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QOTD: What's the Best Computer for a Student?

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 96 comments

Laptop hunters, student edition?

Apple computers have always been a bit of a hit in the education sector, but according to a study by consumer electronics site Retrevo, the majority of college-bound students are not considering a Mac this year, instead opting for something less pricey.

"While Apple has done well historically in the education market, 2009 marks the dawn of the netbook," says Vipin Jain, Retrevo CEO. "Students told us they wanted longer battery life, smaller size, and a lighter laptop. 58% of them plan on spending less than $750.00. Only 18% have a budget over $1,000.00. Netbooks are affordable; some costing only $170.00. In contrast, Apple laptops start at $949.00. At a time when many people are experiencing economic hardship, having a new Apple laptop isn’t a necessity."

With that 17-inch laptop that was on sale at Wal-Mart for under $350, there does seem to be a lot of computer that a student can get if he or she shops around and catches the good deals.

For those of you buying for back to school either for yourself or someone else, what sort of computer (laptop or desktop) would you recommend?

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  • 21 Hide
    abswindows7 , August 25, 2009 4:32 AM
    I'd get an i7 975 with 24 gig of ddr3 2000mhz, a 1200 watts power supply with 2 x gtx 295 in SLI with two 128 g SSD in raid 0. Also four 24 inch full hd lcd's :) 

    I would of course cool that beast with liquid hydrogen :) 

    That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes :)  )
  • 13 Hide
    thiswillkillthat , August 25, 2009 5:33 AM
    This is an idiotic question.

    The laptop that will fit the necessities of a student is dependent on the use and the values of the aforementioned student.

    The end.
  • 10 Hide
    jhansonxi , August 25, 2009 4:47 AM
    abswindows7That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes )
    Considering how many "career" college students I've met, your recommendation makes sense in a scary sort of way. :D 
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    cadder , August 25, 2009 4:27 AM
    A mainstream 15" laptop would do well for most students. They don't need a lot of computing power or fancy features, and 15" machines are the cheapest thing beyond netbooks.

    However as my daughter pointed out, sometimes they don't have room on the desktop in some lecture halls for a 15" machine, so if a student is taking the machine to class then maybe a 13" would be better.

    If a student really knows that they won't be running anything but light office apps, maybe a netbook is all they need.
  • 0 Hide
    joshery420 , August 25, 2009 4:30 AM
    Assuming you're not trying to game heavily, I love my Dell Studio 15. I got the last generation 1535 series, and they're currently 1537's, but overall it's the same system really. The backlit keyboard isn't something I thought I'd love near as much as I do. It's fantastic for late night work!!
  • 0 Hide
    mlcloud , August 25, 2009 4:31 AM
    If it was a computer "solely" for the tasks of a student, then anything with a good amount of RAM and a decent CPU would be fine. I'd hate to go anything less than a 2.0ghz duo-core though, because modern OSes tax system resources like no other, and it is very frustrating for the average student if their computer starts to lag, especially once they get a few bloatware and unnecessary start-ups installed onto their laptops. Try doing your homework on a pentium 3... all you need is internet and openoffice? Good luck, even with that...

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834146581
    2.00ghz duo core
    3gb RAM
    15.6inch
    250gb HD
    Up to 4.6hrs of battery life
    $449.99

    On the other hand, if they had needs like gaming, everything becomes insanely complicated... balancing graphic power and battery life and screen size and SSD vs HD and....
  • 1 Hide
    jhansonxi , August 25, 2009 4:32 AM
    A 13in laptop or 9in netbook. A netbook with Linux is better if they are just taking notes, editing documents, viewing PDFs, and web browsing. A laptop is better if they are doing graphics editing or CAD. Another option is a netbook to carry around and RDC into a desktop in their dorm room.
  • 21 Hide
    abswindows7 , August 25, 2009 4:32 AM
    I'd get an i7 975 with 24 gig of ddr3 2000mhz, a 1200 watts power supply with 2 x gtx 295 in SLI with two 128 g SSD in raid 0. Also four 24 inch full hd lcd's :) 

    I would of course cool that beast with liquid hydrogen :) 

    That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes :)  )
  • 10 Hide
    jhansonxi , August 25, 2009 4:47 AM
    abswindows7That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes )
    Considering how many "career" college students I've met, your recommendation makes sense in a scary sort of way. :D 
  • 4 Hide
    dimar , August 25, 2009 4:47 AM
    Anything with Dual Core Celeron or Pentium Dual Core and 3/4GB of RAM will do just fine. Radeon Mobility 3200/4200 is a big plus.
  • 0 Hide
    B16CXHatch , August 25, 2009 4:52 AM
    Netbooks are just worthless to me. Just to get stuff done and be mobile, a low cost 13-15" Laptop is fine. I used a 15" Compaq with a Celeron 440M with 1.5GB of RAM and Vista Home Basic for 2 years and it's been a trooper. Did everything I needed it too (as well as run some HD video and StepMania) and it didn't cost spit. Lucky for me I had a spare battery and charger from my previous HP (weird to get 2 laptops that used the same stuff a year apart). Even so though, for school, battery life was never a problem. Each battery gave me about 2 hours but I always picked seats with plugs if possible.

