The Ultimate Guide: Buying a Computer for School

Tips for finding the right PC for a student

Teacher and Student at a Computer in classroom

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Students need computers to conduct research, write papers, communicate with teachers, create multimedia presentations, and much more. How do you know which type of computer to buy? Here are tips for purchasing the best back-to-school PC for you or your child.

Check With Your School

Before shopping for a computer, check with the school regarding any recommendations, requirements, or restrictions there may be on student computers. Often, colleges will have recommended minimum computer specifications that can be helpful in narrowing down your search. Similarly, they may have a list of necessary applications that require specific hardware.

Some schools partner with computer companies that offer vouchers for students to get free or discounted laptops.

Desktops vs. Laptops

Most desktop computers have more powerful components, giving them a longer lifespan than a laptop. They are also less accident prone, harder to steal, and easier to upgrade. If buying a computer for a high school student, a desktop computer may be ideal so that you don't have to worry about it getting lost or broken.

That all said, laptops are preferable for college students due to their portability. Laptops are also better suited for cramped dorm rooms. Virtually all schools offer wireless networks so that students can connect to web on their laptop anywhere on campus.

What to Look for in a School Computer

How powerful your PC needs to be depends on what you plan to use it for. An English major who mostly writes papers will fair well with a budget laptop, but an art design or computer engineering student will need a more powerful device. These are the specifications to look at when assessing a computer's capabilities:

  • Storage capacity: 1TB is more than enough for the average user. If you need more space, you can purchase an external hard drive.
  • Processor: Processing speed should only be a concern if you plan to run hefty programs like video editing software or online games. In that case, you'd want a processor than can clock between 3.5-4 GHz.
  • RAM: 4GB is now the standard for laptops, and that's plenty for most people. It's usually possible to install more RAM if you need it.
  • Connectivity: All computers come with a wireless adapter, but not all laptops have Ethernet ports. You should also consider the number of USB and HDMI ports available.
  • Webcam: Most laptops come with built-in webcams, but they vary in quality. You can always purchase a better external webcam if you need it.

PC Peripherals and Accessories

There are a number of accessories that you might need for your school PC:

  • Printer: While most teachers accept electronic documents, a laser printer is still a good investment for when you need hard copies.
  • Security devices: Computer security devices such as cable locks are a good idea for those who use their laptops in public spaces.
  • Carrier: A durable computer bag or backpack is a necessity for laptop users.
  • Mouse: Some laptop users prefer a compact mouse to the built-in trackpad.
  • Battery: A secondary or external battery pack can be useful for those who use their laptop for long periods of time away from a power outlet.
  • Software: Check college bookstores for software packages for students. For example, students can get major discounts on software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud.

What About Tablets?

Tablets can be used for browsing the web, taking notes, recording lectures, or even editing documents with a Bluetooth keyboard. The downside is that they do not use standard PC software programs. Fortunately, there are equivalent apps for programs like Microsoft Word that make it easy to share files between your tablet and laptop.

Tablets are especially useful for reading and annotating textbooks. You can even rent textbooks through Amazon Kindle. Still, given their limitations, tablets are not a suitable replacement for a PC.

What About Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are specialized laptops designed for online use. They are built around the Chrome OS operating system from Google. These inexpensive devices utilize cloud-based storage so that all your files are automatically backed up to your Google Drive.

The drawback is that Chromebooks have fewer features than many traditional laptops. For example, they can't run the same applications that you would find on a Windows or Mac computer. As a result, Chromebooks aren't recommend for students who need to install software, but they are suitable for word processing and research purposes.

Convertibles and 2-in-1 PCs

If you can't decide between a tablet or a laptop, try a hybrid laptop. They look and function like traditional laptops, but the display can be flipped around such that it can be used like a tablet. There are also 2-in-1 PCs, which are essentially tablets with a keyboard dock. They are usually cheaper and more portable, but they lack the power and functionality of a standard laptop.

How Much to Spend

The cost of computers ranges widely depending on the brand, model, and technical specifications, but here are some ballpark estimates for your various options:

The best time to find deals on electronics is Cyber Monday, but many manufacturers run back-to-school sales during summer and fall months.