Choosing a computer for your student

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - August 4, 2011

Today, the desktop's considered a dinosaur by most, all but extinct in some stores. And you can buy everything your student needs for under a thousand bucks. But which computer?

A sales person can help you figure that out. We went to Best Buy on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia, where operations manager Steve Capresecco gave us some great advice.

He said a sales person is going to want to know who will be using the computer, where, and for what purpose. Answer those questions and you're on your way to seeing a range of devices that could meet your student's needs.

Beyond that, personal preference and budget will decide what you buy. As long as we've had home computers, there's been a choice between Apple and the PC. Today, lines between the products have blurred, because each runs the other's software, and you may find some of one manufacturer's hardware in the other's case.

Apple products tend to be more expensive, due in part to Apple's rigid price policy. Retailers may discount only an open-box item.

Most buyers go home with some sort of laptop, but there's a wide range of choices.

Some are "desktop replacements", machines almost too heavy to carry around but loaded with functions. They also range in size down to the "netbook", which is small enough to fit in some purses.Note that smaller machines are less likely to offer input-output devices like CD/ROM and DVD drives, but not all users will care about that.

Smaller still is the tablet computer, a "smart" computer with an interaction screen and either a virtual keyboard or an add-on device. Again, these are less likely to have input/output devices, but not all users will want such.

Experts tend to agree that a tablet, even one with great function, will not be as good as a traditional laptop for use in the classroom and the dorm. Smartphones and other compact devices are good for looking up directions or an occasional piece of information online, but would be cumbersome as a note-taking device or a full-service computer.

If you're heading back to school on a budget, many retailers offer refurbished computers. These are often perfectly good products people just returned because they had second thoughts and wanted something else. Such may not be sold as new.

Best Buy has no "refurbs" in stores but they are available on http://www.bestbuy.com. You may order online or in the store, and you may have your purchase shipped directly to your home or to your neighborhood store for pickup.

If you're looking for a refurb in a local store, we found some at Micro Center in St. David's, Pa., just west of the Blue Route on U.S. 30. They're online at http://www.microcenter.com.

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