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QOTD: What's the Best Computer for a Student?

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  • Laptops
  • Computers
  • Product
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August 25, 2009 4:27:32 AM

A mainstream 15" laptop would do well for most students. They don't need a lot of computing power or fancy features, and 15" machines are the cheapest thing beyond netbooks.

However as my daughter pointed out, sometimes they don't have room on the desktop in some lecture halls for a 15" machine, so if a student is taking the machine to class then maybe a 13" would be better.

If a student really knows that they won't be running anything but light office apps, maybe a netbook is all they need.
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August 25, 2009 4:30:13 AM

Assuming you're not trying to game heavily, I love my Dell Studio 15. I got the last generation 1535 series, and they're currently 1537's, but overall it's the same system really. The backlit keyboard isn't something I thought I'd love near as much as I do. It's fantastic for late night work!!
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August 25, 2009 4:31:41 AM

If it was a computer "solely" for the tasks of a student, then anything with a good amount of RAM and a decent CPU would be fine. I'd hate to go anything less than a 2.0ghz duo-core though, because modern OSes tax system resources like no other, and it is very frustrating for the average student if their computer starts to lag, especially once they get a few bloatware and unnecessary start-ups installed onto their laptops. Try doing your homework on a pentium 3... all you need is internet and openoffice? Good luck, even with that...

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
2.00ghz duo core
3gb RAM
15.6inch
250gb HD
Up to 4.6hrs of battery life
$449.99

On the other hand, if they had needs like gaming, everything becomes insanely complicated... balancing graphic power and battery life and screen size and SSD vs HD and....
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August 25, 2009 4:32:30 AM

A 13in laptop or 9in netbook. A netbook with Linux is better if they are just taking notes, editing documents, viewing PDFs, and web browsing. A laptop is better if they are doing graphics editing or CAD. Another option is a netbook to carry around and RDC into a desktop in their dorm room.
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August 25, 2009 4:32:57 AM

I'd get an i7 975 with 24 gig of ddr3 2000mhz, a 1200 watts power supply with 2 x gtx 295 in SLI with two 128 g SSD in raid 0. Also four 24 inch full hd lcd's :) 

I would of course cool that beast with liquid hydrogen :) 

That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes :)  )
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August 25, 2009 4:47:18 AM

abswindows7That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes )
Considering how many "career" college students I've met, your recommendation makes sense in a scary sort of way. :D 
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August 25, 2009 4:47:23 AM

Anything with Dual Core Celeron or Pentium Dual Core and 3/4GB of RAM will do just fine. Radeon Mobility 3200/4200 is a big plus.
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August 25, 2009 4:52:05 AM

Netbooks are just worthless to me. Just to get stuff done and be mobile, a low cost 13-15" Laptop is fine. I used a 15" Compaq with a Celeron 440M with 1.5GB of RAM and Vista Home Basic for 2 years and it's been a trooper. Did everything I needed it too (as well as run some HD video and StepMania) and it didn't cost spit. Lucky for me I had a spare battery and charger from my previous HP (weird to get 2 laptops that used the same stuff a year apart). Even so though, for school, battery life was never a problem. Each battery gave me about 2 hours but I always picked seats with plugs if possible.

But at the same time I had it, I had a desktop. Since I'm a "Power User", I like to have 2 computers (though I actually have about 5 or 6). I have one self built desktop with a 24" monitor for games and anime, then my newer 17" HP laptop that's considerably more powerful (and over twice as expensive) than my previous laptop, that I use for school, mobile use, laziness (I keep it downstairs in my apartment while the desktop is upstairs) etc. I went the exact opposite with it though than the trend. I hate small laptops/netbooks. I walked in the store and said "gimme the biggest SOB you got". Still gets 3 hours battery life and can play Team Fortress 2.
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August 25, 2009 4:54:05 AM

i'm going to college next semester to start my ME program and i'm definitely going to by a netbook. probably an 11z dell cause i need something to carry around (beside a ton of books and papers!). macs are good but no way i'm gonna spend 1000 bucks for a low end mac. if i need performance i'll put up a high end pc later but right now(and probably never) will i pay 2000$ for a laptop.
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August 25, 2009 5:22:19 AM

@jhansonxi : That is assuming that they dorm. It is actually very annoying for students who dorm when ppl assume this simply because those who dont usually end up working as well as going to college which is honest very hard.

