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Top 10 Tips For Choosing a Budget Laptop
Choosing a Laptop on a Budget – Tips for Canadian University Students
One thing all Canadian University students they will need these days is a laptop. The main advantage of a laptop over a stationary computer is its size and portability. For many degree programs, a laptop can be an indispensable tool for most if not all of your classes. In the modern digital age, most professors or class lecturers use PowerPoint or Adobe formats for their class notes and presentations. Most provide copies to students through class websites to download and print and many classes even require them as daily classroom material. While printing out the notes or presentations and following along is a perfectly fine way to manage your classes, using a laptop puts everything in one place.
Imagine sitting in class, following along with the notes and typing your own notes or memory aids right below each slide. At the end of class, hit Save, close the laptop, go to your next class and rinse/repeat. While this may seem obvious, it’s the not-so-obvious benefits that are making more and more students switch from the old paper and pen system to digital. While you’re following along in class, you can catch up on emails, use Wikipedia or Google for further clarification on topics you’re not 100% sure about, or even participate in real-time class discussions about the notes themselves. you cover! I had one professor who encouraged using a laptop not only to manage digital notes, but also to participate in a live Twitter feed that he would set up every day. Rather than raise your hand and ask a question out loud at the risk of embarrassment and ridicule, he would have students Follow the class Twitter account and answer student questions like this. I have never seen such a useful and comprehensive class discussion as I did in that class, even if it was partly digital! Anyway, on to the tips!
Tip #1 – Choose The Size Wisely!
Although 16″+ laptops are easy to look at and very comfortable to use, they are really not that practical for a student intending to use them in class. Here’s why: Many lecture halls and classrooms try to pack in as many desks and students as possible. Consequently, personal space is not that plentiful. Some classrooms have long tables with seats that can accommodate a large laptop, but most definitely not. Most lecture halls have seats with an attached surface that is sometimes as small as 12″ wide! They were built with sheets of paper and a clipboard in mind, not 16″ supercomputer laptops. So beware of larger “entertainment” laptops and always remember what you’re really buying this laptop for. I’d recommend going no bigger than 15.1.” and even then they can be a nuisance at times. Try to go as small as you can tolerate.
Tip #2 – Battery Life
For most students, a day at school can be 6 hours or more. While much of your time is spent dashing from class to class or grabbing lunch or coffee, the rest is spent sitting in class probably using your brand new laptop. This is where it really pays to have a laptop with great battery life. If you’re buying from an electronics store, ask the seller how long you can expect a full charge to take on average. Try to find a laptop that has a battery capable of at least 2 hours. Apple laptops are famous for their long battery life often lasting 4 hours or more, but they are also famous for being quite expensive and probably won’t be an option for anyone choosing a budget laptop. If you’ve found a laptop you like but find it has poor battery life, buying a replacement battery is always an option. If your salesperson works on commission, see if he or she will throw in one for free. If all else fails, tuck the power cord into your backpack and keep your laptop charged during breaks between classes.
Tip #3 – Memory
There are two types of memory in a computer, RAM and Storage (hard disk) Memory.
- RAM is what your computer uses to load programs, play video, music, etc. Think of it as a handyman’s workbench. The more room he has, the more projects he can work on at once and the faster he can access each of them. More is always better when it comes to RAM, so don’t try to cut costs on this feature, but don’t break the bank by going for large amounts either. 4GB should be plenty.
- Storage Memory is your hard drive. It’s where all the stuff you install and save is stored. If you plan to use your laptop for music, video, games, etc. you will want as large a hard drive as you can afford. If your laptop will only be used for casual web browsing, email, texting, writing, etc. then this is definitely a feature you can minimize to save some $$. I would advise getting at least a 100GB hard drive, as Windows, Microsoft Office and other essential programs can really add up in memory usage over time.
Tip #4 – Processor Speed
This again depends on your intended usage. If you want to play movies and games, you’ll need a processor strong enough to handle it. But if you just do random tasks like web browsing, email, etc. then this is another feature you can cut costs to save a lot of $$. Don’t go below 1.6GHz though, this should be your minimum.
