How to Choose the Best PC Laptop for Students in 2020

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by Jack Taylor | Last Updated:  March 29, 2020

A computer laptop is essential to every high school and middle school student. These days, text books, learning curriculum, and homework assignments are all tied to their success as a student. Given this, what PC laptop should you buy your student for school?

When considering a laptop for school, choose one that that is reliable, has great brand recognition, and is powerful enough to meet your needs both now and 3 years from now. Asking the right questions from the right people determines the laptop that will provide you with the best experience.

Instead, I am going to show you how to buy a laptop.  I am simply going to ask you questions to help you determine what laptop will serve you best. This approach will save you time and probably some money as well.  At the very least, I am confident that you will find this article worth reading, and perhaps worthy of sharing.

How Long Will You Use This Computer?

Before we begin, you have to ask yourself how long you are looking to use this particular laptop that you want to purchase.  

If you are just starting out as a Freshman in high school or college, no doubt, you are probably hoping that your purchase will last you through four years of school. If that is not your hope it certainly is the hope of your parents or whoever is purchasing this laptop for you. 

Unfortunately that is completely unrealistic.  The average lifespan of a PC laptop computer is 2-3 years.  There are several reasons for this that I have listed below for you to consider. 

New software is Always Being Developed

New software requires faster and more powerful hardware to keep up with the demands of software. Software companies do their best to release a new version of their software at least once a year (if possible), to stay relevant.  Otherwise, some other software company will break into the market and fill that void.  People are more than happy to shell out money to get the “latest and greatest” software because they think that in doing so, they will have an advantage over their competition. 

PC Hardware Components Can go Bad After a Few Years. 

In the 1980s, brand-name companies would make VCRs out of metal components. Those VCRs lasted forever because they were built solid for longevity, and people were buying them. It didn’t take too long for those brand-name companies to realize that they were not getting repeat customers because people were holding onto their VCRs for 10 or so years. So they started making them out of plastic, knowing that eventually they will break and would get repeat customers as a result.  I am convinced that the brand PC laptop vendors approach business in the same way. They expect their hardware components to eventually go bad, which in turn, will create repeat customers.  They are more interested in the sale than they are in the customer experience.  As a side note, this is what distinguishes PC brands from Apple computers. 

You will Probably Want a Faster Computer in 2-3 Years  

If you are completely honest with yourself, in 2 to 3 years, you will probably want a faster computer.  Let me help you be more honest with yourself.  in 2 or 3 years, if I were to offer to pay for any PC laptop on the market, would you take me up on that offer?  Of course you would, who wouldn’t?  You know that in two or three years, the hardware found in the new laptops will make your laptop run faster and longer. 

Now let’s investigate how you currently use a computer along with the hardware and software demands of your career path to find the best PC laptop for you. 

How to Know Which PC Laptop is the Best one to Buy?

Whether you are a power user or an average computer user, you first need to understand that the most powerful PC laptop on the market is not necessarily better for you. We tend to think that more power is better. I disagree with that approach, and in a few minutes I think you will too.  It all comes down to what your needs are and how you will be using the laptop.  Let me explain.

Is it “better“ to buy a computer that has an Intel i9 processor with 64 GB of RAM, and an 8 TB internal SSD hard drive for an 86-year-old grandmother who only wants to send email to her friends and Skype with her grandchildren?  No, it would be foolish to purchase that for her.  Now, if you were to purchase that very same specked-out laptop for a college student who wants to become an audio engineer or a movie producer, then it would be completely appropriate to purchase a machine for that student.  

The point is that you buy a computer to meet the need of the user.  You don’t buy the best for the sake of buying the best.  If I may, let me ask several questions of you to help you determine what your needs are so that you can make a wise decision in purchasing the laptop that will serve your needs both now, and in the future.

What Computer Programs Does Your Major Require?

I’m not going to list all of the power-hungry programs available on the market, as that list would be huge, and I don’t pretend to know them all.  But your teachers and upperclassmen would.

Before you even begin window shopping for a laptop you really need to speak with your teachers / professors, and ask them what laptop they recommend, given your career path.  I would not take the recommendation found in the syllabus, as it is almost certainly outdated.  Instead go directly to your teacher and ask them.  

Additionally, I would recommend that you ask Juniors and Seniors in your field of study to find out from them which laptop they would recommend and why.  Don’t accept just some blank answer, make sure that they can back up their reasoning by telling you why they are making that recommendation.  Those that will go that extra mile and tell you why they’re making their recommendation add more credibility. In other words, I would accept their recommendation over the person who just short to the point answer with no explanation as to why.

Here’s why you want their recommendation.  Let’s say that your major is in English literature and you have aspirations of becoming a high school English teacher.  English teachers spend most of their time writing and reading.  Obviously, they are going to need to do research while they are in school, but for the most part, they will be reading, writing, and grading papers.  English teachers, and for that matter, English literature majors, do not require incredibly powerful computers to meet their needs. 

Additionally, nearly all of the software applications that they will end up using can easily be used on most computers sold on the market today. As such, one does not need to spend an enormous amount of money on a computer to meet their needs. So why spend more than you have to?  Buy what you need. 

To Chrome or Not to Chrome

Technically, the ChromeBook does not fit into the category of a PC Laptop, primarily because it does not have a hard drive on the computer itself.  In order to use the computer, it must be connected to the internet via an ethernet cable, or by Wi-Fi or by tethering your cell phone to it via HotSpot.

Before you consider purchasing a ChromeBook, you have to first ask yourself if you trust Google.  I can’t answer that question for you, but just keep in mind that Google is in the data mining business, and connect the dots.

A Chromebook is for those who only use email, word processing, spreadsheets, and anything else found in the Google Office Suite.  You also can not install any software found outside of the Google Play Store.  

Another thing to consider is that a Chromebook has no hard drive, meaning that all of your data resides in the cloud, specifically, on Google servers. In other words, Google owns your data, not you, unless you are paying for Google Cloud storage.  If you opt not to pay for Google cloud storage, if a server goes down, they have no obligation to restore the data that was on that server.  If you do pay for storage, they do have an obligation to do so.  Just something to keep in mind. 

Of course, there are some advantages to using a Chromebook.  It is lightweight, and can be inexpensive.  In fact, a Chromebook can range anywhere from about $100 to well over $1,500.  What makes the difference?  The brand behind the Chromebook and the hardware used in the unit itself.

There is one final thing you need to keep in mind regarding a Chromebook, and is that it requires internet connectivity to function . . . at all. Because Chromebooks do not have a hard drive, they require access the internet via Wi-Fi or through HotSpot using your cellphone.

For high school students, this just might be THE solution, as most high schools are using Chromebooks in their schools right now.  For the college student, however, I do not think that this would be a good solution for you at all. There are going to be times where you need to install software on your laptop that is not found in the Google Office Suite or in the Google Play Store.

What to Look for When Purchasing a PC Laptop

After you have a better idea of what hardware requirements your major requires, there are a few things that you need to know before deciding on a given PC laptop. 

Brand Recognition Matters

This may sound harsh, but it is true. If you can’t pronounce it, stay away from It.  If you could pronounce it, it’s because it has brand recognition, and brand recognition is very important when it comes to purchasing a computer that you will be relying on for the next 2 to 3 years.  

We all know the big PC laptop brands, such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, and perhaps a couple more.  Just keep in mind that reputation really does matter here. Let’s say you come across a computer that has great specs, but you don’t know of this brand of computer, remember that there is a reason why you have never heard of that brand of computer. Computer brands that you do not recognize have computer components within the computer itself that you also would not recognize. If you do purchase it, you almost certainly will regret it in the future, as the hardware components within that computer will probably fail within a year or so. I know that it may be very tempting to purchase a computer that has no brand recognition, especially if it is a very good price and the specs are exactly what you were looking for. Do yourself a favor and walk away.

If the Price is Too Good to be True, Stay Away From It

You may have heard it said, “If the price is too good to be true, it probably is?”  That statement is very true when it comes to purchasing a PC laptop, especially if it’s not from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, or Acer.

