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Tips for Choosing a New Computer
Here are some things to consider when choosing a new computer. Once you’ve purchased your new computer, be sure to check out Setting Up Your Computer to get it ready for use at Yale!
Do you already have a preference for macOS, Windows 10, or Chrome OS?
- macOS syncs with other Apple products well. If you are already used to this system, and prefer to stay, most Mac products will serve you well.
- Windows 10 runs on many diverse computers over a broad range of prices and specifications, and can allow you to find a computer more specifically suited to your needs than macOS. Windows 10 also supports more programs than either macOS or Chrome OS.
- Chrome OS is an Internet-based operating system that syncs to Google Drive; you’ll need an Internet connection for most tasks. It can run most Android apps, but not software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, so check for ChromeOS compatible apps of your essential programs.
Pick a size that works for you, but consider the following:
- Weight: Lighter computers are easier to carry, especially if you bring your laptop everywhere.
- Dimensions: The standard sizes are 11, 13, 15.6, and 17.3 inches, measured as the diagonal of the screen without the bezel. Most backpacks will only fit laptops up to 15”. Bigger screens can fit more content at once while smaller computers are usually lighter.
- Keyboard: While Macs have standardized types of keyboards, Windows PCs generally have more key press depth on larger laptops than smaller. Additionally, larger computers sometimes have full number pads built in. Make sure you will be comfortable using your keyboard.
There are many different types of screens. Consider how you like the coloring, brightness, and viewing angle of the screen you choose. Ask a friend to let you look at their laptop or visit a store to try out computers before buying.
Higher resolution screens will make the display look more smooth and clear, while lower resolution screens may look pixelated or blurred, so consider how important display quality is to you.
Screens are either matte or glossy. Glossy screens display colors more vividly, but will catch reflections in bright light. Matte screens are more muted, but will be easier to see in bright light because of the anti-glare coating.
Mac computers do not have touchscreens, while some Windows and Chromebook laptops do. Consider the role that may have in note-taking or in drawings, and whether you plan to utilize a tablet or other device during your time at Yale.
In addition to the traditional clamshell laptop style, there are 2-in-1 convertible laptops with a 360 degree hinge that flips all the way around to convert into a semi-tablet, computers where the keyboard can separate from the touch screen, and tablet-style computers with a kickstand and a thin keyboard that doubles as the protective cover.
All laptops have touchpads (sometimes called trackpads), but they vary in size, texture, and location. In most cases, the responsiveness of the touchpad can be altered in the computer’s settings to fit your needs. Also consider whether you want physical buttons to click, or just the pressure sensor in the touchpad.
Keep in mind your current peripherals (computer accessories/other devices) and what you may want to switch to. HDMI and USB-C are the two most used display options, and USB 3.0 and USB-C are the two most common plug shape. Some ports may fit plugs but not support the information coming through it – make sure to read the user manual and documentation for what the computer’s ports are and what they can do.
USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) is the newest option, which can handle display output, charging, data transfer, and just about everything else, at much higher speeds than older connection methods. However, you may need to purchase adaptors, as many people and campus devices use the legacy connections. USB-C compatible peripherals are more expensive than the legacy versions. Be cautious because devices or ports can be the USB-C shape but not be Thunderbolt 3.
Macs are separated primarily by line. MacBook Air does not have the capacity to run heavy programs very quickly, whereas the standard MacBook line will do slightly better. Computers from the Pro line will perform well for heavier applications like Adobe Creative Suite, etc.
- Processors: Intel processors are the most common, and come in three main categories, i3, i5, and i7. i3 have lower power-usage and will extend battery life at the expense of speed and power. i5 is the midline, usually suitable for most users. It provides a balance of power and power-consumption. i7 is more important for heavier applications and gaming. If the computer uses AMD, another large manufacturer of processors, try to find either the A8 or A10 processors. For Intel, the numbers after the category reflect more specific generalizations. The first digit refers to generation, with the most recent being 9. There are also dual-core and quad-core processors. Quad-core will allow more programs to run simultaneously, but the average user will not usually need the boost.
- Graphics: Unless you intend to use heavy graphic rendering programs or graphically intensive video games, integrated Intel or AMD graphics will serve well. A discrete graphics card will be specifically named.
- RAM: The minimum recommended by Microsoft is 4 GB, but you should purchase 8 GB for your average computing needs. Go higher to 12 or 16 GB if you plan to run heavy graphic processing such as Adobe Creative Suite or high frame rate video games and don’t want to risk slowness. 8 GB can still be sufficient at lower resolutions and longer processing time.
Chromebooks vary but generally require lower specifications because they have fewer features and thus require fewer resources. 4 GB of RAM is good for a Chromebook and i3 processors are on the high end.
Determining battery life for laptops is extremely difficult. Baseline battery use is different between every model, so battery capacity is not a reliable measure of battery life. The best way to check is to look up reviews of the model you are considering, and read the subjective “real-life” tests.
There are two primary types of storage, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD). SSDs are faster and more durable, but usually more expensive, whereas HDDs are slightly slower, but have a higher storage capacity and lower cost. Nearly all Macs and Chromebooks use SSDs, while Windows laptops can use SSDs, HDDs, or both.
Consider how much access you need to your data – video and photo editing usually require local copies of the data, whereas word processing can take place fairly seamlessly on the cloud. Given Yale’s free cloud storage services (which will continue after graduation for alumni), you may need less storage space than you expect.
The average user will not use more than 250 GB of storage space, but many people do exceed that, making 500 GB storage options a good choice. Terabyte (1000 GB) drives are not usually necessary, but you can check how much space you used on a previous computer.
On mid-range Windows laptops, stores usually offer two versions of the same computer: one with an HDD and one with an SSD. Higher-end (and thinner) computers are almost exclusively SSDs, and lower-end computers are usually HDDs.
Gaming-branded laptops will frequently have both: a smaller SSD to run program files and the operating system, and a larger HDD for data storage.
ITS strongly recommends that you have the following accessories for your computer:
- A four-year extended warranty with on-site support, for protection against computer hardware failure
- Accident coverage for protection against spilled liquids or dropped computers (check with your manufacturer or vendor to see if your warranty covers these contingencies)
- Computer location tracking device that may be activated if your computer is stolen or misplaced
- An external hard drive for automatic, routine, and complete data backup
After purchasing a new computer, students should hold onto documentation, software media, and warranty information. These materials are essential to solving computer problems that may arise.
Many websites compile recommendations and detailed reviews of laptops of all brands, and can be very good resources when looking around for computers. They can also be great places to start when picking a few laptops to consider before purchasing. Comparing a few reviews will help you get a more accurate idea of the capabilities of a computer.
Make sure to save your warranty information. If anything breaks on your computer, the warranty will save you money.
You can also chat with a student tech if you’d like more advice on your computer purchase.