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Which laptop should you take back to school?

BUYER’S GUIDE: How to pick the perfect laptop for the new school year


By Kim MacMullen | August 17, 2017

Without a doubt, your laptop is the most important tool in your back-to-school toolkit. It won’t just be your constant study buddy–it’ll also be your most reliable source of entertainment, your connection to friends and family back home, and your window to the local sights and sounds of your new home away from home. Stuck on what to look for in your new laptop for the new school year? We’re here to help.

The easiest way to pick out your perfect laptop is to first ask yourself one question: what kind of student are you? Whatever you’re studying and whatever your off-hour hobbies include, there’s a laptop that will fit just like a glove, with all the features, functions and specs you need to knock this year out of the park.

(Need to brush up on Laptop Specs 101 before we start? Check out our in-depth guide here to get a crash course on what’s under the hood of any laptop.)

  • Everyday Student

    If your everyday tasks mostly involve studying and streaming, a lightweight laptop with streamlined specs will be the perfect fit. You’ll still want it to be able to handle everything from essay prep to movie marathons, but you won’t need the kind of specs that a hardcore gamer would. Here’s what you’ll want in your portable PC.

    Portability: From lecture halls to the library to the local coffee shop, your trusty laptop will need to be able to accompany you anywhere and everywhere. Choosing a lightweight model will make it easier to take your computer to go, and will make your backpack more manageable. Look for something sleek, with a smaller display–anywhere from 11.6-14”.

Mid-range power: Skimping on specs isn’t a great idea when you’re laptop shopping, but going with an unnecessarily powerful model is the easiest way to break the bank with your PC purchase. For streaming and daily school work, you’ll want at least a dual-core processor, and around 4GB of RAM.

Storage: Every student needs storage. From your research materials to your movies and favourite photos, you’re going to build up a sizable file hoard over the course of your studies–make sure you’ve got room for it all with a decent sized built-in hard drive, or an external drive you can lean on when space is limited in your onboard storage.

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HP Chromebook PC 108062043 ONLINE ONLY
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  • Creator

    Your ideas come to life on a digital canvas. Whether you specialize in video editing or graphic design, if you’re a creator then you have a unique set of laptop needs. Here’s what to look for to make sure your laptop can keep up with your creative flow.

    Power and speed: Processing videos takes a lot of horsepower, as does editing huge photo files. Make sure to go with a processor/RAM combo that can handle your toughest, most taxing assignments. Large files also take up a lot of storage space, so be sure to weigh your hard drive options carefully. An SSD will be much faster, but HDDs come in larger sizes–choose what will work best for you, and don’t forget you can add extra storage with an external drive.

Touchscreen/stylus: If you’re studying visual arts or graphic design, you might find that a stylus lets you get more hands on with your projects. A laptop with a touchscreen and stylus will give you more control over your work, and works better for some creators than just a mouse.

High-resolution display: Nothing hampers the creative process like a screen that doesn’t display your work faithfully. Your high-quality work will need a high-quality display that will let you work with the finest details and will show your chosen colours faithfully.

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  • Media buff

    If your off hours are mostly spent streaming, you’ll want to make sure your laptop is media-friendly. Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a laptop that can handle even the longest movie marathons.

    Storage: Whether your entertainment medium of choice is movies, TV shows or music, you can never have enough storage space. 500GB fills up much faster than it used to, so look for something with at least 1TB so you don’t outgrow it too quickly with your ever-expanding collection of files.

High-quality display: High-resolution files need a high-resolution display, so make sure to get a Full HD screen (1920x1080 or better) to enjoy your HD movies and shows the way they were meant to be seen.

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Asus VivoBook laptop PC 108063876 ONLINE ONLY
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  • Traveller

    If you spend more time on the road than in your dorm, you’ll want a laptop that can travel wherever you do and still get the job done. Here’s what to prioritize when you’re picking out your perfect travel companion.

    Portability: Travelling light is your top priority when you spend most of your time on the go, and a bulky laptop can really weigh you down. Be sure to go for a streamlined model that can travel well beyond the classroom. Smaller screens (14” or below) are far more portable than their larger counterparts (15.6” and above), but still have enough display real estate for reading and working comfortably.

Versatility: If you only have room for a single device in your carry-on, make sure it can do the job of multiple devices. Convertible and 2-in-1 laptops are great for life on the go, since many have detachable keyboards for when you just need a tablet, or hinges that swing all the way around so you can use your PC in laptop, tablet or tent mode–perfect for tiny lecture hall desks AND airplane tray tables.

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  • Gamer

    One of the greatest perks of going for a gaming laptop rather than building your own desktop is that gaming laptops are already optimized with everything you need in one tidy package. Even still, it’s good to know what to look for under the hood of your computer–so here’s what you’ll need to get in the game when you’re not hitting the books.

    Graphics Card: As a PC gamer, you know that your graphics card is the heart and soul of your rig. You’ll want something with enough power and dedicated video RAM to not only handle today’s games, but future games, too. And if you plan on playing in the world of VR, be sure to go with a 1060 model or above.

Power and Speed: A powerful, speedy processor and a decent amount of RAM will get you through your most intense gaming sessions. Try for at least a quad-core processor and at least 8GB of RAM. An SSD rather than HDD will also boost your boot time, and will install and load your games faster. They tend not to be available in larger storage sizes, though, so keep that in mind if you’re choosing between an SSD and HDD.

High-quality display: Great graphics deserve to be seen at their best, so go with a laptop with at least Full HD resolution (1920x1080). You might also consider a larger display size, like 17.3”–it’ll cut into your portability a bit, but the incredible visuals might just be worth it.

Style: Your gaming rig should be a reflection of you and your style, and these days most gaming laptops come with plenty of flash (no, not the storage type–although that’s good, too). From customizable backlighting for your keyboard to truly slick-looking case designs, there’s definitely a design that’ll catch your eye.

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Final tips

  • Still need a hand picking out your perfect PC? Head to The Source store nearest you to go hands-on with the latest laptops, and get the advice you need from our knowledgeable Associates. They’ll help you choose the laptop that’ll take you all the way from frosh week to graduation, plus any accessories you need to complete your PC