Which Computer for Teen/College Student?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Computer for college

May 2014

Our child's graduation present will be a computer for college. We're thinking of something easy to carry around, and assuming lots of writing documents, and some presentations. Sturdy would be nice. Suggestions? anon

My daughter's college had specific requirements for the computers that students brought to school with them. You might check the college's website to see what they recommend. Jennifer

A great gift for a HS graduate. Both my girls have macintosh laptops and we have been very happy with them -- usability and updates are easy. They also have iPhones and the syncing is seamless. My youngest is heading to Oberlin College in August and they mention that they have a technology store that buys in bulk, so may have the best values. Apple do offer student discounts too. I would have your student look into and get them the laptop that they want -- they will have to service/update and should own the decision. You might want to wait until your kid is about to leave for college so you are buying new technology. Good luck. judith

I've been here twice. Ask your student what laptop they want for college. If you are trying to make this a surprise gift, don't. It's better to ask and get the laptop they want. Btdt 2x

I work at UC Berkeley, and I'm sure any laptop would be great. If you can afford the MacBook Air, they are very light and sturdy (my middle schooler has one, and he takes it to school to work on class projects). Be sure to check to see if your student's college offers an educational discount on computers (sometimes you can get bundles that include a free printer) or if the institution has any particular requirements or recommendations. You can often find out about this at orientation. If you can buy an extended warranty, that would be a good addition as well. Another thing I've liked about Apple products is that you can take them to any of their stores during the warranty period and they'll be repaired/replaced for free with no hassle and often right there on the spot; you don't even have to worry about where you placed the warranty paperwork because it's already in their system. Mac Fan

I have one recent grad and a kid at a college where EVERYTHING is online: announcements, dorm assignments, schedules, registration for classes, payment, and class materials. Our colleges recommended an Apple laptop, which is light enough to take to class, plus a printer. The college IT experts preferred Apple because it's less susceptible to viruses than Microsoft. Apple usually has a $100 college student discount this time of year, at the store or online. My kids and their friends all prefer Apple, but then they have iPods for their music, so it's compatible.

My other suggestion, speaking from sad experience, is to buy and install a ''ping'' program like ''LoJack for Apple'' (available online or at the college bookstore) so the laptop may be retrieved if it's stolen. It will be a nice present!

Purchasing a computer for my teen - laptop?

Oct 2008

Hi, Looking for some advice about purchasing a computer for my teen. If you've purchased one, or decided against it!, we'd love your opinions.

First, did you purchase a laptop, or desktop model, and how did you decide? Are you expecting this to be the computer he/she uses through college?

If you have your own computer at home, did you prefer to have your teen's computer networked to yours? Again, how did you decide? (What are the pros and cons of connecting them)?

Thirdly, a good source for purchasing one, either laptop or desktop? Are there any ''good deals'' with the economy the way it is (the way there are sales on cars, clothing, etc.) Money's a little tight (like everyone, probably)

And lastly, what specifications are ''standard'' these days, and what's necessary (vs. optional)?

Thanks so very much for any advice / assistance / information you can give. Teen wants (needs?) computer

You don't say what grade your teen is in. Assuming that he is a freshman, I'd plan on buying one computer for high school and expect to buy another to use in college (computers get outmoded, certainly after 4 years).

The laptop vs. desktop decision depends on how the computer will be used. For example, is your teen into photography and therefore would like a larger monitor? Are they going to use it only for typing papers? For the same specifications, laptops are much more expensive, so if you are trying to save money, the desktop would make more sense. The key issue with laptops is that if your child carries them around, he or she has to be extremely vigilant that they are not left ANYWHERE EVEN FOR A MINUTE where someone could steal them. So it takes away from the ease of using the laptop if one has to be constantly worrying about someone stealing it.

When the teen goes to college, a different decision might be made. But that decision will be based on what college the teen is going to, what the major will be, etc. So I would leave that decision for the next computer purchase.

I've always enjoyed talking to Dell salespeople on the phone. You can tell them what you want, that you're looking for the lowest price computer for a teen, etc. and they can give you their good opinion. Then with this idea in mind, go to Best Buy and see what they have to offer. Then you can call Dell back and continue to refine your ideas.

Consumer Reports also rates computers and discusses specifications. Berkeley Public Libraries keep current (and past) issues so look for a recent issue discussing computers. Their article may provide answers to many of the questions you ask. Anonymous

We did fine with one computer (and one TV, no video game console) in the house throughout high school. The summer before college we asked each son to decide which kind of computer he wanted and we budgeted $700. The first chose a Dell desktop and a large, used monitor; the second chose a Mac laptop for which he paid the difference. During high school they used the family desktop Mac in the ''great'' room, where we could keep an eye on its use. ''Screen time,'' including both computer and TV, was limited; going over to friends' houses on weeknights was not allowed. The results weren't as great as we hoped--they didn't turn into avid readers, and only one has excelled academically, but I think they appreciate that we didn't let them get addicted to electronic games or TV. --A mom of a teen (for just a few more months)

For both my teens, I chose to have them use mine and not buy them their own until right before they left for college. My computer sits in the family room, so I can still see them and communicate with them if I'm in the fam rm or kitchen. I did this deliberately, thinking that if they had their own, they'd be holed up in their room. Also, it gave me the option of installing monitoring software if I was worried my teens might be doing some unwise surfing (I was able to see my naive teen daughter starting a risky behavior, and stop it). Although having ''only'' one computer means we have to be considerate and share the computer, that's a sacrifice that pays off, too. BTW, they each had their own computer at their dad's house, and spent way more time isolated in their rooms there, so... Happy we shared

We never let our kids have a computer in their rooms (or a TV). We felt it was too dangerous. We have a second computer in our ''computer room'' (guest room) and a laptop, and they are all networked. This gives us access to our kids files logs etc. if we need it. I give my daughter her privacy, but she knows I have access to her user account if she gives me a reason to.

