Personal computing discussed

Moderator: JustAnEngineer

 
bthylafh
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Topic Author
Posts: 3893
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:55 pm
Location: Southwest Missouri, USA

Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 11:53 am

For my sins, I've been tasked with coming up with three 'official' recommendations for student laptop computers, in a good/better/best format. Let's not focus on brands or models, and instead on features.

For simplicity, let's assume these will be bought by incoming freshmen and have a four-year expected life, and may be used by students with such majors as music, biology, graphic design, or engineering. I'll be wanting

    * screen size & resolution
    * CPU
    * RAM
    * storage
    * graphics

We can neglect Chromebooks, Macs, &c; this is a Windows-only show. I'm open to standard laptops or convertibles and given who this is for, we should try to get bang for our buck.
Hakkaa päälle!
i5-2500K@4.3|Asus P8P67-LE|8GB DDR3-1600|Powercolor R7850 2G|SanDisk Ultra II 480GB|1988 Model M|Saitek X-45|Logitech MX 518 & F310|Dell 2209WA|Sennheiser PC151|Asus Xonar DX
 
derFunkenstein
Gold subscriber
Gerbil God
Posts: 23774
Joined: Fri Feb 21, 2003 9:13 pm
Location: Comin' to you directly from the Mothership

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:05 pm

Any budget in mind for the good/better/best options? My personal experience with the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 with a 7th gen Core i7-7500U has been very good and the price/performance is pretty reasonable. This is the model I got in February but it only ran me $800. No idea why the price would be so much higher on a clearance item. I've been using it for nine months, though, and so far so good.

At any rate, the 8th-gen models start just south of $900 and include SSDs and some quad-core Core i7 models. Pretty significant performance upgrade for about the same money.

I'm only recommending these models based on my prior experience with a single instance. Others here might have more experience with a wide range of models.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
 
mikewinddale
Gerbil
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:22 am

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:06 pm

First off, what's the budget constraint? Without a budget constraint, we might as well just maximize all the features.

Second, does one laptop design have to satisfy all of these different kinds of students? In particular, screen and graphics requirements will differ a lot. The engineering students might need a Quadro or Radeon Pro for CAD. So that means a professional workstation laptop. And both graphic design and engineering students might need a much higher quality screen than the other students.

It's hard to say what the other requirements are if we don't know the price. I'm tempted to say Core i7-7xxx U or HQ, with 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB or 1 TB SSD. But again, what's the price constraint?

And similarly, it's hard to justify a division between good/better/best if there's no budget constraint. Why not just specify best and be done? Why bother with good and better if price is no issue?
 
Vhalidictes
Gold subscriber
Gerbil Jedi
Posts: 1599
Joined: Fri Jan 07, 2005 2:32 pm
Location: Paragon City, RI

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:09 pm

So you're expected to come up something that's major-agnostic? That's a problem on its own. I'm also going to assume that students will bring their own external storage. Ignoring that, let's see.

Good: Something that will function as a workhorse computing device on a 4-year horizon.
Screen size: 15" (not because of any particular need but because this size is cheapest. 1080 preferred but 720 would work in a pinch)
CPU: Kaby-Lake or newer i3 (most recent Intel mobile CPUs are the same dual-core except for the presence/absence of HT/OC, so anything in the last 2 generations is fine)
RAM: 4GB (Yes, Windows 10 and a single app works fine on 4GB. Also, this is one of the very few things that can be upgraded later, make sure the model you select has an open slot)
Storage: 500GB HDD
Graphics: whatever IGP comes with the CPU

Better: Something that the engineering students can use
Screen size: 17" / 1080P or higher resolution
CPU: Kaby-Lake or newer i7 (U-series 2C/4T with a high clock speed but many-core isn't needed)
RAM: 8GB (Ensure the model you select has an open RAM slot)
Storage: 512GB TLC SSD (Size over performance, any model SSD is fine)
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 1050 / 1050Ti (massive performance for games isn't needed but CUDA support probably will be)

Best: We want something that will still be decent in 4 years
Screen size: 14" / 1080P or higher resolution (lower screen sizes are more portable for students, but tend to be more expensive. 12-13" models likely won't have enough screen real estate for some uses)
CPU: Kaby-Lake or newer i7 (HQ-series mobile processor with at least 4 cores, emphasizing core count over clock rate)
RAM: 32GB (2x16GB modules)
Storage: 512GB-class m.2/PCIe SSD (non-SATA priority over size)
Graphics: GeForce GTX 1070
Last edited by Vhalidictes on Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
 
gecko575
Gerbil
Posts: 52
Joined: Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:53 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:13 pm

I think the Helios 300 is a pretty sweet buy for the money. It went on sale for $850 last black Friday on Amazon and might do so again. https://www.amazon.com/Acer-Predator-i7 ... B06Y4GZS9C
 
DancinJack
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Posts: 3131
Joined: Sat Nov 25, 2006 3:21 pm
Location: Kansas

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:17 pm

I don't want to derail the thread, so PM me if you want, but why are Macs not being considered at all?

