How to Choose a Laptop For Your College-Bound Student

The list of things parents are responsible for seems to always be growing. If you have a child going off to college you can add one more item to that list: a laptop computer. That’s right, almost all institutions of higher learning require an incoming student to have a laptop. Whether it’s for in-class use or just for typing a term paper or research, you have to have a laptop. But what if you aren’t tech savvy? There are a few basic things to consider when purchasing a laptop for a college student:

• Price
• Operating system and software needed
• Computing power
• Desired features
• Warranty service

The first thing you probably want to think about is your budget. How much do you want or have to spend? Is $1000.00 for a laptop too much or is it a bargain? Would a $500.00 notebook seem too much like a toy to you? We all have different price points and perceptions when it comes to a good deal. Start by doing some research online. Whether you go directly to a computer retailer like Dell or HP’s sites or go to a big box retailer’s site, like Best Buy, you are sure to find plenty of useful information regarding price and features.

Before delving too deep, make sure you understand that there are two primary operating systems in use on laptops these days: Mac OS and Windows. While Mac is a really cool, feature-rich OS, it sometimes falls a little short in the compatibility department. Not all software is made for Macs. More importantly, just because you have a Mac version of a popular piece of software, like MS Office, doesn’t ensure full compatibility across the two operating systems. For example, if you create a PowerPoint presentation using Mac PowerPoint there’s a chance that some of the fonts and/or graphics won’t translate 100% when running the presentation on a Windows computer. With older Mac OS versions it was basically impossible for a Windows-based computer to read the Mac’s files. Things have improved over the years but there are still some inherent difficulties a PC has when it comes to reading Mac files.

Be sure to understand exactly what your college-bound child will be using their laptop for. Will they be doing heavy duty number crunching? Will they be using Computer Aided Design programs? Will they be doing some complex type of modeling? If any of these will be done, you definitely need to invest in the fastest CPU and highest amount of memory (RAM) you can afford. Otherwise, the typical configurations will suffice.

Decide ahead of time what additional features you child needs in a laptop. Accessories such as webcams, lighted keyboards, DVD burners, Bluetooth, etc. are best purchased when you are configuring the computer, not afterwards. You’ll probably save money this way too.

Finally, something few people think about until it’s too late is what type of warranty service you are purchasing with your laptop. Yes, most people are aware that their warranty is good for X number of years but how will you get service for it? Considering the importance of the data on the laptop and the amount of time it will be away from its owner, it’s always best to have a warranty with in-person service, preferably next-day service. Many computer manufacturers require you to mail off your computer to receive service. I would advise against this type of warranty service, if for no other reason than the down-time involved.

Choosing a laptop can seem like a daunting task. But if you break it down into smaller pieces by asking yourself these questions, it should make things less stressful and ensure a good purchase that should last your child’s entire college career.

Eric Alan Anderson is a Systems & Support Administrator for a mid-sized BioPharma Company. He has over ten years in the Information Technology field. He is involved with many sites and his latest takes a look at online backup for small business and pc backup software.

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