Hi Lifehacker, I'm going back to university to start a Masters and will be doing subjects that range from bioinformatics and accounting to marketing and law. So I need a laptop that is under $1000 (ideally under $500), reasonably light with a good battery life and can handle large projects. It also needs to be useful for at least two years. I have a history of breaking computers so I don't want anything too delicate (and no Macs, we just don't get on). Any suggestions? Thanks, Mastering Motherboards
University laptop picture from Shutterstock
You're definitely on the right track with those criteria. Battery life and portability are two of the most important factors when it comes to a good university laptop. Apart from this, you’re going to want at least 4GB of RAM (preferably eight), SSD storage, a 12- or 14-inch screen and an Intel Core i5 CPU.
Personally, we'd sacrifice processing power for extra battery life and portability. Most laptops priced over $500 will be able to handle the majority of university applications. In the unlikely event that a program requires more grunt, you can simply delegate these tasks to your desktop or use the computers at your university. This may seem like a hassle but in the long run it will make your life much easier (as an added bonus, the laptop will also be cheaper).
If you're keen to keep the price as low as possible, a Chromebook could be the way to go. These machines are cheaper, lighter and provide better battery life than a regular laptop, which makes them ideal study companions. Instead of installing programs to a hard drive, Chromebooks rely on web apps from Google’s Chrome Web Store. This restricts their functionality when no Wi-Fi connection is available although this shouldn't be an issue at most universities.
Another option worth considering is the convertible laptop. These models tend to cost a bit more than an equivalent "normal" laptop but the advantages are arguably worth it. They come with detachable keyboards that allow them to double as a tablet: perfect for when you just need to study lecture notes or browse websites on the go. There are swathes of models on market with prices ranging from under $500 to a couple of grand.
If you can stomach using the Windows RT operating system, the Surface 2 is an excellent model for the asking price. You can currently snap up the 32GB direct from Microsoft for $298; a saving of $100. This deal includes the base unit only but you can easily pair it with a cheap wireless keyboard while keeping costs under $400.
If you're willing to spend a bit extra, the recently-released Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-In-1 is also worth a look. This is a Windows 8.1 convertible laptop that comes with a 13.3-inch touch screen, an Intel Core i5-4210U clocked at 2.7Ghz, up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 500GB of inbuilt storage.
It's battery life will last around six to seven hours between charges. It also comes with a stylus which may be useful for certain learning applications. According to Gizmodo's review, the keyboard is adept at fast, aggressive tying which is sure to come in handy. Pricing starts at $899 although you should be able to find it cheaper if you shop around.
We're also going to throw this one over to our readers. If you have any sub-$1000 laptop recommendations that would suit a university student, let MM know in the comments section below.
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