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I prefer a Mac. My son is all about PC.  When I go looking for a PC laptop, I feel like there are a bajillion choices. I have no clue where to start. I figure a 15 inch screen is good. I want something that will last 5+ years. I do not wish to promote gaming, but also do not want to get something so weak that it has to be replaced in a couple years. What should I be looking for?

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What program is your son going into in college? Many times the specific university will dictate what kind of computer is recommended, especially if it's engineering. If this will be your son's computer, I would suggest he research what's needed and give you 3-4 different computers he thinks will work, explain why he thinks each would work, and discuss the pro's and con's of each. Based on what he telly you, you can then finish researching and choose one. One thing to consider is whether he will have easy access to repairs at his university or if it will have to be sent away. It's difficult to be in college and not have access to a computer for 3 weeks.

As far as the durability goes, I wouldn't expect the computer to last 5 years. We've found we need to replace them every 3-4 years due to not enough memory/slow processing speed and wear and tear. We bought each of them their first computer, but after that they had to replace their own, though we've helped when we can. Someone with more computer knowledge can be more specific about that.

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We are a Mac family but one kid wanted to go PC and Samsung phone for college. He did the research and ended up with a HP. He seems pretty pleased with it but he's a humanities student so...

Do check with the college on what their requirements are and what any departmental requirements are. Getting four years at college was about as much as our daughter's computer could handle before it became bogged down, she's looking at a replacement for grad school.

Look at the weight and portability if the computer will be carried to class and the library regularly. You might also check what sort of computers can be service on or near campus. Many colleges have a deal with one or more computer companies for purchase and service agreements, to include loaner units when yours is in for repair.

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You specified this is for a Laptop, but you also specified a 15" display.  In a Laptop that one is carrying around all day in their Backpack, that would be really heavy IMO. We have one Mobile Workstation (a high end Laptop) that has a 15.6 inch or so display, but it is here in the house the vast majority of the time. It is a lot bigger than our Laptops (same manufacturer, Dell) with 14" displays.

Now, here is what should happen: After your DS enrolls in a college or university he should explore on their web site to see what they recommend and/or sell. If it is a large school similar to where my DD is, they have a program for different PC models and different Mac models. We are PC people and I suggested to DD that she get the least expensive one they have in the program. In her school, the PC Laptops are all Lenovo Think Pads.  I suggested the least expensive one because not only of our budget, but because the Tech Support people in the school will have the most experience with that model and there is a better chance of them having replacement components in stock. Some schools, like UNC, may have a program that subsidizes the cost of the machine for students receiving Financial Aid.  . Also some schools, like UNC, will put a 4 year world-wide warranty on the machine and insurance for theft etc. 

Oh, I would not buy a Consumer Grade Machine. Try to get an Enterprise Class machine. Some of the components are better and they should be easier to service. If you can walk into a store and play with it, it is a Consumer Grade machine. Lower price and lower quality.

You should be able to get 10 years out of a Laptop if it is treated gently. That assumes occasionally replacing the battery and if it has a HDD (Hard Disk Drive) those can fail at any time. Better to have an SSD (Solid State Drive) than an HDD.

Please wait until after he enrolls in the university of his choice and then see what they recommend or sell. Depends upon Major also...

The Dell Latitude E6400 laptop that I am using has MS Windows 10 running on it and it was probably assembled around 2008 or 2010?

The Laptop DD got from her school last August, a Lenovo ThinkPad, I can't remember the exact model number and they change slightly each year, has a 13.3" display if my memory is accurate. She does carry it around in her backpack all day. A machine with a 15 inch display would be larger, heavier, and have a larger and heavier AC adapter. I think all of the machines in the UNC list last year had 13.3 inch displays?

ETA: If he buys it from the university, their on-site service may have "Loaner" machines available if one needs to put their machine in for service. Assuming a "Loaner" is available. DD got her Lenovo ThinkPad approximately 14 August 2019 and as far as I know it has been trouble free.

Edited by Lanny
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I agree with waiting to buy one on campus in the fall.  Talk to students in his major and see what they are using.  You can probably ask the admissions department for a student contact in his field, if you really want to buy something this summer.  But if you wait, your student may enjoy a student discount, I don't know.  

To make things more difficult for you, I'll suggest another option:  chromebooks can be had for less than $200.  I love mine, it's so easy to use.  If you are already fully immersed in google products (drive, hangouts, gmail etc.) then this will be seamless.  And so many other things are in the cloud, even programming environments for python and arduino are online now.  

However if your student is using special software that needs to be downloaded, and he needs to store files on his computer--not in the cloud-- this will not be a good option.  But have him talk to other students in his department first.   

