It's that time of year again -- those long, summer days are drawing to a close and we're now heading into that wet, leaf-dumping time of year us Brits call autumn. If you're unfortunate enough to have to go back to school, you may well be faced with the task of buying a laptop on a limited budget.
Not easy, we're sure you'll agree, but we've come up with a few guidelines you may want to follow before making a purchase. The best piece of advice we can offer is not to get too caught up in specifications. If all you need to do is type a few essays, store a few digital pictures and watch the odd movie, you'll be happy to know that most modern laptops can perform these tasks without batting an eyelid.
You'll generally only need to pay special attention if your studies require specialist hardware. Graphic designers and video editing students, for example, should consider the importance of a large hard drive. This can be difficult to find on a budget, but in general try to aim for anything above 60GB -- this will give you room to stash a good number of files and, if you run out of room, you can always buy an external USB hard drive. On a related note, ensure the laptop comes with an optical rewriter drive. An ordinary CD writer will copy up to 700MB of data to a disc, but a DVD rewriter is even better. These let you write up to 4.7GB of data, and in the case of dual-layer cases 8.5GB.
You should also make sure your chosen laptop has some form of Wi-Fi capability -- you shouldn't underestimate the importance of sharing a wireless Internet connection with your fellow students. All Centrino-branded laptops have a wireless adaptor, but as a failsafe you should also make sure your laptop comes with an ordinary 56K modem for emergencies.
The most important factor for students, however, is software. Ensure your laptop comes with as many free applications as possible. Look out for word processing, DVD playback, antivirus and backup tools as the value of such apps can never be underestimated. Don't forget, if your chosen laptop doesn't come with as many free programs as you'd like, you can always visit CNET.co.uk's Downloads section to stock up.
Anything else is a bonus. All laptops now come with surround-sound capability, although you may want to invest in some external speakers for better audio quality. Laptops with dedicated graphics cards (anything from ATI or Nvidia) will let you play modern 3D games.