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Choosing a Laptop for College: 6 Things to Consider

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By Nici Perreault

While parents are probably more concerned with making sure their children get the right textbooks, students are focused on the piece of hardware that will be their saving grace throughout their four years at college: their laptop. Many schools give you the option to choose which type of computer you would like to purchase, a Mac or a PC. Although having options is always good, it leaves many students and parents with the daunting task of deciding which type of computer will best suit their needs-- and their budgets.

Todd Schiller, a Computer Science PhD student at the University of Washington, uses a three step approach to begin to narrow down the possibilities: write down how you plan to use the lap top, determine what features, like RAM and hard drive space, affect those uses, and finally, compare the laptops that meet these requirements.

Once you have identified this crucial information, focus on the folllowing six things to consider offered by Erin Kelley, the owner of Simply Smart Technology, an IT company, and Yung Trang, a tech expert and president of techbargains.com, to compare any number of potential laptops.

Choosing a Laptop for College: 6 Things to Consider

1. Weight – Students carry their laptops all around campus, so they need to consider how much weight they are willing to put on their backs or shoulders every day. Lugging around a heavy computer is tiresome and can be physically harmful, especially with the addition of books, making weight an important factor. In addition to weight, the dimensions of the laptop should be considered when evaluating portability. Some laptops are too large to fit in a standard backpack or laptop carrier. If you are planning on carrying your laptop around in a certain bag, check that the dimensions match.

2. Battery Life - Often times you will not be using your laptop in a place where electrical outlets are not easily accessible. Having a long battery life is critical to getting a full day’s use from your computer without worrying about it shutting down and possibly losing that paper you have been working on for weeks.

3. Software compatibility – You will either be purchasing a PC or Mac, both of which run different operating systems. PCs run Microsoft Windows, most likely Windows 7 or Windows Vista, while Macs run Mac OS. Most software programs are compatible with both of these operating systems, such as Microsoft Office, but some are limited. It is important to check with the school and specific academic department that you will be focusing in to get a full list of required software and their supported operating systems.

4. Price – PCs with the same specifications tend to be less expensive than Macs. However, this year Apple is offering a $100 credit for app purchases in iTunes in addition to the 10% education discount when you buy a Mac as a student for school purposes. You can also find additional coupon codes for Apple and PCs at www.techbargains.com. The codes will expire in mid-September.

5. Durability – A student laptop will have to be able to withstand getting tossed into a backpack or the likely accidents that will happen when then the computer is on hand. Business laptops that are built for travel are often more durable and are a good option to look into.

6. Usage – After completing Todd Schiller’s three step approach you will have a good idea of what you will be using your laptop for. A laptop that will be used mainly for writing papers with a word processor does not require as much memory or processing power as a computer that will be used for graphics design. Many students use their laptop as a supplement to traditional cable TV as well as to watch movies and stream music from Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Youtube. If the laptop will be used for media such as these, consider screen size, speaker quality and availability of a DVD drive. If you know how you plan on using your laptop, you will have an easier time weeding out which ones have the features you require and which do not.

Fortunately, most schools use both Mac and PCs on campus, so you will probably have the luxury of choosing the laptop that works best for you. A final tip-- It's always important to go with what you are comfortable with. Starting college is a big transition... there's no need to throw yourself another curve ball by trying to learn a new computer system while adjusting to college life.

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