Edited by daijobu
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I wouldn't necessarily wait until getting on campus to buy a laptop since it might be a good idea to get accustomed to it before having to hit the ground running.   Plus, you would likely end up paying a premium rather than taking the time to comparison shop.   I would definitely check with the program he is enrolled in to get the recommended specs. Definitely get the SSD drive.  Much more durable.  

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My son started out as an intended film major.  They required a Mac.  So we got a Mac.  Then he switched to Engineering.  They require a PC.  However, I told him we would wait until he finished his pre-Engineering classes.  So glad I did.  He is now changing it again.  

I would just look and see what the min. requirement is to get through Gen Ed classes.   What we found (for both boys) is that new computers far exceed the min. anyway, so they are good.

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My kids havent required specific laptops. They have needed specific software which has all been free through their U.

For our 12th grader we got a laptop that can switch to tablet mode and has the ability to write on the screen and turn into pdf notes.

FWIW, my kids have all carried their laptops everywhere. Most backpacks these days have laptop pouches. 

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Follow-on to my first response. IMO a PC should have a minimum of 8 MB of RAM to run a modern OS (Windows 10, Linux, etc.) in the case of the school DD attends, they do have specific software (Microsoft Office, etc. as I recall) that must be on the machine. This old Dell Latitude E6400 Laptop only has 4 MB and Windows 10 runs well, but if it had more RAM, it would run more quicky. I believe that they had that Software requirement for the MACs they sell also. My memory tells me that the machine DD got from them was about $1015 USD (Probably plus NC taxes) including the 4 year worldwide warranty, the Insurance and on-site service and Loaners. Fortunately I don't think DD has needed Service or a Loaner on her Laptop. In some schools, it is mandatory the students bring their laptops with them to their classes.  A Chromebook might or might not work out, depending on the school. 

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I was going to comment on a 15" laptop too.  We ended up buying my college student with the 15" inch laptop a much smaller and lighter model to carry around campus.  So if he is planning on regularly carrying it around, I would also not go with the 15".  We've had good luck with several Asus models and I agree with Lanny's recommendations.  You may want to google (or have your student research) about options on his campus.  Buying on my son's campus is a great deal and comes with lots of on site help.  But some campuses have fewer options.  

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My son's university (engineering focused) provided minimum requirements, which my son (as a robotics engineering student focused on machine learning) blew past within two years. 

So it really depends on your son's major.  

Also, if your son prefers a Windows machine, get that.  I'd also have him do the research--no need to clutter your brain with all that stuff.  Tell him how much you're willing to spend and that you won't be buying another laptop after this, so he'd better get it right.

Edited by EKS
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On 5/6/2020 at 7:29 AM, EKS said:

  Tell him how much you're willing to spend and that you won't be buying another laptop after this, so he'd better get it right.

This.

My husband wants to spend $500 but is willing to spend $1,500 maximum for a replacement laptop for me. 

In my case, I do want a 15.6” laptop. Weight isn’t as much an issue for me because I would just be using mine at the community college campus while my kids are in class. So not lugging weight from class to class. My kids have 13” laptops and kept their 15.6” laptops as backups. I am using my DS15’s old 15.6” laptop that is probably at least 5 years old.

Now we are waiting for more laptops to come out with the latest AMD Ryzen chipset in June/July. I don’t see a need to buy a new laptop to familiarize for college unless the person has never used a Windows laptop before. Even then, kids learn and adapt fast. I would wait for back to college sales as many of those sales are online.

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OP there is something I would like to stress, regarding the possibility of the Laptop your DS gets having on-campus on-site service available, if necessary, under the warranty. The Lenovo ThinkPad DD got in mid August fortunately has as far as I know been troublefree.

But, what happens if there is  an issue and it is the Laptop the student depends on to be working 24/7? 

If there's on-site warranty service, hopefully they have a loaner available. Better yet, it might be something they can fix on a "while you are waiting" basis.

And, if it was purchased somewhere else?  Pack it up and ship it to the nearest authorized service center and hopefully get it back in 2 or 3 weeks. Or 4 weeks?

And if it is a Consumer Grade Laptop, probably the Factory warranty is for 12 months? Longer than that would increase the cost. Worldwide warranty? Insurance? For 4 years?

This all depends upon whether or not one enrolls in a school that has a computer program for their students and staff. IMO it is a big plus, if available.