Vhalidictes wrote:
So you're expected to come up something that's major-agnostic? That's a problem on its own.


This is part of the reason I ask.
i7 6700K - Z170 - 16GiB DDR4 - GTX 1080 - 512GB SSD - 256GB SSD - 500GB SSD - 3TB HDD- 27" IPS G-sync - Win10 Pro x64 - Ubuntu/Mint x64 :: 2015 13" rMBP Sierra :: Canon EOS 80D/Sony RX100
 
bthylafh
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Topic Author
Posts: 3893
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:55 pm
Location: Southwest Missouri, USA

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:04 pm

DancinJack wrote:
I don't want to derail the thread, so PM me if you want, but why are Macs not being considered at all?

Vhalidictes wrote:
So you're expected to come up something that's major-agnostic? That's a problem on its own.


This is part of the reason I ask.


A fair question. We're handling Macs separately and this list will be for Windows laptops.

As for other questions:

Not really sure about budget. I suspect the person asking doesn't really know either, but I'll bring that up. The high-end machine should be capable of running Creative Cloud, AutoCAD, Solidworks, etc. without complaint, and the midrange should be able to do so also but not as fast. I suppose we would aim the cheap machine at non-STEM non-graphic majors, like History and Languages and Education.
Hakkaa päälle!
i5-2500K@4.3|Asus P8P67-LE|8GB DDR3-1600|Powercolor R7850 2G|SanDisk Ultra II 480GB|1988 Model M|Saitek X-45|Logitech MX 518 & F310|Dell 2209WA|Sennheiser PC151|Asus Xonar DX
 
llisandro
Gold subscriber
Gerbil
Posts: 70
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:09 pm

My opinion:
~13-incher, 256GB SSD, whatever RAM comes with this spec. There's a reason MBPs dominate, both on the faculty and student side, but if you don't want a MBP, shoot for similar specs on the PC side and they'll be fine.

Most students don't need much power, and unless you can very clearly identify a specific need for a high-power machine, portability/battery life is much more important as most students lug laptops around every day and work outside of their dorm rooms all day, especially on big campuses. The frequency of students who visit my office hours, pull out their laptop to show me an assignment, and have 6% battery left is quite high. The kids with cheap or gamer PCs have to lug around their power bricks too. Students should pick laptops like frequent business travelers pick laptops.

I teach STEM (not the E) in college, most of my students have min-spec MBPs or cheap lenovos and whatnot. I do see quite a few gigantic "gamer" laptops; I feel bad for those students, as they basically need to lug them everywhere, every day (especially for lab classes where students are working with data during the lab).

I legitimately believe a humanities student could get away with an iPad pro as their only machine for email and writing papers. Something like an ASUS UX305 is plenty. I have a student with an Atom Asus X200 and she gets by okay, but that's below what I'd recommend. Point being, almost anything is powerful enough.

Storage: you want an SSD to make any laptop "fast enough" for a college student, but a lot have minimum-spec MBPs with 128GB drives and it's not enough. You find out when you ask them to install some software for class and they say they can't because they only have 700MB of space on their drive. No, really. 512GB would be nice for future-proofing, but 256 is probably fine. My school (like most schools these days) gives students Office365 accounts with unlimited OneDrive storage, and no students even know it exists, much less use it. It's silly. My experience across several institutions is that most use personal dropbox accounts, even when provided with OneDrive/Box, because nothing syncs as well as dropbox.

I'm a huge proponent of active digitizer tablets + OneNote for note-taking, especially in the sciences. If a Bio kid asked me what to get, I'd say a Surface and an external monitor and a dock if you can afford it. Classes are increasingly multi-media (take paper notes, refer to docs on course management system, plot data in Excel, etc) and being able to take digital notes is great. HP has a good one too.
 
llisandro
Gold subscriber
Gerbil
Posts: 70
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:23 pm

Also, see if the school recommends a brand, or see what faculty are deployed with- our IT staff constantly performs small repairs for students who break their laptops, something you can easily get parts/support for is convenient.

