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Five things to consider when choosing a laptop for university or college

Once you've decided to buy a laptop ahead of your trip to university it's sensible to do your research before you dive in at the deep end; you don't want to be stuck with a machine that doesn't suit your needs. With that in mind, here are five things to consider when deciding on which laptop to go for:

1. Price and performance

At the top of most people's priority list when it comes to buying a laptop will be price, and rightly so. It's always best to give yourself a budget and stick to it, but only after you've determined exactly what you're going to be doing with your machine.

If you're going to be using it purely to take notes, work on essays and browse the internet, then machines at the cheaper end of the market will do the job admirably.

If you want to edit movies or plan to reward yourself with an hour or two of gaming at the end of a long studying session, however, you'll need to be looking at more powerful machines, which will naturally be more expensive.

Price and performance

2. Size

Portability is key when it comes to laptops. It's easy to assume that all computers branded as laptops will be fuss-free to use and transport but the reality is that some larger laptops can feel surprisingly unwieldy to some people. Be sure to strike the right balance between laptop size and a screen/keyboard size that is comfortable for you to use.

Mini laptops, or 'netbooks' as they are sometimes known, can be as small as an A4 piece of paper and as such are incredibly convenient to carry around. They're perfect for quick browsing and emailing but if you want to use them as your primary machine for writing essays then you'd likely be more comfortable with a standard laptop.

Laptops come in a variety of sizes depending on the screen you choose. Typically screens are available between around 13 inches through to 18 inches, measured diagonally, corner to corner. Naturally, the larger size, the heavier the machine so that's something to take into account too, with laptops generally weighing between 1kg and 3kg.

netbooks

3. Wireless capabilities

We associate laptops with being ready to use wherever we take them. Generally all new laptops have built-in WiFi, though it is worth checking to make sure you can connect wirelessly to the internet without the need for additional equipment.

You can, of course, opt for a mobile broadband 3G wireless connection which lets you surf the web wherever you are, using the mobile phone network. This option does require additional equipment and an on-going cost, depending on the provider you opt for.

Wireless capabilities

4. Amount of storage

If you are planning on carrying out more than just basic tasks – playing games or watching video content, for example – then you'll likely want a decent sized hard drive on which to store your data. Look into how much space your software and data is likely to take up and make sure that you buy a machine with a sufficiently large hard drive.

If you do find yourself filling up your hard drive quicker than anticipated, both external hard drives and high capacity USB keys or memory sticks will come in useful.

Hard drive storage size is measured in gigabytes (GB), with anything around 160GB or under considered relatively small by today's standards – although still fine if the machine is going to be used only for basic tasks, storing small office type files. If you're going to be storing movies, pictures and music, however, you'll want to look at a larger hard disk with 250GB – 320GB being a good average, although it's possible to go up to 500GB and beyond.

Storage

5. Customer reviews

If you're having trouble narrowing down your shortlist then turn to the people who really know what they're talking about. There are plenty of consumers out there who have bought the machines on your list, so take the time to read some customer reviews and see how others have got on with the laptops in question.

Customer reviews