If you are about to begin the new academic year and your child's in need of a laptop for school, it’s very easy to overspend if you don't understand what choose amongst the vast array of options on the market. If you're on the hunt for a new one or perhaps you need an upgrade, then you'll definitely want to read this back-to-school laptop-buying guide.
The sheer volume of laptop models and specification variations is enough to intimidate many customers out there. This often leads to situations where you fork out more than you need to on unnecessary features/functionality in laptop as a result of guidance given by pushy sales staff. The key to saving money and adding value to your purchase is defining what you will be using your new laptop for and buying in accordance with that.
First and foremost, understand clearly what it is that your child needs his/her new laptop to do. Will it simply be for writing word documents and submitting assignments? Perhaps you need one with video editing software and 3D modelling? Or maybe you want to be able to combine school work with pleasure and have something which allows you to compete studies whilst allowing you to enjoy gaming as well?
Once you have defined the use of your future laptop, you then need to ask yourself one simple question; how much are you comfortable spending?
Laptops generally start at about $300 and can stretch into the thousands depending on your requirements. More basic laptops which cost less and provide standard functionality but may struggle with higher performance tasks e.g. running multiple software applications or processing tasks. All-day-lasting batteries are another desirable, which affect price along with screen resolution, hard drive capacity, RAM and more. These are all things you might want to consider when reading through this back-to-school laptop buying guide.
Most laptop sizes typically range between 10 - 17 inches, however the 17” are generally less portable as they weigh a fair bit more.
The smallest laptops are generally incredibly portable and their batteries last for longer periods of time. They are ideal for someone travelling frequently. Their keyboards are what let them down due to their size being reduced. If you plan to do longer work sessions you may find the smaller laptop more uncomfortable to work on, plus their size also means less-powerful hardware can be installed.
This is the sweet middle spot for many customers because size is still compact, however hardware offering greater performance can fit within. Numerous computer manufacturers have very successful 13” models e.g. Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, HP, Lenovo etc. Some can even achieve battery durations of up to 14 hours.
If screen size is one of your main priorities then a 15” laptop might be the most suitable choice, because it’s large enough for both high-performance hardware, easy document viewing while at the same time remaining fully portable and slim.
Certainly towards the larger end of the scale, 17” laptops are much more cumbersome to carry around and are usually much thicker than their 13” and 15” counterparts. Screen size and performance are the main driving forces for 17” customers, usually due to video editing requirements. If gaming is a priority, then larger laptops generally have higher performance hardware included at lower prices when compared to buying smaller sized laptops with high spec hardware.
Top Tip: If your child requires a large screen, consider buying them an external monitor with an HDMI connection to use at home. This can often be a much cheaper option that opting for a laptop with a larger in-built screen.
Not having to carry a laptop charger around is a pleasure, so finding a laptop with a battery that will last an entire day can make life a whole lot easier. If you want to achieve this then sound advice from online tech review websites is to choose a laptop with at least a 10-hour battery life. Students that have lengthy travel requirements could potentially do with a 15-hour battery life, whilst lower usage students could probably get away with as little as 5-hours.
Top Tip: If you don't like carrying a charger around but want to be able to top up your laptop's (and other device's) power supply, products like the Comsol 20,000 mAh Notebook Power Bank that costs around $149 can be ideal and are very portable.
What’s inside the laptop is incredibly important and knowing about CPU’s, RAM, storage, and processors can be invaluable in adding value to your purchase.
Basic word processing and other minor tasks such as receiving emails can be accomplished easily with lower end Celeron CPU’s. If you require more complicated tasks or even plan on completing many of these tasks at the same time, in all honestly save yourself the frustration and choose either an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU.
The minimum RAM available in today’s market is 2GB, which is the memory a laptop uses to process tasks. 4GB is powerful enough for most customers completing standard tasks whilst 8GB is great for accomplishing higher performance tasks. Anything over 8GB should only be considered for special reasons e.g. gaming.
This is a faster version of USB 2.0 and significantly speeds up file transfers, especially when transferring to solid-state drives (SSD). It’s certainly not a deal breaker if your chosen laptop does not have it, especially as many files are now transferred online, but something to consider nevertheless.
1920 x 1080 resolution screens are ideal for displaying high quality video and images, however they do drain batteries quicker too. A lower resolution of 1366 x 768 is very common and will not hinder any daily tasks while adding a chunk onto your average battery life.
Weight & Dimensions
Finally, don’t get too bogged down with specs if you’re looking at a hefty 17” laptop. Remember the reason you might be choosing a laptop is for portability, so be sure to check the weight and decide whether a higher value is justified by a larger screen size. I’ve personally had a 4kg laptop during my time and although it sounds relatively light, it’s no fun lugging it around in your shoulder bag day to day - believe me!
The vast majority of computers run on Windows or Mac. Certain software is only available on Apple’s Macintosh operating system (OS) whilst many other programs are not available at all on the Mac OS.
Typically Window is more business orientated whilst Mac’s OS is more geared towards creative individuals e.g. graphic designers. The vast majority of schools and universities use Windows OS so compatibility is simple.
The Windows OS can be found in a vast range of laptops from lower-end all the way through to the top-end models. Mac OS is only found on Apple computers which are expensive compared to their Windows based equivalents.
There is no simple way of defining one brand from another, each company has its strengths and weaknesses making it difficult to say that one is specifically worse compared to another.
Apple laptops are incredibly well built and provide excellent user experience, however they are very expensive compared to brands with the same amount of tech inside. Besides processing power, one of the main strengths of a Macbook laptop's, according to their user base, is the impressive battery life.
ASUS focus on affordability and offer many well-priced lower end options. Their choice amongst higher-end models is more limited compared to other brands.
The company has recently made big improvements in their laptops build quality and price competitiveness. This turn around means Dell now sell some of the best high-end laptops available on the market. Lower end versions are still sometimes questionable.
These guys are the biggest computer company in the world and provide excellent value for money in all categories of laptops. You do get what you pay for however, as Lenovo laptops are not generally the slimmest but do have good battery life.
There are other companies such as Acer, Gigabyte, HP, MSI and Toshiba, which are all well priced middle range computer manufacturers. However they do not differ too much from a mix of Lenovo, Dell and ASUS, so I see no point in wasting your time with excess blurb about them.
Additionally you may also be aware of smaller brands such as Clevo whose models are imported by smaller Australian system builders. Brands like Clevo offer customisable hardware options allowing you to kit them to your specific requirements.
Always be aware of the fact that a great bargain can be found when buying second hand, however as with anything second-hand always tread carefully. Here is a checklist to go through:
- General condition
- Fully functional
- Previous owners prior use
- Battery life
- Charger condition
- Price brand new
- Repairs carried out on device
I hope this Back-to-school laptop-buying guide has been helpful in allowing you to more accurately decide on a device that’s right for you. If you need a push in the right direction, please check the Buckscoop deals page for discounted prices on bargain laptops.