With a new year of education on the horizon it’s likely time for many students and / or their parents to be looking at purchasing a notebook. This can be a minefield for those who are unfamiliar with technical terms so we’ve sought to simplify things and throw some buying advice in there.
Unlike other guides we won’t be recommending specific models. Not only do notebooks come and go every few months, but depending where you are in the world, you may not have access to those models or they may be priced differently.
We will also be truncating this information for the sake of brevity. If you want more information about what CPU or RAM is, Google is your friend.
This guide will also have a focus on budget and getting the most performance for the least amount of money. You can always blow out the bank and buy top of the line tech and have a great time, but that’s not the aim today.
1. The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The brain of the computer and one of the most determinant hardware factors when it comes to usability, speed and general performance.
When looking in the budget range you will see Intel’s old Celeron range of CPUs dominate the market. “Celeron” refers to a wide range of CPUs and some may be good enough for general school work and assignments, but many of them are really poor in performance.
When looking at notebook for sale take the name of the CPU and put it into Google. A product page from Intel or AMD (the two biggest names in the CPU market will come up). In these product pages it will list the number of physical cores and logical threads.
To really oversimplify try to get something with four cores and four threads. Again there are CPUs with less than this ,but this is a very generic statement about solid performance.
If you’ve got two notebooks with different CPUs gunning for your money, the site PassMark is your friend. Input the names of the two CPUS and this site will show you which one is better. This is really handy with the multitude of different Celeron out there.
2. The screen
Like all screens those on laptops are measured in inches from corner to horizontal corner, with the most popular sizes for notebooks being 13, 15 and 17 inches in general.
For notebooks the size of the screen will determine the overall size of the notebook, with more space inside for the keyboard and components.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better and you should compare the other specs of the notebook and don’t get too blindsided by the screen size.
In terms of resolution we recommend 720p (1280 X 720) as a baseline. You can sometimes get away with a lower resolution on 13 inch notebooks, but 720p is a great place to start.
The size of the screen and therefore the overall size of the notebook will affect how easy it is to take around, so buy according to how often you will be moving about with the notebook. Not too important with the pandemic still ongoing, but worth remembering into the future.
3. Random Access Memory (RAM)
When looking at notebooks on the market right now we were a bit shocked by both how often people undervalue this component and how little manufacturers are providing to consumers in the budget range.
RAM is the short-term memory of your notebook and determines how many active tasks it can keep going simultaneously.
You may see manufactures providing ludicrously small amounts such as 2 and 4 GB but we really have to say that this is too much. The world’s most popular internet browser, Chrome, barely functions with this much RAM.
At a minimum we recommend 8 GB of RAM even for very light school work.
We understand that this may blow out your notebook budget, but there are some ways to get around this.
You may be able to replace the RAM in your notebook with more, or simply add on top of what’s there. This will require an additional purchase, however, but it may be cheaper than buying a more expensive notebook when the only change is more RAM.
If you’re not familiar with this topic we suggest directly speaking to the store or website you’re planning on buying from to ask them how they can help you when it comes to RAM, RAM upgrades and your warranty around this.
If RAM is short-term memory of your notebook the storage is the long-term memory that will permanently keep your files on the device.
If RAM is under appreciated by buyers and manufacturers storage is over appreciated. The truth is with so many free cloud storage solutions out there – and the fact that so much work is done online on platforms such as Google Suite – you can get away with very little storage.
Factoring in the amount of storage that is eaten up by the Windows operating system, we recommend 128 GB of storage. This should be more than enough for Windows and a few thousand school project files, songs and pictures. This can fill up if you’re not careful, so make sue of those cloud options.
Storage also has various speeds which is a massive topic unto itself. Again, to oversimplify, the two classes of storage are Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD). The HDD is a physical spinning disk that can be more prone to failure in a moving device like a notebook, while an SSD is stationary and usually much faster.
SSDs are more expensive, but we recommend going with an SSD with a smaller capacity over an HDD with more capacity.
5. The inputs
This is a general category and refers to everything involved in inputting content into the notebook: the ports, the keyboard, the webcam and even the disc drive though these are usually left out in modern notebooks.
For general student use the ports shouldn’t be too much of a sticking point.
As for the keyboard the biggest difference will likely be the presence of a number pad (numpad). If you or or child is studying a subject / degree which focuses on numbers (like accounting, maths, sciences etc) then a numpad may be welcome. If a notebook doesn’t feature one this isn’t a deal breaker as they can be purchases separately and plugged in just like an external keyboard.
Similarly the webcam shouldn’t be a major factor either. If the notebook you’re wanting to buy has no webcam or a webcam of low quality, a phone can be used instead. If this solution doesn’t work an external webcam can also be purchased.
If what’s being study requires other inputs – l like the older and aforementioned disc drive – the school will usually indicate this to you.
[Image – Bahman Adlou on Unsplash]