COVID-19 may be forcing you to buy a laptop computer for your child. Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank. See our tips for getting an affordable device, whether it’s new, used or refurbished.

The minimum characteristics
Buying used: what to know
Refurbished: an option to consider
Buy a new laptop for less than $ 1,000

While school purchases once boiled down to pencils, erasers, books, satchels and Duo-Tangs, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought for many a sizeable addition to that list: a laptop. Whether it is during periods of confinement or because of the temporary closure of their class due to an outbreak of the disease, Quebec students must now be able to follow their courses remotely.

Even though homeschooling may become rarer with the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, this additional accessory may well remain on Quebec’s school lists for some time.

In the province, no software is imposed on schools by the Ministry of Education; IT needs therefore vary from one establishment to another. If a versatile chooses to primarily use Microsoft’s Teams videoconferencing platform, another may prefer Zoom. One school board may suggest the Google Docs office suite to its teachers, while another will prefer Microsoft Office.

Fortunately, the vast majority of this software is available on all types of laptops, such as Chromebooks, Macs, and Windows computers. There are, however, exceptions. You should therefore check with the school to find out what your child’s needs are in this area before purchasing a new device.

Note that an Android tablet or an iPad can also sometimes be used, provided they are equipped with the right accessories – such as a keyboard – and compatible with the applications suggested by the school.

You may not need to equip your child either: several school boards in Quebec indeed lend a computer to students. Some do it only for poor families, while others systematically make such loans for everyone.

If your child’s school does not lend a device, or if you need one, this buying guide will guide you in acquiring an affordable computer, whether it is new or used. or refurbished.

The minimum characteristics

When buying a laptop at a low price, you will have to make some compromises, whether it is in terms of speed, storage, or too small or too large the device, for example. For an enjoyable experience, however, make sure that the computer has at least the following features.

Processor

For basic use, like web browsing and word processing, most models on the market – and even used computers from a few years ago – should be powerful enough to provide a glitch-free experience. Video conferencing applications, including Teams and Zoom, are more power hungry, however, and require at least a dual-core processor running at 2 gigahertz (GHz) or higher (and four cores for higher resolution streaming). Usually an Intel Core or AMD Ryzen processor should be sufficient.

If you plan to play games or engage in complex activities (such as 3D drawing), however, you will have to invest more to get a better performing model. Then check your software requirements.

RAM

Random access memory (RAM) allows multiple tasks to be performed simultaneously. If you run out of it, some software may not open, and the whole computer will appear slow. The more RAM you have, the better, but the minimum requirement for video conferencing software is 4 gigabytes (GB). With so little memory, however, you’ll have to close your apps when they’re not in use and limit the number of browser tabs you open at one time. If possible, go for more RAM: 16 GB would be ideal, but new computers sold at low prices rarely offer more than 8 GB.

Storage

Many affordable computers have a hard drive instead of an SSD (for Solid State Drive). Hard drives have the advantage of providing plenty of storage space, but opening software can sometimes take several seconds. If this affects the experience immediately, you can still work afterwards.

With an SSD, your computer will appear faster, but your storage space will be smaller. Although Microsoft recommends a minimum of 32 GB of space for Windows 10, you should aim for at least 128 GB. If you go for a 64 GB model, also plan to equip yourself with a hard drive or an external SSD. Note that your storage requirements will be lower with a Chromebook, for which a minimum of 32GB should be acceptable if you install few apps.

Drums

It is difficult to assess the autonomy of a battery by analyzing its characteristics, since energy consumption varies from one device to another. In addition, the autonomy announced by the manufacturers is generally overestimated. Specialized media like CNET, Wirecutter and The Verge remain your best source of information on this subject.

An affordable computer can rarely run on battery alone from morning until night, but you should still be able to spend at least half a day on a charge if you occasionally want to use the device away from home. .

>> To read also: 18 recommended laptops

Buying used: what to know

An economical and eco-responsible option to get a computer is to opt for a used model. However, check the following information before making a purchase, whether from an acquaintance or using a website like Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace.

Device age

For security reasons and to ensure the compatibility of your applications, choose a computer that may have an up-to-date operating system (Windows 10, macOS 11 or Chrome OS 87). The age limit varies from device to device, but count around seven years on average from the date of manufacture.

