College students are already facing lots of confounding questions about the upcoming academic year. Will their colleges reopen? If so, when? Will all classes be delivered online, or only a percentage of them? Will lab-based courses be shut down, or taught in modified ways online?
All those questions impact on a college student’s choice of computer for the coming school year. As an analogy, you can think of a computer as a nozzle through which a growing percentage of educational content will be delivered in the coming year. To handle the increased flow, students will need a big enough nozzle.
So, what about just using last year’s laptop again in the coming year? Or what about the computer that a student used in high school That might be a good idea but in our view, it is a good idea to plan ahead to avoid the unpleasant surprise of finding out after classes start that an older machine just can’t cut it.
Plus, this year poses a special challenge, which is that the computer you buy for use in the classroom or the dorm might also have to meet your needs if you school is closed and you need to work from home. But how much computer do you really need to cover both those bases?
How to Plan Ahead
You can find many articles online that offer guidance on how to buy the best computer for the coming academic year. We reviewed a number of them, and feel that the best is “The Best Laptops for College Students in 2020,” an article by John Burek and Tom Brant that appeared in PC Magazine on June 5, 2020. The authors don’t offer the usual advice, which tells students to “Buy the biggest, most expensive machine with a huge display and a huge hard drive, because you might need it.” Instead, Burek and Brant offer suggestions for a wide range of computers that range from the $279 Acer Chromebook (a good and usable choice for students on a budget, they write) up to the $1499 MSI GL 9SC (with hefty graphics and storage), with plenty of choices in between.
You’ll want to read this article, but here is some of the advice they offer.
- Start by checking your college’s requirements and suggestions. Some schools require Windows-based computers because of software compatibility issues.
- Ask about buying from the college’s student store or an affiliated vendor. In some cases, Burek and Brant note, computers that are bought in this way will come bundled with software that the school requires or recommends for coursework.
- Consider weight and size for computers you’ll be using on campus. A student will have to carry them around in a backpack along with books, notebooks, and other paraphernalia.
- Buy a computer with a Solid State Drive (SSD). They deliver faster and more reliable performance and are less likely to fail. But because more people are storing files on the cloud, you might not need as big a drive as you did several years ago.
And Don’t Spend Too Much on a Warranty
The authors write that because manufacturers’ warrantees typically do not cover damage caused by spills or drops, an add-on warranty can be a good idea. However, they write, “In our opinion, if the warranty costs more than 15 percent of the total laptop price, you’re better off spending the money on backup drives or services that minimize downtime in case something does go awry.”
They also point out that many colleges and universities have tech offices where students can take their computers to resolve minor technical issues.
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