Choosing the Best Laptop for College in 2009

When I was in high school (a little while back), I remember hearing that college students were starting to bring laptops into lectures to take notes and do research. I couldn’t even imagine it, because it sounded so strange.

Well, fast forward to 2009, and I can’t even remember the last time I saw a young person with a desktop computer. Not only that, but it has become second nature to bring computers to college classes, and it would be stranger to walk into a class and not see any at all!

Laptops are a funny thing. They have become just as much a fashion item as they are a functional tool for education, entertainment, and communication. Which of course, is how Apple has been slowly edging their way into the college laptop market in recent years, only to trip up all the poor college girls who purchased them (to prove how indie… err… typical, they are! lol) as soon as they need to install a program or delve into the Unix command line (huh?!?!).

What it comes down to is that the best choice for a college laptop is one that:

  • is affordable and competitively priced
  • is feature-packed but is still user-friendly and follows mainstream trends
  • has at least most of the latest technology and input/output jacks
  • is somewhat cute and/or attractive (but not at the cost of a higher price or lack of features!)

In my opinion, for most students, this leaves us with the following type of setup in the year 2009:

  • runs Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7
  • has USB, HDMI, VGA, DVD, memory card, and audio/mic jacks
  • has embedded WiFi and Bluetooth
  • has embedded webcam
  • has solid graphics (dedicated memory), CPU, and RAM (4GB +) with a healthy-sized hard drive
  • is small and light enough to be easily transportable
  • is priced significantly under $1000 for non-business/professional models
  • belongs to a company with generous and reliable customer service

Well, by the looks of this list, we can immediately eliminate most under-performing *discount* models from companies like Acer or Gateway who beef up some of their features but aren’t engineered significantly well, and lack stellar customer support. Then there are companies whose 15 minutes of fame are already lapped dry, like Toshiba, who once dominated the market but has recently gone downhill. We can also eliminate the insanely overpriced and overhyped models from companies like Apple that often perform well but are mostly an expensive and user-unfriendly fashion statement (If you like Unix, then download and install Ubuntu instead for free!)…

This leaves us with a few reliable companies that currently dominate the mid-range American laptop market (which is why the likes of Costco are quick to endorse their products):

  • HP
  • Sony
  • Dell

There are a few other up-and-coming companies that show huge promise, like Samsung and Asus.

Anyway, Dell is pretty good in my opinion, but their technology is sometimes out of date. They seem to keep their prices lower on some laptops by putting older CPUs on their models and taking off high-tech jacks like HDMI.

Sony has been able to drop their prices in recent years and is rapidly becoming an affordable choice. Their designs are reliable, powerful, and have the latest technology. But again, their prices still are higher than average.

This leaves us with HP, who at the moment seems to have both reasonable prices, the latest technology, and well-reputed customer support. They recently send CollegeTimes a free HP Pavillion DV2 laptop to check out which is aimed mostly at college students and multimedia enthusiasts. Here is what we thought:

dv2 white

First of all, just look at this thing. While all the hipsters have been running around with their million dollar Apple laptops, HP has been in the studio designing some truly elegant machines. Pictured above is a white HP DV2.

The DV2 was built mainly for young people and multimedia types, which means it is strong on graphics (ATI Radeon 300 card with dedicated memory), strong on speed (AMD Turion X2 Neo 64), and has plenty of storage (300GB).

It comes pre-installed with Windows Vista, which hasn’t been very well received in the tech world due to its somewhat clunky interface and inefficient setup, but with the recent Service Pack 2 that Microsoft released, a tremendous improvement has been made to the various system issues. At the end of the day, with a solid 4GB of RAM, the DV2 laptop can handle Windows Vista with ease and the user can see it running slick in 64-bit as it was meant to be.

That being said, I’m still a bigger fan of Windows XP and I do look forward to the Windows 7 release. Hell, if you really wanted to, you could even just install Windows 7 on this beauty and it would run amazingly. I just can’t really fully approve of the pseudo-modern UI in Vista, its just not quite simple enough for me. :P

Anyway. The DV2 comes preloaded with a lot of sweet software. The Windows Photo Gallery is an impressively simple and fast gallery program to organize photos and video by tags, date, and ratings. The interface is very toned down and easy to use. Plus, instead of importing your photos and screwing over your original files (like Apple does), the program intelligently includes whichever folders you specify in its file browser and leaves the data intact.

Windows Media Player, Windows DVD Maker, and the classic Windows Movie Maker have all made significate improvements with recent updates and play nicely with each other. But the really nice catch in Vista is the very progressive Windows Media Center, which performs all kinds of multimedia functions alongside your internet connection – you can even plug in your television to the DV2’s HDMI jack and record television shows! And it only takes a few clicks. Now try finding another laptop under $700 that can boast that. There aren’t many.