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I looked at what the "Dell University" options are through my campus, and they are more expensive than the computers at Costco with similar features, so price shop. A lot of schools provide Microsoft 365, so it makes a Chromebook less useful. ETA- we still have plentiful computer labs on campus, so a student can get by with those or one checked out of the library if you have a repair issue. My older boys never needed their computers sent off for repair in either ungrad or grad school. They didn't carry theirs around campus. Dd does carries her computer around campus for DE, and did crack her screen last year. She mostly has it with her to do her homeschool classes because she's stuck on campus most of the day. She just shut off the touch screen feature and it's still running.

Edited by MamaSprout
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2 hours ago, MamaSprout said:

I looked at what the "Dell University" options are through my campus, and they are more expensive than the computers at Costco with similar features, so price shop.<snip>

 

Possibly the "Dell University" options are Enterprise grade machines? If so, yes, those will be somewhat more expensive than the Consumer grade machines you see in Costco. Consumer grade machines are lower in quality so they are also lower in cost.  

Some Consumer grade machines do very well, but others...  And trying to get replacement components for them can be difficult or impossible. Advantages to Enterprise grade machines include they are made in huge numbers so replacement components are more likely to be available for them and they are (probably) easier to service than a Consumer grade machine.

Is the warranty the same between "Dell University" and Costco?

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In addition to 8 GB of RAM (memory) I believe a long warranty (preferably on-site on the campus of the school your DS enrolls in) and insurance from them on the laptop would be the next priorities.  Not needing to ship it off, if warranty service is needed, is  a huge plus IMO.

ETA: This is the URL for the  .PDF file for the Spring 2020 semester and hopefully will give you an idea about the specifications of the Lenovo ThinkPads and the MacBooks they had in the program last semester for students getting their Laptops from UNC CH.  As I wrote upthread, my DD got the least expensive Lenovo Think Pad because it fit our budget and also because I believe they sell the most of that model and are more likely to have replacement components, if needed, and a lot of experience working on them. The prices shown are "4 year Package" prices with the extended worldwide warranty and insurance, etc.

https://cci.unc.edu/files/2020/04/CCI_Brochure_2020_Spring2020.pdf

NOTE: I would take what they show on that .PDF or any other place where they show Battery Life with a grain of salt.  I suspect those numbers are unlikely in the real world.

Edited by Lanny
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4 hours ago, Lanny said:

In addition to 8 GB of RAM (memory) I believe a long warranty (preferably on-site on the campus of the school your DS enrolls in) and insurance from them on the laptop would be the next priorities

...

The prices shown are "4 year Package" prices with the extended worldwide warranty and insurance, etc.

https://cci.unc.edu/files/2020/04/CCI_Brochure_2020_Spring2020.pdf

 

We use 16 GB of RAM to boost performance on the laptops we buy. We just buy our own bank of RAM for the empty slot as it’s cheaper and easy to install. 

The prices in the pdf are good for on campus warranty prices. 

I don’t like the Thinkpad’s red button but this config and price is attractive https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/7/21249775/lenovo-thinkpad-e14-e15-price-specs-release-date-amd-ryzen

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OP about the Insurance he can hopefully get on a Laptop, especially if he buys it from the school. A thread I read on Reddit about this, one  post said that his/her car was broken into and  the Laptop stolen. Paid $100 USD and got a new one. Then, spilled coffee on it and paid $100 for the repair.

Others had similar experiences. One with the on-site service and getting a Loaner Laptop from them.

If you can get an extended (preferably worldwide) warranty and insurance, that's a big plus IMO.

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This thread is old now, but in case anyone reads it in the future, if their DC attend a large university like Carolina,  and they have a Laptop purchase plan, similar to the one at Carolina, I read on the school web site that 80 or 85 % of the students buy their laptops from the school. There are a lot of advantages to doing that.

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On 5/5/2020 at 10:15 AM, Janeway said:

I prefer a Mac. My son is all about PC.  When I go looking for a PC laptop, I feel like there are a bajillion choices. I have no clue where to start. I figure a 15 inch screen is good. I want something that will last 5+ years. I do not wish to promote gaming, but also do not want to get something so weak that it has to be replaced in a couple years. What should I be looking for?

Start by checking with the college.  DD's college is requiring that the students purchase the laptop from them because certain programs use what the required laptops have.  So start there before you spend $$.

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Here's one good reason for getting Insurance that covers accidents:  DD's roommate has a Mac. She spilled Chocolate on it a few days ago. At first, it wouldn't turn on. Now, the battery won't charge. If she had purchased it from the school program, with 4 years of warranties and insurance, she would pay $100 USD and they would either fix it or give her a new computer. The normal warranty covers Manufacturing Defects, but this accident is owner negligence and is not covered by a normal warranty.

