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Top 10 Tips For Choosing a Budget Laptop
Choosing a Laptop on a Budget: Tips for Canadian College Students
One thing all Canadian university students they will need these days is a laptop. The main advantage of a laptop over a desktop computer is its size and portability. For many degree programs, a laptop can be an indispensable tool for most, if not all, of your classes. In the modern digital age, most teachers or class teachers use PowerPoint or Adobe formats for their class notes and presentations. Most provide copies for students through class websites to download and print and many classes even require them as daily classroom materials. While printing out your notes or presentations and following them is a perfect way to manage your classes, using a laptop puts everything in one place.
Imagine sitting in class, following the notes and writing your own comments or memory aids right below each slide. At the end of class, hit save, close your laptop, go to your next class, and rinse/repeat. While this may seem obvious, it’s the not-so-obvious benefits that are driving more and more students from the old paper-and-pen system to a digital one. While you’re still in class, you can keep up with emails, use Wikipedia or Google to get more explanations on topics you’re not 100% sure about, or even participate in real-time class discussions about your notes. you are covering! I had a teacher who encouraged the use of the laptop not only to manage digital notes, but also to participate in a live Twitter feed that I would set up each day. Instead of raising your hand and asking a question out loud, risking embarrassment and ridicule, I would have students tweet the class Twitter account and answer student questions that way. I have never seen such a useful and extensive class discussion as I had in that class, even if it was partially digital! Anyway, on to the tips!
Tip #1 – Choose your size wisely!
Although laptops larger than 16 inches are easy to look at and very comfortable to use, they are not really that practical for a student who intends to use them in class. Here’s why: Many classrooms and classrooms try to pack in so many desks and students. As a result, personal space is not so abundant. Some classrooms have long tables with chairs that can accommodate a large laptop, but definitely not. Most classrooms have chairs with a back surface that is sometimes as small as 12″ wide! They were created with sheets of paper and clipboards in mind, not 16″ laptops. So be wary of larger “entertainment” laptops and always keep in mind what you’re actually buying that laptop for. I recommend you don’t use more than 15.1″. “and even then they can be a pain at times. Try to go as small as you can tolerate.
Tip #2 – Battery life
For most students, a day at school can be 6 hours or more. While much of the time is spent running from class to class or eating lunch or coffee, the rest is spent sitting in class probably using their new laptop. This is where having a laptop with excellent battery life really pays off. If you’re shopping at an electronics store, ask the salesperson how long you can expect a full charge to last on average. Try to find a laptop that has a battery capable of lasting at least 2 hours. Apple laptops are famous for their long battery life which usually lasts for 4 hours or more, but they are also famous for being quite expensive and probably won’t be an option for anyone looking for a budget laptop. If you’ve found a laptop that you like but find it has poor battery life, buying a replacement battery is always an option. If your salesperson is working on commission, see if they’ll throw in one for free. If all else fails, tuck the power cord into your backpack and keep your laptop charged during breaks between classes.
Tip #3 – Memory
There are two types of memory in a computer, RAM and storage memory (hard disk).
- RAM is what your computer uses to load programs, play videos, music, etc. Think of it as the workbench of a textbook. The more space you have, the more projects you can work on simultaneously and the faster you can access each of them. More is always better when it comes to RAM, so don’t try to cut costs on this feature, but don’t forget to go big either. 4 GB should be enough.
- Storage memory is what your hard drive is. It’s where all the things you install and save are stored. If you plan to use your laptop for music, video, games, etc., you’ll want as large a hard drive as you can afford. If your laptop will only be used for casual web browsing, email, instant messaging, essay writing, etc., this is definitely a feature you can minimize to save some $$. I would advise getting at least a 100GB hard drive, as Windows, Microsoft Office and other essential programs can increase memory usage over time.
Tip #4: Processor speed
This again depends on the intended use. If you want to play movies and games, you’ll need a processor that’s robust enough to handle it. But if you’re just doing casual tasks like web browsing, emailing, etc., this is another feature you can cut costs to save a lot of $$. Don’t go below 1.6GHz though, that should be your minimum.
