How to pick the best laptop for a teacher
It doesn’t matter if you are new to teaching or have been teaching for most of your life; the chances are that you use a computer on a regular basis for all manner of teaching related activities, from lesson prep to timetables. Picking the right laptop can be a minefield, especially if you’re not technical, as an IT lecturer I frequently get asked what to look out for when buying a new laptop and will often be presented with a list of laptops and asked which laptop is best for a teaching. I hope that this article will help all teachers pick the best laptop for their needs without spending their entire pay cheque.
The first thing to look out for is the physical size of the laptop, lugging around a weighty 17” laptop will put a strain on any teachers shoulder, especially if you move between classes or carry the laptop to work. This is an easy aspect to check, all laptops will have the size and weight listed in the specification. My laptop weighs 4.5 pounds (2 kg), I don’t find this a heavy laptop, but I do feel the weight on my shoulder when I’ve carried it for a while. Some laptops weigh as much as 9.77 pounds (4.43kg) so it’s is definitely something to be aware of when buying a laptop. The next physical aspect is the dimensions, mine is a 15” laptop which is represented by the size of its screen, while a smaller laptop will be easier to carry and most likely lighter it will also have a smaller screen.
CPU, RAM, HDD – Power and Storage
The next aspect to consider when buying a laptop is the technical specification; the most important aspects will be listed as CPU, RAM and HDD. The way to think about these abbreviations is that the CPU (central processing unit) provides all the calculations; ideally you will want the highest frequency and the highest number of cores. This information can be difficult to find on the specification so the easiest method I have found is to focus on Intel, if you have lots of money to spend and require a very powerful laptop you should purchase an i7 or an i9 processor. For the majority of teachers this will be completely over the top and most teachers would be delighted with an i5 processor. If the goal is to save money Intel Pentium, Celeron and i3 are options but you should aim to get the i3. AMD are another manufacturer of CPU, offering the Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 which are positioned to directly compete with the Intel i3, i5, i7 and i9 respectively. AMD CPUs have traditionally lagged behind Intel in terms of performance but have been cheaper to buy; this gap has closed significantly in recent years in terms of both performance and cost.
The next technical aspect is the memory; memory comes in two forms, long term storage which is represented with the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and short time storage represented by the RAM (Random Access Memory) value. It is likely as a teacher the majority of your work will be stored in the cloud or on school servers so it is possible you will not need a large Hard Disk Drive. This is the ideal opportunity to gain a faster laptop in exchange for less storage; this is where an SSD (Solid State Drive) becomes very useful. Solid State Drives are extremely fast due to not have any moving parts, however, they are more expensive and as a result less storage is affordable. The amount of storage available will be shown in gigabytes e.g. 256GB or terabytes e.g. 1TB, a terabyte is 1024GB. A 1TB Solid State Drive will be hugely expensive so it is safe to assume if the HDD/SSD is a terabyte or bigger, it is an older mechanical drive, which will feature more storage but will operate slower. Short term storage is simple to compare at a basic level, the larger the number the better. This number will again be represented in gigabytes, but it will be a much lower figure e.g. 4GB. A laptop with only 2GB will feel slow, especially as it gets older, 4GB will be a good amount of RAM but 8GB will provide a fast laptop into the future.
Another aspect that I have found incredibly important is how long the battery lasts, my laptop battery would last 9 hours when it was new and it is now significantly less than 9 hours. If you are planning to conduct any work while away from a charger, ensure the battery will last.
USB and connections
An important aspect that is in the process of changing are USB connections, in the past I was only concerned about the number of USB ports a laptop had, this ensured I could connect an external mouse and keyboard, a memory stick and a presentation clicker. Unfortunately, USB connections have now become a little more complicated as a new standard has been introduced (USB C) that is not backwards compatible with previous versions. This will mean any USB devices you have, including printers, memory sticks, keyboards, mouse, presentation clickers, sound systems, microphones, webcams, etc. will not be compatible and will require an adapter. If you are an early adopter getting the USB C makes sense but ensure you budget for the additional cost of peripherals or adapters.