Specific departments might also make suggestions (I'm thinking graphic design here). When student visits the school, see what kids are using in their intended major.
 
bthylafh
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Topic Author
Posts: 3893
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:55 pm
Location: Southwest Missouri, USA

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:29 pm

Oof. The asker gave me budget ranges, to wit:

$300ish, $600ish, $1k.

I don't think this is reasonable, mind, but is it possible to get a decent 4-year machine for those prices?
Hakkaa päälle!
i5-2500K@4.3|Asus P8P67-LE|8GB DDR3-1600|Powercolor R7850 2G|SanDisk Ultra II 480GB|1988 Model M|Saitek X-45|Logitech MX 518 & F310|Dell 2209WA|Sennheiser PC151|Asus Xonar DX
 
DancinJack
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Posts: 3131
Joined: Sat Nov 25, 2006 3:21 pm
Location: Kansas

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:42 pm

bthylafh wrote:
Oof. The asker gave me budget ranges, to wit:

$300ish, $600ish, $1k.

I don't think this is reasonable, mind, but is it possible to get a decent 4-year machine for those prices?


That's...close to what I expected from a school. You'd have to look into some volume pricing from HP or Dell to be able to come close to your requirements for those prices. Have you guys thought about just subsidizing laptops for kids rather than buying all these outright?

FWIW, you technically, probably could do what you need with machines of those prices, but I don't think the experience is going to be great at all. At all.
i7 6700K - Z170 - 16GiB DDR4 - GTX 1080 - 512GB SSD - 256GB SSD - 500GB SSD - 3TB HDD- 27" IPS G-sync - Win10 Pro x64 - Ubuntu/Mint x64 :: 2015 13" rMBP Sierra :: Canon EOS 80D/Sony RX100
 
mikewinddale
Gerbil
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:22 am

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:47 pm

I think llisandro is on the money. For most students, virtually any machine is powerful enough. I've been doing word processing, Stata regressions, and Matlab linear optimizations for my economics PhD on my 4 year old Lenovo E545 with an AMD A10-5750M and 8 GB of RAM, and everything is fine. That laptop cost me $600 when I bought it, and it's still plenty fast enough.

If it can run Windows 10, it's enough. Throw any extra money into extra RAM (8 GB is good) and an SSD, because once you use an SSD once, the hourglasses from a mechanical hard drive are unbearable. An SSD will improve quality-of-life more than a faster CPU.

It's the engineering students you have to worry about. My guess is they need a beefy CPU plus a Quadro. They probably need a workstation laptop, like a Lenovo P-series.

And artists probably need the best screen. For everyone else, the cheapest laptop screen is probably sufficient.
 
Vhalidictes
Gold subscriber
Gerbil Jedi
Posts: 1599
Joined: Fri Jan 07, 2005 2:32 pm
Location: Paragon City, RI

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 2:59 pm

bthylafh wrote:
Oof. The asker gave me budget ranges, to wit:

$300ish, $600ish, $1k.

I don't think this is reasonable, mind, but is it possible to get a decent 4-year machine for those prices?


In this case I recommend a generic branded laptop with a U-series i5, basically an i5-x200 - anything Skylake and newer will be fine, the IGP performs the same.

This will get you a 15" 720p, Windows 10 Home, a 500GB HDD, 4GB of RAM, and all the standard ports.

There won't be any point in specifying anything below $1K, a branded i5-x200 generic 15" laptop will outperform anything else you're going to be able to find in that price range.
 
thebluebumblebee
Gerbil
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:27 am

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:16 pm

IMHO, you need to take a different approach, which llisandro already demonstrated. Start with the different departments and ask them what they think students need during each year. For instance, I would think that a general studies student could get by with a HP Stream type of system. (Windows version of a ChromeBook) You might come up with categories like Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and maybe even Specialized.
I have three kids in college. One is doing Early College High School and she was issued a ChromeBook which works just fine for her. One has a Dell Inspiron 15 5000, which we got on a Black Friday special, but she eventually found that lugging around a 15.6" laptop was too much and that has been mostly replaced by a 14" HP Stream, and she LOVES the battery life with that. The other kid is a paper and pencil person and does not want a laptop - uses his desktop to submit his work.
Secondly, I would think that there are academic contacts with all of the major computer companies, and I'd ask them what they have found that works the best - what feedback they've gotten about what works and what doesn't.
Third, I would look at battery life as very important. A laptop that can only run for 4 hours is useless when a student has a long day of classes.
 