Advice no. 5: sound and video on board
Don’t let a salesperson talk you into buying a laptop that has stand-alone sound and video adapters, as they add to the total cost of a laptop in a huge way. A sound card and video card can often DOUBLE the price of a decent laptop. Again, unless you’re doing heavy duty gaming or video editing, they’re not necessary and you’ll never fully use them. It’s like buying an automatic machine gun when all you need is a slingshot.
Advice no. 6: pre-installed software
Make sure your new laptop has at least Windows 7 and some productivity software. If it doesn’t have Windows 7 or Microsoft Office, you’ll probably want to try to negotiate it with your vendor. If he tries to sell them to you at full price or even a slight discount, don’t, DO NOT buy from him. Students get great discounts through their campus computer and software points often around 80% off. For example, I can get a full version of MS Office Home and Student Edition for $60 and Windows 7 Professional for $99. They are regularly priced at $160 for Office and $329 for Windows 7 Pro, both at Future Shop. (Time of writing: July 12, 2010) This is another great area to save a lot of money on a student laptop.
Advice no. 7 – Everything else is just extra
As for any features I haven’t covered, consider them fluff or extras. Digital card readers, fingerprint scanners, built-in web cameras, auxiliary ports, etc. these are things that really don’t need to be taken into account. If the model you choose has them and they don’t add much to the bottom line, great. If a salesperson tries to convince you that you’ll be struck by lightning if you don’t have one, walk away. Never forget what you’re buying this laptop for, and don’t let words like “premium extras,” “limited edition model,” or “media-friendly” fool you into opening your wallet further than necessary. Over the life of your laptop, you might use these features once or twice, so they’re definitely not worth the $100 or $200 they’ll add to the price.
Advice no. 8 – Shop!
Don’t let commission salesmen manipulate you into buying at that time. “This sale ends tomorrow…” is the oldest line in the book. What they don’t tell you is that this sale ends, but a newer, even better one starts right after. Never feel pressured to take advantage of what appears to be an incredible deal. If they can afford to sell you that laptop at that price today, they can afford to do it again tomorrow, or even next week. Be sure to compare prices with other stores like Future Shop, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, London Drugs and Staples. Then check online at Canadian sites TigerDirect.ca and NCIX.com to compare how good the deals really are. You’ll often find better deals online while price-checking deals you’ve found in-store, so keep an eye out for those “online-only deals.”
Tip #9 – Accessories
The only accessories I would recommend are a small mouse and a laptop skin. Note: This is not a laptop bag, but a rubber skin with zipper, they are much cheaper. It’s like a wetsuit for your laptop. This is all you need to protect it from bumps and scratches and it fits perfectly in your backpack. I also recommend a mouse for those times when you’re in the library or at home and have room to spread out. Touchpads are great for portability and convenience, but nothing beats navigating with a real mouse you can hold in your hand. Look for small wireless mice designed specifically for laptops. Some of the nice ones combine a data storage key along with the USB connection component of the wireless mouse, giving you a great place to store documents, resumes, and anything else you need quick access to from any computer.
Tip # 10 – Guarantees
Many electronics stores and computer outlets offer their own store warranties when an item is sold. For PCs, these can be a good thing if the price is right. They often tell you how any problem big or small will be fixed for free if you purchase a warranty. What they don’t tell you is that there is almost no limit to how long they can keep your laptop for a repair. Major electronics stores in Canada have central service offices where they submit their warranty claims for repair. In plain English, you’re stuck without a laptop for the time it takes to ship, repair, and ship your computer back to the store where you left it. Depending on repair and parts availability, this can take up to 6 months in some cases!! Personally, I think warranties are a waste of money, as I’ve never had a problem so bad that I couldn’t fix it myself. But I’m sure everyone has heard the story of someone who bought a computer only to have it die the next day, so it really comes down to budget and personal choice. For me, I’d rather save $50-$100 and pay a local repair shop for faster service if something goes wrong.
I hope you find these tips helpful! I’m writing from experience as a Canadian University student who owns a Hewlett-Packard G10 laptop that I bought with the Future Shop gift cards I received last Christmas! I managed to get $200 cheaper using the tips above, so they definitely work! If you think I missed something or have any feedback, please let me know in the forum or comment below. Happy laptop shopping!
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