Need advice on purchasing a reasonable laptop for college freshman.

Ron86

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Jul 31, 2013
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I need to purchase a laptop for my son heading off to college. Any advice, helpful tips what the best bang for my buck that will serve him well the next 4+years would be helpful as I am not computer literate. Looking for suggestions on brand, screen size, hardrive, memory, windows 8 vs 7 & is touchscreen a plus with windows 8. Anything else that a novice would need to know. Thanks in advance for the help.
 

gbryan101

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May 28, 2013
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As per above, four years is a little longer than I would try to get out of a laptop, at least as my main computer.

I would start with what he is going to use it for. Is he going to play games on it and want the power of a discrete GPU or will he be fine with integrated graphic? If all he is going to do on it is browse the internet, create and edit documents, and maybe watch a movie or two, then all he needs is integrated graphics.

Next I would consider size, and this comes down to how much he will be lugging the machine around. A heavy laptop with a large screen can be cumbersome to carry around all day. Both of the laptops I have for college are around 14in, and I find this easy enough to carry around. If he is going to be watching movies or playing games, he may want a bigger screen.

I wouldn't go lower than 320GB for a single drive machine. Movies and music are just to big to go smaller and even Windows can start to take up a lot of space after a while, and, while he should have an external hard drive for backups, I find externals to be very easily lost and stolen when one carries them around. I would probably look for 500GB. As for RAM, the minimum I would consider is 4GB, preferably 8GB.

I use Windows 8 on two machines and I have a strong dislike of every aspect of its user interface. On a laptop (without a touchscreen), it is slow awkward, and fragmented in it use. Gestures needed to do do basic things, like switching to another application, are difficult to do on a touchpad. Full screen apps are a joke and hurt parallel productivity, and splitting the screen between two apps helps very little. I use it because it's fast and I tolerate it because I was willing to spend $15 on software to fix its (glaring) problems. With a touch screen, it's a whole other story. Windows 8 actually makes sense, the awkwardness replaced by fluid touch gestures.

Practically speaking, I would get a Windows 7 machine, if available, unless I wanted a touchscreen.

As for brands, I like Asus, Lenovo, MSI (high-end), Samsung, and certain Acer machines. I dislike Fujitsu, Dell, Gateway, and Toshiba.
I haven't used a HP machine recently enough to judge them. My opinion on this matter is based solely on my own experiences, and some may have different opinions based on their own experiences. As for Apple, they build great (if overpriced) hardware and their software is clean and user friendly. However, I dislike the 'iCult' that surrounds their products, and the controlling nature of their devices.
 

batkerson

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Jun 19, 2008
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First, expecting 4 years from a laptop may be pushing it, esp. as it will likely be dragged everywhere on and off campus, whether it's damaged or stolen.

IMO, as your son will be carrying it everywhere, I feel it's better to get a laptop with a small screen (14" or smaller) and have a separate large screen in his room to connect to it when he wants to work long hours, say writing a paper. Something with good battery life is important, too.
You'll have to ask your son about Apple products, vs. Windows. Apple is more expensive, but also generally have better battery life. If all his friends have Apple, then go with that. Also, the school he will be attending may have guidelines for computers/laptops.

General guidelines: at least 4 gig of memory. Size of hard drive is often used as a selling point, but it doesn't matter that much, as things can be offloaded as needed. 240 gig, which is "small" by today's standards, is probably o.k. Windows 7 is excellent, and I have no personal experience with Windows 8, so I'll "punt" on that point. Personally, laptops with touch screens are considerably more expensive, so I would skip that feature.

I've been quite pleased with Acer laptops, despite their being considered kinda cheap (they are less expensive than other brands). I'd also go for a i5 processor as your best bang for the buck. Hope this general information helps.
 

gbryan101

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May 28, 2013
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As per above, four years is a little longer than I would try to get out of a laptop, at least as my main computer.

I would start with what he is going to use it for. Is he going to play games on it and want the power of a discrete GPU or will he be fine with integrated graphic? If all he is going to do on it is browse the internet, create and edit documents, and maybe watch a movie or two, then all he needs is integrated graphics.

Next I would consider size, and this comes down to how much he will be lugging the machine around. A heavy laptop with a large screen can be cumbersome to carry around all day. Both of the laptops I have for college are around 14in, and I find this easy enough to carry around. If he is going to be watching movies or playing games, he may want a bigger screen.

I wouldn't go lower than 320GB for a single drive machine. Movies and music are just to big to go smaller and even Windows can start to take up a lot of space after a while, and, while he should have an external hard drive for backups, I find externals to be very easily lost and stolen when one carries them around. I would probably look for 500GB. As for RAM, the minimum I would consider is 4GB, preferably 8GB.

I use Windows 8 on two machines and I have a strong dislike of every aspect of its user interface. On a laptop (without a touchscreen), it is slow awkward, and fragmented in it use. Gestures needed to do do basic things, like switching to another application, are difficult to do on a touchpad. Full screen apps are a joke and hurt parallel productivity, and splitting the screen between two apps helps very little. I use it because it's fast and I tolerate it because I was willing to spend $15 on software to fix its (glaring) problems. With a touch screen, it's a whole other story. Windows 8 actually makes sense, the awkwardness replaced by fluid touch gestures.

