Alex’s Dream Computer: Building the Perfect College Laptop


When you’re a college student, your computer means lots of different things to you. It’s your friend when you’re bored, giving you a portal to the internet as you pass the time in the library. It’s your trusty study buddy, where all your notes are and where you collaborate with teachers and classmates. It’s the glow in your room, watching over you while you sleep. Your whole entire life is on that thing. All your Facebook posts. Your folder of .gif files you found on Tumblr. That folder on your desktop called “Personal Goals” that’s totally not fooling anybody. It’s your only friend when you’re burning the midnight oil working on that term paper (or playing Counter Strike like every other college student for the past dozen years or so, totally your decision).


Your laptop has many roles to fill in the college social environment. It’s where you video chat with your friends and family back home, or keep in touch with your friends at other schools. It’s the impromptu DJ at the party, when there’s no music and you’re the only one with their laptop, and people just want to dance. You get to break out your massive Justin Timberlake collection and save the day.

It’s no wonder why future college students tend to get a brand new laptop just before shipping off into the far away land of academia. Your college laptop is a four-year investment and a responsibility that you need to take good care of. At least that’s what your parents said. And with any investment that long-term, you need to consciously address what you’ll need out of the computer as you embark on your journey into the real world.

In fall, I start my senior year of college, which means I’m uniquely aware of what a college student most needs out of their laptop. So I’m here to show you how to build the killer laptop that will mean so much to you over your time at school that you’ll want to get it its own graduation cap.


In college, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Literally. The average college textbook weighs about as much as two Star Destroyers, and each class requires roughly thirty of them. When you’re lugging around all those books, you want to condense your other necessities down to a manageable size.

Let me tell you this much: the average, run-of-the-mill 15″ laptop fits in a Jansport about as well as a soccer mom’s minivan fits into a tube sock. Most backpacks just aren’t made for the bulk of a big laptop.

The best decision I ever made was to go mini. No, I didn’t get a netbook, because I actually want a real computer. I just went netbook-sized.

This Acer Aspire ONE Laptop is an awesome choice. It’s only 11.6″, which makes it about the same size as an iPad in terms of width and length. It fits in any bag perfectly, and goes everywhere with you. Ever since I got an 11.6″ laptop, I carry it around with me in my messenger bag when I’m out and about running errands and stuff. I use it all the time.


The main hardware flaw with this laptop that doesn’t make it the BEST choice is that it’s only got 2 GB of RAM, but with one slot, that’s an easy thing to fix. The machine itself handles 4 GB maximum of RAM, which is plenty enough for the word processing and web surfing you do in a normal college day.

It’s got a 320 GB hard drive, which is an enormous amount of videos, photos, and music, likely more than you’ll ever need in college (unless you have 321 GB of Justin Timberlake, in which case, you should seek medical attention). If you’re one of those unique, rare space-savers who uses cloud storage to their advantage and doesn’t end up using a bulk of their laptop’s hard drive space, there is a different route you can go as well.

Solid-state drives, which are currently becoming more common and popular, use flash memory (like the kind in USB drives and iPods) instead of the traditional spinning magnet disk platters that most hard drives use. This results in a decrease in the risk of data loss, as well as an increase in data transfer speed and boot times.

Solid-state drives, or SSDs for short, tend to cost more money per gigabyte than traditional hard disk drives. However, brands like OCZ and Mushkin have drives that sell for as little as $1/GB. Personally, my hard drive is only 250 GB and I use a lot of cloud services to hold things like videos and pictures and documents so my hard drive doesn’t have to. I can spare a hundred gigs or so.  A solid-state drive is at the top of my laptop upgrades list.

The decision you have to make is one of space versus speed. If you’d rather have fast boot times and speedier data than an abundance of space, get an SSD. If space is a concern, consider that to get a similarly priced SSD compared to your current hard drive, you’ll likely be cutting your available space by roughly 150-200 gigabytes. If you feel you need that space, there’s nothing wrong with going down the road more often travelled.


Your desk at college has to be a place of zen and harmony, but usually tends to devolve into complete and total chaos. However, starting yourself off with a mind on organization and what you’ll need at your desk tends to help you maintain organization in the long run.

My desk

Honestly, the easiest way to keep your desk clean is to treat it as if there were an actual computer there. Docking your laptop every day when you get back to your room gives your desk a more comfortable feeling than being hunched over a laptop. Fortunately, docking is easy and relatively low-maintenance.

First, you need to know what kind of video output your computer has. The laptop we built above has an HDMI out port, which makes hooking it up to a monitor or HDTV super-easy. A solid, 20″ monitor is perfect for working on the computer, sure, but also is big enough to be able to watch movies and TV from elsewhere in the room. This Acer Widescreen monitor is great if you’re looking for something a little lower in price. Speaking of lower prices, remember, don’t be afraid to go refurbished to save a little dough.

A keyboard and mouse also help the illusion of having a desktop computer. Luckily, there is no shortage of keyboard and mouse combos to fit your needs. This Ark Technology bundle fits another need on top of a keyboard and mouse…speakers! For about as much as two trips to McDonalds (this is college we’re talking about here), you can get a mouse, keyboard, and a set of booming desk speakers that you can bump all your favorite music out of.

All your favorite music.

Note: we do not recommend putting your speakers facing out of your dorm room window, because those people are morons. Also, because the keyboard and mouse are both USB, you’ll probably want a hub.


That laptop isn’t gonna keep itself safe, because it’s inanimate. Doing your best to keep it in tip-top physical condition is always important. The best way to do that while still staying backpack-friendly is a simple neoprene laptop sleeve. It protects your computer from the elements, simple as that.

This Syba 12″ Neoprene Netbook Sleeve happens to be the perfect size for most 11.6″ laptops. I know, because I own this exact sleeve, and it fits great. It’s reversible, one side red and one side gray (my school’s colors!!!!!1), totally machine washable and made of durable, soft fabric that my laptop gets all kinds of comfy in as he bounces around my backpack.

Of course, in college, there is only one piece of technology that even comes close to being as important as your laptop: your headphones. They’re a sign of status, of your personal love of music. They help you drown out sounds on campus or entertain yourself as you pass the time. Having great headphones is important, so you should probably get a decent pair of them.


Get an air freshener. Stuff just tends to smell worse once you get to college, likely because of a shared lack of responsibility and disregard for general dignity between you and your classmates. Get an air freshener. For the sake of your health, for the sake of your future, get an air freshener. This PC Mate air freshener is cool because it’s shaped like an apple, is USB powered, uses essential oils and fancy stuff to kill stink, and comes in black, green, and yellow. You’ve been warned.

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