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What laptop for college?


Chris in VA
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Talk to me like a person who has never, ever bought a laptop and has absolutely NO idea what to look for. 

Price? Can one really purchase something that will work as it should for, say, $500? How much memory? 

I do know that we will not want a Mac but the "other one." 

 

I want cheap but not cheap, y'know? That magic spot where you get an excellent bargain and it works for everything it should. 

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We have six (6) "Enterprise grade" (designed and made for Government and Corporate customers) Dell laptops in the house. The first 3 were Refurbished Dell Latitude E6400 laptops, sold by Blair Technology Group (blairtg.com)   Blair is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher and they install a clean and legal copy of Microsoft Windows on them. When we purchased (2014 and 2015) they had a one year warranty on everything except the laptop battery. Now, I think it's 30 days, but for some extra $, one can extend it to one year. We are very happy with Blair.

 

Then, I discovered that I could buy Used (Incomplete) Laptops on eBay from a reputable Seller in PA.  I won 2 Dell Latitude E6410 laptops (including the one I am using at this moment) and a Dell Precision M4500 (a Mobile Workstation, like a Latitude E6410 on steroids) from them.  That required me buying things they didn't have (like a hard disk drive or battery or AC Adapter) and installing MS Windows. I am not suggesting you go that route, because it requires some time and possibly some knowledge.

 

What I would suggest to you is that you look for something like a Refurbished Dell Latitude E6430 ( a later model than the E6410) on the Blair web site.  I suspect you can get one for under USD $300 but I am guessing.

 

I would suggest a minimum of 8 GB of RAM.  You need a 64 bit operating system (Windows in this case) to address more than 4 GB of RAM.

 

These machines are not the lightest or smallest, but are easy to service and if needed, components are available on eBay.  I have purchased several replacement batteries from laptopz-outlet on eBay for approximately $12 to $15 each, depending on when I bought them. Much cheaper than spending USD $150 for a Dell OEM battery that I'm not sure would power the laptop for longer than these batteries do.

 

We are in the house most of the time, so our laptops are connected to AC  Power most of the time.

 

2 of them have monitors connected to them in the house and all of them have external USB keyboards and external USB mice connected to them.  

 

I would suggest that you avoid "Consumer" grade machines. Those are lower quality and (usually) harder to service and find components for.  Those are the machines you will see if you walk into a Brick and Mortar store.  

 

Good luck with what you buy!

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One thing to consider is whether the person will be taking it to class or just primarily using in their room/dorm. If it needs to be portable, think about weight / size and battery life (or add a power store). 

Fwiw, we found that if you wanted one machine to go to class and be light and do all the stuff you want it to do, the $ went up a lot.  Dd ended up receiving a Surface Pro as a present from her grandparents when she started nursing school & she loves it but it's >double your price.  Link to a review talking about the Surface as a tool for college students just fyi. 

oh & dd doesn't really game so that didn't even really feature in her considerations. Ds games and that muddies issues way more. You end up needing multiple machines.

And that might be something to think about - whether it's better to just have a good laptop or desktop, and a just use a cheaper tablet as your portable. Not everyone takes them to class fwiw.  The classes I'm in this semester about 2-5/35 bring them. I brought mine once this entire semester... It really varies on the program, the classes, and the culture of the school. 

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My Opinion:

There are two sweet spots right now for PC laptops. There’s an Under $400 machine that comes with 4GB memory and usually a 500GB hard drive. These are lightweight little machines that work great if all you are going to do is go online and write papers and do projects using a google docs. I have seen these drop under $300 in the Black Friday ads for Lenovo, Acer and Asus brands. These work fine for most college majors.

 

There’s another sweet spot for Under $600 for a little more

Robust laptop with 8GB Memory and a 1 TB hard drive. Get this one if you have a gamer or know they are going to run software on the machine like Microsoft office or music software or CAD programs.

 

Pick your price point, then buy the lightest weight laptop you can find with the most memory (RAM). Don’t buy anything with less than 4GB RAM for a windows machine.

 

Spend a little to buy a neoprene soft case or sleeve that fits the laptop, even if their backpack has a padded sleeve for carrying laptops. These sleeves run about $15 and work miracles in terms of adding a little more protection for kids on the go. Most are water resistent or water proof and protect the laptop from leaking water bottles.....

 

ETA - for my own machine, I use the ones Lanny describes above. The enterprise refurb Dells are really workhorses and good gaming machines but you can’t always count on finding them in your price range.

