Ask LH: When Should I Buy My New Laptop?

Hi Lifehacker, I'm returning to study in 2014 and I'm going to need a new notebook computer for study purposes. When is the best time to buy? Should I buy now in the pre-Christmas sales, wait until after Christmas to look for a bargain then, or wait until I've officially started studying and then see if I can score a scholarship or a loan? And what specs and brands should I look for? Thanks, Soon To Be Studious

Dear STBS,

I wouldn't bother holding out for a scholarship or bursary bestowed laptop, as these are pretty rare and your need isn't unique. Buying now will also give you a chance to get acquainted with your new laptop, remove bloatware and install useful applications prior to returning to school.

While you might be able to land a better deal during the post-Christmas period, don't let this deter you from buying one right now. The fact is, no no matter when you decide to buy your new laptop, it will invariably be offered at a cheaper price at a later date. You can't hold off forever! By waiting for a better deal, you also run the risk of the vendor running out of stock. Our advice is to keep an eye on pre-Christmas sales and snap up a bargain as soon as you see one.

In terms of specific brands and components, you're going to want between 4 and 8GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive (or SSD if you can afford it), a 13/14-inch display and, if you're in the Windows camp, a Core i5 CPU. In addition, you're going to want decent battery life, a reasonably spacious keyboard and reliable hardware that wont conk out mid-semester.

According to this recent SquareTrade study Asus laptops have the lowest failure rates of the major manufacturers, followed by Toshiba, Sony, Apple and Dell.

It might also be worth checking with your university faculty -- some schools provide specific laptop recommendations which can help to narrow the field somewhat.

If any readers want to nominate specific models that would suit a university student, let STBS know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Laptop specs/requirement will be determined by what you are studying.

    If you are studying Architecture, Photography, Video Production, or Engineering, you would likely want a desktop replacement, 15-17" screen, i7 with 8Gb+ RAM. ie Lots of grunt. This would make it capable of running and rendering graphics in software such as Revit, 3DS, Premiere and After Effects, and other CPU and GPU applications. This is likely to be in the $1000-2000 range.

    If you are studying Law or Arts, you are likely to consider getting something more lightweight, and one that suits lots of reading. This may include a tablet, such as the Surface - just make sure you have a good keyboard. Also the ASUS Transformer models look pretty good in this category. This could then be used for your reading materials as well as typing lecture notes.

    Do plenty of research. Don't rush the decision. Find good prices, then take it to somewhere like Officeworks who will beat a competitor's price by 5%. I buy much of my technology this way, as you have the convenience of a bricks and mortar retailer, but at much better prices than they ever advertise.

    don't go massive in terms of screen size. i'm also starting uni next year and my current machine - a 15" HP is just too heavy. i'm buying a 13" air.

    You want light - LIGHT!

    Because you'll be moving around at uni a lot, and heavy laptops are a killer. As @dunkyboy said, it depends on your requirements. Just doing word processing? Anything half-decent will do. CAD/3d design? You need yourself something pretty decent in the graphics department.

      I'm doing a degree that doesn't require any specialised software, so I bought a chromebook. Extremely light and portable, I can perform a cold boot, connect to wifi and have an open google doc in less than 10 seconds.

      If I need to do more complex stuff in word, I have my main laptop at home, or the uni computers.

      Pros: Cheap, reliable, fast, designed to do all the basics perfectly.
      Cons: Despite offline saving, without wifi it's pretty much gimped.

      Last edited 30/11/13 11:17 pm

    I'm definitely going the Ultrabook route myself as I'm studying a Bachelors in Accounting so I would hope that an i5 processor and enough RAM for Windows 8 64bit (my home unit runs the same OS) however I'm also in the same scenario as STBS I'm trying my best when it comes to finding the best contact at my University to seek answers, however the student section on their website is not the best in finding this information.

    Can anyone suggest what my next step should be?


      Well, O/S's these days are pretty good at running on cr*p hardware. I'm not saying buy something cheap as sin, but that you needn't worry too hard about being underspecced.

      Doing accounting, any software you'll be using will be maths-based, though I don't know how intensive they get. Regardless, a current, or previous gen, i5 would more than cover you.

      4gb of ram would probably suffice. Especially if you have an SSD, just use a larger pagefile or something. 8gb and you would be sweet no worries.

      Not sure about the cost on these anymore. I get my laptops through work. 2.5kg, 17", HD screen and plays every game I've tried bar battlefield 4.

      The weight is horrible. Upsides are the gaming (personal) and running multiple server VMs (profressional).

    I am currently in the same situation, i dont know whether to buy it now pre xmas or wait until uni start next year. For a student i think an ipad will do all your need. Since all the lecture slides are now can be read in ipad and mostly they have application for it( am in Swinburne so am using "blackboard"). Get an ipad mini or ipad air, you can read the notes on the train and dont have to spend money for printing out the slides when come to lecture. I used to have a macbook pro 15'. It is too heavy to carry around, also too bulky to fit my bag. Just a macbook air 11 or 13 will be okay for you i guess.

      make sure you get a bluetooth keyboard as well

        I didnt mention it because i think the bluetooth keyboard is crazy expensive. I wont buy the cheap ones on ebay but i prefer the logitech or belkin keyboard.

          I had the same attitude, that buying a bluetooth keyboard on eBay would be a waste of money. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I bought one for around $20 and I've been using it for 2 years now. It's the same size as my iPad and locks onto it to provide a cover for the iPad (although I have a proper cover and won't use the keyboard for that). I actually think you should try it

    The three most important aspects in a uni laptop for me were: light weight, long battery life and sturdiness. I'm 3 years down on my 5 year course and my computer is still going strong. A 13" Macbook Air or Windows equivalent is what I'd be looking to get if I was buying now. If the screen's not big enough for whatever you're doing, buy a separate monitor. Lugging around a 15" or 17" laptop is a pain when you're also carrying large textbboks. It's worth spending extra to get one with a long lasting battery, you won't regret it.

    Like all technology, there will ALWAYS be something faster, shinier, newer, bigger, smaller, brighter, thinner, lighter etc etc etc... "just around the corner".

    My advice is to purchase the laptop when you need it. Find the best deal you can at that time. Pull the trigger. And move on.

    Don't wait 2-3 months for a better deal or a newer "thing"... If you have a need NOW, then buy it now and enjoy using your purchase now. In three months time will a small saving be worth you missing out NOT using and benefiting from owning the laptop over that period. No.

    Just like travel... technology is virtually always "on-sale" these days.

    I was thinking of an Acer V7-582P-54204G52tkk (which is Windows 8, 4th Gen Intel® Core™ i5 Processor, 15.6" HD Multi-Touch LCD Screen, 4GB Memory, 500GB HDD + SSD Cache) it currently is going for $899.00 w/ $129.00 cash back (RRP $1,249.00).

    I know that Acer is down on the SquareTrade study but for what works out for $770.00 seems like a good value option, however my home PC runs Windows 8 Pro 64bit and this price is Windows 8 (is there compatibility issues between the two OS's)?

    Last edited 01/12/13 10:38 am

      Correct me if i am wrong but acer always been considered as a cheap and unreliable brand, isnt it? I will look for Asus, Dell, Samsung, sony or toshiba which give a longer warraty time and those laptop always look more sturdy and manly than acer. I was looking at gumtree last night and i saw an Asus ux31e for 550 ono. And i think it is a great deal. For $750 i think you have heaps of options, and if you can state some benefits of " touch screen" i will be listening. I still dont get the point of using touch screen on a big 15 inch laptop. Plus the heavier and not portable with bulky laptop and long charger cable.

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