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What to Look for in a Laptop this School Year

School is hard enough without worrying about which laptop to buy. But for any student shopping for a new machine, the choices can seem daunting. With so many models, specs, and options to consider, you may feel like you need to sign up for Laptop 101.

However, picking a school-savvy PC is actually pretty easy if you consider a few key options and figure out what kind of workload your school year will bring.

Operating System:

For starters, make the big call: Windows or Mac. This is largely a matter of personal preference, and unless your school has a specific requirement, you should probably stick to the platform you know best.

Speed:

Next, think about your computing needs. If it’s mostly word processing and Web browsing, an inexpensive system like the Dell Inspiron 15 or Toshiba Satellite C855D-S5320 will get the job done. However, these entry-level models rely on entry-level processors (the Intel Celeron and AMD E-Series, respectively), which lack the horsepower for higher-education tasks like CAD and video work.

For a more future-proof purchase, consider something with an Intel Core i3/i5 or AMD A6/A8-Series processor, like the Samsung Series 5. These machines also tend have more robust graphics hardware, making them better suited to more demanding software.

Size:

Of equal importance, decide how big you want the laptop to be. The size of the screen tends to dictate the overall size of the system, and because students are highly mobile, bigger might not be better. An 11.6- or 13.3-inch screen will afford maximum mobility. Of course, if you’ll be spending most of your time at a desk, you may prefer something larger.

Sceen:

Should you opt for a touchscreen? Though not essential for most schoolwork, it’s a nice feature for anyone accustomed to scrolling through documents and Web pages with a flick of the finger. Thankfully, touchscreen-equipped models cost only a bit more than their non-touchscreen counterparts.

Storage:

As for storage, consider what you need to store. If you don’t play 3D games or work with video (both of which consume a lot of space), consider a system with a 128GB of 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). Because they have no moving parts, these drives run much faster and cooler than their mechanical counterparts, at the same time consuming less battery power. Unfortunately, they also cost a bit more.

Keyboard:

Finally, because you’ll be typing a ton of class notes and school papers, try to get some hands-on time with the keyboard to make sure it’s a comfortable fit. If the keys feel mushy or have limited travel, move on. And consider a model with a backlit keyboard, which can make typing considerably easier in darkened lecture halls.

Still having trouble deciding? Check out the selections we’ve compiled here. You’re sure to find something cool for school.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld. ]

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