By Scott Baughman

It’s that time of year again – when a young man’s fancy turns to school! No, not because he WANTS to go back to class, but because his family is making him do so. And what is a BMOC these days supposed to be concerned about? I can assure you, it isn’t his status as an athlete or most often even his car, but rather, the quality of his new back to school technical gear.

I’ve written quite a bit about smartphones and tablets over the course of this year’s worth of Mountain Breeze issues, so for this column I’m going to tackle the one item of tech that I used in school that is still important – the trusty laptop.

Whether you call them laptops, portable computers or use a more specific name like MacBook or Chromebook there’s no denying that today’s students still need, and sometimes schools even require, a computer you can take to and from class easily. If your child is lucky enough to live in a school district that has received some kind of grant or tax funding to provide laptops for each student, then congrats, your problem is solved. But if you’re in a more traditional school district then you might find that the biggest ticket item on your student’s back-to-school supply list is a laptop of certain system requirements. While it would be great if we all lived in a world where we could easily afford the top of the line gear for our budding Einsteins, we live in the real world and buying a new laptop can be quite expensive. But not if you’re smart enough to check out a refurbished model!

Gone are the days that rebuilt computers were made of the leftovers and castoffs that nobody wanted. In fact, these days you can get an almost pristine system with innards that are while not quite cutting edge, at least really sharp.

So, let’s take a look at a few systems that would be perfectly great for your student’s needs – or maybe even your own.

First up, it’s the Dell XPS 13 9360 Quad-Core 13.3-inch laptop. Now, the folks at Dell may not be as ubiquitous in the computer space as they once were, but they’re still a solid brand with excellent support. And this design weighs in at just 2.7 pounds with a razor thin profile of only sixth-tenths of an inch thickness! But despite the tiny size, it still sports a 13.3-inch display and has a quad-core CPU. Which means while it isn’t the topmost, fastest chip on the market today, it will still be plenty fast enough for most needs. The refurbished model comes in at just under a grand, with a price tag of $969.

Next, let’s take a look at the HP ZBook 15.6-inch Quad-Core laptop. This model is from Hewlett-Packard so another strong computer system pedigree. And the ZBook seems like a steal when you compare its powerful hardware to other laptops and even some desktops. The ZBook sports an Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics card and is optimized for Computer Aided Design applications (think architectural blueprints, etc.) And the Quad-Core processor in this design is a smoking fast 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 CPU! This model is a real deal at $869.

But what if you’re not feeling the Windows-based IBM PC, how about a refurbished system from the mothership? By that I mean, an Apple brand refurbished MacBook? The system specs are quite a different thing altogether but you get that legendary Apple Computer stability and easy of use for a reduced price. Still, it’s a little difficult to find refurbished Apple products anywhere but the main site itself. At this time you can find a great refurb of a MacBook Pro for just under $1,300. This is a great deal for that system.

Finally, if you’re more in line for a truly budget system that’s fine for schoolwork and Internet-enabled research you can pick up a refurbished Lenovo ThinkPad for a very reasonable $159. The ThinkPad is a few years old and so it only comes with Windows 7 and 4GB of RAM. The system runs on a dual-core AMD E2-1800 CPU and has an 11.6 inch display. It’s tiny, and not in the same ballpark as the Quad-Core systems, but it will certainly get the job done.

So, as you’re on your way back to the hallowed halls of education-dom, you can save a few bucks with a quality refurbished system. Until next time, download complete.