Edited by AK_Mom4
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I followed Lanny's recommendation for a refurbished Dell Latitude.  I needed a lightweight/portable, **durable** computer for my middle schooler who attends STEM school (will be using some programs that like a bit of horsepower, so to speak).  About a year ago on ebay, I got a refurb Dell Latitude with warranty, 7270, with 8 gb RAM, 256 gb SSD, i7, for something like $650.  We've been very happy with it and it gets heavy use (think 11 y.o. on it 24/7, lots of gaming, B&M middle school, carries it from class to class in this backpack).  I recently added another 8 gb RAM, just slid it right into the empty slot, easy as pie.

Personally, I can no longer stand the idea of a spinning hard drive and will only buy a solid state drive (SSD).

Bear in mind that touchscreens and larger screen sizes add weight.  Consider whether you really want a touchscreen.

Note, if you are not looking at ebay and plan to buy from a normal retailer, between today and Monday, there may be some deals out there.  For example, I bought my Macbook Pro on Cyber Monday three years ago; it was a good price at the time and would still be a good price today for this configuration.  Happy shopping :)

If it helps, the seller I bought from has something similar but a little bigger/heavier at 3.6 lbs  https://www.ebay.com/itm/Dell-Latitude-E7240-i7-4600U-512GB-SSD-8GB-RAM-Touchscreen-Dell-Warranty/253226664086?hash=item3af57c4096:g:qicAAOSwEkhZwcAf  (Weirdly it does not have Win10 installed, it has 8.1)

Edited by wapiti
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Talk to me like a person who has never, ever bought a laptop and has absolutely NO idea what to look for. 

Price? Can one really purchase something that will work as it should for, say, $500? How much memory? 

I do know that we will not want a Mac but the "other one." 

 

I want cheap but not cheap, y'know? That magic spot where you get an excellent bargain and it works for everything it should. 

 

Does the college have a webpage that provides computer recommendations depending on major?  I had no idea what to buy for my kids, but just made sure the computers I did buy met the criteria recommended by their schools.  Good luck in your search.  I found all of the choices overwhelming.

 

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<snip?

 

If it helps, the seller I bought from has something similar but a little bigger/heavier at 3.6 lbs  https://www.ebay.com/itm/Dell-Latitude-E7240-i7-4600U-512GB-SSD-8GB-RAM-Touchscreen-Dell-Warranty/253226664086?hash=item3af57c4096:g:qicAAOSwEkhZwcAf  (Weirdly it does not have Win10 installed, it has 8.1)

 

Very unexpectedly, one Saturday afternoon, when we thought the Desktop DD has had a severe issue, I hurriedly looked on eBay and the last of the 3 Dell Latitude E6400 laptops we purchased from Blair Technology Group was purchased in a big hurry, on eBay. It has Windows 8.1, which I was skeptical of at that time, but DD hasn't had *any* issues with Windows 8.1.  Her other machines (2) have Windows 7 on them.  The Hardware specifications of that machine were great and the price was great, so we gave it a shot and it was a good move.  DD has probably had that machine for about 2 1/2 years now.

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Our most recent graduate bought a certified, refurbished 14 inch Dell Latitude 5480 with Windows 10 from the Dell Outlet. She loves the 14 inch, as it's small enough to be easily portable, but has more screen size than the smaller machines.

 

We've bought a number of certified, refurbished machines from the outlet and have been pleased with them. We spend some time getting the best configuration for the money--SSD, memory, etc. 

 

If required, Sibelius is the software that would be most likely. It's not required for my music major. 

http://www.avid.com/sibelius

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We got my oldest a nicer Dell computer.  He had a cheaper one but it just wasn't doing what he needed it to do.  He has an Alienware 13" laptop that we bought from Dell.

 

My middle son will start college next Fall and we are needing to get something for him.  Not sure yet what he will need.

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I will contact the colleges--I know some have student computer prices available, but it really helps to hear your comments. 

 

I actually bought my oldest's laptop at the college. Their prices were equivalent to the best ones I found, and they offer a two-year warranty and free loaners if the service is done there. You can buy one laptop a year. I probably will replace mine there when the year is up because I was so impressed with them.

 

My younger one needed one at the same time, and we got one at Costco during the back-to-school sales.

 

Both of mine have backpacks with padded compartments for the laptop.

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She may want to contact the school or search their website to see if she can find info on any composition software they use. My son is interested in music too for college.

 

I will say we have had many dells over the years and a couple years ago we got my son a laptop that didn’t work out of the box. We had a horrible 2 months not having a working laptop and trying to get their customer service to do anything. They finally replaced it after I started posting on social media about our experience. The NEW laptop died with a month of the 12 month warranty expiring. We will never buy another dell anything. ETA just to be clear we have about 8 computers in our house. My DH is a software engineer and I was also in a previous life. This was an Alienware laptop.

 

We are having good luck with a couple of Asus laptops. Several years running on both.

 

I would definitely check the school. Many colleges offer excellent package deals for student machines.

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