Unless you’ve got cash coming out the wazoo, you’re going to want your machine to last at least the three years you’ll typically spend at university, so you shouldn’t skimp on the important bits. Look for solid construction (a metal chassis is best), and a full-size keyboard for comfortably typing long essays.
If you want to watch films and TV shows on it — which I assume you do — you’ll need a large screen of at least 14 inches, with a minimum resolution of 1,366×768 pixels.
Mac or PC?
Do you go with an Apple Mac or a Windows PC? That will largely depend on how rich your parents are feeling or how much of your gap year you spent saving up cash rather than trotting off to south-east Asia.
MacBooks are built extremely well and age slowly, but you’ll have to splash plenty of cash. If your course is in graphics then a Mac would be a good choice, but a well-specced Windows machine will also tackle your work admirably and your uni should hopefully provide powerful machines for editing.
Windows laptops come in a much wider variety of shapes, sizes and prices, but you’ll need to stay on top of upgrades to squeeze a three-year degree out of them.
Whether you prefer portability over toughness is a personal choice. Don’t shy away from a heavier laptop — after all, it might discourage you from taking it to the pub, where many a student computer has met a beer-soaked end. Try and find a healthy balance, as you may be carrying it around with you all day between lecture halls, library desks and friends’ sofas.
If most of your work and play is within reach of a power socket, battery life will not be a primary factor in your buying decision. But if power points in the library become scarce near exam time, you’ll want it to last at least a couple of hours between charges.
When it comes to the processor and memory, don’t get carried away. As long as the laptop can run office software, surf the web and stream videos, there’s little point in splashing out on the latest silicon unless you specifically need it for your course. A dual-core processor clocked at 2GHz is a good minimum set-up.
If you’re likely to be running various programs at once alongside multi-tabbed web browsing — perhaps checking out all your new coursemates on Facebook — you could do with a good serving of RAM. A minimum of 4GB is advised, but if you can get 6GB, then all the better.
A large hard drive is a bonus but you’d be better off using a high-capacity external drive to back up all your work in case of a fatal computer crash.
A high-powered graphics card is fine if you’re big on gaming, but it shouldn’t be a massive concern, what with all the work you’ll have to do. Best to get yourself a dedicated console to play all those grade-dropping games on.
Most laptops come with DVD drives as standard. Blu-ray drives are available for film buffs but these will add a premium to the price tag.
With all that in mind, swot up on our suggested laptops down below, and when you come to emptying your piggy bank, don’t forget to ask about student discounts. And if you’re super-skint, don’t worry — we’ve got a roundup of the best laptops for under £500 too (just don’t blame us if they don’t last past freshers’ week).