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Back to school: student IT buyers' guide

Win 2007's university challenge

Protect yourself when buying student kit

Buy on a credit card - purchases over £100 are automatically protected in case the item doesn't show up or is faulty or otherwise unsuitable. And avoid pricey financing deals. Students will get into enough debt without paying silly money for deferred payments. We're not convinced extended warranties make financial sense, either.

Be careful about who you give your money to. There are plenty of companies on the lookout for suckers keen enough on bagging a bargain that they omit to read the fine print of a deal or check that the company concerned even exists. Pulling people into online scam sites is as simple as setting up an online shop and tagging pages with some targeted keywords such as 'cheap student laptops' or 'bargains for students'.

Any legitimate company should be easily contactable by phone or email and have a traceable company address. It should offer secure transactions via a respected third party – look for PayPal or other secure servers. If you have your doubts, head over to the ConsumerWatch forum or type the company's name into a search engine and see what sort of experience others have had.

You can find bargain-basement and clearance deals at almost any established site – from Dell and Dabs.com to PC World, Tesco and Sainsbury's. Another useful tip is to choose a product that fits your needs, then Google the product name along with the keywords student+voucher.

If you know what you're looking for, hidden discounts can sometimes be unearthed.

Student printers and other bits

Mono laser printers have all but disappeared in favour of inexpensive colour inkjet printers. These, however, can be a false economy for those who only type out essays. Eke the best from a printer by setting it to print in draft mode by default. This uses far less ink and depletes those notoriously pricey ink cartridges far less quickly. You could also use InkSaver – a program that ensures the bare minimum of ink is used. Get more printing tips here.

An MFD (multifunction device), or all-in-one printer, is a great idea for students. They cost as little as £50 and can photocopy reference material, scan in documents – some will even digitise the text – and print your essays. They take up hardly any space, too. There are dozens of multifunction printer reviews here.

Keeping in touch at university

Text messaging and instant messaging over broadband, along with email, make staying in touch quicker, easier and cheaper than ever – although parents will always prefer a letter or an actual visit. Webcams – often built into laptops – mean you can have video chats, while VoIP (voice over IP) services such as Skype or the web-based Jahjah make things cheaper yet. If you need a handset try Skypestyle.co.uk, where students qualify for 10 percent off.

A cut-price calling plan for your landline phone will help keep standard phone call costs within reason and can be combined with some attractive broadband deals.

Be wary of tying yourself into an 18-month contract, however, as the penalties for early termination can be severe. Most students move two or three times, so avoid any inflexible but initially inexpensive deals.

Get hundreds of mobile phone reviews here

Quick links

Buying a new PC for a student

Protect yourself when buying student kit, printing solutions and phoning home

Student software, office apps and online tools

Free footage, getting broadband and PC security

Examples of suitable PCs for students


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