It’s that time of the year again. Parents and college kids alike are running around tech stores, frantically looking for the best student laptop deals.
Retailers and manufacturers dream of these last-minute purchases because when most people enter a store, they don’t know what they want or how much they should pay. They expect the salespeople to guide them. But the best piece of advice I can give to anyone is this: Do your own research.
Know What You’re Looking For
The best way to do your own research and find the best laptop deals for students is to know exactly what you’re looking for. An easy way to narrow down laptops on most retailers' websites is by specifications.
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Some recommended specifications for a college student’s laptop are a Core i5 or i7 processor, 8 or 16GB of RAM (also known as memory), and at least 120GB of solid state drive (or SSD) storage.
The processor is the brain of the computer, and it’s arguably the most important part in determining the overall performance of the machine. Intel’s Core i5 and i7 offerings provide worry-free performance. I don’t want to say that they’re future-proof, but if you go with one of these processors, you likely won’t have to worry about upgrading for a while.
The RAM, or random access memory, is the computer’s temporary storage. It’s what stores information, such as where your cursor is on the screen and what windows you have open in the background while you’re working on other tasks. This is another critical component to making sure that your computer is zippy.
Too little memory, and your computer will start to close things in the background and lock up while you’re trying to use it. That’s never fun.
Eight gigabytes is recommended. That said, anything more than 16GB for most users is overkill. In other words, if you’re just going to do work processing, make PowerPoint presentations, and save your favorite photos, you don’t need a screaming-fast 128GB RAM. Don’t be oversold.
Possibly the biggest difference between a slow laptop and a fast one is the storage drive. Cheaper, older laptops use hard disk drives. They’re good for storing large amounts of data. However, they’re slow and very susceptible to damage from drops and other mishaps.
Solid-state drives, or SSDs, are a new wave of storage drives sweeping the market. They're faster and more resilient, but they come with smaller capacities than traditional hard drives. If you’re a creative who makes products with a lot of data (such as pictures, video, or music), you may want to look into a beefier laptop with both a hard drive and an SSD inside.
The Best Student Laptop Deals by Store
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can begin the buying process. The first way people will likely start looking to save money on a laptop is through student discounts. Several major retailers and manufacturers offer them, including Best Buy, Apple, and Dell, to name a few. These discounts can be impressive if you know how they work.
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Best Buy’s Laptop Deals for Students
Best Buy, for example, offers a sort-of tiered student discount. If you go to their Student Deals page and sign up with your student email address, they’ll send you coupons for laptops, accessories, and more.
The coupons are only valid for specific products (indicated on the coupons by listed stock keeping units, or SKUs). That said, some of them can get you up to $150 off of a new laptop. The best time to buy these, though, is when they go on sale. The discount will stack with the sale, which often comes out to $50 to $100 in itself. In the end, you’ll come away with a great laptop for much less than retail price.
Apple’s Laptop Deals for Students
Apple’s student discount ranges from $50 off of the lower-priced laptops (from $1,299 to $1,249 on the base Macbook and Macbook Pros) to $200 off on the top-of-the-line 15-inch Macbook Pro that normally retails for $2,799. But that does include a free pair of Beats Solo 3, PowerBeats 3, or Beats X headphones. So if that’s your style, feel free to cop a pair of those.
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If you don't want the headphones, and you perfer a basic Macbook type, stick with Best Buy’s $150-off deal.
Dell’s Laptop Deals for Students
Dell’s student discount is good. You can go to the company's website to check out all of its student laptop deals, but Dell is offering up to 20 percent off some of its most popular models, like the Inspiron 15 and the XPS 13. As of publication time, the company is also running a promotion in which you can get a $100 promotional gift card emailed to you 30 days after your laptop purchase. Not a shabby deal.
Other Opportunities to Find Deals
In addition to the big-name stores, you can shop directly with smaller manufacturers like Acer. For a limited time, Acer is offering discounts and free shipping for all laptops.
You may also want to hunt for bargains on Groupon's electronics page and at Amazon, which has a great back-to-school section for computers.
Navigating eBay to Find the Best Student Laptop Deals
A great way to save on your new laptop purchase is to buy one used or refurbished. By far the best way to do this is through eBay. For many, the website can be daunting.
