Hi Lifehacker, Next year the school my sons attend is introducing a BYOD policy, so I have to buy laptops or tablets for each of them. They both have desktops at home.
Both of them need Windows 8.1 (Macs aren't allowed for app access reasons), a 10-inch screen and a long-lasting battery that will run for the whole day. For year 8, 2GB of RAM is the minimum, and 32GB of storage is needed (SSDs are recommended). For year 10, those specs go up to 4GB of RAM and 64GB. Any recommendations? I don't have a huge budget and they need to last — I don't want to have to buy another in a few years! Thanks, Parental Purchase
Laptop picture from Shutterstock
Regardless of what the school says, we recommend getting no less than 4GB of memory for both laptops. An extra stick of RAM won't ramp up the costs by much and the performance gains will definitely be worth it.
We also wouldn't skimp on hard drive space; especially if they're going to be storing lots of software, photos or videos on there. If we had to choose between a 32GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive, we know which one we'd pick. As for the OS, nearly every Windows laptop is now running 8.1 out-of-the-box, so there's no need to worry on that score.
Keeping your budget down to a reasonable level shouldn't be too difficult. Presumably, these laptops will be used for run-of-the-mill schoolwork as opposed to processor-intensive tasks like graphic design or HD video editing. This means you can afford to skimp on high-end components.
Whatever you do, don't let the salesperson beguile you with fancy graphic cards or top-of-the-range CPUs. Your kids just need something for everyday tasks such as web browsing, word processing and the odd piece of educational software. An entry-level machine should therefore be perfectly adequate. (The potential for gaming will of course be limited, but that's probably a good thing.)
If your budget is extremely limited, it might be worth using your Schoolkids Bonus to supplement the overall cost. (Assuming you're eligible, of course.) This is a yearly payment of up to $842 for secondary school students that is split over two installments.
Naturally, it's a good idea to go with a well-known brand name rather than some Chinese company that you've never heard of. 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's been a while since we played around with a new laptop, but one model we've recommend to school students in the past is Asus' Transformer Book T100. This is an ultraportable tablet/laptop hybrid that has a 10.1-inch multi-touch display that can detach from the keyboard. In other words, your kids will get the productivity of a laptop and the convenience of a tablet.
The T100 is powered by a pretty decent Intel quad-core processor. It boasts battery life of up to 11 hours and comes bundled with Microsoft Office Home and Microsoft Student. It currently retails for a rather steep $599, although you can snap one up online for as little as $430.
Another option that's worth considering is the Microsoft Surface 2. Like the T100 mentioned above, this can be converted from a tablet to a laptop, although in this case you'll need to purchase the keyboard separately. (Fortunately, the device will happily recognise most wireless keyboards so there's no need to splurge on Microsoft's expensive Type Cover if you don't want to.)
While a little under-specced for a primary PC, the Surface 2 makes for an excellent student laptop. Noteworthy specifications include a 10.6-inch Full HD touchscreen display, USB 3.0 connectivity, up to ten hours battery life and Microsoft Office 2013 RT pre-installed. You can currently get the 32GB Surface 2 for $399 while the 64GB version sells for $499. You can boost the storage space of both models via an external HDD.
We're also interested to hear what our readers think. If you know of any laptops that are specifically good for students, share you recommendations in the comments section below.
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