5 computer specs students should think about
Buying a new laptop for uni? In this bite-size guide we’ll outline the 5 most important specs you should consider before making your decision.
Buying a new laptop for uni? It can be off-putting trying to wade through the oodles and oodles of specs and make sense of all the jargon.
In this bite-size guide we'll outline the 5 most important specs you should consider before making your decision.
5 most important specs in brief
- Processor - your computer's brain and how fast it can "think"
- Hard drive - Your computer's storage, how many films, essays etc you can store on it
- RAM - Your computer's short-term memory, affects how efficently it runs
- Size - Your computer is more portable the smaller and lighter it is. Are you using it in one place or on the go?
- Graphics - Your computer's capability to produce images. Do you need a separate graphics card? Only if you're playing games or video and picture editing
Now we'll take a look at each of these specs and explain just what makes them important
This is a biggie. Your computer's processor is like its brain. It determines how fast your machine runs and its ability to handle multiple tasks at once.
Why multi-core matters
Having a multi-core processor means your laptop can work on multiple tasks at the same time more efficiently. Students are great multi-taskers - essay to Twitter to essay to online shopping to Facebook to essay. The ability to multitask is important.
Intel processors and how they are ranked
Processors in the majority of laptops are made by Intel. Here we explain the entry-level Celeron and more nippy Core series.
Celeron - if you're opting for a cheap, budget laptop it will probably have a Celeron processor - this is good for light usage, such as web browsing
Core i3 - Expect to find this in a lower-priced, mid-range laptop. This dual-core processor will be fine for word processing, web browsing and other everyday computing
Core i5 - The processor found in the majority of mid to high-end laptops. The Core i5 comes in both dual and quad-core options and is great for fast browsing and complex tasks. It can also draw on more power when needed
Core i7 - The processor found in high end laptops. This is perfect for video and photo editing or games.
2. Hard drive
The hard drive is another important spec to consider. If the processor is the computer's brain, think of the hard drive as its safe.
Inside it you'll store all your precious assignments and research - as well as music, films and photos. The more gigabytes a hard drive has the more you can store on the laptop.
HDD or SSD
There are two main types of hard drive -Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SSD).
Here are the main differences:
Hard Disk Drives - HDDs
- Large storage capacities - great for storing music and films - look for at least 500GB
- Made up of several moving parts
Solid State Drives - SSD
- Use flash memory
- Contains no moving parts
- Machine will boot up faster
- Runs quieter than a regular hard drive
- More expensive than HDD
Have a large digital collection of movies, photos and music? Opt for a laptop with at least a 320GB hard drive
3. Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is your computer's memory. It remembers short-term information from programs that are running on your machine. The more RAM your machine has the more smoothly it will run.
If you're running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 or Apple OS X then you really need to be looking at machines with at least 4GB RAM.
As operating systems have become more demanding and involved, the need for greater amounts of RAM has increased.
4. Why size matters
Although not strictly a spec, this is definitely worth mentioning. Ask yourself, where are you going to be using your laptop?
Will it be mainly in your room in halls, or will you be taking it out and about with you to lectures and the library?
Mid-size laptop - budget option
14 to 15 inch laptops are designed to stay in one place. A basic 15-inch laptop will cost less than a super-thin ultraportable.
- Perfect if you plan to work solely in your room or at home
- Larger screen for working on essays and watching videos during downtime
- Cheaper price
- Larger hard drive for storing work and media - look for 500GB
Ultraportable - high-end option
13-inch laptops are built for life on the go. Thin and lightweight, they are great for throwing in your bag and taking to the library, a cafe or pretty much anywhere.
- Super thin and lightweight for working in the library or in lectures. Apple MacBook Air is 1.7cm thick
- Long battery life - sometimes up to 9 hours on models with Intel's latest Core processors
- Solid-state storage - makes laptop quieter and cooler when in use
Examples - Check out Apple's MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, or Intel Ultrabooks such as the Acer Aspire 7 or the Lenovo Yoga 2.
5. Graphics chip
The integrated graphics chip you'll find on the majority of ultraportables will be more than up to the tasks you are likely to ask of it. The same also goes for a budget mid-size laptop.
Intel's integrated graphics cards will suffice for streaming HD video from the web, playing games on social media and other things.
If you want to do more advanced gaming and working in graphics programs then you may want to look at a separate graphics card.