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How to Choose the Best Laptops for College Students

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A college student and her laptop — a perfect match!

A college student and her laptop — a perfect match!

The right laptop can make or break your college experience. Trust me, I know! I spent months researching before buying my first laptop but, after a year of struggling, I ended up ditching it. Finding the best laptops for college students is no easy task.

Here are 3 things I learned to consider along the way!

1. Operating System

This is the million dollar question: Mac vs. PC. I've found that it doesn't matter much which hardware you choose. I'm a science major and was told to stick to PCs since most of our data processing occurs in Windows programs. My friend James, a Design major, was told to get a Mac because it performs better visually. But you can make either platform suit your needs.

My first college laptop was a PC. It did the job, but I wasn't satisfied by its photo processing power. I chose a Mac for my replacement laptop because I'm into photography and like the ease of editing with Apple products. Occasionally, I have to use Windows-only programs like Sigmaplot for my classes, but I can use a program called Virtualbox to run them on my Mac. If you're worried about running specific programs for your major, a PC may be your best bet. But go with the hardware you really prefer-- you can make either system work.

2. Cost vs. Durability

I've found that in general, more means more in terms of laptop cost and durability. If you have an option to add a solid state hard drive, I suggest carefully considering it. A solid state hard drive is made of one piece of metal-- there are no moving parts. This makes it much more durable. You'll probably be pretty hard on your laptop throughout college. It will travel to classes, libraries, coffee shops, you name it. I chose a cheaper laptop the first time around but didn't end up saving much because I had to replace it just a year later. A hundred dollars or so up front can sometimes make a big difference down the line.

My new laptop has a solid state hard drive and extra memory. This upgrade wasn't cheap, but it should make my computer last for years. It also performs much more reliably. You'll have to judge this for yourself and think about your budget, but a well-researched upgrade can turn a decent laptop into a great one.

3. Data Storage

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is to back up all my documents. My laptop crashed just a few weeks before a term paper was due, but I luckily had a backup saved to Google Drive. You can buy external hard drives, USBs, even software to help you back up your data. Cloud computing is a great way to backup your data. Any laptop can access Google Drive or iCloud, but certain computers like Macs or Chromebooks can make these options easier to use. The most important thing to remember is that you should plan to backup your data from day one with your new laptop.

In the end, I suggest picking the laptop that makes you the happiest. After all, you'll spend a lot of time with it! Consider your budget and pick the one that's the most durable, remembering to account for backup costs (hard drives, etc.). Check out online reviews and talk to current students. Finding the best laptops for college students is no easy task, but there are good options out there for students who need a reliabile machine on a budget.

photo: Wikimedia