Buying a Computer for College

Home & Family, Technology
on August 10, 2003

As a computer buff, Ralph Bond has always been ahead of the curve in meeting his kids technology needs.

But when his daughter headed off to the University of Oregon last year, even Bondco-author of The PC Dads Guide to Becoming a Computer-Smart Parent and consumer education manager at Intel Corp.had to do some thinking about what kind of computer to send with her.

These days, more than 70 percent of all college and university students own computers, and choosing what to buy can be overwhelming. Answering a few questions can help make the process easier.

The first step, Bond says, is choosing between a laptop and a desktop computer. Most students pick the portable option, which lets them take notes in the library or study under a shady tree. Then find out if your childs school recommends an IBM-type personal computer or the less-common Macintosh.

After that, its time to decide how much computer you need. Bond recommends buying the most you can afford, particularly when it comes to the machines processor and memory. That way, the computer is more likely to keep up with your childs needs right through graduation.

Dont buy yesterdays technology, Bond says. In the world of technology, it all changes so darned fast. Dont start two steps behind. Start at least where we are.

Here are some tips on how to decide what you need:

  • Check with the school. Many universities give specific recommendations for student computing, and some departments also have requirements. As an architecture student, Bonds daughter needed graphics abilities that a math major might not want.
  • Weigh online options. More and more campuses offer wireless networking, so with the right equipment your student can access the Internet without plugging in. Other schools may require a modem and telephone access. Again, the school should recommend the best option.
  • Dont forget details. Carefully consider add-ons, which can include a space-saving flat-screen monitor and a printer (Bond prefers a laser printer, which costs more up-front, but saves on pricey ink cartridges). Some are mandatory, especially a good surge protector to ward off the effects of iffy dorm wiring (expect to pay about $30). Also consider anti-virus software and insurance for theft protection (check your homeowners policy and the schools coverage).
  • Explore multimedia. Todays students dont need a computer, stereo system, and TV; their computer can be all three. Speakers and a subwoofer can turn a laptop into a quality hi-fi. A built-in DVD player provides a spot to watch movies, and the next step, a writable DVD hooked to the dorms cable TV, can record a students favorite shows when she goes off to study.

Sound high-tech? Thats only the beginning. For an ultra-hip campus computer, check out the latest thing: convertibles. These laptops (which cost around $2,500) work like a full PC, but with a twist. The screen swivels around to become an electronic tablet, so students can take lecture notes longhand and have the computer translate their scribbles into text. Bond calls it the ultimate groovy thing.

It sure beats a ball-point pen.

Looking for computer add-ons your student will love? Check out these options (prices are estimated retail):

  • A wireless keyboard and mouse ($35-$70) come in handy in crowded college housing.
  • Thumb drives ($30-$60) are tiny portable hard disks that fit on a key chain.
  • A keyboard vacuum ($20) can protect your investment in a dusty dormitory.
  • A Web cam ($50-$100) can give you free face-time with your kid.