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 I'm going to university and need a computer. Help!
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wtd




PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:52 pm   Post subject: I'm going to university and need a computer. Help!

So you're headed off to the wonderful world of higher education, and mom and dad's trusty old PC isn't going to cut it anymore. What do you do now?

There are a few simple questions that can easily narrow down the vast array of options.


  1. Laptop or desktop?

    More than ever, university students are buying laptops overwhelmingly. There are a couple of reasons for this.

    • They're mobile. You can get out and work in a variety of environments, and you can take your customized computing environment with you. No more one-size-fits-all computer labs.
    • Dorm rooms are small, and laptops take up a lot less space than desktops.
    • Their university requires it.
    • Everyone else is.


    That last reason is a bad one. The one before it isn't great, but what are you going to do? If the school is worth it, then you have to do it. With the other good reasons, why would you buy a desktop?

    • They're more powerful.
    • You need the extra power to run software mandated by the program you're in.
    • They're cheaper.
    • You can get a bigger screen as well as normal-sized keyboard and mouse.
    • You want to tinker with it, and that's easier in a desktop.
    • You want to master Crysis.


    Again, that last reason is a really bad one. You're not going to have time for any serious gaming, and if you do, you're probably missing out on the academic, career and social opportunities universities tend to be rich in.

    The first reason listed is quite valid, though. Desktops can be configured to be much more powerful than laptops. If you're in a course that requires you to use demanding CAD software, for instance, you may have no choice if you wish to be successful. Consider, though, that your school may provide computer labs with this computing muscle. If it does, then you may not need a powerful desktop computer, even if having one in your room is more convenient.

    Desktops can also be configured to be cheaper, and the desktop market is a cut-throat one where no one makes a profit and there are bargains to be had. This can be a good option for the truly cash-strapped university student.

    Yes, you would use a full-sized keyboard, mouse and screen with a desktop but keep in mind that almost any laptop can use these as well, and a competent LCD/keyboard/mouse setup is going to run you no more than $500.

    Don't get too excited about the idea of buying a desktop to tinker with it at school. Yes, it can be fun to do things yourself, but universities don't stop because your computer broke down. Your friend at school is a reliable computer. Your worst enemy is a broken one, mocking your inability to get work done.

  2. So... let's say you chose a laptop, what now? Ergonomics!

    Your biggest consideration, when purchasing a laptop should be ergonomics. The laptop you aren't comfortable using is worthless.

    • Weight and physical size

      How much are you comfortable carrying around? Your laptop probably isn't going to eliminate the need to carry a heavy textbook or two. My suggestion is to take what you think you can handle, and aim for something lighter than that.

      When it comes to size, your weight goal will likely dictate this, but some laptops are more compact than others at the same weight, so keep this in mind.
    • Screen size & resolution

      What kind of screen size are you comfortable with? This may be dictated by the anwer to the first question, of course. If you're aiming for four and a half pounds, for instance, you're probably looking at 12 or 13 inches.

      Also keep in mind the screen's resolution. A 12 inch screen might seem like a downgrade from 13 inches, but the resolution on both is likely 1280x800 pixels, and going with the 12 inch notebook might save you half a pound. Of course, 1280x800 on a 12 inch screen might hurt your eyes, while the same resolution on a 13 inch notebook might be just right. For notebooks with larger screens, be particularly aware of this. Most notebooks you'll find on big box store shelves will have fairly low resolution screens, so the amount of information you can get on them is limited. For higher resolution screens you'll often have to configure something at an online store.
    • Keyboard and trackpad/point

      Do you like the Lenovo-style trackpoint or a trackpad? If you like the "nipple mouse" that will greatly reduce your options and make your decision easier.

      As for keyboards and trackpads, make sure you get a chance to try them first-hand before buying. There is a huge range of subjective feel. Particularly check for keyboard flex. If the entire keyboard flexs down when you press a key toward the center, you may want to think twice about that machine. It may not seem like much in the store, but you'll end up being quite annoyed about it before long. The trackpad's surface is also something worth considering. There are different textures and sizes out there. Some you'll like, some you'll hate, and some you'll have very little opinion on at all. It is, however, something you'll use everyday, and has the potential to make your life stressful if it doesn't work well.

      You could, of course, always buy a separate mouse to use while out and about. Make sure you're really comfortable with the smaller size of these "notebook mice" and that you don't mind carrying it around.


  3. Reliability and durability

    • Battery

      Part of reliability for a laptop is how long the battery lasts. Many laptops you'll find on shelves at bix box retail stores have batteries good for maybe one and a half to two and a half hours. You'll probably want more than this to make it through the day of a university student, and you'll be able to buy higher capacity batteries for most of these, but they'll add at least another couple hundred dollars to the price. There are laptops with higher capacity batteries standard, or as easy options to configure at an online store. I suggest looking for these laptops.
    • Build quality

      You'll find a pretty wide range of build quality out there. Some will be all plastic construction, and the case will actually bend and warp under its own weight with audible creaking noises when you pick it up. Others will incorporate partially or entirely metal cases for greater durability. I would still suggest three or four years of warranty coverage, but a better constructed laptop is less likely to spend time "in the shop." Even if you're not paying for the repair, having it not in your hands is annoying and may interfere with classwork.
    • Heat

      Consider how well a laptop vents heat, and how much it generates when purchasing. Excess heat can damage system components, especially if not well vented. Of course, excess heat can also make a laptop uncomfortable to use.