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You may have heard horror stories of people getting scammed, but eBay’s not all bad.
It's still one of the greatest ways to get deals on genuinely good products. You just have to know how to make informed decisions. There are three big things to look out for when buying on eBay:
- What’s the seller’s rating?
- What’s the seller’s return policy?
- Is the item’s description honest or misleading?
1. The Seller’s Rating
The first is the seller rating. The seller’s rating is a score of up to 100 percent and is created by averaging customers’ feedback on sales, purchases, and interactions. You can find the seller’s feedback score to the right of the listing, along with the seller’s name and a link to contact him or her.
If you click on the number of feedback the seller has received, you can go through and read individual buyers’ comments on the purchase they made. I’ve made a personal decision to not buy anything from sellers with a seller rating below 95 percent or with fewer than 100 total ratings.
2. The Return Policy
Second, check the seller’s return policy. Sellers on eBay have the ability to set their own return policies on a per-item basis, so whenever you’re considering buying an item, know what you’re getting in to.
You can find the return policy within the listing below the shipping and payments sections. A good, high-volume, experienced seller will offer 15- to 30-day returns.
If the listing is for an item that says it’s in good condition and the seller doesn’t accept returns for the item, it’s often a red flag. Either you’re dealing with a very low-volume seller (often an individual new to eBay), or you’re dealing with a seller who doesn’t stand by his merchandise. Either way, I recommend that you steer clear. Remember, you’re always buying at your own risk when you purchase used products.
3. The Description
Lastly, to protect yourself when buying on eBay, be sure to read the entire description multiple times. Some high-volume sellers like to use deceitful marketing tactics to get their listings to rank higher in eBay search results. That results in listing titles that are misleading or convoluted.
When shopping on eBay, scroll down past the listing and specifications to the description and read every word on there. Twice.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of people bidding $200 for a listing thinking that they were buying an Xbox, when in reality they were only purchasing the box with no electronics to make it work.
If this happens and the seller doesn’t offer returns, you’re out of luck because it’s in the description that it’s only the box, and you didn’t read the description. Read carefully. It will save you time, money, and potential heartache.
What to Avoid When Looking for Student Laptop Deals
Saving money to some can mean buying the cheapest thing to get the job done. As I’m saying this, you may be tempted to run to Walmart or Best Buy and buy a $200 laptop, hoping it will be enough to get you by. Let me play devil’s advocate and tell you to think twice.
There are a few low-end laptops to avoid, no matter how cheap they are. I've worked in IT in a freelance capacity for multiple educational and private sector institutions for nearly eight years now. In that time, I’ve personally seen how badly these machines perform. I serviced them, and I’ve had to tell dozens of people that there's nothing they can do when their storage fills up and they need to update Windows or one of their favorite applications.
Some manufacturers have recently updated these low-end machines with more RAM and slightly faster processors. Unfortunately, though, they still have limited storage. To give you a frame of reference, 32GB of storage is on the low end.
True, these computers can regularly be found below $200. But it may serve you better to save up for a few more weeks and buy something that costs a couple of hundred dollars more. You’ll thank me later.
One low-cost machine you may be tempted to buy is a Chromebook. Several different manufacturers make these laptops, which are meant to provide an easily portable, familiar computing experience based around the Google Chrome web browser.
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But when disconnected from the internet, these laptops only offer basic word processing and presentation creation functions. They have little in the way of storage directly on the machine — often as little as 16GB.
These machines run well. However, without the traditional Windows or MacOS operating system, you’re not able to install programs that you normally would. Plus, any special software you might need for college classes likely won’t work. They’re not bad for day-to-day use, but students should watch out for software compatibility issues.
The Bottom Line on Snagging the Best Laptop Deals for Students
Overall, there are tons of ways to find a good computer for an affordable price, especially if you’re a student. If you know what you’re looking for, you’re all but guaranteed to find something that will last through your school years — maybe even beyond.
Technology is a tricky place to invest money in because it will almost always lose value over time. Staying well informed as a buyer is a foolproof way to make sure you find the best laptop deals, and that you aren’t tricked into buying more computer than you need by a salesperson looking to make an extra buck on commission.