More and more, colleges and universities rely on computer based training, whether in or out of the classroom. So it's important to invest wisely in a computer that will fit your school needs. With so many kinds of computers to choose from, though, which one should you buy?
Start With the Right Questions
Your options are narrowed down by the sort of computer-based training you expect to pursue: Is most of your coursework conducted online? Will you need to use a computer in the classroom? Do you expect to be writing programs as a computer software engineer?
The school may decide some of this for you. A growing number of schools require students to own a computer—often a laptop—which meets minimum specifications. Be sure to ask the school's admissions office or technology center for their requirements and guidelines.
Beyond that, consider how you expect to use your computer.
- Mobility – If your computer-based training will take place in the classroom, a laptop or netbook is a must. Make sure the computer has built-in Wi-Fi networking capability (it's a standard feature in newer laptops), to take advantage of on-campus wireless.
- Power – At minimum, your computer should be powerful enough to run your e-mail, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software simultaneously, with no problem. For most purposes, a processor one or two speeds lower than the fastest will suffice. But will you be running more demanding software? If you're studying computer graphics or programming, look for a muscular computer.
- Storage – If you plan on managing a large number of music files, photos or graphic images, you'll need an ample hard drive to store them. If you're expecting to use the tools that computer professionals use, many require above-average storage space to install and run the software.
- Graphics – If you are studying computer graphics or video game design, a sophisticated graphics device that can support 3D rendering is a good idea.
On Your Lap or Your Desk?
Choosing between a desktop, laptop and netbook computer once meant sacrificing portability or power. But that's not true anymore.
So, why pick one over the other? There are still some things to consider for your computer based training:
- Laptops – The laptop empowers you to take your work anywhere. Since today's laptops have plenty of computing power, they can perform most of the same tasks a desktop can perform. The usefulness of a laptop, however, can be limited by its battery life (or your proximity to a power outlet). They can also be impractical, or even impossible, to upgrade later.
- Desktops – The traditional desktop remains a cost-effective alternative, suitable for computer-based training students who need computing strength or who take their classes entirely online. Desktops can easily accommodate roomy hard drives, lots of memory and large-format and/or multiple monitors. They can also be readily upgraded with more current or specialized components.
Once you have decided on a computer, you will be ready to begin working toward your computer education goals. Don't forget to check in with your education program and find out if there are any other requirements or recommendations you should know about for your computer based-training.