Hey Lifehacker, I'm starting university this year, and I'm looking for a new laptop which will have sufficient battery life to substitute as a textbook in my classes and be used for some work as well. I only have around $500 to spend -- any suggestions? Thanks, Last-Minute Notebook Buyer
Laptops picture from Shutterstock
For a good university laptop, you're going to want at least 4GB of RAM, a 12- or 14-inch screen and a Core i5 CPU. Naturally, the amount of grunt you need will depend on the degree you're doing -- if the course involves lots of graphically intensive applications, you'll probably need to extend your budget. But for most tasks, the above should be perfectly adequate.
That said, $500 is a pretty meagre budget. For that price, you might want to look at a refurbished model as opposed to buying something fresh off the factory floor. Otherwise your entry-level laptop is likely to be hamstrung by limited RAM and a lowly processor.
Buying a refurbished laptop will allow you to get more powerful specifications for the same asking price. The catch is that they've usually seen some prior use -- it could be a retail demonstration unit, a second-hand model that was returned to the factory or in-house stock used for demoing purposes. Whatever the case may be, the model will be wiped, physically cleaned and extensively tested before it gets sent to your door.
You can snap up refurbished laptops direct from many manufacturers, as well as via third-party suppliers such as GraysOnline. They also regularly crop up on online deals sites, but be sure to carefully peruse the warranty information -- your odds of a hardware failure are usually higher with refurbished stock so make sure you're properly covered. Most models will come with a 12 month warranty. While there are still risks, purchasing a refurbished model is much safer than buying second-hand, especially from a stranger.
If you have a desktop PC at home, you might want to consider a tablet instead. With the exception of typing out essays (which is where your desktop comes in) tablets are a superior student device in almost every other area. They have longer battery life, are easier to carry around and are better suited to digital textbook reading. Most tablets also offer optional keyboard accessories which can help on the productivity front.
You can currently get refurbished iPads direct from Apple with prices starting at $299. If you'd prefer a Windows machine, Microsoft's Surface range might be worth a look -- we've seen previous-generation Pro models go for as cheap as $600.
Whatever route you go down, be sure to pay plenty of attention to battery life before making your purchase. This is one of the most important considerations for a university laptop; especially if power outlets are in short supply. Most manufacturers list battery life on their websites, but these claims are usually a bit dubious -- it pays to check out independent reviews of the model you're interested in to see how it fares in a real-world battery test. Our sister site Gizmodo is a good place to start. In fact, they'll be posting a university laptop buying guide next week.
On a final note, don't forget that you can get special student discounts on various software essentials such as Microsoft Office. You can find various other student saving tips via our Money tag.
If any readers have additional suggestions for good places to buy refurb laptops, or good models for students, let LMNB know in the comments section below.
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