Remember that batteries degrade over time. The older the computer purchased, the shorter its battery life.

Device Status

Inspect the computer well before purchasing it. Is the hull intact? Does the computer turn on? Are all keys and ports in good condition? If you have time and it’s possible for you to do so (by buying a friend’s device, for example), try installing the apps you plan to use and make sure they work.

If you can’t try out the computer before you buy it, ask the salesperson to shoot a video in which they perform these checks for you.

Is it safe?

Any transaction with a stranger involves an element of risk. Make sure that you are not alone during the exchange and that you can trace the seller if necessary. Prefer an Interac transfer to cash payment to reduce the risk of theft and to leave a trace of the transaction.

Refurbished: an option to consider

Some manufacturers and retailers offer refurbished products, sometimes also sold as “remanufactured” or “reconditioned”. In all cases, it is the same thing: a device that has lived – sometimes as little as a few days -, but whose parts have been replaced as needed, to ensure that it meets the same standards. only when it leaves the factory.

For example, a refurbished computer from Microsoft could have been returned after a few days of use by a customer. The device will have been thoroughly cleaned and inspected before being sold as a refurbished version. It is usually indistinguishable from a computer like this from a genuine new product.

A device thus “revamped” by a manufacturer is likely to save you on average about 15% on the purchase price. Some companies, like Insertech in Montreal, are also sometimes able to refurbish older devices. The economy can then be greater.

Note that the conditions for refurbishment vary from one company to another. For example, Amazon’s “refurbished” appliance store only promises that its products have no visible cosmetic imperfections “when held at arm’s length”. The warranty also varies depending on the supplier and can vary from 90 days to an original warranty.

Some retailers also offer “open boxes,” usually demo devices or returns. The discount and the guarantee then vary on a case by case basis.

Buy a new laptop for less than $ 1,000

You can buy a new computer for less than $ 1,000, and even less than $ 500, if you make some compromises.

Chromebook

If all of the apps you use are available on the web, which is typically the case in schools, a Chromebook might be an option to consider for a budget PC. These devices, with Google’s Chrome OS operating system, allow you to access the Internet and install Android apps.

A Chromebook generally needs less powerful components than a Windows computer. In some cases, therefore, you will be able to find acceptable models for less than $ 500. Be careful, however: some Android apps and some web software – for example Zoom – are still demanding and might need a more expensive model to function properly.

Mac

No Mac laptop is sold below the $ 1,000 mark. To get an Apple device at a low price, you will need to equip yourself with a used or refurbished model, or even buy an iPad with keyboard (starting at around $ 550 for both), if the iPadOS applications respond. to your needs.

Windows 10

Under the $ 500 mark, you’re probably not going to find a new PC with Windows 10 that will perform well (unless you take advantage of a promotion). However, several good models exist for less than $ 1,000.

To get the best deal possible, buy a device at a discount. You’ll probably get an older generation model, but the savings – sometimes as much as 30% of the purchase price – often turn out to be substantial.

Three recommended models

Here are three low-cost laptop models recommended by the trade press.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Chromebook-Duet

The best affordable Chromebook, according to The Verge, is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. The device has its drawbacks: its small keyboard and its inefficient processor make it a device better suited to a primary school student than a high school student or an adult, for example. It does offer a decent experience, however, as long as you limit yourself to the web and don’t install Android apps, which might be too slow. Price: $ 400.

Acer Swift 3

Acer-Swift-SF3

Recommended in particular by the CNET site, the Swift 3 computer stands out for its good characteristics: latest generation Ryzen processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 or 512 GB SSD disk. Equipped with a 14 in (36 cm ), this Windows 10 laptop has a convenient size for work at home as well as transport to school or office. Price: from $ 700.

ASUS TUF Gaming

ASUS-TUF

The best affordable Windows 10 computer for gaming, according to the Wirecutter site, is ASUS ‘TUF Gaming. Equipped with a 15.6 ” (40cm) display, this device is a bit big and heavy for everyday backpacking, but it’s a good size for home. Its characteristics, good enough for video games, also make it a powerful device for more demanding software at work or at school. Price: from $ 950.

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