This article is cross-posted from the Microsoft Office Blog. Thanks to the Microsoft folks for indulging my hardware geekiness!
My mother-in-law was appalled when she heard what we spent on my oldest son’s laptop. “But I bought his cousin one for $300 and it works just fine!” she exclaimed over the $2500 price tag on his new MacBook Pro. Of course, a Mac was required for his major and the high-end model was going to come in mighty handy when he was producing videos as a film/communications student.
I tell this story, though, because sometimes all a student really needs is that $300 special. As computer hardware seems to be about the only thing getting cheaper in this economy, even $500 can buy a decent laptop if you’re a bargain hunter. And yet, there my son sits, happily banging away on his painfully expensive computer.
To complicate things further, students now have their choice of tablets, smartphones, netbooks, laptops in all shapes and sizes, and even desktops. Among all of these choices, there are countless decisions to be made. How much RAM should a computer have? How many processor cores does it need? And what the heck is a processor core anyway? Storage space? Screen size? Webcams? The options can be overwhelming.
While there are plenty of third-graders who could use a computer quite handily for school work, we’ll stick with high school and college students to make our job a bit easier here. Pretty universally, hand-me-downs and those $300 birthday-gifts-from-grandma will meet the needs of younger kids without any difficulty.
That said, a lot of questions still remain for our older students. Perhaps the most commonly asked is, “Can my son/daughter just use a netbook/tablet?” The answer is a resounding “Well, maybe…sort of…well, it depends.” In general, though, netbooks and tablets should be considered supplemental devices for students, suitable for use in the classroom or on the go, but probably not to replace a full-featured laptop or desktop. A decent desktop and a nice little netbook or tablet won’t be terribly expensive and may, for some students, meet their needs better than a single laptop.
So now that we’ve figured out what they shouldn’t have, it’s probably time to get down to the nuts and bolts of what they should have. The first step will be to check with your son’s or daughter’s school. Colleges in particular will often have specific requirements, often with individual requirements at the department level. However, if no such requirements exist, here are some baseline hardware recommendations that apply to all operating systems and both laptops and desktops:
So there you have it. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about back to school hardware for you students but were afraid to ask. Happy shopping! If you are still trying to figure out what computer might be the best option for your kid, use the PC Scout. It’s an interactive app available on windows.com that helps you find a perfect match.