Which computer should I buy for university?

Tips from a student who has trouble resisting Apple

Buying a new computer is sort of like choosing classes. At first it seems like the possibilities are endless, with all kinds of fascinating options.

Then you remember all of your required courses, you notice that you don’t have any of the prerequisites for that cool Psyc. class, and that interesting microbiology course is only available at 8:00 a.m., rendering it suddenly less interesting.

So you compromise. You take that histology lab that’s more boring than the first two hours of Titanic, but hey, at least you’ve crossed a required course off the list.

If you’re looking for the perfect laptop, computer or tablet for the new school year, similar compromises are required. Here are a few tips for getting the device that best fits your needs:

1. Don’t compare Apples to Apples. Compare them to PCs.

Never mind iTunes. Apple’s real strength is mind control. After watching slick commercials for the Macbook Air—with upbeat pop songs and phrases like “unibody aluminum frame”—your brain is reprogrammed with a single goal: purchasing a laptop that fits into a manila envelope.

I’d like to say that I’m immune to advertising, and that I actually stopped and wondered, “Will I ever actually have any reason to put my laptop into an envelope? Why is that even a good thing?” But in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you this blog post was written on a Macbook.

If you overcome the impulse to buy all Apple, you could get similar quality for a better price. For instance, instead of a $2,200 Macbook Pro, you might want to consider the $1,500 Asus G75VW that features the same processor, six times the storage, a bigger screen and better resolution.

2. Budget.

It’s easy to get carried away with upgraded processors and terabyte-sized hard drives, but if you’re a student, you probably don’t need them and you probably can’t afford them. Luckily, there are numerous products for penniless students who want those luxuries anyway. Instead of the $500 iPad, check out the Nexus 7. It lacks 3G and its screen is smaller, but so is the price tag—a much more manageable $199. You could also spin the small screen size and absence of 3G as advantages: it’s ultra portable (so easy to bring to class) and you can’t check Facebook as easily.

3. Ask yourself: do I really need a new computer?

A shiny new laptop beckons with its quad-core processor and super fast CPU, but do you really need it? If you’re just going to use it as an essay and Wikipedia machine, do you really need a cutting-edge graphics card? Is a 10-hour battery really necessary, when lectures are less than three? Does it really matter if a laptop is 0.54 inches thick? Your old computer might work just fine.

But if that’s your plan, don’t watch this. If you’re anything like me, resistance is futile.

Scott Dobson-Mitchell is a Master of Science student at Wilfrid Laurier University.