While laptops are not usually a requirement, most schools today highly recommend them for their students. Depending on which school you are attending, there may be specific requirements for connecting to the campus network, communicating with faculty and getting technical support when you need it. Beyond your school's minimum requirements, the speed of your laptop, weight and battery life should be prime considerations when comparing one laptop to another.
School Guidelines and Promotions
Before buying any computer, check with your school to see if it has specific requirements or recommendations. For example, many schools recommend Microsoft Windows so your computer will be compatible with the programs and files used by faculty. Following hardware guidelines, such as memory and storage amounts and Wi-Fi® type, helps ensure that your laptop can run the applications you will be using. Some schools offer special promotions to students and may even offer laptops that are already configured to run on the campus network.
Comparing Basic Specs
The most important laptop specs to compare are the processor, the amount of memory, the amount of storage space and storage speed. A faster processor and more memory, or RAM, make the computer faster. Solid state drives are faster than standard hard drives and less prone to damage but are usually more expensive. The speed of a standard hard drive is measured in rotations per minute. The higher the RPM, the faster the computer opens applications and saves files.
Size, Battery and Portability
Screen size, battery life and weight are all related in a laptop. A laptop with a large screen requires a larger battery to keep it powered for a decent period of time. While a large screen makes a laptop more bulky, the larger battery that powers it also makes the laptop heavier to lug around between classes. Regardless of what size screen you choose, it's always important to compare battery times since it's unlikely you will always be able to charge your laptop during class.
Most laptops today include built-in Wi-Fi and a built-in webcam, which may be an important feature if you plan to connect with family and friends back home. If you plan to connect a lot of devices, like a USB keyboard and mouse, a printer and a camera, the number of USB ports is important. An advanced graphics card may be necessary if you are working with graphic design programs or plan to play games in your off hours, but for school purposes, it just unnecessarily increases your cost.
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