Choosing the Ideal Laptop Notebook for College

Published July 15, 2010 | Updated August 7, 2015

Getting a new laptop for college helps you keep up with homework and everything else. The college workload, and life in general, demands a lot from your computer of choice. These tips will help you identify the essential features for students, so you can buy a laptop that will stand up to the school year's demands.

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  • Anticipate Storage Needs

    A few hundred gigabytes (GB) of hard drive storage is enough to store text files, with room left over for plenty of digital music. Video and photo files can use up hard drive space quickly, though. If your course of study requires you to store a lot of images and video clips, like graphic design or video production, you may want to upgrade to a terabyte (TB) of hard drive space.

  • Be Mindful of Your Major

    Your degree might focus on learning to use some specific pieces of software, such as with graphic design. If so, you'll want a laptop that lets you run your own copy of that software, so you're not always stuck using the lab computers. Computer science majors will rely on a laptop more than most, so spare no expense if this is your chosen course of study. Engineering and math majors may want to run modeling and simulation software, which are taxing on a computer, so plan accordingly. Dual core processors are the norm these days; for extra power for demanding applications, look for quad core processors. Most laptops come standard with at least 2 GB of memory, but you'll want to upgrade to 4 GB or higher if you plan to place high demands on your laptop.

  • Balance Size and Convenience

    For most students, the way the monitor looks is the most important thing. A 17-inch screen gives you a large display, great for watching movies as well as looking at multiple windows at once. However, a laptop this large lacks portability and may not leave much elbow room on a typical classroom desk. A 15-inch screen is pretty standard, while the slightly smaller 14-inch screen sacrifices display for extreme portability and convenience. This decision is left solely to personal preference.

  • It's the Little Things

    Some features might not impact your laptop experience in a huge way, but are still useful. College means at least a few late nights studying or doing homework. An illuminated keyboard lessens eye strain and makes it easier to use your laptop in that dark dorm room while you're roommate is sleeping. Another nice perk you should look for is a quality webcam. Most laptops have these built in with a microphone, which allows you to video chat with family and friends, wherever you may be. Be aware of what comes standard with the computer you purchase.

  • Leave Room for Fun

    Not all of your back-to-school plans need to center on academics. Your notebook can double as a compact dorm-room entertainment center if it has the right features. An HDMI-out port will let you send video from your computer's DVD or Blu-ray drive to a larger HDTV. If you want to use your laptop for gaming, you should make sure it comes with an upgraded graphics processor or video card. Without it, your computer can struggle and lag with newer games or high definition video content.

Laptop Alternatives:

If you feel like a laptop just isn't the right fit for you, consider a touchscreen device like a tablet computer. Tablets take portability a step further than laptops and can fit easily in any backpack or even a small bag or purse. If you decide on a tablet, an attachable keyboard for more efficient typing is a good idea.