state drive, which is far faster than a disc drive.  The laptop that you’re looking at should include a 24 GB or 32 GB Solid State drive in addition to a larger traditional hard drive.  This will give the computer the best mixture of performance, price, and storage.

Touch Screen and Operating System

Many new Windows 8 Laptops have touch screens now a days, differentiating Windows 8 from OS X from Apple.  When buying a Windows computer and a Mac, the first thing to consider would be what kind of subjects your child is studying.  Many Business Schools require windows because many of the applications require the computer have a Windows operating system.  However, a Mac does offer convince without having to know many complicated aspect of computers as they break down less often and the Apple store generally offers excellent service.

 Other Considerations

How important price is really up to you.  However, you are generally paying for quality of components used and general quality of the laptop.  Typically, a price range of $600 to $900 will get you a good laptop that should last for at least two years and maybe even all 4 years your child is in college.  Associated with price is the brand of laptop.  Beyond mainstays such as Dell and HP for the Windows Market and Apple, laptop manufacturers to also consider should be Lenovo, Asus, and Sony as they all offer fairly nice laptops for college at good price points.

I left off GPU (Graphics Processing Units) because the typical college student wouldn’t need an especially strong GPU and Intel’s newest CPU comes with a newer and more powerful GPU.  So the already included GPU should be more than enough for the needs of a typical college student.

Research and Recommendations

Beyond this, you should still do your research on reviews of the laptops you’re looking for.  The easiest thing to do would be to simply google “(name of laptop+brand) reviews” and tens of reviews from credible sites such as CNet, PC Magazine, Engadget, and more will pop up and give a fairly detailed overview of the laptop you’re considering.  If you’re stuck on what type of laptop to get, a few laptops to consider would be Asus’s Vivobook Line, Lenovo’s U310 or U410 with Touch, and Dell’s 13z.