(ARA) - Remember when back-to-school shopping meant different needs for different age groups? Elementary school kids needed pencils and notebooks, middle schoolers picked up protractors and compasses, and high school and college students headed back to school with high-powered calculators.
These days, students of virtually every age have one need in common: a laptop.
While many toddlers are using computers to play educational games, once kids reach school, the computer becomes an essential learning tool. If you'll be looking for a student laptop, the online shopping experts at FatWallet.com offer these tips to help you meet your budget:
* Stick with a laptop, rather than a tablet. While tablets have their uses, when it comes to the efficiency and versatility needed for school work, they can't replace a laptop. Often, students can use a tablet in tandem with a laptop (or desktop) if your budget allows for both. Many elementary, middle and high schools do not allow tablets. Also, it may be difficult to find tablet versions of textbooks.
* Choose the right size and weight for your student. Your student's laptop should be light and easy to carry in a backpack, but still large enough for a variety of uses. Models that are 15.6 inches or 17.3 inches provide big enough screens for work and study, while still weighing in the very portable 5- to 7-pound range.
* Any laptop with 250GB hard drive and 4GB DDR Ram is standard on today's models and more than adequate for school use. Choose a hard drive with 7,200 RPM to increase performance cost effectively. If your student finds out that he or she needs additional memory, adding it is an easy, cost-effective, do-it-yourself upgrade.
* Today's student will use their laptop for many graphic-intensive applications, like high-definition video streaming and light 2D gaming. Almost all newer laptops, even models with integrated graphics, have plenty of power for both. Unless gaming is the goal, you can save between $100 to $200 by opting out of the dedicated graphics card.
* Be confident of battery power. Most dual and quad-core laptops provide ample battery power for students' daily activities without the need to lug a power cord along. And since students tend to use iPods or smartphones for email, listening to music and other simple functions, they'll use less of their laptop's battery power. Four to six-cell lithium-ion batteries are standard and very efficient.
* Don't fall for upsells. You can save money on the initial purchase by opting out of bundled anti-virus protection, extended warranties or Word/Office Suite. You can find free, high-quality anti-virus and office productivity software online. And you may get a longer warranty if you buy directly from the brand versus a box store. Most defects will show up before the original warranty expires, so an extended warranty isn't necessary.
* Be a diligent discount hunter. Your student's school ID could score you extra savings from many of the major computer makers and software brands, like Apple, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, Adobe and Sony. You should also look for timely bargains, cash-back rewards and exclusive online coupons from tech deal sites like FatWallet.com. The website works with most major sellers like HP, Dell, Best Buy and Newegg to help increase back-to-school savings. Ebates is another easy-to-use website that offers cash back discounts on a wide variety of back-to-school supplies.
* Buy with a credit card. Using a credit card for your laptop purchase offers you all the consumer protections associated with credit card use, plus some card companies, like Visa or American Express, will automatically extend your warranty an extra year.
A laptop is a back-to-school essential, but with a little planning and research you can purchase one for your student with as much confidence as you buy pens, pencils and notebooks, and save money by following these smart tips.