    But at the same time I had it, I had a desktop. Since I'm a "Power User", I like to have 2 computers (though I actually have about 5 or 6). I have one self built desktop with a 24" monitor for games and anime, then my newer 17" HP laptop that's considerably more powerful (and over twice as expensive) than my previous laptop, that I use for school, mobile use, laziness (I keep it downstairs in my apartment while the desktop is upstairs) etc. I went the exact opposite with it though than the trend. I hate small laptops/netbooks. I walked in the store and said "gimme the biggest SOB you got". Still gets 3 hours battery life and can play Team Fortress 2.
  • 0 Hide
    tomtom_32 , August 25, 2009 4:54 AM
    i'm going to college next semester to start my ME program and i'm definitely going to by a netbook. probably an 11z dell cause i need something to carry around (beside a ton of books and papers!). macs are good but no way i'm gonna spend 1000 bucks for a low end mac. if i need performance i'll put up a high end pc later but right now(and probably never) will i pay 2000$ for a laptop.
  • 0 Hide
    Windaria , August 25, 2009 5:08 AM
    $2000 for a laptop? Only if you want to get ripped... heck, here, about 1000:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834220566

    Nvidia 240M with 1GB graphics memory, 4GB ram, nice display or, if you want to spend a little over 1200:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834220563

    Then you get true HD display, and some other minor upgrades... you should never have to spend 2K, unless you are just throwing money away...
  • 4 Hide
    surfer1337dude , August 25, 2009 5:22 AM
    @jhansonxi : That is assuming that they dorm. It is actually very annoying for students who dorm when ppl assume this simply because those who dont usually end up working as well as going to college which is honest very hard.

    I myself am a college student (going into my second year in a week). I bought a 15" HP. 2.8 ghz amd x2, 4 gigs ram, 250 gig hdd. This computer is perfect for alot of students. Depending on your major and your uses you can easily get a netbook. My major is engineering so I do need the 15" for things like cad (and my hobbies like watching movies, and editiing pictures/playing games).

    To be honest battery life doesnt really matter much because chances are there is an outlet you can easily use. Another point Id like to state though is that for college you do not need any kind of laptop at all. Infact most people do not for many good reasons. I dont even use mine during class because I get bored and start browsing the web, so I only use mine while I have free time between classes to do hw or just browse/play games.
  • 0 Hide
    nonxcarbonx , August 25, 2009 5:22 AM
    I'd get an ultra-portable and install a solid state drive in it.

    Rotating touchscreen, ssd, maybe even a core 2 duo in it? The thing would be classier (no pun intended) than a lot of peoples desktops.
  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , August 25, 2009 5:28 AM
    For science and engineering, I highly recommend a tablet. otherwise either 13.3 or 9 for a commuter, and 15-18" for someone who dorms or games.
  • 0 Hide
    anamaniac , August 25, 2009 5:30 AM
    Tablet PC.

    Some cheap ones out there, and most students don't even need a dual core.

    ...
    I failed at convincing my old school to buy students tablets (for advanced mathamatics classes). -_-

    Either that or a slim and cheap 13".
  • 13 Hide
    thiswillkillthat , August 25, 2009 5:33 AM
    This is an idiotic question.

    The laptop that will fit the necessities of a student is dependent on the use and the values of the aforementioned student.

    The end.
  • 3 Hide
    thiswillkillthat , August 25, 2009 5:39 AM
    It might also do some good to question the validity of the survey.

    As I understand, it was paid for by our dear friends over in Redmond.
  • 0 Hide
    manjyomethunder , August 25, 2009 5:50 AM
    The Dell Studio XPS 16 for any kind of art student, because of the RGB LED backlit display, yay color gamut and accuracy.

    For an average student who just needs to take notes and type up assignments? Any netbook running Ubuntu Linux with OpenOffice or Lotus Symphony.

    For any kind of "power user" student, like a computer science student, the Sony VAIO FW. Good balance of power, portability, price, and... a decent GPU for playing games and not doing my assignments...I mean their assignments!
  • 0 Hide
    dingumf , August 25, 2009 5:53 AM
    A sturdy laptop that can survive a number of drops and spills and at least a dual core. Also at least 6 hours battery life.
  • -2 Hide
    leafblower29 , August 25, 2009 6:24 AM
    Not a Dell
  • 1 Hide
    cjl , August 25, 2009 6:52 AM
    I'd say that it depends heavily on the major. Some majors need a LOT more computing power than others. My i7 has been fully loaded for the past 2 hours because I'm rendering an animation of an engine in solidworks for example, but it's unlikely that an international affairs major (just to pull a random example out of my ass here) would need that same level of power. For an engineering major, I'd recommend a decently powerful desktop plus a cheap laptop if possible, and otherwise, a decent laptop (2.5GHz C2D + discrete graphics) as a bare minimum. Otherwise, I'd go with something fairly small and light with a good battery life - the Dell Studio 14Z looks like a good option for example. I'd probably not go with an apple though.
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