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How to Choose an Affordable Laptop Computer to Fit your Needs

It’s about that time where you will find tech deals just about every place you look and life is hard enough without worrying about which laptop to buy. For anyone shopping for a new system, the choices can seem overwhelming. With so many models, options and specifications to consider, you may feel like you need to sign up for Laptop 101.
Bargain back-to-school laptops exist for a reason: Not everybody can afford a $2,000 laptop. To be honest, most people don't even need a $2,000 laptop.

For this article, I will discuss a few key options and help you select a tech-savvy laptop for school.

For starters, this is big. Windows? or Mac? This is largely a matter of personal preference unless your school has a specific requirement. If that’s not the case, I recommend that you choose the platform that you know best.

If you’re using your laptop mostly for word processing and web browsing, a laptop with an entry level processor like an Intel Atom, Celeron or Pentium is acceptable. These processors typically lack the horsepower for higher education tasks like computer aided design and video production. I recommend choosing a model with at least an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor. These systems tend to have more robust graphics hardware, making them better suited for more demanding software. 

How big do you want your laptop to be? The size of the screen tends to dictate the overall size of the system and because students are always on the move, bigger might not be better. I had to find out the hard way and wouldn’t want anyone to lug around a 17” laptop unnecessarily unless you are spending most of your time at a desk. An 11.6 or 13.3 inch screen will afford maximum mobility.

A touchscreen is not essential for most schoolwork, but it is a nice feature for anyone that desires to scroll through documents and web pages with the flick of a finger. Touchscreen laptops tend to cost a bit more than their non-touchscreen counterparts.

If you don’t need a huge hard drive, definitely consider a system with a solid state drive. These drives run faster and cooler than their mechanical counterparts because they have no moving parts. They cost a bit more, but in my opinion, they’re worth every dime.

Make sure you spend some time with the keyboard to ensure that it is a comfortable fit. If the keys feel mushy or not to your liking, move on to the next model. Definitely consider a model with a backlit keyboard, which can make typing in dim lighting considerably easier.

If you are more than a moderate user and can afford to spend $750 for a laptop, by all means do so. I performed an analysis of some laptops in that range, and saw a major difference in performance. A new laptop that retails for around $500 will have you trading off one important feature for another. You tend to get one standout feature amidst a bunch of compromises. I’ve found that laptops in the $750 price range are generally more well-rounded.
On the other hand, you can get a surprisingly competent laptop for around $500 or so. These machines aren’t going to make a power user fall in love. But, for basic web browsing, office work, and movie streaming, a $500 laptop nowadays is a much better proposition than it was fifteen years ago, when I entered the marketplace.
In closing, when evaluating and choosing a laptop, pay attention to the build quality, screen resolution, keyboard, and trackpad which are just as important as the specs. More than likely, this is a device you will be using every day. Even if you only purchase a $500 laptop, be sure you're getting a system that feels like a quality laptop, not two sheets of veneered plywood held together with a rusty door hinge.

Willie E. Brake is a Computer Expert at All About Technology, a Certified Minority Business Enterprise and Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, located at 6450 Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.

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