Buying a Laptop for College – Quick Tips

While it’s nearly impossible to say exactly which laptop you should buy, we have taken the time to compile a list of tips that might help inform your decision making. These are “guidelines” at best, but we hope you find them helpful.

We’ve found that the “Professional” or “Business” line of laptops tend to hold up better over time, contain better features, and ultimately present the better value in the long run, even though they may cost more up front. Some examples of professional lines from manufacturers include the “ProBook” and “EliteBook” series from HP, the “Thinkpad” series from Lenovo, and the “Latitude” and “Vostro” series from Dell.

Generally speaking, any modern computer you buy today will work just fine. However, we highly recommend a current generation Intel Core i5 or better processor, 8GB of RAM, and a Solid-State Drive (SSD). Having an SSD instead of a standard hard drive is the secret ingredient to a truly speedy computer. It’s hard to overstate what a big difference it makes--plus they’re more reliable!

If your budget allows, it’s actually not a bad idea to choose an extended warranty that adds “accidental damage protection” for additional peace of mind. The useful lifespan of a college student’s laptop seems to be about 4 to 5 years on average, but accidents happen—and fairly often among college students.

Northwestern's technicians are certified for HP commercial desktops and notebooks, meaning if you buy a business-line HP laptop, we can perform warranty repair work for these computers on-site, decreasing turnaround time over sending the laptop in to the manufacturer for repairs. However, even with brands for which we are not certified, we will help facilitate in-warranty repairs and perform repairs for only the cost of parts on computers with an expired warranty.

While it may be tempting to pick out a giant 17-inch laptop, consider the fact that you may be carrying it around a lot and that your battery life will suffer due to the larger screen. On the other hand, that cute little 10-inch “NetBook” often uses an under-powered Atom processor and has a smaller keyboard. Many students find they prefer a 14-inch or 15-inch model because it provides a good balance between size, performance and usability.

Northwestern College provides Microsoft Office 365 for our students, completely free of charge. Instructions are provided that enable you to easily load the software on up to five of your personal devices. Mac, PC, iOS and Android versions are available.

Desktop PCs not only last longer than laptops, on average, but they also typically present more “bang for your buck” in terms of raw processing power. However, while we don’t necessarily recommend against a desktop PC, most of our students have found that they prefer a laptop for portability reasons.

If you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you! Feel free to email our staff or call our help desk at 712-707-7333 during normal business hours.