  4. Performance

    Even if you chose a laptop over a desktop, there's no reason you can't get decent performance. Consider factors like CPU, RAM, hard drive speed, and of course, whether the machine uses an integrated or dedicated video card. In the case of the latter, though, keep in mind that a high-end integrated card like the Nvidia 9400M or ATI 3200 chipsets can outperform low-end dedicated video cards.

    Of course, performance will demand a premium price, and may be limited by your prior choices in terms of ergonomics. Remember to ask yourself if you really need a "fast" laptop. If your requirements are fairly mundane and limited to classwork and communication with friends and family, pretty much anything currently out will do.
  5. Software

    And, of course, there's always the choice of operating systems. The choices for laptops are going to be Mac OS X or Windows. Linux can be an option, but rarely set up directly from the manufacturer, and if done after the fact, you may experience issues related to power management. If you want a Mac, that's going to dramatically limit your options and make the decision a lot easier. Keep in mind, of course, that a Mac can run Windows, so don't rule them out if you do need Windows. The same is not true of a laptop with Windows, unless you go the "hackintosh" route, which may significantly impact reliability.
  6. I still want a desktop: the netbook option

    So you're still sold on the idea of a desktop computer. You may wish to consider a netbook as a companion device. The previous points apply to netbooks just as much as they do any other notebook.
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x30Jx




PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:25 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

I feel like this was made for me.

LOL Fantastic sticky though. Very thorough.
Dark




PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:58 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

lol I plan on getting a laptop for University so this might help Very Happy
Milamber




PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:40 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Any recommendations for specific laptops?
x30Jx




PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:48 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

MBP FTW!
Find me a laptop better designed, manufactured, greener, more powerful and smarter and I will buy it for you, regardless of the price. (Very Happy note the exageration.)

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, getting a hackintosh to run as soomthly as a Mac (especially on OEM built systems) is Bout as easy as getting your pillow to do it. I would definatrly suggest it even less than tinkerable desktops.

IMO, if you want to game, get a console. Everyone loves a 360.
wtd




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:46 am   Post subject: Re: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Milamber @ Fri Jun 19, 2009 9:40 am wrote:
Any recommendations for specific laptops?


I tried to avoid that. This is for a few reasons.


  • Laptops and desktops change all the time. What is good one week may not be what I'd recommend the next.
  • There's a huge variety of laptops and desktops, and much of this variety is for a good reason. There are a lot of variables that go into making the right choice for each individual. I could tell you what I would buy, but that doesn't mean it's what you should buy.
  • If I make suggestions then I've biased you. The whole point of the original post was to get you to go out and consider everything, but give you the tools to narrow down the options quickly, efficiently and correctly.
Milamber




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 6:19 am   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Those are some good reasons for no reccomendations.

If anyone is looking for a site for looking up information about the notebook (i.e. a review) I recommend notebookreview.com
Dan




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:15 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Over all a good guide but i think it is unrealstic and silly to say university students should not be gaming at all. University is alot of work but it is not so crazy that you can't play your favorit video game for a few hours a week to relax.
Computer Science Canada Help with programming in C, C++, Java, PHP, Ruby, Turing, VB and more!
ecookman




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 2:22 pm   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

dell studio 17

good battery life (get the 9 cell) and a graphics card with a decent processor, to top it off tonnes of hard drive space...what else do ya need.
jernst




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 2:51 pm   Post subject: Re: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Dan @ Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:15 pm wrote:
Over all a good guide but i think it is unrealstic and silly to say university students should not be gaming at all. University is alot of work but it is not so crazy that you can't play your favorit video game for a few hours a week to relax.


+1 balance is key
wtd




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 7:21 pm   Post subject: Re: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

ecookman @ Sat Jun 20, 2009 3:22 am wrote:
dell studio 17

good battery life (get the 9 cell) and a graphics card with a decent processor, to top it off tonnes of hard drive space...what else do ya need.


The ability to carry it to class without hurting yourself?
wtd




PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 7:22 pm   Post subject: Re: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

Dan @ Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:15 am wrote:
Over all a good guide but i think it is unrealstic and silly to say university students should not be gaming at all. University is alot of work but it is not so crazy that you can't play your favorit video game for a few hours a week to relax.


That's what a Wii/360/PS3 are for. Smile
ecookman




PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2009 4:42 pm   Post subject: Re: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

wtd @ Fri Jun 19, 2009 7:21 pm wrote:
ecookman @ Sat Jun 20, 2009 3:22 am wrote:
dell studio 17

good battery life (get the 9 cell) and a graphics card with a decent processor, to top it off tonnes of hard drive space...what else do ya need.


The ability to carry it to class without hurting yourself?



its not that heavy...my textbooks weigh more
nike52




PostPosted: Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:08 am   Post subject: Re: I'm going to university and need a computer. Help!

http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834152073

I think I'm getting this baby. Any thoughts on it ?
wtd




PostPosted: Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:11 am   Post subject: RE:I\'m going to university and need a computer. Help!

I'm a Mac fan, but I sell this machine at work. The chassis is reasonably sturdy. It will have negligible (1.5-2.5 hours) battery life, though, and the screen is relatively low resolution.
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