white MacBook Air
Get a MacBook Air. It's priced well, it's beautifully designed, it's fast and powerful, it's got stellar battery life, it's tiny enough to haul around to classes, and Apple offers stellar customer service at its many Apple retail stores. There's very little it can't do, and if you've got some kind of special need--like, say, super high-end video editing, or competitive gaming, or certain programs you need--you already know it, so ignore this and get whichever machine suits your needs. But that's hardly anyone, really, and the MacBook Air can tackle pretty much anything you throw at it. And Apple gives nice little discounts for students. Our friend Kyle Wagner over at Gizmodo, an excellent gear reviewer, likes the Acer Aspire S7 for a Windows 8 laptop. It's a MacBook-Air-style machine, meaning very small and light, with a solid-state drive rather than a hard drive. But Windows 8 is still in its early stages and has had a mixed reception, and besides, the Aspire S7 is a few hundred dollars more than the tried-and-true MacBook Air. As far as specific model, there are a couple things to keep in mind. The 11-inch is tremendously portable, and actually plenty big enough for regular computing. But if you're planning on playing games, watching movies (like, if you're not heading to college with a TV in tow), or doing a lot of photo work, it might make sense to opt for the 13-incher. Buy: Apple MacBook Air (starting at $1,000). Apple
SHARE

Sure, external hard drives aren’t exactly scarce these days, but while the price point has come down a lot, they’re still not cheap. Enter the hard drive case. For just a fistful of dollars, you can pick up a case that (almost) instantly transforms your old internal hard drive into a new storage unit. As Deputy Editor Jake Ward demonstrates here, putting it together is a piece of cake. In the end, you’ll have a great-working hard drive, not to mention a few dollars more. Just, keep an eye out for the tiny screws.

As always, our 5 Minute Projects are available in video podcast form—subscribe here. And check out the whole series at popsci.com/5minutes.

MORE TO READ