Laptop Purchase Guidelines for Students

Audience: Undergraduate student Choosing a laptop is an important investment for college. The Student Computing Consultants have identified the following guidelines to assist with purchase decisions.

Note:  This guideline is for informational purposes only.  Any purchase is not endorsed by Rice University or the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

Each major has different computing needs.  Check with your advisor!

Things to consider:
  • Decide what you want to do with your laptop.
  • Decide how much you want to spend (budget).
  • Choose the maximum quality from the following criteria - RAM, HDD or SSD, (Note: some manufacturers are making it more difficult to upgrade RAM or hard drives, such as the Apple MacBook Pro (Retina).
Minimum Criteria
Specification Minimum Recommended Value   Explanation
Processor speed 1.6 GHz or higher A higher processor speed will allow your computer to do more at once and run faster.        
RAM (also called Memory)At least 8 GB recommendedMore RAM will also allow you to run more applications concurrently without seeing a slowdown.
* SSD (Solid State Drive)

Hard Disk Drive
256 GB HDD or more* Solid state drives (SSD) are much faster than traditional hard drives. Unless you have large numbers of enormous files on your computer (i.e. movies, large pictures, high quality audio files, CAD files, etc.), then having an SSD will make your computer feel much faster than a traditional hard drive. You can also augment a relatively small SSD with an external hard drive, thereby, allowing you to store large files on the external drive if you do not use them frequently, or read/write them often.

Hard disk drives are slower but are larger and less expensive than Solid state drive (SSD). This large amount is useful because file sizes can grow to be very large and some particularly large file types can quickly fill your hard drive space.

*Preferred by Student Computing Consultants

 Operating system Windows: Windows 10

macOS: High Sierra  
New Windows computers have Windows 10 Operating system.

New Macintosh computers have macOS  High Sierra Operating system
 Graphics cardIntegrated graphics

Dedicated graphics

Graphic cards come either integrated or distinctly attached to the motherboard. Integrated graphics are slower, but cost less, and are generally sufficient whereas dedicated graphics cards are ideal for gamers.

Dedicated graphics cards are frequently included on workstation computers because they can improve the speed of rendering or modeling applications. A dedicated graphics card will improve the gaming experience for serious gamers to run all games on high settings. 
802.11 ac802.11 is a wireless protocol that allows your computer to connect to WiFi networks/

ConnectorsUSB 2.0 or 3.0
USB 2.0 connections are slower than 3.0.

The other connectors are pretty standard.

VGA / HDMI / Displayport is for projecting to external monitors or projectors. Only one of these types of connections is necessary.  Conversion between can be typically be done if necessary.

Here are a few sites that the SCCS use when selecting laptops for ourselves.  These websites are generally well-regarded, have a deeper understanding of the current laptop market than we do here.
These are only suggestions and are in no way fail-proof computers.  Use this only as a resource to help you make your best decision.


Keywords:guidelines suggestions informational laptop decide criteria processor RAM HDD SSD upgrade minimum recommendations specs specification speed buy   Doc ID:69087
Owner:Dora L.Group:Rice University
Created:2016-11-29 16:16 CDTUpdated:2019-08-13 08:55 CDT
Sites:Rice University
Feedback:  9   4