Ethyriel
Gerbil First Class
Posts: 153
Joined: Mon Feb 02, 2004 6:41 pm
Location: Tucson, AZ

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:26 pm

So, you're probably not going to be recommending used laptops, but...

$300
An off lease Thinkpad T400 or X200 class depending on portability desires

$600
Using a student discount, and maybe you can negotiate with Lenovo to offer a greater discount for your students considering you're recommending their products across the board (try with Dell and HP too), a current model T400 or X200 class. Seriously, stretch to $700, with the vanilla student discount you're close to that.

$1000
Again with a student discount, a T470p with quad core, NVME, and 1920x1080 touchscreen is really close to $1k, I expect the T470s will be too. That makes it a good speed vs portability proposition.
 
llisandro
Gold subscriber
Gerbil
Posts: 70
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:40 pm

These recommendations don't actually seem too bad for the sub-$600 range: an i3 with a 1080p display for $350? Not too shabby.
https://www.laptopmag.com/best-laptops

$600 is a bad price-point because for $700 you can get a ZenBook with an i5 and a 256GB SSD. Over 4 years, that $100 is negligible.
 
ludi
Darth Gerbil
Posts: 7400
Joined: Fri Jun 21, 2002 10:47 pm
Location: Sunny Colorado front range

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:05 am

Based on the extra info you've provided:

Low @ $300: Intel i3 CPU and iGPU, 128GB SSD, 8GB, 14" display.
Middle@$600: Intel i5 CPU and iGPU, 256GB SSD, 8GB or 16GB, 14" display.
High@ $1k: Intel i7 CPU and Nvidia dGPU, 512GB SSD, 32GB, 17" display.

Reasoning? 14" and 17" are two sweet spots for LCD sizes, and that includes the inevitable breakage replacements if they want to do that in-house. No HDDs, students will ruin them. And while the high-end unit will need a dGPU, the middle-end can be used for light CAD/CAE training; it's mostly 3D, complex models, and large data sets that will bog down an iGPU.

All tiers: the largest capacity battery offered by the vendor. The difference can be as much as 30-40% over the base option, which also hedges against the inevitable deterioration.

I also like the idea (mentioned above) of getting off-lease/refurb equipment for the low-end and maybe even the middle-end option. At this point, the above hardware requirements can be met by off-lease equipment that's 2-3 years old while fitting in the price brackets. And, no amount of wishful thinking is going to make the entire inventory last four years in student hands, so might as well save a few bucks where you can.

Pick one vendor (Dell, HP, Lenovo), get a support contract, and stick with them for everything. Some up-front costs possibly, but it will save on headaches later.
Abacus Model 2.5 | Quad-Row FX with 256 Cherry Red Slider Beads | Applewood Frame | Water Cooling by Brita Filtration
 
End User
Gold subscriber
Minister of Gerbil Affairs
Posts: 2389
Joined: Fri Apr 16, 2004 6:47 pm
Location: Upper Canada

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:50 am

llisandro wrote:
My opinion:
~13-incher, 256GB SSD

GTFO as far as 256GB is concerned. What a f'n joke. is this 2014?
X
 
End User
Gold subscriber
Minister of Gerbil Affairs
Posts: 2389
Joined: Fri Apr 16, 2004 6:47 pm
Location: Upper Canada

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:55 am

thebluebumblebee wrote:
The other kid is a paper and pencil person and does not want a laptop - uses his desktop to submit his work.

Good lord! Fire him on the spot!!!!!!
X
 
End User
Gold subscriber
Minister of Gerbil Affairs
Posts: 2389
Joined: Fri Apr 16, 2004 6:47 pm
Location: Upper Canada

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:58 am

bthylafh wrote:
We can neglect Chromebooks, Macs, &c; this is a Windows-only show

Can I recommend an iPad Pro just for **** and giggles?

Edit: I can't say shi!ts? That seems a tad draconian. Did Captain Ned have something to say about that?
X
 
Captain Ned
Gold subscriber
Global Moderator
Posts: 26398
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2002 7:00 pm
Location: Vermont, USA

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 5:04 am

End User wrote:
Edit: I can't say shi!ts? That seems a tad draconian. Did Captain Ned have something to say about that?

