Here’s what to look for in a new student laptop
Laptops are hugely popular, and are generally the best bet for most high school and college students, but this column will focus on desktops, which are less expensive to purchase and repair.
That said, most of my tips will also apply to laptops, although there are additional issues to consider, such as weight, screen size and battery life.
Keep in mind that this column applies to students doing ordinary tasks such as playing videos, checking e-mail or word processing. If your child is a hard-core gaming enthusiast or wants to edit video, you'll need a more powerful machine.
One more caveat: Although this column is addressed to PCs, don't let me dissuade you from buying a Mac. The Apple iMac is perhaps the best desktop around. In addition to technical superiority Macs are generally more secure and you can run Windows program if need be.
So what do you look for in a new PC system?
» Operating system: The least expensive way to go is the budget version of Vista. Dubbed Home Basic, it doesn't have Vista's cool new user interface, but it gets the job done.
» RAM or memory: You'll need a gig of RAM for Home Basic, and two gigabytes for the other flavors of Vista. Memory is cheap, so don't stint on this.
» Video system: If you are running Home Basic, you probably won't need a separate video card. The more expensive Vista versions need more computing horsepower, which will entail a separate card.
» Microprocessor: If you're purchasing the less expensive Home Basic OS, any new AMD or Intel processor will function just fine. For the more expensive versions of Vista consider a "dual core" processor.
» Hard drive: My rule of thumb is to get as much storage space as possible. This is especially important if your children download music and videos or if they insist on keeping every digital photo they ever took. Average users can get by with 100 gigs, but if you store a lot of media you'll want at least 250 gigabytes.
» DVD drives: Unless you absolutely have to have a HD DVD, hold off on purchasing a Blu-ray or HD-DVD until the DVD wars are settled. Meanwhile the old fashioned DVD will do just fine.
» Cost: You can pick up a popular-brand PCs with an integrated video system and monitor for $500, but chances are it's not going to be configured with what you need. By the time you're finished adding RAM, a large screen, a big hard drive and more RAM, the price will jump to at least $700.
» Mainland vs. local: You can get great deals online but I'm partial to buying local, even it means paying more (which you will). It's not just a matter of hometown patriotism. If your machine goes kaput, it's often easier to deal with a local shop for repairs.