The DV2 also comes with a free copy of Magix Music Maker 14, which is pretty friggin’ awesome. Imagine GarageBand, Fruity Loops, and Sonic Foundry all rolled into one amazing music editor for creating loops and custom songs with digital instruments and recordings. You just have to try it to see how powerful yet user-friendly it is.

There are a few trials included with the DV2 such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works, and Norton Anti-Virus, but I’m not a big fan of Vista Office (2007 Office). It has amazing features and is very user-friendly, but again, the Vista UI theme is just a little overkill for me. In any case, these 2 programs, along with some other HP freebies like games, Cyberlink DVD Studio, etc. could be quite useful to the non-nerdy students out there who need some reliable options.

Overall, here are the drawbacks of the DV2:

  • Windows Vista just ain’t the OS it was hoped to be at the end of the day
  • Blu-Ray DVD drive is not internal – you must plug it in via USB (keeps weight down, but inconvenience up)
  • Touchpad mouse is metallic and becomes a bit sweaty and hard to move your finger on sometimes
  • Comes loaded with promo links and trial software which is annoying and might confuse some users

And here are the best things about the DV2:

  • Quiet and cute as hell
  • Powerful and modern CPU, graphics, storage, and input/output jacks
  • Embedded WiFi, Bluetooth, and webcam/mic
  • Very thin and light and easy to transport
  • Comes with some very useful bundled Windows software which is nice for inexperienced users
  • Comes with some sweet 3rd-party software like Music Maker, Cyberlink DVD Studio, etc.

This article was written in response to HP sending CollegeTimes a free HP DV2 laptop. That being said, the opinions herein are currently true and those of the author alone. This is an honest review of HP, the DV2, and the world of laptops in general. I welcome any and all responses and will keep my eyes open for other good laptops!

About the Author



40 thoughts on "Choosing the Best Laptop for College in 2009"

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  7. xiaojie says:

    I will recommend 11-inch MacBook pro and 13-inch MacBook Air, these two computers is very durable, easy to manipulate, run fast, and the possibility of being infected by malware is very small. Price is $ 999 for each computer. They are both equipped with the best program suite in computer industry, there is also a very good operating system, plus Apple’s support is so ultra-praise. If you think they are too expensive, there are also Windows operating system computers with lower price and similar size available, these computers’ prices are between 600 to 700 dollars. Of course, netbooks may be cheaper, but their choice selection is relatively small and has reliability problems.

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  10. paul says:

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  11. JJ says:

    @Anonymous Mac fanboy,

    What is a PC exactly? A computer? I’m a fanboy of computers? Damn, you caught me.

    That’s the whole point, you dimwit. I’m not comparing anything, I’m simply trashing Mac and Mac fanboys. I’m glad you are so dense, as you Mac fanboys keep providing so many examples of self-obsessed stupidity.

    Really? All your student friends are getting Macbooks? Well s**t, anytime a crowd is doing something, it means its cool and stuff! You should join in! You should also try sleeping with crack-whores, I hear that is catching on.

  12. Anonymous says:

    @JJ, So you call people Mac fanboys, when you’re obviously a PC fanboy. Sounds a little hypocritical.
    It’s kind of funny how you don’t compare any laptops to MAC, you simply say “Don’t buy a MAC”
    I’ve used BOTH Pc and MAC and by far MAC OS is much easier to use. It looks better and is much faster, not to mention you don’t have to worry about viruses or ad-ware.

    PS. I’m pretty sure Apple’s stock is a tad higher then Microsoft or HP, or Dell, so they must be doing something right? Not to mention the majority of students I know are getting a Macbook Pro. So obviously they know what they’re doing.
    Just don’t get so biased, I’ve had both, I prefer MAC, you can’t convince me when I KNOW.

  13. paul smith says:

    for me it has to be ACER laptop, brilliant value for money and great specifications, I have one with a dual core processor 2GB ram and 260GB hard drive with a 17″ screen, it is beautiful!! For the main stream laptops then I would recommend the samsung notebooks, very smart!

  14. Tim says:

    Right now, I believe that the best laptop is the ASUS. For under $600 at some places, this laptop gives your 4GB of memory, dual processors, and 11 or more hours of battery life. It truly is a remarkable machine.

  15. Priyesh says:

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  16. Anonymous says:

    @Rose, yah fucking right

  17. Rose says:

    I am a girl, have a mac, and know the unix commands thank you very much. I’ve had my macbook for 4 years and have not had a thing go wrong with it. As opposed to my PC friends that have had to contend with hard drive failures and viruses.

    Sudo go make me a sandwich

  18. Molly says:

    Might want to check out HP Academy if you are looking for a laptop for school as there is an education discount.

  19. Watson says:

    Thanks for an educated article that was fun to read. Great information, relay of opinion, and incorporated humor. Very helpful.