I myself am a college student (going into my second year in a week). I bought a 15" HP. 2.8 ghz amd x2, 4 gigs ram, 250 gig hdd. This computer is perfect for alot of students. Depending on your major and your uses you can easily get a netbook. My major is engineering so I do need the 15" for things like cad (and my hobbies like watching movies, and editiing pictures/playing games).

To be honest battery life doesnt really matter much because chances are there is an outlet you can easily use. Another point Id like to state though is that for college you do not need any kind of laptop at all. Infact most people do not for many good reasons. I dont even use mine during class because I get bored and start browsing the web, so I only use mine while I have free time between classes to do hw or just browse/play games.
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August 25, 2009 5:22:19 AM

I'd get an ultra-portable and install a solid state drive in it.

Rotating touchscreen, ssd, maybe even a core 2 duo in it? The thing would be classier (no pun intended) than a lot of peoples desktops.
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August 25, 2009 5:28:27 AM

For science and engineering, I highly recommend a tablet. otherwise either 13.3 or 9 for a commuter, and 15-18" for someone who dorms or games.
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August 25, 2009 5:30:07 AM

Tablet PC.

Some cheap ones out there, and most students don't even need a dual core.

...
I failed at convincing my old school to buy students tablets (for advanced mathamatics classes). -_-

Either that or a slim and cheap 13".
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August 25, 2009 5:33:30 AM

This is an idiotic question.

The laptop that will fit the necessities of a student is dependent on the use and the values of the aforementioned student.

The end.
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August 25, 2009 5:39:12 AM

It might also do some good to question the validity of the survey.

As I understand, it was paid for by our dear friends over in Redmond.
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August 25, 2009 5:50:32 AM

The Dell Studio XPS 16 for any kind of art student, because of the RGB LED backlit display, yay color gamut and accuracy.

For an average student who just needs to take notes and type up assignments? Any netbook running Ubuntu Linux with OpenOffice or Lotus Symphony.

For any kind of "power user" student, like a computer science student, the Sony VAIO FW. Good balance of power, portability, price, and... a decent GPU for playing games and not doing my assignments...I mean their assignments!
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August 25, 2009 5:53:45 AM

A sturdy laptop that can survive a number of drops and spills and at least a dual core. Also at least 6 hours battery life.
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August 25, 2009 6:24:15 AM

Not a Dell
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August 25, 2009 6:52:28 AM

I'd say that it depends heavily on the major. Some majors need a LOT more computing power than others. My i7 has been fully loaded for the past 2 hours because I'm rendering an animation of an engine in solidworks for example, but it's unlikely that an international affairs major (just to pull a random example out of my ass here) would need that same level of power. For an engineering major, I'd recommend a decently powerful desktop plus a cheap laptop if possible, and otherwise, a decent laptop (2.5GHz C2D + discrete graphics) as a bare minimum. Otherwise, I'd go with something fairly small and light with a good battery life - the Dell Studio 14Z looks like a good option for example. I'd probably not go with an apple though.
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August 25, 2009 7:39:13 AM

... main criteria is at least dual core CPU and 2Gb of RAM... all other things is a question of the taste...
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August 25, 2009 7:54:40 AM

I have a DV4-1117CA at the moment. A Core 2 Duo T5800, 4GB RAM.

I find that the laptop is occasionally underpowered for my tasks. For example, when opening 20+ tabs in Firefox it lags significantly.

Hence I don't think the $350 laptops at Wal Mart are anything but useful for just the basic task.
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August 25, 2009 7:57:18 AM

For a college student? Its Gotta have Sex Appeal!

...And i hate to say it, most male students will try at some point to load WoW or some other game on their computer... so consider the video card choice appropriately.

While a solid state drive is a nice thought too, kids these days back up their work to USB flash drives anyhoo, so save your cash. instead, invest that extra cash into a laser printer or something.

You can get a refurbished macbook 2.4ghz aluminum /w 9400m, 2gRAM, and illuminated keyboard for $999 at the apple store. Really, all the kid needs it for writing up lab reports, so this should be overkill, but it might be useful for getting some booty. art major girls dig macs. $1000 is still a lot tho; is it worth getting laid or two months rent?

On the PC side of things, I'm a fan of both Dell notebooks and Lenovo Thinkpads. I'd take them over a macbook myself- mainly due to the price, but also because of their customizability. A $400 laptop/desktop should be more than enough for most college student; an $800 laptop is great tho. More than that is just spoiling them.

