A laptop is an expensive investment, and wont in itself get you a first-class degree, you have to work hard for that! Before even looking at one (if you look, you’ll want!) you should consider whether you really need one. Laptops are very useful if:
- You spend a lot of time travelling on trains
- You frequently go home to visit parents
- You like working outside, or in other areas where no computers are available
- If you do not travel or do degree work in areas with no computer access, then there are far cheaper (and some free) alternatives discussed in the post on data storage and backup.
If you think a laptop would give you more working time for your degree course, consider the following before buying:
- An entry level laptop will suffice for 95% of degree courses
- Specifications increase at a rapid rate
- Price versus specification fall at a rapid rate
- Spares and repairs can be expensive compared to desktops
- The keyboard on a laptop is slightly slower to use than that of a desktop
- Thieves love laptops
- Batteries do not last for ever (two years before they stop charging properly)
- Batteries are expensive to replace
Taking the above into consideration my advice would be:
- Wait as long as you can before buying (falling prices)
- Get an entry level machine, not an expensive one
- Consider the cost of insuring it
- Make sure you regularly backup in case of theft / failure
Buy a docking station with separate keyboard and monitor if it is going to be your main PC at home, it will be more comfortable and lot faster to use
At time of writing an entry level machine is around £350, that said, it is worth going to maybe £450 (including delivery) if you see one on special offer, but certainly no higher than this.
Research products and prices as much as you can, when looking at online stores don’t forget to check the feedback left by other customers, this can be really useful.
I have personally used the following brands:
- Toshiba: Good build quality, decent design, can get good special offers
- HP: Good build quality, decent design, can get good special offers
- Acer: Poorer build quality, quite bulky, but very fast (good performance) for the money. Being budget machines already, you don’t tend to see many bargains offered on Acer.
- Dell: Generally, to be avoided, poor build quality and prices for upgrades and servicing are absolutely scandalous. That said I have seen Dell selling end of line items off at silly prices. If you see one at a silly price, just make sure you deselect all servicing plans and do not pay for any upgrades, get your hardware upgrades elsewhere.
- Fujitsu Siemens: I have one of these and swear by it, good build quality and reliable. Different models are used extensively where I work, and are also pretty good. Unfortunately, I know two other people whose laptops have started falling to pieces, cases cracking around hinges, things coming loose etc.
The Fujitsu Siemens information illustrates the problem with recommending laptops. Everyone has their personal favourites and dislikes. Users of the same model machine can have very different experiences.
This is where the online sites with customer reviews really come in handy. If you read 20 posts, that’s 20 different machines reviewed. If you read a review in a PC magazine, it is likely they have just one machine to review. If that machine was supplied by the manufacturer directly to the magazine for review, you can be sure it received rigorous testing before it was given to them.
I.T. Hardware Retailers
I have personally used the following national retailers:
PC World: If you see a good deal in the tabloids, then it may be worth a visit, but do not buy anything else whilst you are in there. PC world offer just enough items at a good price to support their advertising campaigns. Everything else in the shop will be an absolute rip off.
Do not be fooled by PC World’s advertising campaign stating they are both and online and high street retailer. Yes, they have a Website, but the prices are not competitive with true online retailers.
I use two online retailers regularly, Dabs.com and Ebuyer.co.uk
Both of these companies offer better prices than you will find on the high street. Generally, the service is good and the delivery prompt, however, things quickly unravel if you have a problem, particularly if you need to return an item.
Last time I tried it was impossible to speak to these companies over the phone. If you go through their help pages and send a mail with a standard subject line, you will get an automated mail, i.e. no-one will look at your problem.
In order to get a human to read your query, you need to add your own query title. Then you will be lucky to get more than a three word reply.
You will also lose your shipping fee if you need to return an item which is not faulty.
To avoid an infuriating debacle:
- Make sure you know what you are ordering
- Make sure you really want it!
- Despite the trouble, I have had with returns, these companies are still worth using, as 95% of the time everything goes smoothly and you save a lot of money.