Computers are essential for going back to school

August 13, 2013 4:19:58 AM PDT
Before your kids begin a new school year, you likely hit the mall, probably the doctor, etc. But it's all but essential nowadays that kids have access to a computer.

More and more teachers post assignments online, perhaps wanting work sent in via cyberspace or with social media.

For cash-strapped families, the neighborhood library may be the answer. But for almost everyone, some sort of computer in the home is the norm.

It's typical to get a new main computer every three years or so, and the rules this year are changing. Experts are heralding the end of the desktop for most users.

Most of them will gravitate to a laptop that performs the same functions in less space. Just like buying clothes, kids will be more attuned to trends while parents will pay attention to the budget.

We asked a sales associate at Micro Center in St. Davids, Pennsylvania to help us sort things out. Steve Nino told Action News that, as a serious gamer, he still owns a cutting edge desktop.

A "box" like that could set you back more than $2,000, but few users actually need such. More likely, a laptop's the choice and they're available in all price ranges.

$1,000 could get you something really nice. Buying a factory-refurbished unit could get you out the door for under $300. Tablet devices are compact and trendy. Generally speaking, the smaller the device, the larger the price tag. But there are powerful reasons to consider one of these.

Tablets typically have little storage within the system itself. Instead, the software, Windows 8 and similar programs wlll push everything to the "cloud". The result has two benefits.

Your programs may be accessed from anywhere when you sign into the account. These computers have no moving parts like a hard drive, so they're less likely to break.

A family with younger children may be satisfied with a tablet if it has sufficient utility software like word processing.

For homes with older students, especially ones into complex programs like video editing, the laptop remains the standard.

Your new computer will likely ship with trial versions of essential software you're free to use for 30 days. After that, you must buy a full license to keep access open. Or you may buy full-install versions retail and load those.

A salesperson can help you decide. It's important to note that the newest operating systems are 64-bit software. If you own older programs based on 32-bit technology, you may need to buy new versions.

Experts agree that running the newest programs minimizes vulnerability to viruses and other malicious agents.

Typically, products from Apple will cost more than comparable devices using Intel technology. Functionally, they grow more similar every year. And software is more similar than it used to be. Especially with a highly-portable device like a tablet, there's increase risk of damage or theft. So insurance may be recommended. And every device needs quality anti-virus software.

Your internet service provider may offer this, but programs you buy may offer advantages. Again, ask your salesperson or another expert you know and trust.

A word about warranties - one year on parts and labor is typical for anything you buy new. An open-box or refurbished unit usually comes with less, maybe only 30 days. But a refurb will have been gone over by a technician and tested individually before it's offered for sale.

Most new units are run en masse and monitored for failure. Most defects are likely to show up within the test period. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and each purchase has its advantages.

Micro Center's only local store is located at 550 E. Lancaster Avenue in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, just west of the Blue Route via the U.S. 30 exit. They're open seven days. You may phone them at 610-989-8400 or look online at Micro Center.

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