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Home > Computers For Students

Laptops For College Students

Although it is certainly more convenient, it is not always necessary to buy a computer. Often there are Discount Laptops that can be checked out of many campus libraries, and there are almost always computer labs in which to work. These solutions are certainly less expensive, but can also be more troublesome in the long run. This can be especially true if there is a specific software package a student needs and the free computers don’t have it loaded.

The school ITS department is always a source of information for a student considering a computer purchase. It would be wise to consult them before committing to a particular platform or even brand. ITS will also have information such as the minimum hardware requirements of a PC or laptop.

Macintosh or PC

The first choice can be a tough one. Traditionally business and science students prefer a PC, while artists and designers learn more towards the Mac. This is primarily due to the fact that in the past the software packages available on each platform were vastly different. Today that is not the case, and the gap of availability between the two is shrinking still. In the end it will be personal preference that determines which platform to use as both are viable solutions to almost all of a student’s computing needs.

If you have already chosen your major, speak with one of the department heads about which platform they would recommend.

Buying Your Computer

Now that you have chosen a platform, it is time to choose a Desktop or Laptop. Again personal preference will be a large factor, but there are a few things to consider.

Low-cost laptops are quickly becoming the primary choice of many students. This is due to the fact that it is portable and can be used in and out of class. This saves time with note taking and makes more tools available to a student wherever they need it. In the past laptops were fragile and great care would need to be taken when moving them. Laptops today are much more rugged, and although care should still be taken, backpacks are no longer off limits. With many campuses offering wireless internet options, the Laptop has become even more powerful allowing the student to access mail and files from almost anywhere.

With all this versatility it is no surprise that Laptops are almost universally more expensive than Desktops. This fact will not be changing in the near future. There are an incredibly diverse and inexpensive amount of Dell laptops available for students to choose from if laptops are indeed their preference.

The Desktop makes up for what it lacks in portability in its computing power, price and usability. Desktop computers are always less expensive than laptops when computing power is comparable, so there is a great deal more “bang for the buck” when going the desktop route. With separate peripherals such as keyboard, mouse, and monitor, customization is easier in a desktop. From usability perspective there are few who would choose to use a Laptop keyboard if another option was available. Desktop monitors tend to be larger than ones available on a laptop. This isn’t always the case, but the additional viewing space can be helpful.

Need information on the go? Keep yourself informed, organized, and entertained with a handheld computer, also called a personal digital assistant (PDA). Handhelds are mobile computers that manage your calendar, contact information, and to-do lists.

Laptop Overview

  • Usable in class
  • Wireless Internet option
  • Optional peripheral devices
  • Compact
  • Portable
  • Smaller keyboard
  • Smaller monitor
  • Requires battery
  • Increased cost

Desktop Overview

  • Decreased cost
  • More options
  • Superior peripherals
  • Little to no portability
  • No access in class
  • Takes up more dorm space

Computer Budget

Students have an advantage over the standard consumer when it comes to making purchases such as computers or software. Almost all campuses sell computers in a specifically designated computer store or in the student book store. These computers can usually be purchased at a discount by currently enrolled students, and all of the software is marked down considerably from the retail price. Immediate family (parents, guardians) can also make discounted purchases in many cases.

When downloading software or making online software purchases students often get discounts from companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, and Corel. Be sure to investigate any possible discounts available before making any purchases.


Peripherals can be customized to each student, so a great deal of latitude is available here. This list is not all inclusive but will give a good general idea of what items should be looked for.

Monitor – One or more monitors will be needed for a desktop. Size and picture quality will vary. It is possible to use more than one monitor simultaneously.

Printer – Having a printer in your dorm or off-campus housing can be convenient in the extreme. Last minute print jobs can save a paper.

USB Cable – USB cables are going to be needed for many peripherals such as keyboards and mice. Be sure you have enough.

Flash Memory Drive – These make data transport much easier, especially when using a Desktop. Make sure the Flash Drive is USB compatible and has the storage you need.

Ethernet Cable – An Ethernet cable will be needed to access the network in campus housing.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is a good idea under any conditions, but many schools actually require it in order to access the network. Check with the school ITS department and see what antivirus software they recommend. Often there is an antivirus solution available to students for download at no cost.

Minimum System Requirements

Many schools have computer system requirements in order to use the campus network. Although the following information does not apply to all schools, it is a good basis of comparison. If your computer meets the following minimum requirements you should be able to access any schools network.

Desktop Computer Minimum Macintosh Minimum Windows
Memory (RAM) 512MB SDRAM 256MB SDRAM
Processor 800MHz PowerPC G4 1GHz AMD or Intel
Network Card 10BASE-T 10BASE-T
Hard Drive 40GB Ultra ATA 20GB Ultra ATA
Optical Drive 24X CD-ROM 24X CD-ROM
Sound Card Sound Blaster Compatible Sound Blaster Compatible
Operating System Mac OS X 10.3 Windows XP
Removable Storage USB Flash USB Flash or Floppy
Video Card OpenGL Compatible DirectX Compatible

Laptop Computer Minimum Macintosh Minimum Windows
Processor 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz Intel or AMD
Network Card 802.11b/n wireless 802.11b wireless
Hard Drive 60GB SATA 40 to 60GB Ultra ATA
Optical Drive 24X CD-ROM 24X CD-ROM
Operating System Mac OS X 10.4 Windows XP
Removable Storage USB Flash USB Flash

These minimum requirements are very general and in some cases could be higher than a given school�s requirements. Your school of choice should be contacted to make sure they are within acceptable limits.

It is important to note that it would not be wise to purchase a new Desktop Computer with the minimum requirements, as this information is provided only to make sure that any existing Discount Laptops a student has will function on a given schools network. A new purchase should be a great deal more powerful that the above example. The example Laptop Computer requirements are more current.

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