As days get shorter and temperatures cool, it’s also time (eek) to start thinking about going back to school. To help you get a jump on the best school (and school-related) supplies to buy for fall, we’re running a series called Cool School Stuff, in which we’ll sniff out the best backpacks, best dorm décor, and best bento boxes, among many, many other things.
Headed off to college this fall and curious about which computer to get? First off, get in touch with your school’s IT department. They may have guidelines if you already know what you plan to major in. More important, some manufacturers work directly with schools to provide discounts to incoming students — you may be able to save some money by buying directly through your university. (And see this story we did a few months ago on cheap laptops, too.)
For the cheapskate
Chromebooks are your friend. They don’t pack a ton of processing power, but they’re an incredible value for anyone trying to stretch a dollar. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is ideal — it has plenty of battery life, solid performance, and a spacious keyboard that’ll make typing up a long paper a breeze.
For the Mac lover
If you’ve gotta have a Mac, there’re two options you can pick from. If you want to stay under $1,000, pick up a MacBook Air for $800. The Air doesn’t have the sharpest or brightest screen and may chug a bit by the time you collect your degree, but it’ll do just fine for hauling to class, writing papers, and watching Netflix.
If you’re willing to spend a little more — or if you think you’ll need to do heavier lifting, like image- or video editing, the MacBook Pro is your best bet. You won’t get the Touch Bar, but that’s fine. It doesn’t do much anyways. You’ll get a solid laptop that’ll easily get you through four years of school (and likely through a few years after that as well).
For the PC user
If you’re just looking for something full-featured but lightweight to haul to class, the HP Spectre x360 is one of the best values on the market right now. It’s feathery light, has good-to-great internal specs, and is a 2-in-1 laptop, meaning it has a hinge that allows the screen to rotate 360 degrees, turning the laptop into a tablet — great for plowing through heavy reading. And you can get it for under a grand.
For the dorm-room gamer
The Razer Stealth Ultrabook is enough to handle plenty of PC games, but if you really want to go all out, you can plug in a Razer Core combined with a good graphics card to pretty much any PC game on High or Ultra settings.
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