The Ultimate College Technology Guide

The first few days of college overwhelm many students. You’ve got to move into your dorm, buy textbooks, find out where your classes are, and decide on living guidelines with your new roommate. Chances are also good that you’ll be buying and setting up new computer equipment at the same time. To make those first few days a little less hectic, here are some guidelines to help you decide what hardware, software and peripherals you’ll need.

Hardware Considerations

If you’re buying new hardware for college, you have to choose between laptops and desktops. Desktops are generally cheaper, and offer more hard- drive space and RAM compared to an equivalently priced laptop. Desktops lack portability, however, and are more difficult to transport at the end of the college year when you vacate your dorm room.

Students generally prefer laptops to desktops, if only because of the laptop’s inherent portability. A laptop’s as useful in a lecture room, library or coffee shop as it is in your dorm room, giving it a distinct edge over a cumbersome desktop rig. On the downside, laptops are popular targets for theft on college campuses, so if you opt for a laptop, keep it close and install some antitheft software.

Tablets offer a third option for students, although touch-screen keyboards limit their usefulness for writing papers. You can buy a peripheral keyboard and mouse, but that adds two more items to carry around and possibly misplace. Microsoft’s new tablet, Surface, includes a built-in keyboard, which may change how useful tablets are as college hardware.

No matter what hardware you choose, make sure that it has the power and memory you’ll need for your area of study. A graphic-arts student will need more RAM, hard-drive storage space and a more powerful graphics card than most liberal-arts students, for example.

Software Suggestions

Microsoft Office or a similar productivity suite is essential for college life. If you’re using a less-than-recent productivity suite, check with your college’s IT department to see if your version is compatible with college standards. The IT department also requires all student computers to have up-to-date antivirus programs.

Many colleges offer free, open-source word processing, antivirus programs, and other software through their IT departments. It’s a good idea to check what’s offered. Furthermore, some software companies offer discounts and savings to students. Adobe, for instance, offers Adobe Photoshop to students at a significantly reduced price, as well as an Adobe subscription that allows you to purchase only the months when you’ll need the software.

Peripheral Possibilities

Once you’ve got your hardware and software sorted out, you’ll probably want to look at peripherals. A small printer for your dorm room makes life much easier, and saves you money on printing services. If the college uses a wired network, you can connect all your hardware to the network with a wireless router (check if your IT department allows this: some colleges frown on wireless dorm connections).

In addition, a good headset allows you to block dorm noise while you study, and allows you to chat with your folks online (presuming you taught Dad how to Skype). If your use your laptop for entertainment as well as studying, a set of desktop speakers will improve your audio quality. While you can buy peripherals at the college bookstore, buying them online ahead of time reduces the amount of shopping you need to do when college starts.

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