College Laptop Buying Guide [Part 546 Million: The Skinny]

Alright, so I’ve had a few drafts of what I was going to talk about in the future articles, but it began to get a little drawn out.  So I am just going to wrap it up into one neat little blog post and hopefully some more questions will be answered.

Mac for You!

Get a MacBook/MacBook Pro if your college life will involve the technological arts…

  • Film Editing
    • Final Cut Pro
    • After Effects
  • Animation / Rendering
    • Cinema 4D
  • Graphical Arts
    • Photoshop
    • Illustrator
  • Virtualization / Emulation
    • Windows
    • Linux
  • Music Recording / Editing

If you would be falling into one of these categories, I would urge you to get an Apple computer.  They are much better suited to handle these types of applications and areas.   The software available for macs are alot more powerful and scalable and more than likely if your school has a strong department in those fields, they will be using Macs as well.  If not, you can just virtualize Windows XP/Vista on your MacBook and fit just right in.

If you don’t even fit into these categories, and you like macs, or you just want a mac, or you just have money to burn and want a mac too, feel free to go ahead!  This economy could use some stimulating!

PC for You!

The good things about referring someone to get a mac  is that you can’t really get them that customized (since it only comes from one retailer), you can just say, get a MacBook and there are really only three current choices.  The white one, the lower spec aluminum body, and the higher spec aluminum body.  That’s it, three tiers.  The same for a MacBook Pro, three tiers.  The two different 15 inches, and the one big 17 inch.

Now for everyone else.  The bad side about referring someone to get a PC Laptop, is that there are so many different vendors who supply consumers with laptops.  Just to name a few

  • HP/Compaq
  • Toshiba
  • Sony
  • Dell
  • Toshiba

They come in all different shapes and sizes, colors and they might even be wearing different colored socks as well.  You just don’t know.  The upper side of this is that you can bargain shop really easily when you are shopping for a PC.  With so many competitors, there is always a competition between prices.  While shopping for a mac, there is only one price, because there is only one retail vendor.

Now, I am going to give you my minimum specs for any laptop that you are going to buy now.  Keep in mind that unless it’s a special type of laptop (tablet, convertible, desktop replacement), they should easily cost under a thousand dollars.

Generic Minimum Specs

  • 2GB RAM (Memory)
  • 250GB Hard Drive (Space)
  • Webcam/Mic
  • Windows Vista Home Premium (32 bit)

Processor Speed

Now, this is very important and it’s something that you should keep in mind.  The problem is that this can be a very misleading term.  There are two main companies that produce processors for computers.  They are Intel and AMD.  The problem is that they advertise the speed (GHz), but they are not necessarily on the same scale.  While an Intel Processor may say 2GHZ, it may be significantly faster than an AMD processor that says 2GHZ processor.  The best thing to do is compare them side by side and I found an excellent resource to do that for you.

This website has logs of a lot of computer benchmarks from millions of users across the world.  The idea of the website is that people run benchmark tests on their computers and their computers. The website aggregates the different hardware components of the computer and then they are given a rank according to how well they score.  The best thing now to determine which of the processors is the fastest is to compare them on the chart.  Simply press CTRL+F /Apple+F and type in the model number of the processor.  Then compare it to the model number of the other processor that you have.


These aren’t exactly necessary but they will add a little something to your laptop purchase.  If you can get them for a little extra or nothing, it would be great.

  • Bluetooth
    • Connect to wireless devices
      • Mouse – saves up an extra USB slot
      • Keyboard
      • Phones
  • Digital Media Reader
    • No need for USB attachment.
    • If your laptop comes with a media reader, you can simply plug in your memory card from your camera.  I know personally, it’s been a pain sometimes looking for the exact USB cord that came with the camera or finding the USB attachment to plug the memory card into so that your computer can read it.   Having one built in your laptop comes in handy, especially when you forget them or you’re just on the go.
  • eSATA
    • This is an upcoming file transfer port.  It has faster file transfer speeds than USB.  It’s not really a necessity unless you will be working with larger file sizes and a lot of external drives.

Personal Recommended Specs (minimum)

  • Intel Duo Core 2 Processor 2.0GHZ or equivalent for AMD
  • 15.4 inch screen
  • 4GB RAM
  • 500GB Hard Drive
  • 512MB Dedicated Graphics Card
  • Webcam/Mic
  • Vista Home Premium (64 bit)
  • Media Remote
  • Bluetooth

That’s pretty much it.  A laptop running those specs would last you a very long time.  Possibly even after college if you take care of it.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best brand?
    • All the brands are the same really.  I personally like HP and Toshiba.  I feel they have a really solid feel.  Dells, not so much.  They feel like plastic sometimes.
  • What’s the difference between 32/64 bit?
    • 64 bit technology allows your computer to use more resources.  For instance, Vista running under 32 bit is only entitled to 3GB of ram.  64bit technology removes this limit.  If it is included for free as an upgrade, get it.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it.
  • What happens after my Office trial expires? (Word, Powerpoint, Excel)
    • More than likely, your laptop will come with a lot of bloatware and a 60 day Office trial is one of them.  The best altnernative is called OpenOffice.  It’s a free software suite that pretty much can do anything that word/powerpoint/excel can do.  It is worth a shot if money is tight and will get the job done!  I definitely can vouche for this saving my life on a couple of school nights.  Check them out at
  • Should I get a warranty?
    • It depends.  If you are the type of person who has been through a couple of cell phones within the last few months, I would recommend getting a warranty.  Usually laptops come with a generic one year warranty from the manufacturer.  It will cover basic repairs, but not replacements for stolen, etc.  I know that the local stores, like BestBuy, etc have good warranties and they will even replace your laptop if it’s stolen.  It depends on how confident you are in taking care of your technology.  Personally, I’ve never bought an extended warranty on anything I own.  I did however, buy it on a digital picture frame… (it was a gift to a not so tech savy person)
  • Jamie, will you marry me?
    • Simply put, yes.  Just pick a number and wait in line.  I’ll be with you shortly.  Now calling #4.
  • Will you help me with my laptop?
    • Simply put, yes again.  I love helping people.  More than likely if you are reading this, you know how to contact me.  Just contact me and I’ll see what I can do to help you out.  Just make sure dinner is ready :]

Well, I hope that sheds some more light.  I pretty much discussed the main things that I’ve had people ask me about and I put it all in one post.  Keep the questions and comments coming as I’ve gotten some great responses from you guys so far!