Nope. Been part of forum code since Day 1.
If the Earth were flat, cats would have pushed everything off of it by now.
 
llisandro
Gold subscriber
Gerbil
Posts: 70
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:16 am

End User wrote:
llisandro wrote:
My opinion:
~13-incher, 256GB SSD

GTFO as far as 256GB is concerned. What a f'n joke. is this 2014?


OP asked for cheapish laptops, not a laptop for you and me, hoss. IMO if you're dropping 10-60 grand a year on college maybe don't skimp on an item that is a) <1% of the budget and b) something they'll be using all day for 4 years. But since OP had been asked "what's a good laptop" it was fair to assume the person asking was going to under-budget.
Yes, my laptop has a PCIE 512GB SSD. Part of this is because I can afford it, but I also need it. 19-year olds are nothing like the average TR user. They don't have libraries of music/movies- they've streamed their entire lives. They've possibly never even had a laptop with a DVD drive. Lots have never bought music/movies at all (outside of their parents' streaming accounts). Unless they have an extensive game collection (in which case, they'd know what laptop they want) there's not really a need for more. They've been trained to have Instagram store all their photos. As I said, 512 is better, but 256GB is fine.

^ that's an over-generalization, but not that much. If you need to get a cheapish laptop for a 19-year old, 512GB SSD is not a requirement. Especially if you know the average life expectancy of a college student's laptop 8)
 
bthylafh
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Topic Author
Posts: 3893
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:55 pm
Location: Southwest Missouri, USA

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:38 am

FFS, don't let the troll derail this discussion too. I don't see him but I do see your replies.
Hakkaa päälle!
i5-2500K@4.3|Asus P8P67-LE|8GB DDR3-1600|Powercolor R7850 2G|SanDisk Ultra II 480GB|1988 Model M|Saitek X-45|Logitech MX 518 & F310|Dell 2209WA|Sennheiser PC151|Asus Xonar DX
 
ordskiweicz
Gerbil Team Leader
Posts: 275
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2009 5:44 pm
Location: lowest level of ...

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:22 am

ASUS ZenBook UX303UA add an sd for extra storage if needed.
 
ludi
Darth Gerbil
Posts: 7400
Joined: Fri Jun 21, 2002 10:47 pm
Location: Sunny Colorado front range

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:27 am

bthylafh wrote:
FFS, don't let the troll derail this discussion too. I don't see him but I do see your replies.

Then you missed a classic nocturnal PUI sighting in the wild!
Abacus Model 2.5 | Quad-Row FX with 256 Cherry Red Slider Beads | Applewood Frame | Water Cooling by Brita Filtration
 
bthylafh
Grand Gerbil Poohbah
Topic Author
Posts: 3893
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 11:55 pm
Location: Southwest Missouri, USA

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:50 am

ludi wrote:
bthylafh wrote:
FFS, don't let the troll derail this discussion too. I don't see him but I do see your replies.

Then you missed a classic nocturnal PUI sighting in the wild!


That's probably a distressingly high number of his posts.
Hakkaa päälle!
i5-2500K@4.3|Asus P8P67-LE|8GB DDR3-1600|Powercolor R7850 2G|SanDisk Ultra II 480GB|1988 Model M|Saitek X-45|Logitech MX 518 & F310|Dell 2209WA|Sennheiser PC151|Asus Xonar DX
 
thecoldanddarkone
Minister of Gerbil Affairs
Posts: 2353
Joined: Wed Mar 26, 2003 4:35 pm

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:04 am

How much support do they currently have? Getting laptops for college students is easy, it's the rest of the stuff that's hard.
I7 4930k, 32 GB Ballistix DDRL3@2133 , 1.2 TB Intel 750 AIC, 500 GB mx200, Sapphire R9 Fury, asus x79 ws, HP ZR24w, edifier s730
HP Pro x2 612- i5-4302Y, 8 gigs of memory, 256 ssd
 
Vhalidictes
Gold subscriber
Gerbil Jedi
Posts: 1599
Joined: Fri Jan 07, 2005 2:32 pm
Location: Paragon City, RI

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:35 am

In general, I agree with Ludi and his post was more succinct than mine.

That said, avoid refurbs. Although technology for laptops is pretty stagnant right now, support contracts for refurbished equipment might end well before 4 years are up, assuming that parts remain available for that entire time.

I also agree that you should do whatever possible to avoid white-box vendors, consider major suppliers only.

