school year is fast approaching. And whether you're a parent or a
student, the time is right to start shopping for a back-to-school
laptop. It's always a challenge to find an attractive, feature-packed,
yet luggable laptop and stay within a tight budget. Thanks to
new technology and some aggressive pricing, this year, you can get a
lot more laptop for a lot less money.
Before you even start your search, check with your school to see
what type of specific requirements it may have for laptops computers.
For example, some colleges and universities prefer Windows-based
laptops in an effort to cut down on software incompatibility issues.
Whereas other institutions have on-site repair centers that only
service university-bought laptops. Also note that most schools offer
price breaks for particular vendors and include extensive software
bundles, which can shave off a good amount from your laptop purchase.
You should always strive to future-proof your laptop so it'll,
hopefully, last all four years of school. First, only consider a system
with a dual core processor. Intel and AMD each have very capable dual
core mobile processors. At the moment Intel Core Duo laptops are more
readily available, but HP and Acer will be offering more AMD Turion
X2-based laptops soon. This processor will go a long way in
'future-proofing' your system. Second, you want to complement a dual
core processor with a good helping of system memory. You'll need at
least 1GB system RAM to take full advantage of dual core's processing
power and Microsoft's new Vista OS when it comes out early next year.
Integrated graphics CPUs and shared memory save you money. However,
gamers, aspiring 3D graphic designers, digital content creators,
architects, and engineers will definitely require a laptop with
discrete graphics like an ATI Mobility Radeon or nVidia GeForce Go
solution, and dedicated graphics memory.
Physically you want your laptop to be conducive to late night
thesis-writing yet portable enough to tote around campus. The best
screen sizes to accomplish both these things are 15.4-inch wide or
14.1-inch wide. Obviously the smaller the screen, the lighter the
weight. Also, note that the smaller the laptop, usually the more
expensive it is, and less features you may find. Also note: It's a good
idea to purchase the extended battery, which in many cases can give you
up to 7 hours battery life—enough to get you through your classes.
Now this may sound crazy, but machines can be had with all of what's
listed above for less than $1,000. In fact, both the Dell Inspiron
E1505 and HP Pavilion dv5000t come equipped with Intel Core Duo T2300
(1.6GHz) processors, 1GB of RAM, and discrete graphics, and cost just
$999 a piece. These laptops tend to get a little bulky though (they
weigh 6.6 lbs. and 7.3 lbs., respectively), so if you're in the market
for something lighter, I suggest the Toshiba Satellite M105-S3011 which
has similar specifications but weighs a more totable 5.2-pounds. Note,
if you are an engineering major or require a heavy graphics dosage, you
will likely want the top of the line graphics.
Apple's Macbook 13-inch -- perhaps the hottest laptop right now and
possibly on college campuses this fall -- is also an excellent back to
school candidate. Its gorgeous, 1-inch thick design is hard to ignore.
Besides running an Intel dual core chip, other strengths include a
stable operating system that's extremely resistant to viruses and
spyware, and an impressive software bundle. You don't need to get
distracted with a myriad of configurations either. The Macbook 13-inch
starts with a base price of $1,099, which is all you need to handle
basic school work.
Almost every laptop vendor backs its machines up with at least a 1
year complimentary parts and labor warranty. Extended warranties are
also available, but usually cost $250 or more. That said, it may come
in handy, especially in a raucous dorm atmosphere. Both Dell and
Toshiba offer a max of 4 years coverage, while Apple and HP hawk
warranties providing up to 3 years of parts and labor service. Even
better, Dell and Toshiba have plans that cover accidental damage caused
by the user---yes that means you, Mr. Beverage-spiller.
For a look at our favorite back-to-school laptops, don't miss our back-to-school laptop comparison guide.
Back to School laptops:
Apple Macbook 13-inch
The new Macbook 13-inch is the replacement product for the
back-to-school fave iBook; but it's faster, cooler, and can do more,
all for the same low price.
Dell Inspiron E1505
For students and budget buyers alike, it doesn't get better than this EC winner.
HP Pavilion dv5000t
A Media Center model packing an Intel Core Duo T2300 (1.6 GHz), 1GB of
RAM, and discrete graphics, it's a full featured notebook that will
propel you through coursework.
Toshiba Satellite M105-S3011
With a dual-core chip, and a big 100GB hard drive, the Satellite has plenty of horsepower yet weighs only 5.2 pounds.