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How To Save Money Buying A Laptop For A College Freshman

By Erik Folgate

laptop

All universities and colleges have followed suit with the rapid growth in internet technology over the past ten years, and it is now essential for college students to have a good computer for school. Laptops are the computer of choice with college students, because they’re portable and pack enough features to help them with whatever needs to be done for school. This will be one of the bigger expenses you will face if your sending your child off to college in the next couple of weeks, and it’s important that you get them a laptop that meets their needs without breaking your checking account.

Don’t go shopping with your kid

Make the laptop a surprise, and what you buy them, is what they get. If you bring your kid with you, they will go straight to the Apple store and pick out the $1800 Macbook Pro, I guarantee it. Macs have branded themselves as the hip, fun notebooks that many young people want, because it has become a status symbol. If your budget isn’t above $1,000, then you need to stay away from the Apple store.

What If They Insist On A Mac?

If your kid is very brand conscious, and you think they will be devastated if they don’t get a Mac, then consider a refurbished Macbook. Remember, there’s a big price difference between the regular Macbook and Macbook Pro, but the specs that the Pro offers are not needed for the average college freshmen who will be using it to surf the internet and write papers. Right now, the Apple store website has a refurbished 13″ Macbook with great specs for only $899 with free shipping. It’s Apple certified, so you can rest assure that they will stand by all of their refurbished products.

The Most Important Feature

Many people get caught up in all of the tech features of a laptop, and they end up buying a computer that is much too powerful than the user needs. When buying any computer, you need to consider matching the user with the specifications. If your kid is really big into video editing, recording music, and shooting high-resolution photography, then you’ll need to buy them a powerful computer. But, if they are like most computer users and they’ll be using it for the internet, watching streaming video, and using MS Office, then they don’t need the most powerful computer on the market. So, what’s the most important feature on a laptop? Size and portability matter most to me. I really don’t like laptops that act like desktops. 14 to 15″ inch screen laptops that weight less than 6 pounds are what you need to look for. I am not a big fan of the netbook, only because their keyboards are so small and the size of the screen makes it hard to do more than one thing at a time. But again, pay more for portability rather than tech specs.

Here is a list of specifications that will be plenty of power for the average user:

  • 2GB RAM
  • 100 GB Hard drive
  • Any Core Duo processor above 2.0 Ghz
  • 128 RAM on video card
  • Wireless card G/N

Some extras that are nice to have, but not necessary:

  • Built-in webcam
  • Bluetooth capabilities
  • HDMI hook-ups (allows you to hook the computer up to a television

Good Brands for Windows-Based PCs

Stay away from HP, Compaq, and Toshiba. I have never heard of someone having a good experience with these brands of laptops, and they also lag behind on my most important feature, portability. For a laptop under $1,000, look for Sony, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell, and Gateway.

Where To Shop

I would stay away from the large retail electronic stores like Best Buy, HH Gregg, Comp USA, and Office Depot. They try to discount the computers they are looking to get rid of from the less desirable brands. Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s, Fry’s, and Tiger Direct are all great brick-and-mortar locations to find an affordable laptop. My personal preference is to shop online for the best laptop deals as long as you feel comfortable enough to know what you are buying based on reading the tech specs. If you’re not, you can always look at models at a store to know what you are looking at before you buy online. Buy.com, Tigerdirect.com, NewEgg.com, and Frys.com are all good places to start looking. You can also check out deal aggregators like BensBargains.net and product search engines like Google products to help you find the BEST deals on the internet from little-known, yet reputable internet retailers.

Figure out your child’s computer needs, don’t go overboard on tech specs, look on the internet, and you’ll get your kid a great laptop for a cheap price.

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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  • sheila

    This is a very sensible advice on buying laptops. I was also shopping for a laptop for my kid more than a week ago, and instead of doing the normal legwork searching the local stores, I did a little looking on the internet. You see, I’ve become an avid fan of online shopping because of the nice perks you get from online stores: free shipping, cash back rewards, great discounts, and, above all, one stop comparison shopping through a discount portal like www.savingswatch.com. That’s where I got hold of a nice, light, branded laptop for just $449! The $110 mark off on the tag was just as irresistible as the fact that it was already a power-packed 2.0 dual core computer with a whopping 3GB DDR2 memory, and with all the hardware you’ll need. I would really suggest a site like that if you’re looking for great deals online.

  • Ben

    A few things to consider before abandoning the idea of a Mac: You are purchasing more than the hardware and branding. The Mac OS is quicker, more secure, and more powerful (for those who are power users) than Windows. Another option to get this security, speed, and power is to opt for a computer running Linux. This gives you the benefit of of the low hardware prices from Windows computers plus the security and power of a great operating system. Linux is Free and Open Source Software, so updates and upgrades are free forever and odds are all software you will need to install is free as well, which can also help with savings. Both Mac and Linux are essentially invulnerable to viruses and malware, so you can rest assured that your child will stay safe that way. The only downside I would point out with Linux is that it isn’t overly popular just yet. You can get tons of support from online forums and what not, but campus tech support might not officially support the operating system. I suggest doing your research into these operating systems before making a final decision.

