Skip to main content

Things to Consider When Buying a Laptop Computer

Make sure to check the minimum PC requirements for your program of study.


Intel doesn’t make life easier by having several types of processors with multiple speeds and capabilities within those types. Simply stated, you want at least a quad‐core processor, meaning newer i5 and i7 processors. The four‐digit number that is often listed after the i5 or i7 gives you an idea what generation the chip is, how fast it is compared against others of its class, and other performance info. In general, the higher the number, the better. Intel’s latest i5, i7, and i9 processors are into the ninth generation (9000‐series) now and come with eight cores of processing power. For more on Intel’s processors, see its site. If you’re looking in the lower price ranges, you may also encounter Windows‐based laptops with Intel’s i3 (dual core processors) or AMD’s Ryzen™ and Athlon™ processors, which can be a tad cheaper.

Graphics chipsets are even more cryptic than computer processors. As with most things, they scale features and performance with price. A more powerful chipset will obviously process graphic info faster and at higher frame rates, but the truth is, unless you’re majoring in something like art, design, film, engineering, architecture, or game development, you won’t need to spend too much time worrying over graphic chipsets. In most cases, you won’t find a computer with a speedy CPU paired with an anemic GPU anyway. Rule of thumb: if it has an nVidia GeForce or AMD Radeon Pro chipset, it’s typically better than a standard Intel built‐in graphics chipset.

Today, most computers use a solid‐state drive (SSD), which is like a higher‐storage, built‐in flash drive. In theory, it better protects, and accesses stored data because it has no moving parts, like SATA hard disk drives do. Computers with SSDs boot faster, run cooler and quieter, and are simply superior in durability and performance. The tradeoff is that SSDs cost more and therefore tend to have smaller capacities than their older SATA hard drive cousins. In an age of cloud computing (Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.), more of us store our data in the cloud, so more info is offloaded from your local computer to remote storage, which makes a smaller SSD less of an issue. That noted, you may need to lean larger if you’re doing film editing, CAD work, or something similar that demands managing huge data files.

It’s nice to have an Ethernet port for connecting by cable to a wired computer network if Wi‐Fi is spotty. Several USB ports are helpful if you’re connecting to a flash drive and a number of wired peripherals such as a separate keyboard, an old printer, or a wired mouse. USB‐C is the dominant format of USB now, but having an older USB‐ A port or two is nice for backward compatibility.

What’s no longer essential is a CD‐ROM, DVD‐ROM, or Blu‐Ray optical drive, since they’ve given way to Wi‐Fi and streaming over fast networks. That said, check with your course departments at the college you’ll attend to ensure no one is demanding you use an optical drive for anything. You may still find them useful, and are often included on laptops. It should not rule out a laptop if it does not have one.

Online college students take note

Most students don’t use a second monitor when on campus, but if you’re an online student who is working most often from a home office, having a second monitor attached to your laptop with its existing screen is easier on the eyes and gives more display space to manage windows. This is especially helpful if you want to take notes on one screen and watch an online class in another.

Of course, you’ll need a webcam for interacting online, but almost all laptop computers today have one. Also, you may need to pay more attention to graphics chipsets since webinars and online video will become a way of life. A better graphic chipset will ensure smoother video playback and no skipped frames right as your prof is divulging the secrets of the universe.

Notes: The hardware requirements listed above are general recommendations for most courses. Some requirements may vary – check your course syllabi for special hardware or software requirements. Lower versions of some software may continue to work but reduced functions or compatibility with other software.

Chromebooks – sold under a number of different manufacturers and sometimes called Chrome Laptops are not recommended. These computers are for running web‐based applications only. Some classes may require specialized or locally installed software that will be incompatible with Chromebooks. The Canvas LMS does support Chromebooks in general, but some class related activities may not.

* Reliable High‐Speed Internet access is required for all online course and many supplemental tools for face to face courses. Dial‐up access is not adequate for many applications. Cellular hot‐spots are acceptable depending on type and connection speed – consult your data plan for possible costs.

** Some application functions and services may not be compatible with all mobile devices.

Other Software Requirements

  • Browser: Firefox (Latest), or Chrome (latest), Edge (Windows 10), Safari 12+. Canvas Browser Compatibility Page.  Some applications such as Navigate do NOT support Edge or Safari. Firefox and /or Chrome are strongly recommended.

  • Microsoft Office 365 (available from the VCCS for Students) *Google Docs is supported but does require extra steps.

Virus/Spyware Information

Due to all the infected files with worms and computer virus on the Internet, we encourage students to run antivirus software. It is important that you make sure you run updates on a regular basis to prevent viruses from infecting your computer.

Students, faculty, and staff can now download a Microsoft AntiVirus security product for use on their personal computers at no cost from Microsoft.