Tip #5 – Onboard Sound and Video
Don’t let a salesperson talk you into buying a laptop that has standalone audio and video adapters, as these add significantly to the overall cost of a laptop. A sound card and video card can often DOUBLE the price of an otherwise adequate laptop. Again, unless you do some heavy gaming or video editing, these aren’t necessary and you’ll never fully use them. It’s like buying an automatic machine gun when all you need is a slingshot.
Tip #6 – Pre-installed Software
Make sure your new laptop has at least Windows 7 and some productivity software. If it doesn’t have Windows 7 or Microsoft Office, you’ll probably want to try to haggle it out with your vendor. If he tries to sell them to you at full price or even slightly discounted, don’t, DON’T buy it from him. Students get great discounts on their on-campus computer and software outlets often in the range of 80% off. For example, I can get a full version of MS Office Home and Student Edition for $60 and Windows 7 Professional for $99. They are regularly priced at $160 for Office and $329 for Windows 7 Pro both at Future Shop. (Time of writing: July 12, 2010) This is another great area to save a lot of money on a student laptop.
Tip #7 – Everything Else is Just Extra
As for all the features I haven’t covered, consider them fluff or extras. Digital card readers, fingerprint scanners, built-in webcams, auxiliary ports, etc. are all things you really don’t need to consider. If the model you choose has them and they don’t add much to the bottom line, great. If a salesperson tries to convince you that you will be struck by lightning if you don’t have them, walk away. Never forget what you’re buying this laptop for and don’t let words like “premium,” “limited edition model,” or “media-friendly” trick you into opening your wallet any longer than you have to. Over the life of your laptop you may use those features once or twice, so they’re definitely not worth the $100 or $200 they’ll add to the price tag.
Tip #8 – Shop Around!
Don’t let the sellers on commission manipulate you into buying right then and there. “This sale ends tomorrow…” is the oldest line in the book. What they don’t tell you is that this sale ends but a newer, even better one starts right after it. Never feel pressured to capitalize on what appears to be an incredible deal. If they can afford to sell you that laptop at that price today, they can afford to do it again tomorrow, or even next week. Make sure you compare prices with other stores like Future Shop, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, London Drugs and Staples. Then check online at Canadian sites TigerDirect.ca and NCIX.com to compare how good the deals are. You’ll often find better deals online when price checking the deals you found in store, so keep an eye out for those “online only deals.”
Tip #9 – Accessories
The only accessories I would recommend are a small mouse and a laptop skin. Note: not a portable bag, but a rubber skin with a zipper, they are much cheaper. It’s like a wetsuit for your laptop. That’s all you need to keep it safe from bumps and scratches and it fits nicely in your backpack. I also recommend a mouse for those times when you’re in the library or at home and have some space to spread out. The touchpads are great for portability and comfort but nothing beats navigating with an actual mouse you can hold in your hand. Look for the small wireless mice designed specifically for laptops. Some of the nice ones combine a data key along with the wireless mouse’s USB plug giving you a great place to store documents, resumes and anything else you might need quick access to from any computer.
Tip #10 – Guarantees
Many electronics stores and computer stores offer their own store warranties after the sale of an item. For PCs these can be a good thing if the price is right. They will often tell you how any problem big or small will be taken care of for free if you buy a warranty. What they don’t tell you is that there is almost no limit to how long they can keep your laptop to do a repair. The major electronics stores in Canada have central services where they submit their warranty claims for repair. In plain English, you’re stuck without a laptop for the time it takes for your computer to be shipped, repaired, and returned to the store you dropped it off at. Depending on the repair and availability of parts, this can take up to 6 months in some cases!! Personally I feel that warranties are a waste of money as I have never encountered a problem so serious that I couldn’t fix it myself. But I’m sure everyone has heard a story about someone who bought a computer only to have it die the next day, so it really comes down to budget and personal choice. For me I’d rather save the $50-$100 and pay a local repair shop for faster service if something ever goes wrong.
I hope you found these tips useful! I write them from experience as a Canadian university student who owns a Hewlett-Packard G10 laptop that I bought with Future Shop gift cards I got last Christmas! I managed to get it for $200 cheaper using the tips above so they definitely work! If you think I missed something or if you have any feedback at all, let me know on the forum or comment below. Happy laptop shopping!
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