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The Ins & Outs of Buying a Computer for College

The Ins & Outs of Buying a Computer for College

By Bridget Kulla and Mark Kantrowitz

September 02, 2008

A computer for college is essential but can add a hefty expense to your budget, so choose wisely. Consider these points when computer shopping:

Desktop or Laptop?

Laptops are more portable and since many campuses and public areas provide wireless Internet service, you won’t be limited to your dorm room to work. If your courses will involve travel or fieldwork, a lightweight laptop makes sense. You might want to get a ‘dock’ for the laptop so you can plug in a bigger display and a better keyboard and mouse when you are in your dorm room.

Desktops are less fragile and usually more affordable than laptops. Their hardware can also be updated more easily. If your dorm room is cramped, don’t forget that desktops take up more space.

Another alternative is a desktop-replacement laptop. Desktop-replacement laptops have wider screens and more features than typical laptops, but they also weigh more and are consequently less portable than smaller laptops.

Another possibility is a netbook. Netbooks are smaller and lighter versions of laptops, with less powerful processors. They’re fine for taking notes in class, sending email, browsing the web and giving presentations, but may not be able to run many programs simultaneously. Be sure to get one that is large enough for you to type comfortably, as some of the earlier models were too small. The keyboard should be at least 10 inches wide (90% or more of the width of a regular keyboard). Popular brands include the Asus EEE PC, Acer Aspire One and MSI Wind.

PC or Mac?

When deciding whether to get a Mac or PC, opt for the system you are more comfortable using. If you’re used to working on a PC, stick with a PC for college. Most schools are compatible with both systems. “Make sure you research the college, what the IT requirements are, before you even start deciding if you want Mac or PC” says Barbara Pliska, manager of the computer store at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.


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