Everyone posting, keep in mind that the OP is under-budgeting (not under his control) and what might be a good solution for the posters here won't apply for a medium/large deployment like this.
 
just brew it!
Gold subscriber
Administrator
Posts: 49429
Joined: Tue Aug 20, 2002 10:51 pm
Location: Somewhere, having a beer

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:51 am

Off-lease/refurb is definitely worth considering IMO. My personal laptop is currently an HP EliteBook 8460p which I purchased used. Including the aftermarket SSD and RAM upgrades I installed, the price fell somewhere between your bottom and middle tier budgets, and you could certainly go with less RAM and/or a smaller SSD than I did (I went with 16GB RAM and a ~500GB SSD).

It has handled everything I've thrown at it. Linux kernel compiles, VMs, etc.; I've been reasonably happy with it. Second HP refurb I've owned (both were purchased at Microcenter).

On the downside, going the refurb route means you'll be getting somewhat older tech. A little bulkier/heavier, and (probably) less run time on a charge. On the plus side, you can get something that is user-serviceable.
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
 
NovusBogus
Silver subscriber
Graphmaster Gerbil
Posts: 1186
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2013 12:37 am

Re: Recs for college student laptops

Tue Nov 14, 2017 4:03 am

Agreed on the refurb thing, that's definitely what I'd be doing if I was back in college. Actually, I'm thinking of doing it anyway because I think I need a mobile workstation that still supports W7 and they don't make those anymore.

Anyway, on to specifics:

Screen size
Good/better/best: 15" 1920 x 1080

Size is somewhat negotiable, but 15 inch offers the best mix of portability and usability. Avoid 17 inch and 11/12 inch, but 14 inch is okay if portability is more important. For resolution, accept no substitutes. Unfortunately many websites and applications are maintained by lazy developers who assume everyone has a 1080p display so their stuff doesn't work well with less vertical real estate. Conversely, higher than 1080 burns a lot of battery life and doesn't provide much benefit.

CPU
Good: Intel U-series i3/i5
Better: Intel HQ-series i5
Best: Intel HQ series i7

The U series is low power, dual core. HQ series is quad core, which is much better at handling real workloads. I don't feel right recommending a dually for more than light use so I'd strongly push you toward the HQ series, and mobile workstations in general. In theory an AMD A10 or A12 branded CPU would be a decent "good" alternative, but I see precious few of them in laptops that aren't fool-bait. They did create some Ryzen mobile silicon that's probably more competitive with Intel's midrange, and it'll be interesting to see if those make it into any decent lappies.

RAM
Good: 8GB
Better: 16GB
Best: 16GB

Windows is a pig so going less than 8GB is going to hurt, but more than 16 isn't going to provide much benefit. They can always add more if they feel so inclined.

Storage
Good: 500GB magnetic
Better: 500GB SSD
Best: 1TB SSD

A solid state drive is the single best performance improvement you can get, so it's very strongly recommended. The only reason I even included a magnetic here is that most of those aforementioned off-lease corporate machines won't come with one by default. The particular make and model is not terribly important, and likely won't be listed on the system specs anyway.

Graphics
Good: Intel HD integrated
Better: Nvidia Geforce GTX 950M, 1050
Best (mech. engineer god): Nvidia Quadro x2000M or AMD FirePro Mx100M
Best (non-ME peasant): GTX 960M/970M, 1060/1070

Intel onboard doesn't suck like it used to, and can even handle a few games at reduced resolution. A basic discrete GPU will be a good step up though, and the gamers in the room will appreciate it. The reason for the split in the 'best' category here is that Quadro/FirePro are designed for use with engineering CAD applications like Solidworks, which are kind of a big deal for mechanical folks.


Price wise, looking over some HP/Dell/MSI/Sager options if you bought new you'd be looking at something like this:
Good: $600
Better: $1000
Best: $1500-2000

Maybe you can negotiate a volume or education discount to get closer to your budget, or convince the budget owner to go up some since $300 is only going to get you the 'dog poop' tier.

Oh, one other thing to be aware of:
bthylafh wrote:
The high-end machine should be capable of running Creative Cloud, AutoCAD, Solidworks, etc. without complaint, and the midrange should be able to do so also but not as fast.

No laptop in the world is truly good at running AutoCAD/Solidworks, there's a reason that real engineers use big-boy multi socket tower workstations. I think our FEA/sim box cost about 20 grand. A mobile workstation, however enthusiastic I may be about them, is still going to be a lesser-evil choice. They'll certainly be a lot better at it than a $400 craptop though, which for an education setting may be sufficient.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests