How to buy the perfect Back to School PC for any student

Around July every year, computer sales boom as another generation of young people prepares to fly the nest and move out to university. As they embark on three years of hard labor and hard partying, parents yet again need to make decisions about the technological needs of their children, to set them up for further and higher education.

The needs of full-time, adult students differ greatly from those of school children, and while on the surface education might seem the same, the decisions that need to be made when buying a laptop for university are a lot different from those in earlier years.

By and large, students are self sufficient and live away from home in cramped conditions. Packing them off with a range of entertainment gadgets such as hi-fis, speakers, televisions and DVD players is unrealistic, and generally only leads to multiple car journeys when trying to move to university, with days of packing required. It's easy to save on this space though – all of these forms of entertainment can be performed with a single Windows computer, but you'll need to buy carefully.

Back to school: three great PCs for university students

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Best back to school PCs

1. 13.3-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display

The fastest small MacBook Pro yet is a force of nature


CPU: 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz)
Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100
Screen: 13.3-inch IPS, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels
Storage: 128GB SSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: FaceTime HD
Weight: 3.48lbs (1.58kg)
Dimensions: 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71-inches (W x D x H)

Reasons to buy

Retina Display
Faster processor

Reasons to avoid

Force Touch underdeveloped
Unchanged design

Power, battery life and portability - Apple's 13.3-inch MacBook Pro has it all, while keeping the brand's iconic good looks. It's an excellent choice for students heading to university, and can handle most research projects and coursework with ease.

Although the upfront cost is quite steep compared to other laptops, it can actually prove financially beneficial as it comes with free copies of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote out of the box as well as iMovie, Photos, and GarageBand for basic, creative projects.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

Best back to school PCs

2. Lenovo IdeaPad Y700

Long battery life tops off this attractive gaming laptop


CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ Processor (quad-core, up to 3.5GHz, 1,600MHz 6MB cache)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5 RAM)
RAM: 8GB DDR4 (2,133 MHz)
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080)
Storage: 1TB HDD (5,400 rpm)
Connectivity: 802.11ac; Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 720p HD webcam
Weight: 5.72 pounds
Dimensions: 18.9 x 28.3 x 1.7 inches (W x D x H)

Reasons to buy

Looks great
Ample battery life
Ethernet port

Reasons to avoid

Gets hot
Terrible trackpad buttons

It's no secret that university life isn't all about studying and revising 24/7 - students need time to blow off steam as well. That's why the Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 is a good back to school choice for uni students - it's an affordable gaming laptop that can handle the latest games, while also providing plenty of power for student projects as well.

In fact, the discrete graphics card included in the Y700 isn't just great for gaming - it can help power design and media apps such as Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.

Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaPad Y700

Best back to school PCs

3. HP Pavilion All-in-One

The all-in-one PC that's everything in one


CPU: AMD Quad-Core A6-6310 APU (1.8 GHz, 2 MB cache)
Graphics: Radeon R4 Graphics
RAM: 8GB Dual Channel DDR3L
Screen: 21.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080, LED Backlit Touch Display
Storage: 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA
Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
Camera: Integrated webcam with microphone
Weight: 18.23 pounds
Dimensions: 21.50 x 3.10 x 14.76 inches (W x D x H)

Reasons to buy

Customizable specs
Great design

Reasons to avoid

Base specs not that powerful

The HP Pavilion All-in-One with Micro-Edge Display is one seriously sexy looking all-in-one PC, thanks to its 'micro-edge' display which keeps the bezels thin and discrete.

Although the base specs aren't all that powerful, you can customize the PC before you buy, so if you or the student you're buying it for needs extra oomph, you can tweak the settings.

Read the full review: HP Pavilion All-in-One

Know your options

An entertainment PC needs to have dedicated graphics, a speedy processor, lots of storage and plenty of RAM in order to play movies and store music. If you're looking for a computer that acts as an entertainment hub for your soon-to-be student, make sure to look out for the following specs.

A 17-inch screen provides comfortable viewing, an Intel Core i3 processor gives the grunt required for a fast and smooth experience, and you should also look for 8GB of RAM.

In terms of storage, 500GB is plenty for a big movie, music and picture collection. This type of laptop can act as a space-efficient entertainer for pokey student bedrooms.

Unlike younger children, you can't generalise about a student's needs, and it may be that a portable laptop is essential for working on campus or in the library.

It's worth asking the university or course leader for advice, especially if the subject they're studying requires specific equipment. A design or art student may require a more powerful computer for dealing with large images, so always check before you buy.

Laptops aren't the only type of computer suitable for students, and if portability isn't essential, an all-in-one PC can be a smart buy. An all-in-one computer is a single screen, where the body and workings of the computer are all built in.

The end result is a computer with the power of a desktop and the footprint of a laptop, along with a nice big screen for enjoying movies and other entertainment. This kind of computer is more expensive, because the power and form factor conspire to drive up price. Because they offer so much in a small space, they've become extremely popular among space-starved students in tiny digs.

If you're thinking of getting an all-in-one for a university student going back to school, then there are some good deals to be had if you shop around.