From writing term papers to uploading assignments on university network systems (e.g., Blackboard), computers have become an essential school supply for modern students, particularly for graduate students who spend significant amounts of time conducting research online. Because of the limited space in most grad students’ living quarters and the increasingly mobile trend in technology, most grad students prefer portable laptops to stationary desktops. With the overwhelming number of laptops currently available on the market, many grad students (particularly those who are not computer science majors) struggle to determine which laptop is best for grad school. If you are planning to purchase a laptop for grad school but are unsure which laptop is best for you, consider the following:

Budget

Most grad students struggle to buy good quality food, much less to buy good quality computers. Spending too little on a laptop can eventually lead to spending more money on costly repairs or upgrades, but spending too much might only get you technological luxuries that you may never use. According to Case (2012), “[t]he sweet spot for performance and durability seems to be between $800 and $1,200” (n.p.). If this price range seems out of your budget, consider saving before you purchase. You could also check with your university to see if you qualify for any technological discounts, deals, or reimbursements.

Weight/Durability

A typical grad student easily lugs around between 20 and 30 pounds of textbooks and other supplies each day, so you should look for a laptop that not only has all the features necessary for graduate study but also won’t break your back on hour 14 of a 15-hour day. Fortunately, the variety of ultrabooks and other ultraportable laptops currently available provides grad students with a range of options for lightweight laptops (e.g., less than 4 pounds). However, you will also need to consider the durability of the laptop (e.g., sturdiness of the screen and screen hinges, case, etc.), which will likely be in the same backpack with the 20 to 30 pounds of textbooks; only you can determine the right weight-to-durability ratio for your everyday needs.

Usability/Display

You should consider the usability/display of a laptop concurrently with its weight/durability. For example, ultrabooks may weigh less than do other laptops, but often the lighter weight of ultrabooks is at the sacrifice of screen and keyboard size, which may not seem like a big deal until you sit down to write a 200-page dissertation. If you are trying to determine what works best for you during your graduate study in terms of laptop usability and display, you could ask yourself the following: Can you easily read text on the laptop screen without eye strain? Can you type efficiently and comfortably on the keyboard?

Operating System

One of the major challenges that grad students face in submitting documents to professors, universities, journals, conferences, etc., is software incompatibility, particularly between Mac and PC operating systems, between Windows-based and other types of operating systems, and between conflicting versions of software in the same operating system (e.g., different versions of Microsoft Word). To avoid software incompatibility, some universities actually prohibit students from using Macs and non-Widows operating systems for university-related submissions. Therefore, you should probably stick to a Windows-based operating system on a PC when you purchase your laptop for grad school.

Other Features

Other features that you might want to consider when purchasing a laptop for grad school include the following: number of USB ports (the more the merrier), graphics/optical/audio capabilities (especially if you plan to stream videos or games), fans to control heat, screen resolution, battery life, memory (but don’t let this be a determining factor because memory is easy to upgrade), and an Ethernet port (in case you don’t have access to Wi-Fi). When you are considering these features, remember that your laptop should be optimized for work, not for play. For example, if you are torn between one laptop with great graphics/optical/audio capabilities that has a short battery life and another laptop without great graphics/optical/audio capabilities that has a longer battery life, you should probably choose the latter to improve the workability of your laptop (unless, of course, your work involves manipulating electronic graphics and audio).

Case, L. (2012). Laptops for back-to-school: How to make the right choice. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/260418/laptops_for_back_to_school_how_to_make_the_right_choice.html

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