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

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?

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • cadder
    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.
  • joshery420
    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!!
  • mlcloud
    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...

    2.00ghz duo core
    3gb RAM
    250gb HD
    Up to 4.6hrs of battery life

    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....
  • jhansonxi
    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.
  • abswindows7
    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 :) )
  • jhansonxi
    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
  • dimar
    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.
  • B16CXHatch
    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.
  • tomtom_32
    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.
  • Windaria
    $2000 for a laptop? Only if you want to get ripped... heck, here, about 1000:

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


    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...