Tech Shopping for Back-to-School

Back-to-School sales are a great time of the year to shop for a new computer. It follows the introduction of a new generation of hardware from companies like AMD, Intel, and nVidia. As a result, this is one of the most significant inventory-clearing event of the year for computer retailers.

I will first focus on students’ needs, and then we’ll look into how everybody else can benefit from the occasion.

Is it Time to Buy Yet?

Before we start comparing specific products, let’s take a look at the market’s pulse. Here’s a comparison of how this year’s prices are evolving compared to the same period last year:

This graph helps visualize widespread price fluctuations on smart devices. Sustained dips in prices reflects periods where rebates are abundant.

As a result, getting a good deal during those periods is usually easier. With that said, keep in mind that the computers you’re interested in could go on sale at a different time. If the computer you want gets a nice discount (you can tell because TekAdvisor will label the rebate as "Best price yet!"), it's probably not worth waiting for another sale.

Recommendations by Scenario

The right computer will change a lot depending on your needs. I won’t focus grade or age as computing needs won’t always increase as a student graduates. I also assume the computer is likely to be used by multiple family members.

For Typical Homework

If homework usually revolves around text and numbers (including using the web for research), the following are solid contenders:

  • Asus M32BF Tower Computer

    Asus M32BF Tower Computer from $4305% cheaper than usual
    ~$720 with accessories

    A great computer for productivity and even more creative tasks.

    Device Ratings

    by Stationary Computers standards

    Bang for the Buck3.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power1/5
    Storage2.5/5
    Portability3/5
    AutonomyN/A

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck4.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power2/5
    Storage4/5
    Portability0.5/5
    AutonomyN/A

    by Tower Computers standards

    Bang for the Buck2/5
    Versatility for the Price4/5
    Power0.5/5
    Storage1.5/5
    Portability3.5/5
    AutonomyN/A

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely
    Specs
    Processor: AMD A10-7800
    Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 Graphics
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 1 TB
    Dimensions: 17.53 x 40.89 x 38.10 cm
    Weight: 8.30 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the Newegg site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×
  • Asus M32BF Tower Computer

    Asus M32BF Tower Computer from $430;
    ~$755 with accessories

    A great computer for productivity and a little more. Not a bad product if you don't have any great plans for your computer but don't want to be too restricted.

    Device Ratings

    by Stationary Computers standards

    Bang for the Buck3/5
    Versatility for the Price4/5
    Power1/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability3/5
    AutonomyN/A

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck4.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power2/5
    Storage5/5
    Portability0.5/5
    AutonomyN/A

    by Tower Computers standards

    Bang for the Buck1.5/5
    Versatility for the Price3.5/5
    Power0.5/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability3.5/5
    AutonomyN/A

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely
    Specs
    Processor: AMD A10-7800
    Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 Graphics
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 2 TB
    Dimensions: 17.52 x 37.99 x 40.84 cm
    Weight: 8.26 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer's site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×
  • HP 15 Guillaume's pick; 14 times!

    HP 15" Laptop from $45021%, Best price yet!
    ~$540 with accessories

    This is a versatile laptop covering the everyday scenarios in a cost-efficient manner. Not a bad pick if "nothing fancy" generally describes your time at the co... Read More about the 15-BS017CA

    Device Ratings

    by Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power1.5/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability2.5/5
    Autonomy1.5/5

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck4.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power1.5/5
    Storage4/5
    Portability2.5/5
    Autonomy1/5

    by Portable Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power1/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability2.5/5
    Autonomy1/5

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely
    Specs
    Processor: Intel i3-6006U
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 1 TB
    Screen Size: 15.6"
    Screen Resolution: 1366×768
    Dimensions: 38.00 x 25.38 x 2.38 cm
    Weight: 1.95 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the Staples site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×

For Creative Experimentation

Working on a picture, a piece of music or a video is more demanding of a computer than text and numbers. The following will let you experiment more freely with digital art.

You have to Carry a Laptop with you in Class

In some instances, you could be expected to provide your own computer and bring it in class. Your focus then should be on ease of transportation and battery endurance.

PC Gamers go to Class Too...

You might be tempted to indulge in gaming on your laptop. Sadly, those laptops are usually heavy, and their considerable power drains the battery much faster. If you’re really into PC gaming and have room for a stationary computer, you could get a portable laptop and a desktop gaming PC for the price of a single gaming laptop.

It's still a significant expense. If you can get your current PC to last you one more year, I would start by complementing your current gear. i.e.:

  • If you still play games on your PC, but you can't take it to class: focus on the classroom laptop first.
  • If your current laptop still has ok batteries but sucks at gaming: bring that one to class and get a nice gaming machine for your room.

Portable Options

Those laptops are small and cheap enough to take in class. They're not great for gaming but will run smaller and older games.

I also set the performance bar a little lower on these because you have a kick-ass PC at home to do the tough work. They should still be able to handle anything you'll encounter in class.

  • HP 14 Guillaume's pick; 4 times!

