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Picking the Best Back-to-School Laptop

posted by on August 22, 2011 in Computers and Software, Computers & Accessories, Guides & Reviews, Back to School :: 4 comments

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When someone asks me what computer they should buy for their child, it’s not a simple answer. Age, activities, whether the child will be carrying the laptop outside the house and budget all factor into my recommendations. There are some basic guidelines, though, that can help you narrow your choices.

Dell Inspiron 15R covers

Dell Inspiron 15R comes with an interchangeable cover

Middle school

Most middle-school-age children don’t need to bring their own laptop to school every day, so you’ll find the best value in a 15-16-inch model. Opt for either an Intel Core i3 or AMD dual-core E Series processor with integrated graphics, both of which are capable of running mainstream programs, like the Microsoft Office suite and photo editing programs. Battery life tends to run between four and six hours and the laptops weigh more than five pounds. So these laptops are certainly portable, but meant to be used at the kitchen table under supervision, not toted to school. Good choices in this category are the HP Pavilion g6x ($449 on and the Dell Insiprion 15R ($499 on

Sony Y Series

Sony Y Series

High school and college

If your child is going to be carrying the laptop to class, portability will be a key factor in making your purchase decision. Look for an 11 to 14-inch model with a carrying weight of under five pounds. If your child is running programs like Microsoft Word and doing some photo editing, an Intel Core i3 or AMD dual-core E Series processor with integrated graphics will suffice. The 11.6-inch, 3.32-pound Sony Y Series is a good value at $499.99 on, as is the 11.6-inch, 3.46-pound HP Pavilion dm1z ($399.99 on

Upgrading to a faster processor, such as an Intel Core i5, and discreet graphics (not Intel graphics) will help ensure that your purchase will last longer, as new software comes out that increases its minimum requirements. The 3.8-pound, 13.3-inch Sony S Series laptop ($899.99 on is a good choice here, as well as the 4.5-pound, 14-inch HP Pavilion dm4x ($774.99 on

Alienware m14x

Gamers and content creators

Kids who like to play graphically intense games or edit video require greater graphics processing power than the average laptop can deliver. Look for an Intel Core i7 processor, discreet graphics with 1GB of RAM and 6GB of system RAM. The top of the line gaming laptops are more transportable than portable, so you’ll want to the right combination of portability and power. A couple that strike the right balance are the 14-inch, 6.45-pound Alienware M14x ($1,499 on and 15-inch, 5.6-pound Apple MacBook Pro ($2,399 on when configured with AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of system RAM).


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From Christi on August 22, 2011 :: 1:52 pm

Good article, Suzanne.
I like that you kept it simple and focused on a handful of core laptops and features for your BTS recommendation. It’s a difficult decision to make with so many laptops (and configurations) to choose from. Even after you decide what to purchase determining when can be stifling due to price fluctuations and ever updating model releases; which is why we created Decide to help track and predict price fluctuations and when new models will be released so people can buy without regrets.



From Rachel on September 06, 2011 :: 8:50 am

Hi Suzanne! I have a 16-year-old and a 9-year-old who are both so much into computers and everything else gadget-y. I am the last person you could run to if you need advice on anything involving technology. wink So I highly appreciate this article. This made choosing among the numerous available products a bit easier.



From James on September 11, 2011 :: 12:59 am

I agree a lot with the portability factor. Although I’m in high school, I don’t carry my laptop with me to school every day, but I do use it for projects and such. In my opinion, the best laptop for general use is the MacBook Pro. I wrote a pretty long review of it here, maybe if you like it you can talk a little bit about it, feel free to include some of my information! The MacBook Pro is a great computer, and I find it kind of upsetting that you only have one sentence about it :/

The review is here:


Alternative ...

From Jordan Francis on September 23, 2011 :: 7:17 am

Hey ...

What about the iPad? An alternative to the norm perhaps, although its popularity could make it “the norm” (!) ... I would say the iPad is a great educational tool, thanks in part to the ever-expanding app store and widespread usage.

Just my 2 pennies worth grin



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