How much should a student spend on a laptop

TL;DR – see the end section for a breakdown of what the numbers mean and what you should be looking for


I’ve spent a some time in the university library this year, unlike the first two years, and have noticed something that I suppose doesn’t really surprise me. A lot of people have bought laptops that cost far more than what they really need to be paying. I actually spoke to a guy who had a top-end MacBook Pro, the one with the i7 and 16GB or RAM, which costs around £1,700…he studies history. Now I’m not saying he doesn’t need an i7, maybe he’s a professional video editor on the side…

Anyway, what I’m saying is that people spend a lot of money on hardware that they don’t need. Regularly. The best non-tech analogy I can make is this: buying a £1.5k computer for Facebook, email, writing essays, watching movies and playing farmville is like buying a Nissan GTR and driving it like a Fiat Punto – you just don’t do it, it’s a waste!

So how much do I actually need to spend so that I can have a good computer that does what I need?

Well, naturally that depends on what you’re doing, but let me put it this way: I study computer science, and my laptop cost no more than £250, so lose all preconceptions of what your PC specs need to be. Ask yourself this: am I processing a lot of data? Am I playing any demanding games? If the answer to those questions is no, the chances are, you shouldn’t be spending more than maybe £400. Anything beyond that is a preference, not a need, with maybe the exception of extra battery life.

So I guess everything above will not mean so much to some people – “how much is ‘a lot’ of data”, “is Tetris a ‘demanding game'” – so I’ve written a very rudimentary breakdown of what you should be looking for.

CPU

For Intel processors any 2nd generation core i3 or maybe a core i5 would be fine, I personally prefer AMD, simply put, they’re cheaper and you don’t lose performance at the lower ends of usage. For the clock speed, pretty much anything over 2GHz is completely fine; don’t let the sales guys tell you more will make it faster, it’s the biggest piece of sales BS that exists in this part.

Memory (RAM)

N.B. this is not the hard drive, this is what allows you to run multiple things at once

Usually you will find RAM in laptops in either 4, 8 or 16 GB; essentially, the more you can have, the more things you can do at once however, don’t get carried away. 4GB will comfortably run Chrome, Spotify, email clients, word processors and all the other basic things you might have running. However, when you start running things like Photoshop and other more ‘resource hungry’ applications, you might need more. If you’re doing a lot of this kind of work, maybe push it up to 16GB, but 95% of you won’t need this much.

DO NOT worry about the clock speed or latency, so long as it’s DDR3 or higher it will be just fine and you wouldn’t notice the difference.

GPU (Graphics Card)

Unless you know that you need one, don’t be sold into thinking you need one. You don’t.

Storage

This is your hard drive, where all your things will be stored.

When it comes to storage, you can have it one of two ways: fast – all of your programs will load much faster – or large. If you want it fast, you’re looking at an SSD. These will usually be no more than 250GB, as they are much more expensive than a normal hard drive (A 250GB SSD is ~ £150 whereas a 2TB hard drive is ~ £70). If you want large instead of fast, look for a hard drive with an rpm of around 7200, 5400 is okay, but will be a bit slower.

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