So, my twin boys start college (sixth form) this year and as their birthday is coming up I thought I'd kill two birds and buy them the laptop they need. I'm used to speccing out my own laptops for the office here, but when it is my money rather than my business it makes for a sharper focus. One lad is going to be studying art, the other music tech. So one needs to be able to run Abletron without hiccup (his 4GB RAM and i3 combo is underpowered), the other a variety of relatively low-end graphics stuff (not into Photoshop, but potentially might be.)

It took me more than a day to spec what I'm now hoping is the right (within my 'under £500 each' budget) laptop for them: a 15.6" Lenovo Ideapad 310 with an AMD A12, 12GB RAM and a 1Tb HDD.

What would you have gone for, given the budget restrictions? Max £500 all in (or $600 US if you prefer)

i7 machines are out of range, and most i5's would need a RAM upgrade (from the standard 4GB) that takes them out of it as well. The A12 seemed like a decent compromise, especially coupled to 12GB RAM. A two year all-in warranty was something of a deal-maker as well.

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I assume your boys have some of their own $$? If they need more RAM, let them buy it. However, for the CPU, go as high as you can afford. As pty said, an i7 isn't that much over the top. Also, forget about SSD drives. Too expensive and in the long term, not as reliable as spinning rust. Get bigger rotating rust buckets instead. That's what I have in my new laptop - 4GHz i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB hard drive.

@pty: Good try, but it was a refurb (and I wanted new, the two year warranty at John Lewis is always hard to ignore), there was only one of them (I needed two) and they don't have any stock :-)

@rubberman: yep, agreed about SSD, waste of time for the few seconds loading advantage given the cost. I'm upgrading my PS4Pro HDD this afternoon to a 2GB HDD rather than a 1GB SSD as the additional space is more important to me, and various tests seem to suggest the (average) SSD speed increase isn't that great on the PS4 as might be expected anyway. New i7's, and I am including the RAM requirement as I'm not so mean as to buy them somethine and then say 'by the way, you'll need to add this and that to be able to use it' were too expensive - simple as. Not that they really need an i7 of course, an i5 is perfectly capable for their demands. I might sound a tightarse, but when you have twins every outlay is twice the normal: the difference between a £479 and a £579 laptop really hits the budget when you are spending £1158 rather than £958.

Let's see what the Lenovo's are like when they arrive this afternoon, the lads seem happy enough with the specs when I showed them last night but how that converts to hands-on is another thing...

If the current Lenovo's are built to the same quality as the old ThinkPads then you'll have good machines. Those things were built to last. The one I bought for one son back in spring of 2004 is still chugging away. Of course, he has upgraded to newer machines since then but the original is still in use.

I used to love the old IBM ThinkPads, for just that reason. I have a couple of Lenovo machines here and while they are obviously built down to a lower budget, they are still decent machines. The IdeaPad is the budget range, but well specced and good enough for college usage methinks.

I see a 1366 x 768 screen on the A310. Pretty useless for your art student. Personally I wouldn't consider anything less than 1920 x 1080 and still miss the 1920 x 1200 screen I had on a 2007 Dell.

The 15.6" version he's getting is 1920 x 1080, so no problem there.

Mind you, he'll probably still lust after my HP Spectre x360 with the rather spiffy 4K (3840x2160) screen...

Not that they really need an i7 of course, an i5 is perfectly capable for their demands.

An i5 might be perfectly capable for their needs NOW, but who knows what the near future holds? What awesome application doing whatever is going to come out in 2017 or 2018 that every single college student simply has to have to not be an outcast and won't work with an i5?

Social status pecking order. It may be shallow, but it's real. Not everyone buys into that of course, but your sons could lose to the guy who has an i7.

Side note: Just looked up "sixth form" on Wikipedia. It appears to be what would would be considered "high school" rather than "college" in America as far as I can tell.

@pty: Good try, but it was a refurb (and I wanted new, the two year warranty at John Lewis is always hard to ignore), there was only one of them (I needed two) and they don't have any stock :-)

Haha yeah, it was such a good deal it was snapped up in hours

I'd have a higher-specced refurb over a brand new lower-spec machine every day of the week. Granted the 2 year warranty from John Lewis is a nice extra (they sell refurbs with the 2 year warranty too, by the way!)

Good to know that JL sell refurbs with their excellent warranty. I'm fine with refurbs, but this was a birthday present as well as a moving into sixth form thing and wanted to get a new machine on this occasion.

I disagree with all you guys about not splurging for the SSD. I think that when you're in college, your laptop is constantly being thrown in and out of your backback, and taken with you to classes, to the library, to the dorms, to the cafe, back to classes, etc. It's at least my opinion that fewer moving parts carries a lot of value for a machine constantly being moved around. As far as it being smaller for the $$$, I feel like there are so many cloud options nowadays (Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, etc.) that it's nearly impossible to fill the entire thing up anyways. Besides, I'd rather have my homework safe and sound on my Google Drive or on a solid state than floating around on a spinning drive being bounced around in my backpack as I commute between classrooms.

Oh, sorry, I didn't read all of the messages in this thread thoroughly. College means uni as far as I'm concerned, so that's why I thought an SSD is important. If it's just high school, and the machine is mostly staying in one place at home, with the occassional commute to the living room couch or bed, then non-SSD is perfectly fine.

Yep, it's the move up to sixth-form college (as it is called in the UK now) from school that they boys are making. They turn 16 over the weekend. I'm wanting the laptop to last them the two years they will be there, hence the two year warranty that JohnLewis throw in for free is important. As for when they move off to uni after that, they can buy their own bloody laptops :-)

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