Everyone is talking about tablets and smartphones. But when it comes down to it, what do you really feel comfortable working on? By working I mean actual work like a term paper, proposal, invoice, research or book report. Tablets and smartphones are great in a pinch but a serious worker needs a laptop. I wrote this blog on a laptop and look at me now!
To organize things, I have followed the tried and true mantra of classifying laptops into uses. You might notice Gaming Laptops are not listed here, that’s what a Playstation or a Tower are for… After the use I go over things you need to consider by Software, Hardware, Reality and Size Matters. The first two points explain themselves, the Reality point might tell you of things you have not considered but might/will happen while Size Matters discusses screen sizes.
I choose not to add prices to this guide, here’s why: I don’t know what you want to spend and you might not either. If you do, then just follow the guide and make it work with-in your budget. Keep in mind you always get what you pay for. If a laptop seems cheap it likely is.
Here’s an idea, if the laptop is going to travel a lot, make sure you get your hands on a demo unit at the store so you can “feel” the quality of its’ build. Hold the laptop in one hand by one of its’ corners, does it creak or bend a lot? Open and close the lid by one of the corners to see how much it bends, place your thumb on the top corner of the lid, then place your fingers on the back of the lid and apply slight pressure. Does the screen turn funky? Screen deviation, creaks, and bends are all sings of poor build quality. Now, on to the guide!
Check with the school for any prerequisites, a college might have specific needs. It is also prudent to ask which software is required for the curriculum. If you have paid tuition then you can likely get a deal on otherwise expensive software like Office. Anti-virus is another software to ask about as colleges usually give away AV (anti-virus) because they’d rather spend their time on intellectual pursuits and not chasing a worm…
Engineers and Artists (seems odd to lump these together, but oh well)
Depending on your student’s major, a Mac or a Windows laptop will make more sense. An art major will definitely need a Mac while any future engineers will find better use with a Windows Laptop. Both engineers and artists will need the fastest CPU you can afford. Intel Core i7 is the premiere choice for these kids as it has the muscle to handle large images, hi-res video or teraflops of engineering calculations.
The engineer or accountant will also appreciate a FULL keyboard, one with a number pad on the right side. You can also augment any laptop with a USB number pad that simply plugs into the laptop. The artist will likely appreciate a discrete graphics card that can handle high resolution images and video. Also get an external mouse for the artist. They may even ask for a pen tablet…
Business or Medical students (you have it easy here)
Mainstream laptops will work just fine for your future entrepreneur or brain surgeon. I’m talking an Intel Core i5 processor with around 2.2 GHz and a minimum of 4 GB RAM.
Another consideration for the Medical Student and Graphic Artist is some sort of external monitor. Looking at medical diagrams or hi-res artwork is better on a 21″ screen sitting on their desk.
In all reality, the laptop has a higher chance of being stolen then breaking down. So if you are sending your kid to school out of town, check with your home owner’s insurance policy to see if they cover the laptop being stolen from a university. If not, consider some kind of coverage or a lo-jack like service for the laptop.
You should also setup some kind of offsite backup like Carbonite or Mozy before your student leaves home. Nothing is worse then loosing a term paper the day before it is due! If the laptop is destroyed by a malicious soda can, stolen by a thief, or used as a skateboard ramp, your offsite backup will make it possible for your kid to access their data.
Bigger is NOT always better! If you ask your student what size screen they would prefer, they will likely answer 17″! A 17″ screen is big, bright and beautiful, much like the fly zapper, it lures the prey into the warm light until it is too late! If your kid asks for a 17″ laptop, promptly ignore them. Here’s why: The desk your kid uses at home will be much larger then the desk they will have at the college or apartment. A 17″ laptop will be cumbersome there. Also, lugging around a 17″ screen is a major PITA! A smaller 15 or 14″ screen is advisable as it is lighter, the battery lasts longer and the “footprint” of the laptop is smaller allowing your college student the room they need to put a pizza box on their desk…
High School Use
You will need Office, I highly suggest Office Home and Student as it is relatively inexpensive and can be installed on up to 3 computers. Office is not an option for your High School student, it is a necessity so when buying a laptop include the cost of Office into your calculation.
Antivirus is another big one, you have to have it! You can get away with a free AV like Avast or AVG but make sure your student’s Windows account is a standard and not an administrator. If you are purchasing a Mac, then you needn’t worry about account permissions, for now…
Buy a brand name as high school kids tend to abuse their equipment more then we do. Good brands are: HP – Dell – Gateway – IBM/Lenovo. Kids like music so make sure the laptop has good speakers and a large hard drive (at least 500 GB). HP sells laptops with BEATS audio by the way.
An Intel Core i3 is a good start, if your kid games then you will have to step all the way up to a Core i7 cpu to make them happy, again, a minimum of 4 GB RAM is recommended
High School can be a rough place for delicate electronics, that’s why I recommended a Core i3 above because loosing it is not as bad as a Core i5 or i7. If you did spring for your kid to have the i7, do not let them take it to school unless absolutely necessary. The i7 is expensive and garners attention. You should not consider Carbonite or Mozy to backup your kid’s school work. Do not get Carbonite to backup their music, Google Music or Amazon Cloud Drive is for that and it’s free! Come to think of it, your kid can use Microsoft Cloud Drive with their Windows Live account and store documents in the cloud, so using Carbonite or Mozy is not really required for them.
Kids will always think bigger is better, if your kid drives, they likely have oversized rims on their car… Don’t let that happen with the laptop screen. Sure the large screen looks cool but moving it around is definitely not, especially if you have a petite girl.
You really don’t need Microsoft Office, a good anti-virus is always recommended, shoot for an online security suite like Avast Internet Security as Home Laptops often troll the internet for sales. Either Windows 7 Home Premium or Mac OS X will do.
Here is where you can use a bigger screen. A 17″ screen will do nicely as most Home Laptops really do not travel much and watching Youtube is a right of passage for Home Computers these days. Look for a Core i5 CPU with 4 GB Ram and at least a 500 GB hard drive so your music collection has a cozy place to live. Consider external speakers of good quality so you can rock out to Lady Gaga while making muffins or doing house chores…
No need for Carbonite or Mozy here as you should not be storing documents on the home laptop. If you are worried about theft, check your home or renter’s insurance for coverage or you can even get a Kensington lock for it. (Make sure your laptop has the lock slot on the side or back of it.)
The savvy business user will need at least Office Small Business. The Small Business edition comes with Outlook for email. A robust Antivirus is recommended, if you are in a Corporate Enterprise, check with IT for recommendations as they usually have specific requirements so you can access their network resources. Windows 7 Professional is the norm for this class.
A 14 – 15″ screen is a must as Business Users are on the go, a broadband modem through a wireless company is also suggested so you can access the net from anywhere. Also consider a tether with your web enabled smartphone to save money. IBM/Lenovo are known for business use, give them a look as they often include TPM chips for security.
Business laptops are stolen all the time. Make sure you have security on it, start with a Whole Drive Encryption. You can get a third party solution from Symantec or www.truecrypt.org or you can step up to Windows Ultimate and use BitLocker. This way if your laptop is stolen it really just serves as a paper weight until the scumbag who took it learns to format the hard drive. Let’s face it, the laptop itself is worthless compared to the information it might have on it… Also make sure you have a Windows Password on it. While the Windows Password will NOT stop someone like me from accessing your data, it will deter the average crook.
There you have it, if you have questions or suggestions please let me know!