How To Choose The Right Laptop For Your College! (for SPM 2012 Graduates)

My baby, Shana, an Asus N55SF is THE audiophile heaven.

Great! You just finished your SPM and ready to tackle the next big challenge: Form 6, or college, or whatever. But you need a laptop to do assignment as well as to aid your studies, moreover if you are a gamer, choosing a laptop is essential for your happiness for next few years! The last thing a gamer want is a cheezy graphics card in the rig! In this guide I will try to outline some basic guides to find you the perfect laptop.

This post is written in 2013, at this time Intel is selling their Ivy Bridge processor (or in stores known as Intel 3rd Generation Core processor), Nvidia GT610 as lower-end gfx, GT630 as mid-end (capable of playing CoDs at highest setting) and GT650++ as higher-end. Things will change throughout the year though so keep a close watch.

Now you need to know the course you gonna pursue, laptop is once per 3 year stuff so choosing the right one is incredibly important. You gonna choose between computing performance, portability as well as pricing. In most cases you can only choose 2 of them, having all in one package is not possible. Exception to China village laptops.

Choose 2 of them!
Choose 2 of them!

What You Want to Be = What Your Laptop Will Be

If you want to invest in gaming rig, you need high performance, thereby ignoring next few advices.

If you are engineering student, you need mid-high performance as well (for CAD softwares).

If you are programming student, you can opt for mid performance, fast enough for compiling + simulation but still have enough room for portability and pricing. You may need high resolution screen so that you can work on two IDEs at one go.

If you are business student and by no mean a gamer, go for portability, especially girls. But this is completely optional as portable ultrabooks are still luxurious toys for most of us.

Multimedia students need an incredible amount of processing power just like gamer does, apart from sheer performance, you may want to invest heavily on laptops with exceptional screen, such as MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

If you feel like going budget, aiming for cheaper laptops, go for it, but if your course involves softwares that consume high amount of computing power, don’t bother to save money as it will costs more in the future.

My Gear

So what did I get for myself?

An Asus N55SF (now available as N56, which is equally awesome). The reason I bought it is because of the gigantic speakers it packs, with a diameter of 35mm and comes with a subwoofer that makes it OH MY GOD IT SOUNDS SO GOOD! The laptop is truly one of a kind.

At that time, the price is very reasonable (RM2600) as it also comes with Nvidia GT555M that is only available on Alienware mid-end model that costs about RM4600. The price is great. But I did some modifications later on.

The first upgrade is adding RAM, which is a must-do to almost all laptops you got from stalls and booths nowadays. Extra RAMs are great, you will let your computer store more data temporarily before it resorts to the slow spinning drive for virtual memory, thus giving you some extra speed on the long run.

The second upgrade is truly a game changer, which is changing the 750GB HDD to 120GB SSD. Oh you might ask why I wanted to shrink the drive! Because SSD is 10x faster than your typical spinning drives and it makes everything load in the snap of a finger. Plus I barely store stuffs on my laptops, I store my movies, games and porn collection on portable hard drives, so my laptop stays extremely agile and snappy. This is the best upgrade and I recommend everyone to do it.

My baby, Shana, an Asus N55SF is THE audiophile heaven.
My baby, Shana, an Asus N55SF is THE audiophile heaven.

This laptop sacrifices on portability, it weighs about 2.7 KG and it is really a chore to bring it back and fro colleges everyday. At the end I got myself an iPad to store my books and slides which weighs only 600g++.

If portability is not your concern, I recommend people to get Asus N56, some of my friends bought it and they all love it so much.

What Specs you should look at (and ignore)

When you are choosing a laptop, you need to be fully aware of marketing gimmicks and highlighted specs that are barely useful for your future years. Some parts are highly replaceable and WILL BE replaces but some are SOLDERED into your laptop. I will explain right here. I repeated this advice so many times that I write this article straight away for future references.

The locked specs are:

  • CPU (Central Processing Unit) – Intel, AMD, etc
  • GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) – Nvidia, ATI, Intel HDxxxx
  • VRAM (Video Memory) – Useless gimmicky piece of marketing shit

CPU and GPU are the things you should look out for. Video RAM is another useless metric the marketers brag about but barely have any impact on gaming performance. 1GB is good enough.

CPU is irreplaceable part, it dictates your computing performance. How fast a video can be rendered? Modelling? But this does not dictate your boot speed, SSD does that.

Speaking of GPU, if you are gamer you need something more than Intel HD4000. But for non-gamers who demand better battery life, Intel HD4000 is good enough for most jobs.

The specs you can change and WILL change:

  • RAM (Random Access Memory)
  • HDD (Hard disk) – How many GBs of pornos you can store?

Now let me tell you, DO NOT CARE ABOUT RAM AND HARD DISK. RAM? They are cheap as dirt! RM60 for extra 4GB is lowyat. Most laptops need 6GB of RAMs to run smoothly. 8GB of RAM may be overkill but it depends on what your laptop is used for. It is justifiable if you use it for engineering CADs or video editing.