We just gave my older daughter a laptop this year for her birthday. She was moving away and going to college. The advice I got from our IT guru at work was go to Frys on the weekend (preferably Sunday morning) and see what laptop they have thats at least a core duo, 2 mb ram, 2 ghz, 120g hard drive under $500. There's always one. My daughter's is a Compaq, we got it for $349, and we got the extended warrantee. It even came with a free case. Jenny

We are very lucky to have a grandma who has purchased computers for our kids. They both got laptops. One wanted a bigger screened one, that was a mistake! Get a smaller screen. 17 inch laptop screens are not for carrying around and are more expensive. That computer was one of the first Vista models and has been a problem. The other son got a mac laptop. We are not mac users and were worried, but the thing works like a dream! I would recommend going that route! He can do the whole itunes thing, garage band, all the fun stuff and his homework too. laptop house

Which Computer for College?

June 2004

We've decided to give our daughter a computer for college as a high school graduation gift (similar to the the typewriter I received a million years ago), but are stuck on a couple of key points:
1) Mac or PC, and
2) Laptop or regular size.
She doesn't really have a strong feeling re: the Mac or PC question. She does think she wants a laptop, but I am leery of wrist problems with a laptop keyboard, as well as fearful of the increased risk of theft/loss with a laptop. The one thing we do know is to order the computer (once we've decided on all the details) and have it shipped directly to her college--saves lugging it there. Any input from your experience would be greatly appreciated.

(1) My understanding if that, unless you're planning to do a lot of graphics or desktop publishing, there's no reason to get a Mac. Sorry, Mac lovers. There's more software for PC's and greater flexibility and connectivity with networks. I could be completely wrong, and someone may offer all the good reasons for selecting a Mac, but if you haven't used one before, I would see no reason to send your kid off to to college with one.

(2) Laptop definitely. You can get cable locks to secure them to dorm room desks. You can get a full-size keyboard as an add-on. My Dell (Inspiron 8600) is full-size; it just doesn't have a separate number pad. Dell (and others, no doubt) sell a very nice stand that holds the laptop up so that the monitor is at eye level and the add-on keyboard fits below. You can even go more $$ than that simple solution and get a docking station to go with a separate monitor. (Think of the laptop as a portable harddrive). The convenience of being able to take the laptop to class should not be overlooked.

Good luck! You probably can't make a *wrong'' choice.

I got my son a Dell laptop 3 years ago when he left for college but had to replace it recently with a desktop. Why? He dropped it several times, moving from the dorm to an apt,, then frmo apt. to house, and bringing it home on the plane several times. Dell was great about fixing it the first time - brought a replacement to his dorm when they took his broken one away for repairs, just the regular warranty, no charge. But finally he dropped it another time after the warranty expired, and that was it for the laptop. You don't have this problem with something that's harder to move (a desktop.) But you may have a more careful child than I do.

The other problem with the laptop was the size of my son. He complained that the screen was too small and too far below his line of sight, and that he had to hunch over to use it and it hurt his back after a while.

Big upside of a desktop: it's a LOT cheaper than a laptop. It doesn't hurt the mom as much if they drop it or decide they need something with more bells and whistles in a couple of years. I got a new Dell desktop a couple of months ago with monitor and keyboard for about $400. They ship it free so no hassle getting it to him. It was a special under business solutions on the dell website. Check dell.com for specials. Good luck! Ginger

Both of our children took Macintosh laptops to college. We gave them a sturdy cable lock, similar to a bicycle lock, to secure it to a desk or bed frame. Both laptop and desktop computers were common at their colleges. We thought laptops had far greater versatility: to come home with them on vacations, to accompany them to the library, to be used in bed, or sitting in the lounge, or in friends' rooms. If your daughter's college has wireless networking, she would be able to connect to the school network from a variety of locations, too (most schools have plug- in connections in the library.)

As to Mac vs. PC, the school may have a strong preference, indicating a greater willingness to provide technical support for that type of computer. We're a Mac family, but I won't get into the Mac/PC wars. A good argument can be made for each platform.

If you buy her a laptop, consider an insurance policy that covers accidental breakage. Their screens are the most vulnerable and costly to replace component. Adam

A friend of mine who had only a desktop computer at college had a lot of trouble with being stuck in his room - which was noisy - because he needed to work on it. He would have loved a laptop that he could take to a library or outside when he needed to get away from the relentless socializing in his dorm. Fiona

I'm definitely a Mac person, not PC. Aside from all of the issues of taste and software (there IS more software for the PC, but the operating system environment is not nearly so nice), you should weigh the fact that Macs have virtually no problem with viruses. That saves a lot of time, trouble, and sometimes money, and could save all the information stored on your computer at some point. Love those Macs

Hi, The Mac vs PC things is rather boring but I thought I would put in my 2 cents worth. We have 4 PC's in our house and 2 are Mac, 2 are ''PC's. I use both and have definitely used ''PC's'' more through work, etc. But I grew up on Mac as my dad was VP at Apple throughout my jr and sr high school and undergrad years back in the day. I remember him bringing home the first prototype of that very first boxy Mac...Anyway, I love Mac, use it for my home biz, etc. One daughter has a Dell laptop and the other has a Powerbook. They each love theirs (isn't that typical of 2 sisters). Altho there is less software available, I have NEVER had a virus or worm on my Mac. With Virtual PC, I no longer have any problems with reading ''PC'' files, etc. I also like that Apple does a lot with schools and colleges. I am entering Grad school this fall and I already was able to get a new Powerbook for a nice discount so I can bring it with me to class, etc. Just my 2 cents and that is what it worth, just 2 cents. Enjoy! Inga