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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

What to Look for in a Computer for School

Get familiar with the components of computers before shopping. Check with your college’s technology services to learn about any system or software requirements they may have.

Key components include the following.

  • Processor: The processor is your computer’s brain. Also known as the Central Processing Unit (CPU), it controls how fast and smoothly your computer runs. Computers use a variety of processor types. Processor speed is measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). Most new computers have a minimum of a 1.25 GHz processor. Check with your school to find out which processor works best with their system.
  • Memory: Random Access Memory (RAM) is a temporary storage area for data currently in use. It allows multiple programs to run simultaneously without slowing down your system. The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will run. The amount of RAM is measured in gigabytes (GB) or megabytes (MB). It is a good idea to get a computer with at least 1 GB of RAM. Consider getting more RAM if you will be using your computer for multimedia purposes, like watching movies and downloading music. If you plan on having your computer for a long time, look for a computer with easy-to-access memory slots that will allow you to upgrade your memory.
  • Hard Drive: The hard drive provides permanent storage for your computer. Look for computers with at least 40 GB of hard drive space.
  • Display: Get the highest resolution display you can afford. If you can display two pages side by side, it will improve your productivity.
  • Ethernet Card: An Ethernet card allows your computer to communicate across the campus network. Most PCs and all Macs are currently manufactured with built-in Ethernet cards. Older computers may need to have an Ethernet card installed. You will need an Ethernet cable to connect your card to the network jack. New computers typically do not come with an Ethernet cable so expect to purchase one.
  • Wireless Access (WiFi): An increasing number of campuses have wireless access areas. To access wireless networks, you need a wireless network interface card. New computers come equipped with wireless cards and older computers can have them installed. Keep in mind, you will still need to have an Ethernet card at most schools even if you have a wireless card.

Plan on having the computer last all four years in college. It is probably best to get a more powerful computer with the latest operating system so that it will still be usable by the time you graduate.


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