    As a disclaimer, I am a computer engineering student at the moment and made the switch to Mac/Linux a couple of years ago, part way into my studies, and I will never turn back to Windows. Due to my computer background, I may be a little more prone to adapting to the new systems than the average student, but most people from this generation adapt quickly to technology anyway. I suggest finding a Mac/Linux friend to walk you through the basics if you do decide to make the switch.

  • Mike

    I will attest that refurbished Apple products are as good as new. Also don’t forget about netbooks. I use a netbook to take notes, and write papers for law school.

  • http://www.artificialrobot.com Sean

    Interesting piece, but I have to agree with Ben that you shouldn’t just discount the Apple laptops so quickly. You can get the small white macbook for $999 now and it is a great computer both in terms of quality and size. For a bit more money you can get the aluminum macbook which offers a bit more power.

    I think one thing to consider is the student’s major too. If they are going to be majoring in Computer Science then a mac may be a great option given that it is running a BSD variant, so you get the power of Unix with a nice interface. However, if they are majoring in Comp Sci then they may want more power. Then again, if they are majoring in Comp Sci they probably know exactly what they want/need.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Good advice, especially the bit about staying away from stores like Best Buy. Overpriced & old models. But a nice place to browse, nonetheless. For those that need (want) a Macbook, a recent refurbished model IS the way to go for a student. No need to get anything better. Another idea is to get a desktop replacement (17″ screen) as they can also use it as a tv.

  • Elizabeth I

    I really appreciated this article. I used it to check out a few models and I just purchased a Dell Insperion 15. I am eagerly waiting for it to arrive.

  • Winston

    I wish somebody had told me to stay away from HP. The dm3 laptop that I just bought is really frustrating to use. The cursor keeps jumping around for no apparent reason and after a while of use, the laptop becomes really hot. I was thinking about buying a Mac, but I just couldn’t get past the higher price and the fear of possible software incompatibility. And since none of my friends or family members have used a Mac before, I couldn’t give it a test run.

  • Tonei

    Also keep in mind Apple’s education discount, which knocks $100-$200 off of the price of a laptop. A new entry-level MacBook with the student discount is also $899.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    If you can afford to wait, do so until the next Black Friday. For the past several years, the prices really do hit rock bottom starting on that day in November. Even Mac’s have deals in place. And most of the deals can be had online, so there is no need to camp out all night to get the cheap lappie.

    Saying that, no student needs a $1000 laptop (macbook), but it does give the added ability to run either the Mac OS or Windows via BootCamp.

  • http://www.PennyAuctionWatch.com PAW

    Just went over my comments on a post & saw you left one, thank you! Your users may want to check out bid to buy penny auction sites with minimal risk, I recently got a 11″ toshiba netbook for about $120 on this one: http://www.pennyauctionwatch.com/2010/04/bigdeal-auction-competitive-shopping-reviews/

    • http://www.PennyAuctionWatch.com PAW

      sorry meant to say readers :-D hehe forum lingo. Thanks!

  • Hank

    Great advice on buying a laptop although not everybody is going to want a mac. still nice write up. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/3002540/tips_for_college_freshman_strategies.html?cat=4

  • Steve

    Interesting comment about don’t buy from Comp USA but Tiger Direct is a good place to purchase a lap top. Since Tiger Direct owns Comp USA I would think they would have similar inventory. Is this correct?

  • Mark

    Price comparisons sites are the best for finding the lowest prices. For Macs, I have been using Apple Sliced lately – you can usually save a couple hundred dollars on a new Mac.

  • Rey

    Way to rag on Toshiba without doing your research and finding that they are one of the most reliable and affordable brands of laptops on the market, and yet you sing praises to Acer…

    • Erik Folgate

      I can only speak from personal experience, Rey. I’ve never owned a Toshiba, but i never will because I’ve had several family members have major issues with Toshibas. I’d even go with HP over Toshiba.

  • http://pennyauctionlist.com Penny

    Erik – thanks for the post. I’m not sure about Gateway laptops, but I agree on all other points.

    As referenced in a comment above, penny auctions are an alternate option for getting a cheap laptop. If you learn how penny auctions work and bid wisely, you could end up scoring a high-end laptop for significantly less than retail. However, make sure you play on a site that offers a “Bid-to-Buy” option or you’ll be out the money you invested.

  • Ankita

    Hey,I am planning to buy a new laptop..I majorly work with just windows.Can I get a apple mac and install windows?or willit be good decision to just buy Dell or Sony

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