    HP 14" Convertible Laptop from $73019%, Best price yet!
    ~$820 with accessories

    This small laptop is a very versatile option, capable of handling quite a bit of work while being small enough and flexible enough to be used as a tablet when c... Read More about the 14-BA018CA

    Device Ratings

    by Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck4.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power3/5
    Storage2/5
    Portability3/5
    Autonomy3/5

    by Tablets standards

    Bang for the Buck5/5
    Versatility for the Price5/5
    Power4.5/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability0.5/5
    Autonomy0.5/5

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck4/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power3/5
    Storage2/5
    Portability3/5
    Autonomy2/5

    by Portable Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck4.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4.5/5
    Power3/5
    Storage2/5
    Portability3/5
    Autonomy2.5/5

    by Large Tablets standards

    Bang for the Buck5/5
    Versatility for the Price5/5
    Power4/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability0.5/5
    Autonomy0.5/5

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.
    Specs
    Processor: Intel Core i5-7200U
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 256.00 GB
    Screen Size: 14"
    Screen Resolution: 1920×1080
    Dimensions: 38.48 x 22.69 x 1.99 cm
    Weight: 1.64 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the Best Buy site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×
  • Asus VivoBook 14

    Asus VivoBook 14" Laptop from $430;
    ~$514 with accessories

    This laptop is worth considering as an affordable homework machine. It's not using high-end parts, and I wouldn't expect it to excel at anything except being re... Read More about the E402NA-BS91-CB

    Device Ratings

    by Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck2.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4/5
    Power1/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability3/5
    Autonomy3/5

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck2.5/5
    Versatility for the Price4/5
    Power1/5
    Storage4/5
    Portability2.5/5
    Autonomy2/5

    by Portable Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck2/5
    Versatility for the Price4/5
    Power0/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability3/5
    Autonomy3/5

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    3/5
    Meets recommended specs

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    3/5
    Meets recommended specs
    Specs
    Processor: Intel Pentium N4200
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 505
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 1 TB
    Screen Size: 14"
    Screen Resolution: 1366×768
    Dimensions: 33.78 x 23.62 x 2.29 cm
    Weight: 1.81 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the eBay site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×
  • HP 15

    HP 15" Touchscreen Netbook from $60010%, Best price yet!
    ~$748 with accessories

    This small laptop is a good match if what you're looking for can be summarized as "nothing fancy" but versatile. It can be used as a laptop or a tablet and it's... Read More about the 14-BA007CA

    Device Ratings

    by Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck2/5
    Versatility for the Price1.5/5
    Power1.5/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability2/5
    Autonomy3/5

    by Tablets standards

    Bang for the Buck3/5
    Versatility for the Price2/5
    Power2/5
    Storage5/5
    Portability0/5
    Autonomy0.5/5

    by All Smart Devices standards

    Bang for the Buck2.5/5
    Versatility for the Price1.5/5
    Power1.5/5
    Storage4/5
    Portability2/5
    Autonomy2/5

    by Portable Laptops standards

    Bang for the Buck1.5/5
    Versatility for the Price1.5/5
    Power1/5
    Storage4.5/5
    Portability1.5/5
    Autonomy2.5/5

    by Large Tablets standards

    Bang for the Buck3/5
    Versatility for the Price2.5/5
    Power1.5/5
    Storage5/5
    Portability0/5
    Autonomy0.5/5

    performance in Web & Communication

    5/5
    Exceeds recommended specs, fit for hardcore users.

    performance in Microsoft Word 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely

    performance in Microsoft Excel 2016

    4/5
    This should run nicely
    Specs
    Processor: Intel Core i3-7100U
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
    Memory: 8.00 GB
    Storage: 1 TB
    Screen Size: 14"
    Screen Resolution: 1366×768
    Dimensions: 38.43 x 25.46 x 2.43 cm
    Weight: 1.99 kg

    Pricing Accuracy

    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer's site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. ×

Gaming Rigs

This computer stays home for gaming and working on tougher assignments.

Those are not the most powerful gaming PCs out there but will help relieve stress. If you need more power check out the pages below:

You need a Powerful Computer but don’t have Room to Dedicate to It

If you have to live in cramped quarters, you might not be able to devote space to a PC. In those circumstances, a laptop could be your best option.

Now, I wouldn’t expect to carry this kind of laptop around everywhere. They tend to be bulky and have short battery endurance. With that said, they excel as temporary workstations and are easy to stash away when you need your desk or kitchen table for something else.

Student Discounts for card Holders

With a valid educational ID or email address, you can save a little extra at the following stores and providers:

Description Territory Available Online Available in Stores
Hardware and Software
Apple Store for Education Macs, iPads, iPhones and software such as Final Cut; available all year-round. All of Canada Yes Unclear
Microsoft Deals for Students & Educators PCs, Tablets and software such as MS Office; available all year-round. All of Canada Yes Unclear
Best Buy Student Discounts From time to time, Best Buy has exclusive deals for students. All of Canada Unclear Unclear
Henry's Student deals on video and photography equipment. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario No Yes
Adobe Student license for Adobe Creative Suite which includes Photoshop, Premiere and more. All of Canada Yes No
Services
Shaw Internet and television British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nothern Ontario Yes Yes
Telus Internet and television All of Canada Yes Yes
Videotron Internet and television Québec Yes Yes
Eastlink Internet and television Maritimes, Northern Ontario Yes Yes
Amazon Prime for Students Free Two-Day Shipping, Unlimited photo storage, Twitch Prime, Prime video after free trial period. All of Canada Yes No
Spotify Premium for Students Unlimited ad-free music All of Canada Yes No

Most deals are available to everyone

You can take advantage of nearly all of back-to-school sales without a Student ID; so keep your eyes open for deals on computers, but also tablets and smartphones.

If you want a hand with that, I post my picks from weekly sales every Friday. Just sign up to my newsletter or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

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