A Cheapskate’s Guide to Buying a Laptop

By Thomas Hart on January 13, 2020

For basically every college student, a laptop is an extremely useful tool, and I need not explain why: online assignments; connecting and networking with use of social media; shopping on Amazon when you’re bored in class. These vital tasks necessitate having a personal laptop, which is a shame because these portables can get… pricey. How is the college student on a budget supposed to afford one when the prices can reach upwards of $1200? Well, there are two basic steps.

First step: knowing things. Buying a laptop can lead one to reading and/or listening to all sorts of techno-babble, plus it can be difficult to know exactly what you need, so let’s talk about it. Computers will have three main components that you’ll need to know about to understand its capabilities: CPU, RAM, and internal storage.

The CPU is like the brain of the computer, where information is processed. Better CPUs make a computer faster. RAM on the other hand is more like the heart of the device, as more RAM allows the computer to perform more actions at one time. Lastly, internal storage, often abbreviated as SSD, is how many files can be stored on your computer, like… fat, I guess? I’m out of bodily analogies. Anyways, with the availability of online cloud storage and external solid state drives, don’t necessarily feel the need to go with the bigger storage unless you’ll know you need it.

In the title of the product listing, it lists all of the laptop’s specifications. “Intel Core i7″ is its CPU, “16GB” is its amount of RAM, and “512GB” is the internal storage.

Now that you know things, its time for step two: forgetting the word ‘new’. Buying any electronic is a little like buying a car, or at least I would imagine. My economics teacher in high school once told me that once a brand new car rolls out of the dealership, it loses twenty percent of its value. Electronics are the same way. Bargain-hunting for electronics is truly a valuable skill to learn, as it can net you all sorts of expensive things for less than half of its retail value if you know what you’re doing.When I say don’t look for something new, I mean that in two ways. First, forget what year it is. Often, electronics are rolled out with a new version each year with very little improvements or changes. Using this to our advantage, we can simply look to the models of previous years, which are going to be much cheaper now that they are older and have been replaced newer models. For computers, you don’t even have to go that far back. I’d say two years at the most, but usually just one year can be enough for a good deal.

The other way to look at my anti-new policy is to get things used. Not everyone likes to get something used, but it’s a great strategy if you are careful. When buying a computer used, first make sure its being handled through a reputable middleman, such as eBay or Amazon. These sites are good for this because they give customers the ability to rate transactions with a seller. Pay attention to these. If someone is selling a used laptop, they will describe what quality it is in, using words such as “very good” or “like new” or even, “some scratches.” Higher reviews on a seller will give them credibility, so you can trust their descriptions on what kind of shape the device is in. As for the descriptions themselves, try to aim for at least a “good” or “refurbished.” You’ll want to get a good few years out of the laptop so it’s good to make sure you won’t be getting one with any damages.

Here’s a look at the “New and Used Options” section of the listing. Only one of these is actually used, but you can see the ratings shown for each seller.

Getting a laptop can be a tricky task, especially on a budget. Hopefully this guide helps you to understand what you need and how to find it. Just remember, it’s all a balancing act between power and portability. Most college students are not going to need something uber powerful but going razor thin isn’t always the best idea either, so it’s best to walk that middle ground for a dependable laptop at a great price.

Hi, my name is Thomas Hart, and I'm a junior creative writing student at Florida State University. Escapist by nature, I love to write about all things geek and fantasy, video games, technology, and funny stories of just the daily shenanigans I see on my college campus. I'm a natural storyteller, which makes my job here at Uloop all the more easy.

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