Hard to believe that July is already here. Lots of kids headed off to college in the next several weeks and likely the most expensive school supply you have on your shopping list is a shiny new laptop. If computers are not your expertise, you may not have a clue what your kid really needs and you could easily spend double what you need to. I hope the information here will save you some time, money and even some frustration down the road.
The first thing to consider about a laptop for a student is that it is a tool, not a toy. Bells and whistles do not make C- essays turn into A+ essays. If your little angel is trying to get you to buy the coolest laptop in the store it's because they are more concerned with watching movies and playing video games than making the grade in English. Tell them they can start with a 1000 word essay on the difference between a need and a want. Believe it or not, the cheapest laptop you can find new will likely be more than sufficient to crank out all the papers your college student will need between now and graduation. The one exception I would add is that you should be sure it has at least 512MB memory. 256MB is okay, but 512MB just runs Windows XP a bit smoother.
Secondly, most laptops will not last more than about three years. I know... you have one that's just passed it's sixth birthday, but these are college students we are talking about. By the time they haul it around campus and back and forth to the house for a few years, it is going to be damaged beyond reasonable repair prices, lost or stolen. Spending more money on a laptop is NOT going to make it last any longer either. So... buy a good laptop, but pay as little as possible. This is NOT an investment. It's an expense.
What to buy? Be sure it has at least a 40GB hard drive, 512MB Memory, built-in Wireless G and a CD Burner. Anything more is luxury. As far as brands go, there are many. I have my favorites. Bear in mind that my preferences have been shaped by my experience repairing broken laptops. I personally own an Acer and love it. I know... who's Acer? Not a well known brand. Acer has been making desktop computer systems, CD drives, monitors and other components for many years. They make several low end and high end laptops and they are good. We have sold several to our own customers and have never had a hardware problem. As for the big names (best to worst)... Compaq makes a good, stable laptop these days. HP I have not seen much trouble with. Dell is okay, not great. They have hardware problems in some models and they don't like to admit when they have a design flaw. It seems like most Toshibas we see in the shop have bad motherboards which makes repairing them a bad financial decision. Last and least likeable is Sony. I have yet to meet a happy Sony laptop owner, but then I only see the broken ones.
Where to buy? I managed to spot a one day sale at CompUSA and bought my Acer laptop for $499.99. It has a 40GB hard drive, 512MB memory, Wireless G, a 14" screen and a CD burner. This model usually sells for around $650. If you shop around, you may find a similar price, but you should easily be able to find one at CompUSA, Sam's Club or even NewEgg.com for less than $700.
Just remember that a laptop for a student is a tool for learning. If you want to spend $1700 and buy the fastest, coolest looking laptop around that's fine with me. I just don't want you to think that you have to.