As students head back to school and college after the long summer break, it’s vital they have the right laptop, peripherals and software. Save money and get the right PC as PC Advisor helps you make some grade-A choices.

Recently I visited an old stomping ground – the dingy pub outside my old journalism college, where many post-press hours were spent. Granted, a decade has passed since those heady days, but it was still a shock to see just what a transformation the place has undergone and to discover just how much two drinks in London can conceivably cost.

Then again, from what I remember few students relish springing for a round even at bargain prices. College life can be a financial balancing act, with students struggling to pay for essential equipment for the terms ahead while maintaining funds for an active social life. Essential kit these days, of course, often includes a PC.

When I was a student, email, the web and access to your own computer were all still around the corner – if I wanted to type up an overdue essay I'd have to wait for my turn on a PC in the library. But technology has become an integral part of college life, assisting with communications and research.

There's so much IT kit out there, it's a tough call deciding on the most practical and sensible items – which is where PC Advisor can help. We also tackle and throw in considerations of cool gadgetry such as phones and iPods. After all, you want to impress during freshers' week.


A new PC for university?

It's now something of a given that ready access to a PC is the least every student should expect. Since PC Advisor reviews show you can buy a PC for as little as £240, it's hard to argue that the cost of providing a laptop for your offspring to do their coursework isn't worth it.

However, if you're planning to equip school-age kids with their own PC, you'll want to make sure homework research is all they get up to. So take precautions regarding their online access - and keep the PC where you can see it.

For more on PC security precautions, visit PC Advisor's Security Advisor

Assuming you've decided to splash out, then, consider how much you're willing to spend. And do you want a Mac or a Windows PC? For creative courses such as photography, music subjects that involve notation and sound editing, graphics, illustration and other design disciplines, an Apple Mac is the best choice. The course will probably be taught on a Mac, and other students will be using Apple Macs.

Looking beyond university, creative industries from newspapers and advertising agencies to architectural and design companies are traditionally Mac environments. They will expect prospective employees to be skilled using software on this platform.

It's worth keeping an eye on the Apple Education microsite for a bargain. A t the time of writing, Archicad 10.0 was being offered online as a free download. Anyone registering downloaded software within a month received an unlock code that was good for a year.

In most other cases, a PC will be more suitable. Low-end models of some of the best-known brands of laptop and desktop PC are sold through supermarkets and the likes of Woolworths.

You can be fairly certain these big names won't go under halfway through the student year, making that extended warranty you bought as worthless as, er, a student IOU.

You may be able to get hold of marginally better specs by choosing lesser-known companies, but read up on them first. We've heard far too many tales of small PC retailers going bust after undercutting the big boys and other budget rivals, leaving customers with no support. So spend what you need – £800 or so for a really decent PC or laptop, often with a printer thrown in – but don't cut corners on the important stuff. We've provided a few examples , but prioritise RAM over hard disk space.

Quick links

Buying a new PC for a student

Protect yourself when buying student kit, printing solutions and phoning home

Student software, office apps and online tools

Free footage, getting broadband and PC security

Examples of suitable PCs for students