Tablets are neat, but i never took notes anyways. easier just to photocopy someone elses. A Kindle with textbooks, manuals and lectures loaded on them might be usable though; photocopying and textbooks are expensive!

since most of the college students I know have a very tight budget, I usually overlook appearance, and focus just on getting a laptop that has a medium sized screen, dvd-r, decent enough battery life and possibly a dedicated graphics card if the person is a gamer. kids aren't picky; a system just needs to work.

I might not consider a desktop solution much anymore, but just a few years ago desktops were the only affordable way to go--- but they still do get the job done just fine. Maybe a lightweight laptop and a heavy duty desktop is a good choice for some students still- having a big screen, a tv tuner, and a nice sound setup are great benefits of a desktop tho.

just my thoughtless rambles,
~steve
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Anonymous
a b D Laptop
August 25, 2009 8:09:56 AM

So much bullshit in here....
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August 25, 2009 8:25:12 AM

btw, solidworks runs just fine on my old pentium 4 3.2ghz system. i dont think most engineers need a powerful system, but maybe i'm less picky. i never brought my notebook to lecture, it seemed rude somehow, but some people do; i guess a smaller notebook is good in those cases. big or small, fast or cheap; it depends ultimately on the person and need. sorry if you dont agree. :p 
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August 25, 2009 9:01:36 AM

If solidworks runs fine on your P4 3.2, you clearly have never tried any truly complex assemblies, nor have you tried significant simulation, animation, or rendering tasks. It'll do the basics on a fairly low end system, but any time you try to do more complex tasks, it can bring even a fairly high end system to a screeching halt.
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August 25, 2009 9:03:18 AM

Oh, and I'm closing in on 30 hours of CPU time (% usage * time * threads) on my render on a 3.73GHz i7, and it's almost done. For reference, this is a render of an aircraft engine in motion, done at 1080p60 for 20 seconds. If you think solidworks isn't CPU intensive, think again.
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August 25, 2009 9:37:44 AM

If you are using simple office tasks like word processing, spreadsheets and some basic web browsing to do school/college/university work, then why are the system requirements any higher now than they were 5 years ago?

A Centrino 2Ghz, tops, run Windows XP and spend more money on beer.
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August 25, 2009 10:17:02 AM

Anything cheap, i.e. $500 or under, will have plenty of power for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet. This is for EDUCATION, right ?
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August 25, 2009 10:23:31 AM

P.S. When I went to college in 1996 I took a Cyrix 166+ Win95, no cd burner, just an MPEG TV card to watch TV. Upgrade from 16mb to 32 mb ram. 1.2GB hard drive was the shit. I was stoked an out 10Mb/s Lan connection to the backbone.
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August 25, 2009 10:23:48 AM

Oh yea, cost $2000
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August 25, 2009 10:24:54 AM

I wish I could edit my own comments
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August 25, 2009 10:28:24 AM

Ok, first of all I'm thinking of the average student that knows how to poke around on a computer, but isn't the type to take up programing or building their own computer.

I saw the reports that students are picking netbooks over Macs... I really like my 13" macbook, but I know it can be a little pricey - but I have no idea why the average student would want a netbook other than it's cheap and small. Once they start using it, they'll see that it's slow, can't multi-task particularly well, and is missing an optical drive. Sure, optical drives are on the way out, but we're not quite there yet... if you buy a netbook that can even handle windows 7, you'll need to buy an external optical drive to install it... unless the netbook will be your 2nd pc, you might as well pay for quality- get a real laptop whether it's mac or windows.
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August 25, 2009 10:43:24 AM

The term Student covers a wide range of people with very different demands of their hardware, making this task a little harder. For some students, working with graphics and movies daily a powerful 17" Notebook might be preferred, where the size and weight for most others would make it almost unusable.

My experiences from the last five years, where I have been a Student, makes me think that the best way to cover a Students needs is to get a cheap Netbook and build a HTPC.

The job of the Netbook should be what it's originally built for, namely Information gathering and note taking. Hopefully the lack of power will restrict it to that task, as I've seen quite a few good students falling behind because their Notebooks stole all their attention during class.

