Heading to university is an expensive time. There are furnishings, textbooks – and the occasional beverage – that require heavy investment, and the last thing you want to do is miss out because you blew all your money on a laptop.
You can get yourself a decent laptop for as little as £200, but check our tips below to find out how much you should expect to spend and how you can minimise your outgoings as much as possible. Our guide on the best laptops for students gives you some in-depth advice, but read on for five quick tips.
Browse all the best laptops from our tests.
1) Work out how much to spend
In other words, before you know how much you can save, you need to know how much you’re willing to shell out.
If you really only want a laptop for typing up notes and perhaps checking a few emails, you can spend as little as £200. But if you know your course will require a lot of online research, such as opening lots of PDF journals and academic websites, it’s better to stretch for something a little better.
Our guide on how to buy the best laptop includes the following advice on how much to spend, but click through for a full page of all you need to know.
Less than £200 – Intel Celeron or Atom processors, 2GB of Ram and 32GB of storage. Won’t be particularly fast, but fine for taking notes and browsing the internet. Example: The Asus E406 can be found for around £200 and should handle the basics.
Less than £400 – Intel Pentium, Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3 and 4GB Ram. Fast enough for web browsing, multitasking and research work. Aim for a Full HD screen and an SSD if you can. Example: The Acer Swift 1 SF114-32 hovers at around £399 most of the time and includes an Intel Pentium and 4GB of Ram.
Less than £600 – Intel Core i5, i7, AMD Ryzen 5, 7 and 8GB of Ram. Should be ideal for photo editing and some light video work. Look for a thin and light design, a Full HD screen and an SSD to get the most for your money. Example: The Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630 combines big-laptop presence with a 360-degree hinge for £600.
Less than £800 – As above, but in increasingly high-end designs. Look for great battery life on premium ultrabooks and gaming performance on bigger devices. Example: The Dell Inspiron 13 5000 is a compact Ultrabook with all the specifications you’ll need to get work done.
More than £800 – Some stunning designs, great screens and good speakers. High-end laptops will suit more intensive tasks, such as video editing or playing games. Example: Blow the budget out of the water with a MacBook Pro for around £1,100.
2) Check the big laptop brands for student discounts
Apple might have the best-known student discounts, but several other big computing brands offer some modest discounts to students with an .ac.uk email address, in partnership with companies like Student Beans and Unidays.
- Microsoft: 10% off Surface devices
- Apple: Free Beats headphones, 20% off AppleCare+ and various discounts depending on the product
- Lenovo: 20% off laptops and accessories (StudentBeans)
- Dell: up to 10% off Inspiron laptops, 10% off Alienware laptops
- Asus: up to 15% off (StudentBeans)
- Samsung: up to 15% off laptops and tablets (Unidays)
- HP: up to 35% off
3) Save money in the sales
Unsurprisingly, it’s not just the laptop brands that want you to spend your precious student sterling with them – the big retailers are in on the action as well.
Currys PC World has a dedicated back-to-school page that includes tech recommendations for university. Currys PC World is also offering discounts via Student Beans, including up to 10% off HP laptops, 10% off Microsoft Surface devices and 10% off Chromebooks. You’ll need to verify your student status with Student Beans in order to get the discounts.
Meanwhile, Argos has a dedicated university laptop page but hasn’t laid out any special discounts as yet. There are still some good deals to be had, though, including up to £50 off the popular Acer Swift 3, which is down to £599 for a Core i5, 512GB model.
John Lewis also has a ‘university essentials’ page, but again doesn’t have any proper special offers for student electricals. It’s always worth checking the general John Lewis laptops page, as this can often spring up a few handy laptop discounts.
4) Laptop trade-in schemes
If you have an old but working laptop, you may find you can get a big discount by trading it in.
Currys PC World offers a trade-in discount throughout most of the year, for example, and even has a special trade-in deal just for MacBook buyers, at the time of writing. You can get your laptop valued and, based on our own experiments, even if you have an old and slow laptop, you can always get at least £50 for it if you choose to receive your trade-in reward as a voucher instead of cash.
Just don’t forget to wipe all your data off it first (see our guide on how to prepare your computer for recycling), and ensure the device qualifies with the retailer’s terms and conditions on trade-ins.
5) Consider a refurbished or second-hand laptop
If you’re confident you know what you want (and have looked through our wide selection of reviews), you could save hundreds of pounds by shopping in the second-hand or refurbished market.
There are ups (it’s better for the environment and saves you money) and downs (warranties aren’t as long on refurbished computers and you probably won’t get any warranty when buying used), so it’s worth considering if it’s the right option for you. Read our guide on how to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop for more information.
By way of an example, you can typically save at least £200 on a MacBook Pro that’s been refurbished (or is simply an unused, open-box returned product), and usually even more if it’s a higher-spec model. Even cheaper laptops that began life as £200 products yield a saving of at least £20 if you don’t mind going refurbished.
Should you buy a tablet instead of a laptop for uni?
If you want something a little more versatile, you might consider a tablet with an attachable keyboard and a stylus. These could be ideal for courses that involve design and sketching, but also come at a high cost. Here are three models at three different prices that could fit the bill.
Microsoft Surface Go: £369 for tablet, around £550 with keyboard and Surface Pen stylus. This tablet can turn into a super-compact laptop thanks to its small 10.1-inch display. It doesn’t have the fastest processor around, but it has the power and flexibility of Windows 10 on its side, and the choice of software to go with it. Read our full Microsoft Surface Go review for the full verdict.
Apple iPad Air: £450 for the tablet, around £710 with keyboard and Apple Pencil stylus. The newest iPad Air is essentially an iPad Pro Lite, with similar specifications and the ability to use the excellent Apple Pencil for sketching and taking notes. It isn’t cheap, especially with all the accessories, but it could be a great laptop alternative for someone on a more creative uni course. And don’t forget those Apple discounts for students. Read our full iPad Air review.
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Core i5: £779 for tablet and keyboard (Currys PC World offer), £879 with Surface Pen stylus. The original high-end tablet-laptop hybrid, the Surface Pro line is still a hugely desirable choice. It’s a full-powered laptop with the design of a tablet, with an easy-to-attach keyboard for when you want to get to some serious writing. Read our full Surface Pro 6 review.