  20. James says:

    Macbook or Macbook Pro, no question.

    Your Macs suck article is a bunch of bullshit.

  21. Jenn says:

    JJ, great article. Now that PC are starting to get features available on MACS, the field has really opened up!

  22. PC Lover says:

    JJ, great help for Brittmom…. could you imaging the embarrassment of showing up to college without an HDMI or eSATA port???

    Whew, narrowly avoided disaster!

  23. JJ says:

    @John, yes, Thinkpads are still going strong even after Lenovo bought them out from IBM, but they are seriously overpriced for their lack of hardware features. Being “strong” shelled isn’t good enough justification, esp since they are so ugly sometimes.

    P.S. Don’t get a Mac:

  24. John says:

    If you want something that will last through Grad school, go with a Thinkpad. They aren’t the prettiest laptops, but they are extremely well made and have solid (Which differs the hollow plastic feel of some laptops). Also, considering that they are business laptops, one can easily make the transition from school to a work environment. A bit of a sidestory: A few days ago a friend of mine and I were discussing how long our laptops would last, his being a Toshiba Satellite and mine a T61p. When I said at least two more years for mine, he said that was an understatement. However, both of us were wrong; both of our laptops were stolen later that day :(

    Anyway, for my next laptop I am debating between a Macbook and another Thinkpad. Macbooks are beautiful and have alot of nice features, but on the other hand I am just so use to Windows and you can get more bang for your buck.

  25. cat6seraph says:

    I vote Mac! Sure cost more, but like a couple of you stated you know what your getting. Macs are stylish, have a long life time, easy to use, AND you dont have to shell out hundreds of dollars if you want to upgrade your OS. If your not using the most current OS your computer is considered outdated.

    I was a PC, Vaio to be exact, but now my friend I speak to you as a Mac.
    .-= cat6seraph´s last blog ..Assassins Creed =-.

  26. Tristan says:

    I wouldn’t recommend buying a Sony laptop. They like to charge in upwards of $100 or more just because their name is on the laptop. If you were to go into a Best Buy or other similar store and see the specs of a Sony compared to a Toshiba or HP you’d notice that other manufacturers put better components in their system for the same cost. The only thing Sony changes is the decals. They look appealing and the casing is a little stronger but for the price IMO it isn’t worth it. You’re going to take good care of your laptop anyway so why pay more money for harder plastic. I would go with an HP/Dell/Toshiba. BTW good article.

  27. Joseph says:

    Great info…..Thanks

    I am attending University of Phoenix and I am taking majority of my classes on-line.

    Will the HP Dvr be a good PC for this

  28. JJ says:

    @Brittmom, that’s exactly why most kids want a Mac. :)

    There are plenty of free photo/music apps for PCs. You should never spend thousands of dollars on a computer cuz of 1 or 2 funky features.

    Back-to-school discounts are usually offered around August-September every year, and most manufacturers offer them. College bookstores do also, but I would avoid college bookstores as they are usually so overpriced to begin with.

    Arguments for not getting a Mac are almost limitless:
    – they are unbelievably expensive
    – they use a non-standard operating system that most kids can’t figure out and need to constantly ask friends for help
    – their hardware specs are always far behind the value of PCs… example: slower processors, smaller hard drives, no HDMI ports, no eSATA ports… etc.
    – its very hard to find good free software for Macs… you usually must pay for software that Mac creates for users instead of making use of all the freeware available for PCs… although this is slowly getting better over the years
    – when you need to get a Mac fixed, only Mac can fix them in many cases, meaning you must pay outrageous prices to get them fixed
    – if you want to expand your hard drive etc later on, its harder to find 3rd party components to install on your computer
    – graphics cards are generally much worse on a Mac than a PC (meaning that watching movies or playing games etc is not as great)

    That should be enough for now! Let me know. ;)

  29. Brittmom says:

    JJ….I too am a mom of a Senior and looking at getting her a laptop to prepare for college. She has been really wanting a Mac, but I think it’s more for reasons of “impressing” others with the price, etc… When we go look at them, she spends all of her time w/ the photo apps and music apps like garageband. I appreciate your comments on the HP and it sounds to me like she will do just fine with it. I am more concerned about making sure she will be able to access info from professors, etc to actually get her work done in college. I have also heard that some colleges or computer sellers offer discounts to incoming college students….any info on this? What are some arguments I can make to her for NOT getting a Mac besides the price. Thanks!

  30. JJ says:

    @ Paul, no way. Macs are the biggest ripoff in the entire tech world.

    Example: try to find any Macbook that has an HDMI port or eSATA port. Let me know what you find.

    Anyone in their right mind knows it, unless they are trying to prove something or align themselves with some kind of indie/hipster/self-righteous/enlightened image.

    And anytime you do need something fixed, Mac charges you an arm and a leg.

