What computer is best for college?


Fall – my favorite season.  It’s wonderfully tranquil – unless you’re a high-school senior applying to college, or a college student who needs new tech. You’re going to make a lot of thoughtful decisions about your education, so why not give the same amount of thought in buying a new computer?  Time and thought put into buying a college computer means less time dealing with tech problems at midnight the day a paper is due, and more time put into studying.

Consider your budget

If you’re a college student in America, money is probably something you’re going to have to (unfortunately) worry about for a while.  Remember, even if your budget is on the lower end of the spectrum, you can still pick up a nice laptop.

Laptop vs. Desktop

Most kids you see on campus will be carrying laptops around, and there’s good reason for that.  Laptops are mobile, meaning you can take notes in class, and then work in the library.  Laptops are a good choice for those who have limited budgets, as in recent days desktop computers have gotten to be a little more expensive than some laptop choices.

If you already have a desktop computer, bring it!  There’s nothing better than having a backup computer if your laptop gets buggy for a day.  Desktops are also useful for those who require more computer-intensive tasks, like gaming and video production.

what laptop feature

Mac or PC?

This is largely up to you.  Unless your professor explicitly asks that you use one over the other (and be sure to ask!) most software should work on either system.  And for my design-related friends, Windows is just as good in your field.  It’s often thought of that Macs are needed for a design major, but that’s untrue.  The entire Adobe suite will run just as well on a PC.

The biggest decider in this area is you.  Macs tend to have better build quality, but are usually much more expensive and have less powerful internals than a PC of a similar price.  If you have the budget, love the look and the OS, then buy a Mac.  Otherwise, a PC is just fine too.

Wait, what about Linux and Chromebooks?

Okay, okay.  Linux is pretty fantastic, but if you’re thinking about building your own computer and then (somehow) installing Arch, you probably don’t need this guide.  But what about ChromeOS?  Well, it’s Linux – but don’t let that word throw you non-techies off.  It’s actually an operating system developed by Google, and it’s designed for simpler computing and less tech-savvy people.  ChromeOS has built-in updates, virus protection, and full integration with Google Drive, meaning you can access your reports from any computer.  If you only need a computer for updating Facebook, writing reports, and surfing the web, a Chromebook could suit you well.  Also – Chromebooks are extremely budget friendly, with most laptops going for about $250.  Just keep in mind, ChromeOS can’t run more complex programs like Autocad or Adobe Illustrator, but it is gaining support for some Android apps.

What’s an i7?

Internals are where things get tricky.  Processor speeds can vary from computer to computer, and graphics cards can lie to you.  While it’s impossible to explain every component in detail, a few guidelines can help.

  • If you’re going with a Mac or PC, aim for at least 500 gigabytes of storage.  If you’re in an area that deals a lot with video, aim for a bit higher, since videos take up a lot of space.  If you’re looking ataChromebook, don’t worry about storage.
    • Although most Chromebooks have 16 gigabytes of internal storage, they usually come with 200 gigabytes of Drive storage for 2 years, which is more than enough space for writing reports and taking pictures.
  • Get about 8 gigabytes of RAM for Mac and PC, and more if you’re dealing in programs like Adobe Premiere and After Effects.  Video programs takes up a lot of memory.  If you’re planning on getting a Mac, and you’re low on cash, 4 gigabytes of RAM should work fine.
    • Chromebooks don’t need as much RAM, but aim for 2-4 gigabytes.  The more RAM you have, the more tabs you can open without your computer lagging.
  • Go forani5ori7 processor if you can.  Although they’re not an exact standard,i5andi7 processors should be plenty fast enough for your Mac or PC.
    • Chromebooks can have Intel processors, but sometimes they have the same processors found on Android tablets such as Nvidia Tegra. This doesn’t make too much of a difference.
  • Some computers have discrete graphics processing units, or GPUs.  This means there is a separate card in your computer to help with graphics used in gaming and 3D rendering.  If you enjoy gaming, but you don’t want to spend money on a desktop, look for a laptop with a discrete graphics card.  They will generally perform better than laptops with integrated graphics.  Additionally, check out some gaming benchmarks for the laptop.
  • Make sure you have a screen size that’s right for you.  A 17” screen might seem nice at the time, but lugging around a heavy laptop around campus might get tiresome.  Make sure you balance portability and usability.
  • Above all else, ask your professors what they require, and what students have.  Although unlikely, some professors require mac computers, and it’s better to ask than spend a grand on a windows laptop you can’t even use.


Do you have any recommendations?

If you’re going with a Mac, there aren’t too many choices.  Try a Macbook Pro for heavy duty work, or a Macbook Air for light use.  If you’re going the Chromebook route, check out the Acer C720.  And if you’re set on Windows, well – you’re going to have to try them all out and see which one suits you.  Just keep the above specifications in mind, and you’ll find one that satisfies your needs.  I’m currently using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which is at the higher end of the spectrum at around $1500, but I recommend it if you have the cash and the need for a high-resolution touchscreen.

(PS: If you need Office software, but don’t have the money, look at Google’s online software, or check out Libreoffice.)


  • KuRue

    / Reply

    Good write-up. I needed a new laptop a few weeks ago after the one I had been using for about 4 years broke. I was, like you said, a college student on a budget. I have my Desktop in my dorm for the heavy work so I really just needed something for note taking and viewing PowerPoint slides.

    I ended up finding that the Bay Trail line of tablets was great for just this. Some of the more popular ones, like the Dell Venue 8, have a pen digitizer for note taking and already come with Office install on a full 32-bit version of windows 8.1. These tablets are cheap too. I found mine, a 64gb Asus Vivotab Note 8, for $200 on Ebay. A few weeks of use later and now I use OneNote in almost all of my classes with the Wacom pen.

    There are downsides though. The platform only supports an Atom processor and 2gb of RAM. The connectivity is also limited to a micro USB for charging and external USB devices via OTG cable, but not both at the same time.

    Overall it’s great for what I use it for.
    I would definitely recommend looking into them if you are in need of something like this.

    • Alexander Lozada

      / Reply

      Yeah, I heard the Venue tablets were good. Definitely a tablet more than a laptop, but it’d be good for notetaking and general use.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked ( required )

Sorry, there was a problem when load