Practically speaking, I would get a Windows 7 machine, if available, unless I wanted a touchscreen.

As for brands, I like Asus, Lenovo, MSI (high-end), Samsung, and certain Acer machines. I dislike Fujitsu, Dell, Gateway, and Toshiba.
I haven't used a HP machine recently enough to judge them. My opinion on this matter is based solely on my own experiences, and some may have different opinions based on their own experiences. As for Apple, they build great (if overpriced) hardware and their software is clean and user friendly. However, I dislike the 'iCult' that surrounds their products, and the controlling nature of their devices.
 

jaxst

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Jun 25, 2013
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it really depends on your son's major or general purpose to choose the right laptop, it will help narrow the choices and i could give you a more accurate array of options
 

steveowashere

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Like everyone before me said, 4 years is pushing it for a laptop. However Apple laptops have been known to have longer lives than PCs. (I have a Macbook Pro from 2009 that's still running strong most Laptops from 2009 are now obsolete) But they come at a cost.

I would advise you to go with a 13" or 15" size laptop. Simply because they are easy to carry around to his classes. 17" laptops are just too big for that.

There are quiet a few good ultrabooks on the market now. Look for one with an Intel i5 or i7. (i5 is average performance whereas i7 high performance and is the best spec you can buy) They all come with an Intel HD4000 graphics card, which is decent for light gaming and everyday use (also gives you good battery life) But if you know your son likes to play video games and would benefit from a little more performance then look for one with a dedicated graphics card. Something like a Nvidia 620m, 630m, 635m, 720m, 730m, 735m with 1gb GDRR or more would be fine.

It will be hard to find anything new with Windows 7 on it. Most new laptops will have Windows 8. Personally I think it's pretty good for browsing the web, playing a few games, checking email. But it's completely terrible when you want to do something productive such as: writing word documents or researching for a paper. That's just my opinion, your son could think differently.

Touchscreens are nice, because they work great with Windows 8, but that will be more expensive, and again it's another potential distraction

As far as brands go, i would recommend Acer or Asus. I've always had good experiences with them, and they are normally priced reasonably.
Good luck !
 

Ron86

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Jul 31, 2013
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Thanks for the advice. At this time his major is undecleared but will probably be math/science related, not considering engineering as of now. I forsee the main uses being note taking in class, web browsing and word processing, for now. Due to cost considerations I am sticking with pc at this time. My son looked at a Toshiba L55T it has i5, 8G memory, 750G hard drive &15.6" touch screen which seems needed with Windows8. Anyone have any input on this system or Toshiba in general. This seems adequate to me, any other features that would be useful? Thanks again.
 

gbryan101

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Toshiba is a company of extremes. Their high end stuff is pretty good and their low end stuff is crap. Thing in the middle, like the Satellite L55T are a bit tougher to call. The LAPTOP review of it is here:
http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/toshiba-satellite-l55t.aspx

Though I don't have hands-on time with this particular machine, it doesn't sound promising and it seems to suffer the faults of Toshiba's cheaper laptops, being made of cheap plastic and having mediocre battery life. My biggest complaint is the hard drives Toshiba uses, as they have a tendency to fail prematurely, especially if the machine is jostled around very much at all.

If he is going to be using it to take notes, you could consider a touch screen and then get an aftermarket stylus or, as some machines do, get a machine with a stylus. I have Fujitsu Lifebook T902, which has a native stylus, and I never use it. It's slow, overly heavy for its size, and far too expensive. Quality is low and this is my third machine on my lease due to repeated system failures.

For what your son is probably going to be doing, have you looked at the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga? http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834312459

It a tablet/notebook convertible and, while more expensive that the Toshiba, is a better built machine. It's biggest failing is the 4GB of RAM.
 

James Devenberg

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May 22, 2013
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I use Windows 8 on a non-touch laptop and desktop (and have since the consumer preview about a year ago), and I have no problems what so ever with it. Performance wise, it is a superior OS to Windows 7, it has lower hardware requirements and runs faster. It takes some gettin used to, its like taking one step backward then two steps forward.

As far as a laptop recomendation, knowing your budget would be helpful. I'll stay below $1,000 since you said Macs were out due to cost. This Sony Vaio T series Ultrabook isn't a bad choice:
http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Sony-VAIO-T-Series-13-Touchscreen-Ultrabook-SVT13136CYS/productID.280667300
You get 6 GB of RAM instead of only 4 GB, which may help get a litle longer use out of it. In addition, you get a 24GB solid state cache drive to go with its 500 GB hard drive, which will make the computer seem much faster. It has an i5 processor, a 13.3" touch screen, and 5.5 hours battery life. It comes in at $719 with the student discount for registering your son's .edu email address, which will also allow him to get 4 years of Microsoft Office for free if you buy from the Microsoftstore.com website.
 
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