Beginners guide to choosing a computer for uni

people with laptops sitting around a table

Whether this is your first venture into university or study, or you are returning after a long absence, one of the common questions asked is “what computer should I get?”

This article is a no-nonsense guide to explain the tech jargon and help you choose a computer that is right for you! The start of the year is a good time to buy a new computer with many retailers offering back to school/uni sales.

While most computers will perform all the basics in terms of functionality, there are some important considerations to make when it comes to choosing a system that is right for you.

Charles Sturt University does provide a handy reference guide for the Recommended Computer Standards for study. Following this list will give you a good starting point to take into your local computer store and get some personal advice.

There are some other questions you should ask yourself before you head down to the store:

How much do you want to pay?

Set your budget and stick to it. Computers have a huge price range – if you are limited in budget then stick to what you can afford but look for the best deal you can in your price range. This may include looking at second-hand models to get more processing power for your dollar.

How to save money when buying a computer

Don’t pay for software you get for free as a student! That’s right, you get FREE software to help you complete your degree. You have free access to Microsoft Office 365 while you are a student (here is the link for more information on how to Login, Download and Install).

You can find out more about other free software available by visiting the Software Downloads page in Student Support.

Also, you can get plenty of discounts as a student, see the Student Discounts page for more information or ask your computer store for their student discount offers. As a student, you can also register for UniDays, a discount provider that offers discounts to a wide variety of stores.

Do you need more than the basics?

Do you like to have a few programs open when studying? Do you find it frustrating when your computer is running slow? If so, you may find that the ‘recommended’ 4GB of RAM may not be enough.

Personally, I would suggest looking for 8GB of RAM. RAM (or Random Access Memory) is the memory that your computer uses to be able to run more than one program at a time (including all the applications that run in the background like antivirus software). So, the larger the RAM the easier your computer will be able to handle running multiple programs.

Do you need portability?

If you are only ever going to use your computer at home, then size is probably not going to be an issue. However, if you want to take your laptop around campus, to the library or other favourite study location, then there are a few factors that you will need to consider.

Screen Size

Generally, the larger the screen the heavier the computer. However, the smaller screens can be difficult to work with if you like your space, as the manufacturer makes everything smaller to suit like the keyboard. If you decide to go small, you can still set yourself up with an external monitor to give yourself a larger screen to work with.

Battery life

The bigger the battery, the longer you can go without needing a charger. So, if you are planning long study sessions in the library, be sure to ask about the battery life.

How much storage do you need?

What are your hobbies and other interests? Do you like taking photos or watching movies? Do you plan on storing these on your computer? If so, you will need to look for something with a larger hard drive.

When looking at all the letters and numbers that describe hard drives these are the essential bits: an SSD (Solid State Drive) is more compact and has no moving parts, making them faster, more portable and reliable, and therefore more expensive.

If it’s within your budget, it is a worthwhile investment. A ‘regular’ HDD (Hard Disk Drive) will give you a lot more storage capacity for your money, but be more mindful when carrying your laptop around as they can be damaged from knocks and drops.  

Do you need any additional devices?

Working from a laptop can be very convenient, although maybe not the most comfortable. Consider if you will need other devices (or peripherals) like a mouse, keyboard or external monitor. Consider your workspace set up when looking at purchasing a new computer.

Also, don’t forget to factor in a laptop bag if you want to be portable. It is essential to protect your new investment. If you are buying from a store, then ask for a package price so you can get bundle discounts.

Warranty

All computers sold in Australia will come with a warranty. Depending on the manufacturer, this will vary from 12 months to a couple of years. You may be offered extended warranties by the store selling your computer.

Be sure to do your research with these warranties as they are optional. See the ACCC’s consumer rights and guarantees page for more information on consumer guarantees.

Good luck with your computer search and happy shopping!