Technology at IU: the Do’s and Dont’s to Buying an Affordable Laptop

Whether you’re a returning senior or an incoming freshman, personal technology is becoming more and more important on campus at IU. For papers, presentations, and other projects, the technology you own is an investment into what best suits your learning habits; but before you tackle the slew of appliances and accessories, your best bet is to make a choice in purchasing a laptop to maximize your educational efficiency while still being fiscally responsible.

A personal computer can be a powerful tool at IU, but specifically, I want it to be easy for you to make a decision on the difficult question of “Which one?” I remember last summer and my struggle to make a choice as an incoming freshman, and it was only until after choosing classes, orientation, and Welcome Week that I had finally made a choice. Everyone’s decision is different and dependent on your personal price point, usage habits, and even your aesthetic.

With that said, this post is a set of key guidelines to buying a laptop and provides key resources to help you make the selection that best suits you. Essentially, we’ll be covering misconceptions about laptop shopping, tips to get the most bang for your budget, and frequently overlooked aspects that you should definitely consider taking advantage of; so, without further ado, the do’s and don’t’s to purchasing a laptop:

Do buy used

Buying used/refurbished will save you tons. You’ll hear it for cars, houses, and definitely laptops. My first laptop in college was the Lenovo Thinkpad T430, which I got off of eBay for no more than $250. Lenovo discontinued them, but there are plenty available on eBay and Amazon. They’re strong, reliable, and perform extremely well for their price. In fact, I had two of these at one point, one running Windows and another running Ubuntu. Buying used in “good”, “like new”, or “refurbished” condition can oftentimes save you hundreds of dollars regardless of price point, with hardly any loss in quality.

Do buy online

Online distributing and retailing has made it easier than ever to get your technology quickly and reliably, many department and retail stores like Walmart and Best Buy have additional purchasing costs to pay. If you do choose to buy at brick-and-mortar locations, be aware that small retailers typically tack on costs to account for the otherwise low margins that tech retailers usually have and that Walmart/Target typically holds exclusive contracts for similar, but lower-quality (or off-brand) laptops in order to achieve the kind of savings that they seemingly provide.

Do know what you need and do your research!

Jacobs student and need to run Pro Tools and a ton of external hardware; if you’re looking into gaming and need superior performance for your high frame rates and lag reduction; if you’re a programmer or photographer or some other tech-oriented hobbyist or freelancer and need massive amounts of storage; your requirements vary greatly from mine. Take some time to consider what kind of student you’ll be next year, write your requirements down, and use that to purchase accordingly.

If you want resources to suggest specific brands and models, consider CNET or LaptopMag, which are all websites that have many, many reviews and summaries for laptops made in the past few years.

Additionally, if you want to jump in immediately and consider some laptop lines, I would suggest looking into the Samsung ChromebooksDell Latitude 7000 2-in-1 series, Dell XPS series, and Lenovo ThinkPad/IdeaPad series. Depending on your price, design, and performance needs, these laptops are a great starting point for your research.

Don’t forget about diminishing returns!

Many tech writers believe that the higher the cost, the higher the utility, but this is usually untrue. In fact, returns diminish quickly with laptops. With laptops, paying more typically means that you’re paying for faster speeds, thinner/lighter weight design, or a certain aesthetic; but at some point, you may not get the same bang for your buck as you would with a cheaper device. For example, if you’re comparing a $600 laptop with 4GB of RAM and the same laptop with 8GB RAM for $800, you should look back at your list of requirements to determine if that $200 is really worth it. Another more prevalent case is the concept of the “convertible” laptop – laptops that can fold over/detach to become a tablet – which, as cool as they are, have been virtually neglected by many of my peers too frequently for it to be worth the additional cost unless you know you’ll use it.

If you want to get a better idea of cost and how they connect to quality, you might want to check out LappyList, which compares the price and basic specifications between tons of laptops that you might want to purchase!​

Don’t believe the hype

Tech reviews and blogs tell you a lot, they say a lot, and you can get bogged down in the hype for many machines; but unlike them, you aren’t getting paid to write immensely detailed reviews and criticisms of laptops, so don’t take everything they say as gospel. Lots of people will write with biases, whether its Mac vs. PC or the graphic cards they use; don’t believe the hype, and follow your intuition.

Additionally, your friends will play a part in generating this hype as well. Definitely ask around, but if you have any self-proclaimed “techie” friends, then you’re probably going to hear all sorts of pseudo-science about buying a good laptop; if all your friends have a MacBook but you know that you’re going to be in courses like BUS-K201/204, K303/304, or SPEA-E325 (or any informatics/computer science course) where a PC is suggested, then don’t succumb to getting a MacBook unless you know your way around emulating Windows!

Don’t stress

All in all, you’re getting ready to purchase a new laptop. Be wise but don’t stress yourself out about it! If you really think you’ll have regrets, just do some quick research on return policies, but no computer is perfect. Regardless, everything will be alright, because after all, your computer isn’t what aces your classes for you! So don’t stress about it, and have fun searching for your next laptop!

Macbook Air being used by a person

James He

Accounting and Finance major, class of 2020

There's not a lot to say about me but I've got a lot to say.

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