The Ultimate Guide To Your First College Laptop

Young man sitting on floor holding laptop in front of him.Your laptop will be your new BFF in college. This is where you’ll store your notes, record important lectures, outline your study schedule and write up your term papers. But, with such a wide variety of laptops on the market, the choice can be overwhelming and confusing.

Check out our comprehensive guide for laptop-shopping before deciding which one is right for you.

1. Choose your platform
You have three primary choices when it comes to choosing an Operating System (OS) for your laptop.

  • Microsoft’s Windows
    Widows offers a flexible OS that is featured in notebooks that cost as little as $150 and in upgraded models that retail for as much as several thousands of dollars. Windows digital assistant, Cortana, is a powerful tool that can help you navigate your computer and search the web for relevant information, and its stylus is super-versatile, too.
  • Apple’s Mac OS High Sierra
    Similar to Windows, Apple’s OS offers what many users consider to be a simpler interface. Mac users have digital assistant Siri, and can use Apple Pay to manage their finances. If you’ve got an Apple Watch, you’ll be able to unlock your laptop with a flick of your wrist.
  • Google’s Chrome OS
    You’ll findGoogle’s Chrome OS on cheaper Chromebooks, like the Samsung Chromebook 3. Chromebooks are extremely portable, but with the Chrome browser serving as the laptop’s primary app, it’s essentially a tablet with slightly more functionality.

2. Choose your specs
Make sure your computer is equipped with the tools you need:

  • RAM
    Look for a laptop with a minimum of 4GB, or even 8GB if you can swing it financially.
  • CPU
    The brains of your computer will determine its processing power. You’ll find a broad range of CPUs in laptops and notebooks. Your best bet for a budget laptop that still performs well is to get one using an Intel Core i5 CPU or its equivalents, like the AMD Ryzen Mobile. More powerful CPUs can really hike up the price, and those that are cheaper usually aren’t worth the money you’ll save.
  • Display
    If you can afford it, choose a laptop with a minimum of 1920×1080 pixels, or full HD. Most cheaper laptops only offer 1366×768, but it’s usually worthwhile to pay extra for a sharper image and a larger capacity for content on the screen.
  • Touch screen
    Touch screens are standard in all two-in-one models, but if you’re purchasing an ordinary laptop, a touch screen will decrease your battery life without offering many benefits.

3. Choose a price range
These days, you can pick up a laptop for as little as $150-but those are usually web-centric Chromebooks that offer very little storage and have weak processors that won’t meet your needs as a college student.

Here’s what you can expect to find in various price ranges:

  • $350 to $600
    You can find a very decent laptop for less than $600, complete with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 CPU. At this price range though, you’ll likely be missing out on the longer battery life and HD display.
  • $600-$900
    Once you break the $600 mark, you’ll have your choice of upgrades, such as metal finishes and sharper, higher-pixel displays.
  • $900+
    If you’re ready to pay anything near the $1,000 mark for a laptop, expect to see lightweight computers that deliver a faster, more powerful processor and a super-sharp display.

4. Choose a battery life
Here’s where you need to determine exactly how you will be using your laptop. If it’s mainly going to serve as a desktop computer that’s carried around only occasionally, you can afford to choose a cheaper computer with a short-life battery. But, if you’re like most college students who wind up lugging their laptops around everywhere like a third arm, aim for a battery life that offers a minimum of 7 hours of untethered power.

Your laptop might be the most important tool you use in school. Spend some time choosing the one that’s right for you so it serves you well throughout your years in college.

Your Turn:
Did you recently purchase a laptop for college? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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Beware of Intel Patch Scams

image of intel i7 processorLast month, we learned that millions of processors throughout the world were vulnerable to hackers. The problems, known as Spectre and Meltdown, lie within chips of computers and smartphones, making them nearly impossible to fix or replace. To protect consumers, all major technology companies have created updated versions for their devices’ security and distributed patches to protect against these flaws.

Millions of users have installed updates and patches, despite technical glitches and other minor inconveniences.

However, hackers are now exploiting the fearful climate following the newsbreak. The criminals have built a malicious app that’s cleverly disguised as a patch that allegedly protects the victim’s computer against the vulnerabilities.

Arm yourself with the right information to protect yourself and your devices against this nefarious scheme.

How it works
A panicky consumer searches online for a patch. They easily find one and proceed to click on the helpful link promising to install the patch. Instead of a patch, they’ve actually just installed a malicious app granting hackers complete access to their device.

In Germany and Australia, the hackers sent emails impersonating the countries’ federal security agencies. The emails urged the recipients to click on the embedded link, and they were then directed to bogus government sites where they were instructed to download a patch. Of course, this “patch” was nothing but a malicious app.

So far, the scam has not reached the U.S. on this level, but harmful apps and downloads have made their way to American shores.

Recognizing a malicious site or app
Only the big technology companies whose names you will easily recognize, like Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Google, are issuing true patches. To determine if a patch is indeed being distributed by one of these companies, verify the URL. The patches should be sent directly from these companies and not via any other parties or websites. If you don’t recognize the site, don’t download the patch! The best way to obtain an authentic patch is to contact these companies yourself and follow their exact directions.
If you’ve been sent a link for a patch that looks like it comes from one of these companies, first check it for authenticity. Hover over the link to see the URL the link will go to for verifying that it’s from a reliable source.

If you’ve been contacted by a party you don’t recognize regarding a patch, ignore it and alert the authorities.

Online safety
It’s always a good idea to practice good internet hygiene.

  • Never click on links embedded in emails or social media messages from unknown sources.
  • Before clicking a link, let your cursor hover over it to see the URL it will go to.
  • Never share personal information online unless you are absolutely positive about the recipient’s authenticity.
  • Be wary of using public Wi-Fi.

Your Turn:
How do you spot and protect yourself from online scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments!