Consumer Reports looks at back-to-school laptops

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Michelle Charlesworth has the latest details.

For students heading to college this fall, laptops are a must. But with so many options, how do you know what's best for you? Consumer Reports has some tips on how to pick the right one.

Whether it's writing papers, taking notes or playing streaming video games, it's important for college students to choose a laptop that can handle what they need it to do.

Consumer Reports says the first thing to do when shopping is check with your school. Often they have specific requirements when it comes to computers, and most colleges will say you can buy either Windows or Apple. But some specific schools within the college may use applications that only run on one or the other.

"On college campuses, you're going to see a lot of Mac laptops," Consumer Reports laptop expert Rich Fisco said. "Except when you go to an engineering building, in which case you'll see a lot of windows laptops."

Fisco says price is the next thing to consider.

"Mac laptops tend to be expensive," he said. "You're probably going to pay $1,000 or more for anything they have to offer. But in our survey, they are the most reliable. But Windows laptops offer a much wider range of pricing. You can pay as little as a couple of hundred dollars. Or you can pay as much as a Mac, or even more."

Then there's the size. Consumer Reports says 13-inch laptops offer a good compromise between screen size and weight for students on the go. Recommended 13-inch models include the MacBook Pro for $1,300 and the Dell XPS non-touch for $1,000.

If you're looking to spend less, the 14-inch Acer Aspire is a Consumer Reports' Best Buy at $700.

"The small, thin and lights are great," Fisco said. "They're cool. They're easy to carry. But if you're pulling an all-nighter writing that term paper, you're going to be looking for a larger screen than what those little guys afford you."

When shopping, Consumer Reports suggests looking for back-to-school discounts for students. Apple offers discounted education pricing on laptops and other items, Microsoft offers discounts of 10 percent or more, and many individual computer makers offer them as well.

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