If you're headed toward a specific career—or even a slightly vague career (we know how it goes)—you may need a laptop with particular capabilities. A tough laptop would be more useful for a chemistry major dealing with toxic substances in a lab than for a graphic arts major, who might prefer a tablet. And the large hard drive and multiple video outputs that would be great for a film graduate probably wouldn't be help a journalism graduate, who needs a lot of battery life and an Internet connection.
We looked at the whole gamut of laptops, from ultraportables to desktop replacements, to find those most suited to a range of careers. We took into account processor speed, screen size, portability, and all sorts of features and capabilities and came up with suggestions for 12 major-specific laptops that every recent grad (and current student) should know about. Whether you majored in economics or leisure studies, we've got the laptop for you.
Your Major: General Studies / Undeclared. We're not sure how you managed to get through college without actually declaring your major, but we salute you. If you need a solid, mainstream laptop for whatever undefined career you are about to enter, try the HP Pavilion dv6500t. This top-tier budget laptop comes loaded with features and provides a very comfortable user experience. Considering its low price tag, it performs well with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 120GB hard drive. A brilliant 15.4-inch screen and snazzy design round out this solid performer.
Your Major: Film. Film editors and video producers need a laptop with plenty of hard-drive space with which to work on their many projects. The Toshiba Satellite A305-S6845 has two hard drives totaling 400GB, which should be enough for even your four-hour feature documentary about the life of Victoria Woodhull. Other features that complement the cavernous drive space include a built-in dual-layer DVD burner with LabelFlash technology, as well as three ways of outputting video to an external display: S-Video-Out, VGA-Out, and HDMI-Out. Inputs include a FireWire port and a 4-in-1 card reader (SD, xD, MS, MS Pro).
Your Major: Design, Architecture or CAD. If you're designing buildings, products, or even fashion on your laptop, you're going to need a great graphics card and plenty of screen real estate. The 17-inch Gateway P-171XL FX features a top-of-the-line screen resolution and the latest mobile nVidia card to help you develop all your blueprints and designs. Dual 200GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives (400GB total) and a 2.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme X7900 processor round out the package and make this a great option for any designer.
Your Major: Business. The Dell Vostro 1310 is a lightweight, 13-inch widescreen laptop that's great for travel (including a matte screen finish for pleasant movie-watching on those long, cross-country plane trips) and comes with a wealth of configuration options. A 1.3-megapixel webcam is good for videoconferencing, and security features include a fingerprint reader and a TPM module.
Your Major: Music. Musicians can use computers for music composition and notation, multi-track audio recording, MIDI sequencing, sound design, and more. With 4 GB of RAM and a 2.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500 processor, the Apple Macbook Pro 15-inch (Penryn) is one of the fastest laptops we've tested, so you can even do it all at once. Plus the superb battery life means you won't be tethered to a desk; you can even take your Mac out in the middle of a field, if that's where you compose best. Garage Band music software comes standard to get you started.
Your Major: Economics. If getting bang for your buck is the name of your game, then look no further than the Dell Inspiron 1420. Don't let its low price tag fool you—the Inspiron 1420 is one of the few laptops that gives you discrete graphics, a surplus of memory, different-color frames, and a slew of other features that usually cost extra. It's a smart deal on a solid laptop that will make even your microeconomics professor smile.
Your Major: Graphic Arts Graphic designers and illustrators who prefer to work with a pen rather than a keyboard will find a tablet particularly useful. The Toshiba PortÃ©gÃ© M700-S7002 because of its excellent performance scores and Wacom and touch capabilities.
Your Major: Chemistry. If you spend your days playing with noxious chemicals and dangerous devices, you'll need a laptop that can handle all of the toxic environments that you find yourself in. The Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y7 is a business-rugged ultraportable can take some physical abuse, weighs just 3.5 pounds, and integrates a 14-inch screen and optical drive. And it can go with you wherever your experiments take you—the Toughbook CF-Y7's matte finish screen minimizes glare from desk lamps and ceiling lights, yet it's bright enough for outdoor use (as long as it's not in direct sunlight).
Your Major: Computer Science. For a PC that uses Linux or another operating system that apt Comp Sci majors can hack, we suggest the super-sleek, ultra-mobile HP 2133 Mini-Note PC. Its 3-pound, compact design makes it effortless to cart around, and its clever keyboard design makes it easy to use despite its small size. And you can't beat the price tag!
Your Major: Environmental Science. Environmentalists everywhere (as well as frugal consumers) have rejoiced in the recent surge of green-friendly laptops, and it doesn't get much better than the Fujitsu Lifebook P8010. This ultraportable sports over 5 hours of battery life, and is both Energy Star 4.0 and EPEAT Silver certified. Plus the LifeBook P8010 gets the PC Magazine GreenTech Approved seal since it consumes only 14 watts of energy while in idle mode. It weighs just 3 pounds, despite its built-in optical drive.
Your Major: Journalism. The Sony VAIO VGN-SZ791N packs a punch that will make your next Pulitzer-prize winning article really shine. A powerful processor and excellent performance scores, along with over 5 hours of battery life, make this a laptop that will make field reporters drool. In addition, the SZ791N integrates a Sprint EV-DO Rev A cellular modem, so you can get broadband connectivity wherever there's a cell phone signal—which means you'll no longer have an excuse to turn stories in late (which may or may not be a good thing).
Your Major: Leisure Studies. We're not really sure what you study as a Leisure Studies major, but chances are you've logged plenty of hours fragging your virtual enemies on the game grid. To aid you in this intellectual pursuit, we recommend the Alienware Area-51 m15x gaming laptop. It doesn't get much better than this—fantastic graphics card, 4GB of RAM, 1080p resolution screen—not to mention a cool futuristic design and LED display. This sexy, hardcore gaming laptop may not get you a job at a consulting firm, but it's great if you happen to land a job as professional video game tester. (Hey, you never know!)
Now that you've flipped your tassel and are officially—gasp—an adult, you deserve a laptop that is more suited to your vocational needs (and maybe even your personal wants). Don't settle for any old laptop; look for one with the capabilities and specs that you will actually use. Just because something comes loaded with features doesn't mean you need every single one of them. Now go out there in the world and make a difference! (Or just pay the rent. That's a good place to start.)