Gone are days where a student could forgo the expense of a computer. On-campus computer labs are going the way of dinosaurs as students require more unique set ups and personalization. But there are so many choices, how in the world would you find the right one?

student looking at computer screen

The first thing to decide is which Operating System (OS) fits your needs.

Microsoft Windows is the tried and true OS, it has been around for a long time and allows for a lot of customization. Most cameras and devices will work, although they often require plugins that cause problems if not installed correctly. If you are interested in customizing your experience or want a system that will grow over time, this could be a good choice. In my experience, Windows has the most problems. It’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen, so be prepared to do a little of your own cooking. They are also one of the easiest systems to hack into, so buy a good antivirus software with your computer.

Apple OSX is a popular system with artists and students, expect to see them on campus a lot. The big appeal is that Apple controls a lot of what works with the computers and makes almost all the computers that run this OS. This adds to the cost but also gives you a more reliable work environment. People who used Apple computers, especially early on, can have a cult-like addiction to the system. If you do a lot of design work or have a lot of Apple products, this should be the first OS you consider.

Google ChromeOS is the newcomer to the market. It’s sleek and runs fast. The biggest issue with ChromeOS is that many devices and programs do not have versions able to run on this OS. Some computers have less storage than my phone and that can also limit your options. The lean nature of the OS often times means cheaper devices. If you are looking for a computer that runs like your phone and you are invested in Android phones and tablets then start here. If you need to run pro-level applications you should consider an option above.

 

The next decision to make is desktop or laptop. Ten to 15 years ago it was cheaper to do a desktop but now with the purchase of a monitor and other devices the savings is almost none. There is some advantage to being able to hook a desktop up to your high-definition TV and many desktop models now come as all-in-one models that save you purchasing a monitor. Ultimately most students I know choose a laptop for the portability aspects that let them use the computer outdoors and take them to class.

Based on that, here are my top laptop choices for each OS:

 

Apple Macbook Pro

Mac OSX

$1,299 – $2,800

I love the 13” screen option for the portability but many users opt for the larger screen. The keyboard in the 2020 model is much improved over 2018 and 2019 versions. The base model has enough power for any student. If there is any chance you need storage upgrade at purchase. I recommend you upgrade the RAM to 16GB, at least. Buy during Apple’s back to school sale and you can typically get nearly free Beats headphones.

 

Dell XPS laptop

Windows 10

$900 – $2,900

One of the nicest features of this machine is the 2-in-1 option that gives you the touch screen. It’s a good machine for the price and gives you plenty of options. However, I’m worried about the reliability of the screen. The internal connections seem lackluster and over time the repeated opening and closing could cause the screen to stop working. Putting that aside, the design is nice and very comfortable to type on, and the all-white version should get you attention.

 

ASUS Chromebook C423

ChromeOS

$259 – $629

I’m not a fan of the convertible options that ASUS makes but their straight laptop running ChromeOS is very capable for the price. The price is always the appeal with Chromebooks. You sacrifice a lot of power and performance. If you are looking for a bare bone, no nonsense, get-your-work-done laptop, then check out ASUS.

 

Those are my picks for laptops, but your preferences may differ. Talk to friends, see if they have any of these options so you can try it before you get your own. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into whatever you used in high school. The school has different priorities, so make sure you find a computer that fits your needs.