The HTPC should take care of all the other imaginable uses there can be for a computer. Being homebuilt it should, at least if it isn't built on dead platform, be able to upgrade for at least two years and last for at least 3. I would probably go AMD with a cheaper Phenom II x2 or x3, AM3 naturally, on a AMD 790GX+SB750 chipset, graphics would depend on need but for starters the integrated can perform more tasks than one imagines.
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August 25, 2009 10:51:59 AM

Hoenstly ? The smart choice is something cheap, crappy with good batery life. And then use Remote desktop software to the desktop. If your University as a good connection, you can even play games and you don't have to worry of your lappy borking up or getting slow :) 
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August 25, 2009 10:56:24 AM

if you have the money for a main stream laptop i'd say many (though of course not all) would be better served with splitting the money on two computers instead of buying a single machine. for instance, if you buy a macbook here in canada you'll spend $1400 or $1500 after taxes. in this instance a lot students would be a lot better off with a $1000 desktop workstation and spending the remaining $400-$500 sum on a good netbook.

this way they don't have to settle for a notebook that's a jack of all trades and doesn't excel at anything, or a notebook too powerful for portability, or a notebook too portable for power. instead they get the best of both worlds: a system with maximum portability and battery life and a desktop with lots of screen real estate and processing power.

in addition, having two computers protects oneself against computer catastrophes which i've seen happen and can be devastating in the middle of a school year.
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August 25, 2009 11:56:47 AM

i use a macbook pro and have not ran into any problems in school other than my engineering courses i just boot into vista
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August 25, 2009 12:02:29 PM

abswindows7I'd get an i7 975 with 24 gig of ddr3 2000mhz, a 1200 watts power supply with 2 x gtx 295 in SLI with two 128 g SSD in raid 0. Also four 24 inch full hd lcd's I would of course cool that beast with liquid hydrogen That's a school dedicated computer ( If you plan not going to your classes )



this was a question about portable student computers... not a loser living in college off of mommy and daddy's money.... i hate people that take a serious question and turn it into a joke.... but then again it may be relevant considering thats the type of kids we have in this country now.... taking everything for granted and living off of mom and dad
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August 25, 2009 12:03:58 PM

justjcThe term Student covers a wide range of people with very different demands of their hardware, making this task a little harder. For some students, working with graphics and movies daily a powerful 17" Notebook might be preferred, where the size and weight for most others would make it almost unusable.My experiences from the last five years, where I have been a Student, makes me think that the best way to cover a Students needs is to get a cheap Netbook and build a HTPC.The job of the Netbook should be what it's originally built for, namely Information gathering and note taking. Hopefully the lack of power will restrict it to that task, as I've seen quite a few good students falling behind because their Notebooks stole all their attention during class.The HTPC should take care of all the other imaginable uses there can be for a computer. Being homebuilt it should, at least if it isn't built on dead platform, be able to upgrade for at least two years and last for at least 3. I would probably go AMD with a cheaper Phenom II x2 or x3, AM3 naturally, on a AMD 790GX+SB750 chipset, graphics would depend on need but for starters the integrated can perform more tasks than one imagines.



this is more how i would have answered....being the strm student doesnt cover the area of study and the needs of the computer/ laptop/ netbook
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August 25, 2009 12:07:13 PM

OK, first, the "survey" all your press morons are quoting had A SAMPLE SIZE OF ONLY 300 PEOPLE IN A SINGLE GEOGRAPHIC AREA!!!

Yes, kids may be "looking" to spend a bit less, but why not actually go to a few university web sites and see what the comments from the IT staff are, and what the University MINIMUM requirements are for on-campus notebooks, and what the reccomended systems are.

Clemson is not exactly a "tech school" so I think they're a good representation of what a student going to a major university can expect:
http://www.clemson.edu/ccit/hardware_software/hardware/...

Note 1st that the Dells recomended come with a pre-configured image for the campus network, and any other machines purchased have to be configured by tech support to access the campus systems... PRO versions of Vista or Mac OS X are required as all systems must be connected to a domain for security, and the home versions don't support that. That immediately eliminates the possibility of using a netbook. They even state in clear text: "'Netbooks' are not a viable option as your primary laptop."

Next, the selection. The White Macbook is actually the CHEAPEST system Clemson reccomends, being $949 and coming with a free iPod touch and free printer. Both Dell systems have a base price over $1049 and come with just a base software pack.

The BEST machine for a new student: a Macbook Pro 15" with windows Vista Business virtualized (which btw, CCIT staff will set up for you and is a fully supported configuration). Oh yea, you can use your FINANCIAL AID to buy one, so it;s not like you;re paying for a $2000 rig out of pocket...