    Where the heck do you make the claim that PCs don’t “last as long”…? You are just as brainwashed as all the rest of the Mac fanboys. Have you read any of the reports of all the wireless cards failing without reason on all the new Macbooks coming out? And by the way, Mac has found absolutely no fix for the problem.

  31. Paul says:

    “This article was written in response to HP sending CollegeTimes a free HP DV2 laptop.”

    ohh…so this wasn’t biased or anything.

    The Macbooks are winners in my opinion. Sure, they aren’t as cheap as other PCs with similar tech specs; but the lifetime and overall quality of the Macbooks outdo PCs currently on the market. Macs don’t cost more because they simply look better. When you buy a Mac you’ll know you got your money’s worth.

    P.S. ‘This comment was not written in response to Apple sending LaptopBuyer a free Macbook Pro laptop.’

  32. JJ says:

    @tinydancer09, This type of mid-range HP would be great for all that, although if you play online games a lot you should maybe look at something slightly larger on the screen size etc. But of course for under $500 you can’t really afford anything larger than something like the HP model mentioned in the article.

  33. tinydancer09 says:

    I am a student and a dedicated player of The Sims 3…which kind of laptop would you recommend? I use the computer for Facebook, writing papers and storing music for my ipod…I’m looking for something under $500 or $600.

  34. JJ says:

    @ANXIOUS – I would definitely recommend this laptop as a gift for a 15 year old. It’s price is reasonable but not too much to risk on a teenager, and it has most of the high tech that young people might be interested in.

    @aoliver – Thanks mate glad it helped. Don’t be afraid to check out the other HP models that are out there, or even compare them with the likes of Sony, Dell, Asus, Samsung, etc. if you have time.

  35. aoliver says:

    Thanks! That was a lot of help! I was going to get an HP for college and now it is actually set!

  36. ANXIOUS says:

    would you recommend this laptop as a gift for a 15 year old child.

  37. Twin XL says:

    This article was found at the most perfect time for me! Thanks for all the great information!

  38. JJ says:

    Hi JoAnn, I’m pretty sure 64 bit is where everything is going these days. I didn’t even know they offered 32 bit Vista in stores. Anyway, I don’t like Vista and Windows 7 is debatable. Windows XP is definitely my favorite Windows however its now getting “older” and literally can’t handle some of the new technology coming out. A lot of these new HPs have such modern technology that Windows XP literally doesn’t have the correct drivers to run on it.

    After playing around with the dv2 that HP sent us here at CollegeTimes, I realized how poorly XP works on this model. So I installed LinuxMint and let me tell you, the machine works like a charm and looks gorgeous.

    LinuxMint is very user-friendly (even for non-nerds) and kind of combines features from both Windows and Mac computers.

    If that doesn’t interest you than yes, I would stick with the setup as its sold in stores with Windows Vista 64 bit.

    Let us know if you have further questions, thanks!

    P.S. I wouldn’t worry about Blu-ray really, but perhaps adding BlueTooth is worth it if your daughters use their cell phones a lot for photos, files, contacts, etc.

  39. JoAnn says:

    Thank you for the article, it was very helpful. I am mom, with little computer backgroud, trying to purchase 2 computer for my twin daughters (who are moderate computer users now—email, surfing, facebook, music, games—one big on Sims and oh yes—some school work) as they are about to go off to college this Sept. HP is the computer I had been looking at—was confuse about Vista 32 vs 64—as was hearing that 64 had more problems—-do you think if I purchase Vista 64 version that once upgraded to Window 7 that this would be eliminated (also noted that HP was only offering Vista 64 with service pack 1). Below is what I am thinking about purchasing — do you think it’s too much in regards to options–the salesperson had recommended 3 GBMemory; 320 GB Hard Drive with 32bit Vista)—I was trying to get something that would get them through at least 4 yrs. Don’t know if this model has the different ports you talked about and don’t know if I should add blue-ray and blue –tooth.
    HP Services contracts are a little expensive—but may look into it.

    I would appreaciate any comments that you may render. Thanks again.

    HP Pavilion Entertainment dv4t customizable Notebook PC

    NS270AV (cost: 2017.98 for both)

    Espresso Black
    Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 (64-bit)
    Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo Processor T6500 (2.1GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB)
    4GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm)
    500GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive with HP ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection
    512MB NVIDIA GeForce G 105M
    14.1″ diagonal WXGA High-Definition HP LED BrightView Widescreen (1280 x 800)
    LightScribe SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-RW with Double Layer Support
    [For LED Display] Webcam Only
    Wireless-G Card
    No TV Tuner w/remote control
    HP Color Matching Keyboard
    HP Long Life Battery
    No Modem
    Microsoft(R) Works 9.0
    HP Home & Home Office Store in-box envelope

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