Choosing the best computer for your college

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - August 9, 2012

Today, just about every teen has some sort of computer, but when it's time to go to college, just any computer night not do.

We asked Donna Schweibenz, assistant director of computer business services at Temple University, for advice students and parents need to know.

First, many schools have specific computer requirements. You may be asked to have a certain degree of processing power, and a certain amount of memory. These are essential for a computer to perform properly on campus.

A school may specify a certain anti-virus program and if you show up with something else, you may not be able to use the school's network.

Fortunately, the required software is usually available on campus for a free download. Some schools now require that any computer signing onto their network be running a 64-bit operating system...something you should check on.

Generally speaking, software companies offer a student price on operating systems, utility software and more, so if you need any of these, you should check for discounts before making a purchase.

Also note that there are freeware programs...Googledocs being one...that are read-compatible with major brands of word processing software. So if you don't want to buy the name-brand product, there is likely a free-use program that mimics it well enough.

Any program any faculty member requires is on the computers in Temple's lab, so unless it's something that could be used long-term, students might find it economical to use those machines rather than their own. Temple also operates a computer recycling center.

University-owned computers that are taken out of service are sent there, and students and faculty members have opportunity to send unwanted machines there as well.

Those which can be are upgraded to current technology standards and sold to the Temple community at below-market prices.

Inventory varies and everything is first-come, first-served. But the possibility of getting a deal is worth checking. Each year, fewer students choose a desktop computer.

Laptops are attractive because they're relatively small and light, and portable. But portability makes them more vulnerable to dropping and being stolen.

Experts say insurance against failure, breakage and theft may be advisable. A tablet computer like the iPad and Microsoft's new rival model may be tempting. But these systems generally lack computing power compared to a laptop or desktop.

Most experts consider them a "companion" device...good for some things but not sufficient to be your only computer.

If you bring one to school, it probably needs insurance, too. Most colleges today have a wireless network that covers every inch of the campus.

If yours hasn't gotten there yet, you may find it necessary to connect to the internet via an Ethernet cable. These are inexpensive, and many new computers ship with one included. But make you have one if that's needed where you're going.

While no one requires this, a savvy computer user thinks about data backup and retrieval. If your hard drive should crash, anything not backed up onto some other medium could be lost.

Homework, research and assignments may not be recreated easily, so think about a strategy right for your computer and your lifestyle.

A flash drive or optical disk like a CD may be sufficient. but system-wide storage often takes much more room. This is true especially when you add your personal collection of music, video and photos.

Temple offers students space on its campus system, which is backed up regularly by professionals. Other possibilities are "cloud" storage, an external hard drive, and secure backup software.

All of these require the user doing some work to make the system perform, so think carefully about your choice. Ask a professional if you're not certain. Then be disciplined enough to use your choice regularly, unless you adopt a software package that works automatically in the background. These usually charge a monthly or annual fee.

Finally, being a computer-dependent "society", a college campus probably offers more computer-related products than other places.

Temple's computer lab has a vending machine that looks like most snack machines. But, except for chewing gum, it contains nothing edible. Instead, you'll find writable CD's and DVD's, flash drives and other accessories.

Remember, the best source of information for you is the college where you're going. Schools have general rules and most are similar. But each campus is bound to have a few things unique to its system and network of users. If you're not sure about something, ask someone in authority.

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