University is coming up, or at least the latter part of high school for some young whippersnappers. Some of y’all will soon be looking for a new laptop to call your own! Or at least, an upgrade to your current 10-year-old POS.
You’re probably wondering, “What should I get? All these choices look the same to me!”
Well you aren’t alone. Tons of people are in the same boat. As one of the more technological-inclined guys around, I get asked this question all the time.
Today, I’m going to solve your problems once and for all, with my trademarked 4P guide: Price, Purpose, Portability, and method of Procrastination!
Full disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this post. These are my personal viewpoints only.
The most important part of choosing a laptop is its price. After all, what use is a laptop you can’t afford?
I have broken the available laptops down to several price points: <$300, $300-$600, $600-$1000, $1000-$1500, and >$1500. The reasoning for this will become clear later.
What do you want to use your laptop for? Do you want to game all day? Do you want to run intense simulations? Do you edit video/images? Or do you just go on Reddit and look at pictures of cats?
Through experience, I’ve discovered three typical purposes for university laptops:
- The Academic
The Academic just wants to do typical university tasks such as writing essays, making presentations, and perhaps a little bit of programming. They often don’t care for the fancy gimmicks, and just want something that “works”.
- The Professional
Meanwhile, the professional undertakes more heavy-duty computing tasks, including video editing, graphics design, and simulations. Therefore they require more powerful hardware. This is equivalent to driving a pickup truck in real life, most people who drive one need it.
- The Gamer
And finally, we have the gamer (along with rich people who want the best). These people general go for the impractical overpowered laptops, but business is business.
No matter which category you find yourself in, there is a laptop for you.
Many people are concerned about weight in a laptop. Carrying a brick around cannot be good for anyone’s back. Nowadays, laptops generally fall into three categories: ultralights (3-4lb), middleweights (4-6lb), and heavyweights (>6lb). For obvious reasons, I do not recommend carrying a heavyweight laptop around. Middleweights are generally usable for most people, but can sometimes be too heavy to walk around with all day. Ultralights can be carried anywhere, with nothing holding you back.
A typical heavyweight laptop has a 17.3″ screen, and some companies do make 18″ laptops. They offer powerful hardware such as high-end discrete mobile graphics cards, multiple hard drives, a plethora of connectivity options, etc. Practically speaking, they are desktop replacements at this point, and most people would be better off buying a desktop.
Middleweight laptops are the most popular kind. Most laptops sold in this range have 15.6″ screens, with 14″ screens appearing occasionally. Performance ranges from “barely capable of running itself” to having “oodles of power to spare”. Although these laptops are not heavy by themselves, the weight does add up fast with accessories.
Ultralight laptops are often marketed as such. They usually have a screen smaller than 14″, with 13.3″ being the most common. Hardware performance is often compromised by the light chassis, with only low-powered components available. Many laptops in this range are 2-in-1 computers, with a detachable tablet.
What’s your favourite form of procrastination? Facebook/Reddit/Netflix? Or do you play video games?
The actual difference here is gaming, anyone who wants to game on a laptop must look for one with a discrete graphics card. In my humble opinion, if you value your money, don’t game on a laptop.
A brief note before we begin: All recommendations are from Newegg Canada not including any student discounts. No refurbished laptops will be recommended, due to their unstable quality.
There honestly isn’t much to choose from in this price range. Options are pretty much limited to Netbooks and tablets, of which Chromebooks are very nice.
Chromebooks are meant for the very casual user, mostly editing documents with some light web-browsing (Netflix) thrown in. They are not meant to be a primary computer and should not be treated as such. Please do not try to game on one. However, Chromebooks do do their primary job fantastically, and they come in a variety of sizes.
A typical Chromebook.
A Chromebook without any non-cloud storage.
A Chromebook with a better than average build quality.
From the mobile side of things, tablets this cheap are not recommended. They are far too slow to be of any use; puny mobile processors simply do not provide enough horsepower for all but the most simple tasks.
$300 to $600
Here is where we get a plethora of cheap and good choices. Most people can probably live with a laptop in this range. We have several great low-end laptops in this price range. Only screen real-estate is lacking here, with 1366×768 being default. Hardware specifications are a step up, being able to handle most everyday tasks. However, multitasking performance is limited due to a lack of physical/virtual threads and sufficient RAM.
The above two laptops are about standard for that price range, they serve very well as “beater” laptops for school/traveling.
A more premium offering from Lenovo, the price is reasonable for its performance. One of these will get you through high school.
Admittedly, this laptop is the top of the line at this price range, possessing an i3 combined with an hybrid HDD in a flexible format. However, it does not match up to slightly more expensive laptops.
*On sale at $180.00 off at time of writing, original price is $549.99
$600 to $1000
This segment is the most common segment for a reason. Laptops here will last a while, have enough horsepower for most people, be stylish, and have a decent display. However, some compromises are made to keep the prices down. For an absolutely full featured laptop, you need to go one step up. Many laptops do not have full HD (1920×1080) displays.
Respectable in all areas except the display, which is a miserable 1366×768.
Again, great in everything but the display.
Standard for the price range, full HD display.
A decent productivity laptop, the lack of a full HD display does bring it down, but hardware is good.
A great, but compromised laptop. The 17.3″ screen only has a resolution of 1600×900, while the CPU is from last generation.
A tablet makes it into the mix! It’s lighter than most ultrabooks, and comes with a keyboard dock. Weighing in at 2.97 lb with the dock, it’s perfect for a traveling student.
A beast of a productivity laptop, the only thing lacking is the display.
A gaming laptop through and through, stylish design, full HD display, powerful mobile graphics card.
A fantastic ultrabook, the CPU may be slightly less beefy than expected, but everything else performs like a dream.
$1000 to $1500
Now, it gets fun. These laptops can generally do everything under the rainbow, but are not the lightest things ever. Expect to see full power processors, high performance SSDs, advanced graphics, fancy displays, and oodles of RAM.
Great for productivity, price is low for its performance, can be a little heavy.
The Surface Pro 3 offers a great tablet experience, combined with a fast and zippy laptop mode. The 2160×1440 display is gorgeous.
A light, powerful machine, built for school use.
Not too heavy, very powerful, and can game. The perfect laptop.
What can I say, it’s a Macbook.
Excellent in all respects except for RAM and weight.
The best gaming laptop in this price range.
Honestly, buying an expensive laptop falls heavily under personal preference. Most laptops in this range are built to order, with large degrees of customization. If anyone truly wants to purchase a laptop for over $1500, feel free to contact David Lu (the author) for advice. He can be found procrastinating on Facebook.
Whether you’re a hardcore gamer, or just a typical student, you should have found something you liked. But if not, don’t worry, just contact David Lu!