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Follow-on to my previous post. I asked DD how the roommates Mac is doing after the accident with the Chocolate. Her roommate wants to buy a PC Laptop now. Preferably one that is good for high powered games...  

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  • 3 weeks later...

OP because of the other thread about the Laptop you bought for your Baylor bound DS not having an integrated Web Camera, he needs to remember to pack a Web Camera when he goes to Baylor.

Also, if possible, if you can introduce him to the basics of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, that will give him a little familiarity, if he needs to use those Apps.  A "head start" about what those Apps do and a little bit about how to use them would be a "plus" for him.

When DDs school went from in-classroom to Online after Spring Break in March 2020, I believe the classes were on Zoom.  This is the Home Page for Zoom:   https://zoom.us/

Microsoft Teams is also very popular. Here are 2 Microsoft links I have bookmarked for basic information about how to use it:

(1) https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/microsoft-teams-video-training-4f108e54-240b-4351-8084-b1089f0d21d7?ui=en-us&rs=en-us&ad=us

(2) https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/instructor-led-training-teams-landing-page

Note: About 2 weeks ago, I asked my DD which App(s) she is using. Her response was "everything but Skype"

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On 5/8/2020 at 5:48 AM, MamaSprout said:

I looked at what the "Dell University" options are through my campus, and they are more expensive than the computers at Costco with similar features, so price shop. A lot of schools provide Microsoft 365, so it makes a Chromebook less useful. ETA- we still have plentiful computer labs on campus, so a student can get by with those or one checked out of the library if you have a repair issue. My older boys never needed their computers sent off for repair in either ungrad or grad school. They didn't carry theirs around campus. Dd does carries her computer around campus for DE, and did crack her screen last year. She mostly has it with her to do her homeschool classes because she's stuck on campus most of the day. She just shut off the touch screen feature and it's still running.

I am a huge Costco fan - we have bought our laptops there - but I would still wait.  The opportunity to have it serviced locally is impossible to quantify.  We have bought the extended service on our latest laptop which gets it to the three year service point, but when we had to send it in it took just shy of a month to get it back because they were waiting on a part.  Even though we did a backup of the drive before we sent it in it was additional time to get it back up and running because it was wiped clean.  Our problem was the battery wasn’t charging.  I can’t imagine the drama if my child was at school out of state and that happened.  It was just shy of fury filled for me.  The school computer may not be the “best” or least expensive option, but I would go with what can be serviced locally and what they have the most experience working on.  There is nothing about college that gets the least expensive designation so just chalk it up to mental health insurance for you.

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2 hours ago, Mom2mthj said:

 We have bought the extended service on our latest laptop which gets it to the three year service point, but when we had to send it in it took just shy of a month to get it back because they were waiting on a part.  Even though we did a backup of the drive before we sent it in it was additional time to get it back up and running because it was wiped clean.  

I am a huge fan of redundancies but I used to work in computer servers support.

The availability of loaner laptops would be what I look at if buying from campus. Both my teens have two working laptops, both my kids’ laptops has been away for repairs for a month. We didn’t pay for extended warranty since we have two laptops per kid. OP has already purchased a laptop though.


e.g. UNC https://cci.unc.edu/new-students/why-buy-cci/

“Loaner Laptops

A pool of laptops is maintained and made available to CCI laptop owners through the ITS Response Center. If your CCI laptop needs to be serviced then you will be offered a loaner laptop, when available. CCI laptop owners at Carolina are almost never without a working laptop.”

Baylor

“• Loaner devices are offered in partnership with Moody Library while your computer is being repaired.”

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3 hours ago, Mom2mthj said:

I am a huge Costco fan - we have bought our laptops there - but I would still wait.  The opportunity to have it serviced locally is impossible to quantify.  We have bought the extended service on our latest laptop which gets it to the three year service point, but when we had to send it in it took just shy of a month to get it back because they were waiting on a part.  Even though we did a backup of the drive before we sent it in it was additional time to get it back up and running because it was wiped clean.  Our problem was the battery wasn’t charging.  I can’t imagine the drama if my child was at school out of state and that happened.  It was just shy of fury filled for me.  The school computer may not be the “best” or least expensive option, but I would go with what can be serviced locally and what they have the most experience working on.  There is nothing about college that gets the least expensive designation so just chalk it up to mental health insurance for you.

Our uni doesn't offer loaner laptops beyond the handful the library has available for checkout, and they send out the computers for repair. So checking out the details of "what happens if something breaks" is good advice.

 

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In addition to a Web Camera and a Cooling Pad, for his dorm room, it would be very nice if he has a small USB Keyboard and a USB Mouse. That will make it much easier when he is using the Laptop.  

