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Students' laptop and software buying guide

The ultimate guide to choosing a laptop

With the back-to-school rush in full swing, there's plenty of choice when it comes to purchasing a new laptop. We've looked at the different types of machine on the market to help decide exactly what suits your needs.

Justifying the expense

We like the idea of Toshiba's latest Qosmio range, which forsakes costly Blu-ray high-definition support and instead upscales standard-definition DVDs and video footage to look sharper and glossier without giving your wallet such a hammering.

Such a capable laptop will also be a worthwhile investment if you're likely to need processor-intensive programs for editing video footage or rendering engineering or architectural designs – at least, that's one way of justifying choosing one of the £1,500 laptops Alienware makes for hardcore gaming fans.

At this level you should expect 500GB or more of storage, 2GB of DDR RAM, a DVD burner, 5.1 audio and a DirectX 10.0-compatible graphics card with at least 512MB of onboard RAM. In addition, you'll need at least four USB 2.0 ports and one or two FireWire ports if video-editing and large file backups are on the curriculum.

We strongly advise you invest in an external USB 2.0/eSATA or FireWire drive too – it's an easy way of transporting huge graphics and video files and saves heartache should anything happen to your laptop or its hard disk.

If you are going to be using creative design and 3D-editing programs, you'll also want to investigate student software deals. Maya and Maxon 3D programs have free versions that will cover your needs.

Be wary of second-hand software from eBay and similar sites, though. Adobe's wares are fraudulently traded more than any others – customers are routinely left with a useless disc and a deactivated install code.

Microsoft offers a £100 student edition of its Office suite and Encarta Encyclopedia. But we advise you give the 60-day trial version of the main Office 2007 suite a go before deciding whether you need all that it offers. This is available as
a download from the Microsoft website and is commonly preinstalled on new machines.

NEXT PAGE: Avoiding expensive software

  1. The ultimate guide to choosing a laptop
  2. Choosing a machine to suit your lifestyle needs
  3. Justifying the expense
  4. Avoiding expensive software
  5. Storage space
  6. Interface issues

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs


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