Check the other major universities, and even some of the smaller ones. They all reccomend a basic performance machine, pro OS, efficient battery, and the specs of that machine are notedly higher than what people might expect. Why? Likely next year they'll all be required to use Windows 7, and the university is NOT going to reccomend machines that won't run it, and office 2010 too, plus all their security software (either required or PREINSTALLED), and they expect that machine to maintain the university software requirements for 4 years, with little more than RAM upgrades...
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August 25, 2009 12:15:50 PM

@abbadon_23:

1: requires Vista business or Mac OS X, as it must be capable of joining a domain and being managed by University IT staff. At most universities, you're lucky to have local admin rights on your own machine...
2: they're going to FORCE you to run an array of security packages.
3: it;s not running office, it;s running office while connected to the classroom systems and likely 3-4 other concurrent apps to keep up with what the professor is doing.
4: Likely, in most majors, you'll also be given access to virtual machines to run some apps you should not need to purchase yourself, and your machine needs to be able to handle that.
5: You need a machine that can do this not just now, but in 4 years, with only simple upgrades like RAM to get there
6: a descrete graphics card is required for Windows 7, which will be a requirement next year if not the following. The university is trying to avoid you buying a $600 machine now and another $800 machine in 2 years because you didn't listen.

Most importantly, BUY WHAT YOUR UNIVERSITY TELLS YOU! The local IT office usually has pre-configured images for you reccomended models (Dell SHIPS them preconfigured for most schools saving you a trip to the IT staff and a large fee). This also saves you buying all the security software the university requirs at retail prices. They also are trained to repair these machines, are an authorized warranty provider, and stock parts to fix them... If you're not using a supproted model laptop and need a repair, you'll likely be stuck waiting 2-3 weeks without it if you have to ship it to a central depot and didn't pay the extra few hundred for expridited repairs...

Students don't just "type" anymore, they're interconnected to multiple real-time campus systems, need to handle audio and vido lessons, store massive amounts of data, run multiple apps and support virtual machines, and on top of all the base OS and security software pull that off without lagging and waiting for things to load, and do it on a 5+ hour battery while wifi connected...
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August 25, 2009 12:27:44 PM

The best computer is no computer. Go use the computer lab and learn how tough life really is. Spoiled children these days. Save your money for the many hot dates your going to get.

Oh, you might want a 128GB thumbdrive, at least for all those documents.
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August 25, 2009 12:46:02 PM

That largely depends on your major. If you are doing something with a lot of computer based art you will need a much more powerful computer. I believe that ASUS is the best brand for the student because they are the best quality and have products for every price point ($200 netbooks to $3,000 gaming monsters capable of doing practically any task that a student can throw at it).
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August 25, 2009 1:10:39 PM

First I think we need to figure out what the student is going to be using the computer for. I have known English majors that were fine using old computers. Being a physics major I needed a little more power to run all the software such as maple.

Your hobbies also play a huge role to. If you like to do RAW picture editing or gaming then your will want a faster computer. I found that that a gaming desktop worked really well for me. I also ended up getting a $700 sony notebook which was powerful enough to do everything but game.
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August 25, 2009 1:18:28 PM

zelannii, I feel sorry for you. Colleges that force you to buy a laptop because they think you will need them are pretty ridiculous. There is a college in my area that actually purchases laptops for the students (another bad idea). Hasn't anyone ever heard of paper. I just graduated and didn't even own a PC for my first year. Even after that I still went to the lab to write most of my paper or work on projects.
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a b D Laptop
August 25, 2009 1:20:54 PM

kind of a dumb question. Most students don't need a PC at all. Since when was browsing the internet or playing games a requirement for college?
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August 25, 2009 1:28:19 PM

Just sold my Desktop and 2 EEEPcs for a 17" alienware and it is for school too... if you cant carry 10-15 pounds you should get a gym membership =( with the money you save buying a netbook
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August 25, 2009 1:29:16 PM

Given the current hardware, I can't see a reason to get an Apple any more. If you are an artsy-fartsy student, I guess the OS is enough to drive you to the Mac line. For the business students any old gates-crate will do. For the technical students, there really isn't any decent hardware left for you guys/gals. Your best option is using Unix/Linux and running emulators.
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August 25, 2009 1:31:17 PM

If the school network "requires" a pro os, I assume that is for connecting to the domain. If however it is just for accessing the web is that really a minimum requirement?

As far as I am concerened, forcing all student to become highly IT literate or dependant is a bad idea. If your studies are, for example, classical history then all you need is access to library information, or an actual paper library and a word processor. If you are taking a degree in English you should automatically switch off the spellchecker.
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