You will want to throw away the hard drive in your laptop and pop in an SSD (Solid State Drive) later. Hard drive remains the biggest weakness in the laptop, I have seen a lot of people had their hard drive fried within months of usage, even mine! With solid state drive, your laptop can survive drops, falls, vibration. And your laptop will start in seconds, not minutes, your laptop will be cooler. Did I mention this is the best upgrade for your laptop? Learn more about SSD.

The CPU

See that Intel Core iX stuff? That one is CPU, I won’t cover AMD here as the processor is for hipster and I don’t even bother to talk about it.

If you got money, go for i7. But i5 is good enough for most of us, namely engineers, programmers, and freddiewers.

I am not sure about i3, but if you are pursuing courses that are not computing intensive and don’t want to splurge for higher end processors, you can safely get it.

Pentium? Seriously? Avoid it altogether.

Oh BTW, GHz IS NOT the speed! It merely represents the clock speed of a processor given a voltage. The real way to find out the raw power of a processor is by going through the benchmark list, which is hard to gulp for normal users.

The Graphics Card

This component is essential to gamers.

A good way to determine how good a graphics card is this website. Read what class is your graphics card in and determine whether it serves nicely for next few years. Class 1 is overkilling unless you are ready for the next Frostbyte engine. But anything below Class 3 will make me cringe. Read up their review and determine the best for your case.

Screen

Screen may or may not be replaceable. But most laptops out there in the market don’t really come with decent screen. There are glossy ones and matte screens.

So far I notice that Asus N-series has decent screens, but A-series has a terrible glossy screen. MacBooks are all great laptops, not from their specs, but their OS and the screen! That is the reason why designers opt for MacBooks.

The resolution is one metric you should look out for. In general the higher the resolution the better it is. But anything too high is counter-intuitive to the experience of a laptop. For example, 1920×1080 for 15 inch makes everything looks so sharp, but when it comes to text you need to use zooming feature. 1366×768 for 15 inchers will make texts larger and comfortable for reading, but when you need working screen estate they may be inadequate.

If you want the best laptop screen, consider MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The 15 incher boasts a resolution of 2880×1800. And they dubbed it as the world’s highest resolution laptop. The price is overkilling though.

Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are great. If you don’t play games and your course is light on computing, consider it.

Non-touch screen ultrabook
Non-touch screen ultrabook – Dell XPS 13

Yes they are pricey, but their portability is so awesome that sometimes I want to dump my audiophiliac N55 and get one. But I realize my iPad is sufficient so I didn’t do the stupid thing of throwing laptop.

There are cases where you will want to get an ultrabook, you want laptop and only laptop, yet not tablets that cannot handle assignments really well. You want something so portable and still be able to run Windows, as well as having great battery life. That is where Ultrabooks come in.

After Windows 8, many ultrabooks out there have touch screen function and can be turned into tablets.

1Lenovo-laptop
Lenovo Yoga laptop – modern touch screen ultrabook that works like a laptop and a tablet, both

If you are IT student and intend to develop Windows 8 Apps, you might want to get a touch screen laptop to test your apps. Or use Splashtop Windows 8 Metro Testbed.

Further Exploration

If you are still unclear of what to choose, store this article in your tabs or phones, pay a visit to Low Yat Plaza (the best shopping complex ever!) and try to talk to some shops.

Try to buy from vendors with a proper storefronts, try to avoid the booths. Check the warranty policy should anything goes wrong, you still can get support or help, from either manufacturer or the shop itself.

You can also go to Lowyat forums and try to look for your laptops there, most of them sell fresh laptops rather than the months-old laptops in the Lowyat stores.

List of Lowyat forum dealers (trusted) to help you get started, you can hunt some for yourselves:

  • devour
  • Ideal Tech (I bought from here)
  • Anyone want to contribute? I got a hard time finding dealers in there

If you feel stuck about this or whatever, post a question to Lowyat – Mobile Computing section. Please include:

  • Your course (Culinary needs no laptop)
  • Your intended usages (Game? Microsoft Word? Microsoft Paint?)
  • Preferred brands (optional, Lowyat forumers know good and bad brands)
  • Budget (use Ringgit Malaysia ah… sorry foreigners!)

Conclusion

I hope that my post is good enough to benefit any future college goers. Good luck on your SPM results and your college application!

If you think this post has helped you out, please share around. Thanks!

-Anonoz

Author: Anonoz Chong

Web Developer in Kuala Lumpur. Computer Science student in MMU Cyberjaya. President of IT Society MMU Cyberjaya. Rubyist.

4 thoughts on “How To Choose The Right Laptop For Your College! (for SPM 2012 Graduates)”

  1. Thanks for the insight!
    I know this was posted around 2 years ago, but the informations are still VERY useful. Especially the thing about the specs.
    I’m still not sure which graphic cards would handle Adobe softwares well…
    (Flash pro CC, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc)

What do you think?