If you are not certain if you should purchase it or not, ask one of your geeky nerdy friends, and they will be very happy to help you by making a recommendation one way or the other.  Just remember to get advice from somebody who is in the know, not necessarily from your best friend who doesn’t know more about it than you do.

Refurbished PC Laptops Will Not Last 2-3 Years

Refurbished laptops are refurbished for a reason.  Think about that statement for a moment. Refurbished laptops are refurbished because something was wrong with the laptop to begin with. The problem is, they don’t tell you what was wrong with it or why it is “refurbished”. Even if the tag says what was wrong with it, there’s no guarantee that what was listed on the tag as to the reason why it is “refurbished”, is actually true.

The laptop could suffer from water damage, a drop or fall, or I could simply just have a scratch, ding or dent somewhere on the case of the laptop itself. There really is no way of knowing. Let’s say that it was a scratch, ding or dent. How did that scratch ding or dent occur? Was it dropped? Any laptop that has been dropped is not a laptop that you want to invest any money in. The drop itself may have cracked the motherboard which might not show issues until long after you have purchased it. 

Finally, refurbished laptops tend to have a 30, 60 or 90 day warranty on them. They may have a great price so as to entice you to purchase it, and the specs might be exactly what you were looking for, but you just don’t know the real reason as to why it is “refurbished”.  Purchasing a refurbished laptop has a tremendous risk attached to it.

Should I Purchase a Used PC Laptop from Craigslist or FaceBook Marketplace?

If you purchase a used laptop from any one of the dozens of social media websites out there, understand that there is great risk involved. First of all, you don’t know what that laptop has been through.  Again, you don’t know if it has been dropped, or how it was used (though a techie guy could certainly take a look at it and get a pretty good idea as to how it was cared for based on the wear and tear of the unit in question).

There is also no warranty offered whatsoever on a laptop that you purchase from one of these social media websites. If any component on that laptop goes bad, you will have to pay to have that components replaced or repaired. 

Where Should I Purchase My Laptop From?

There are several local brick and mortar stores that you can purchase your PC laptop from, such as Best Buy, CompUSA, Staples, or even Walmart.  Understand, however, that if you do purchase from one of these local businesses, you will almost certainly pay more than you would than if you were to purchase that same computer online.  

Again, reputation is everything when it comes to purchasing online. Just because it is sold on Amazon.com does not mean that the reseller has a good reputation. You definitely need to read the reviews of people who have purchased the same laptop that you were looking to purchase. Trust those reviews. They are written from real people who purchased from the vendor in question. It has been my experience that if you find that the reseller has four or more stars, with thousands of reviews pertaining to that particular product, it’s probably a good place to buy from. 

Above all, make certain that you know what warranty comes with it. For example, I wouldn’t even give it a second thought if the warranty was less than one year, and I certainly would not purchase a “refurbished” PC laptop online.

There are three websites that specifically sell computers and computer parts, that I would recommend purchasing from. I have purchased from all three of these sites myself in the past which is why I can make a recommendation here. The first site is Newegg.com and the second is CompUSA.com, and the third is tigerdirect.com.

Newegg.com is probably my go to source for computer parts or PC laptops in general. However, the last experience that I had with them was bad one, but they definitely took care of me as a customer and refunded me all of my money and went way out of their way to apologize for the bad experience that I had.  And that is what matters. In fact, that is why I am recommending them as the go to source for purchasing a new laptop computer. Their customer support is outstanding and highly recommended. 

What PC Laptop Would I Recommend?

One of the best all-around laptops out there is the 13” Dell XPS 9380 Ultra book, starting at $799. You can buy it on Amazon here. It comes with an Intel i5, a 256 GB SSD, 8 GB of RAM and a fingerprint reader to boot. This is a great laptop for students because it has great brand recognition and you can upgrade the specs to whatever your major requires.

Closing Thoughts

When you consider purchasing a laptop for school, you want one that that is reliable, has great brand recognition, and is powerful enough to meet your needs both now and 2 to 3 years from now.  

If you want to save money (and headaches), be sure to ask your teacher which PC laptop they recommend, and why they make that recommendation. If you do, you will find a great laptop that you won’t regret having purchased.

Jack has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article or working on his YouTube channel, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Jack, click here.
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