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2 hours ago, Lanny said:

In addition to a Web Camera and a Cooling Pad, for his dorm room, it would be very nice if he has a small USB Keyboard and a USB Mouse. That will make it much easier when he is using the Laptop.  

I ordered a webcam when I read your post reminding me recently. I found the Logitech c270. I hope that one is good. I do have a cooling pad already that no one uses so I can add that to his stuff. He would like an additional keyboard and mouse? My younger son uses an additional keyboard and monitor, I just assumed that was just him..should I get both for my Baylor Bound child? Also, does he need portable storage like flash drives or anything?

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On 5/30/2020 at 7:24 AM, Lanny said:

Follow-on to my previous post. I asked DD how the roommates Mac is doing after the accident with the Chocolate. Her roommate wants to buy a PC Laptop now. Preferably one that is good for high powered games...  

I suspect the games is why my children prefer PC over Mac. I am a definite Mac lover. 

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26 minutes ago, Janeway said:

I ordered a webcam when I read your post reminding me recently. I found the Logitech c270. I hope that one is good. I do have a cooling pad already that no one uses so I can add that to his stuff. He would like an additional keyboard and mouse? My younger son uses an additional keyboard and monitor, I just assumed that was just him..should I get both for my Baylor Bound child? Also, does he need portable storage like flash drives or anything?

 

My belief is that Logitech has always made good hardware.  I have a Logitech USB Keyboard here, for my backup Laptop. My DW has a Logitech Game Controller.

I strongly recommend an external USB Keyboard and an external USB mouse for when he is in his dorm room and using his Laptop. That makes it much easier and much more comfortable. That's what we do in the house in our "assigned" places.  I am on Ethernet which is much better than using WiFi (and probably a lot more secure).

Oh....   Especially if he will be using WiFi at school, and he probably will be using WiFi at school...  We have a VPN.  If DD needs to do something involving confidential information, she uses the VPN. Bank, etc. That will probably cost you at least several dollars each month, but it is critical, if he does anything critical like connecting to the bank or school financial aid, etc.

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5 hours ago, Janeway said:

. He would like an additional keyboard and mouse? My younger son uses an additional keyboard and monitor, I just assumed that was just him..should I get both for my Baylor Bound child? Also, does he need portable storage like flash drives or anything?

Flash drives are nice to have and cheap though my main backups are in the cloud (OneDrive, iCloud, Google drive).

An external USB mouse is really useful to have, easier to use then the laptop’s trackpad. Also you can buy one easily for less than $20. 
 

My 15.6” laptop has a full size keyboard and numeric keypad. I don’t have a need for external keyboard. 
 

For a keyboard and mouse combo package, something like this is good enough https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-MK270-Wireless-Keyboard-Mouse/dp/B079JLY5M5/

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38 minutes ago, Arcadia said:

Flash drives are nice to have and cheap though my main backups are in the cloud (OneDrive, iCloud, Google drive).

An external USB mouse is really useful to have, easier to use then the laptop’s trackpad. Also you can buy one easily for less than $20. 
My 15.6” laptop has a full size keyboard and numeric keypad. I don’t have a need for external keyboard. 
For a keyboard and mouse combo package, something like this is good enough https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-MK270-Wireless-Keyboard-Mouse/dp/B079JLY5M5/

 

Oh...  I did not pickup on the idea of external Backups...  Yes...  This old Laptop has a 500 GB Hitachi HDD I bought that was slightly used. I have a WD (Western Digital) very low end external HDD for it (2 TB capacity).  I use the WD drive when I make "System Images" of the HDD with Clonezilla.  We have another low-end WD external hard disk drive. I think that one has 1 TB capacity. I was intending to use it and  after we received it my DW said Stepson could use one of those, so we gave the 1 TB to him (for his birthday) and I bought the 2 TB one.  Both are very low end but work well. The 1 TB came with Software that I never would have used. The 2 TB didn't come with any Software and I wouldn't have used it so that saved a few dollars. They are from different series of WD but internally are probably the same quality. If I assume, drives from Seagate and other reputable companies will also work fine.

And he needs to Backup and Backup and Backup.  In addition to the System Images on the external HDD, I have files that I believe are Important or Critical in the Cloud. I have free accounts with Dropbox, OneDrive and Box. 

If he does nothing else with the Laptop you bought for him, he should get all of the Critical/Important updates for Windows 10 and he should Backup and Backup and Backup.

I have LibreOffice installed on this Laptop but occasionally I use the Free Online version of MS Office if I am doing something where I need to be positive there will not be any changes because I do something in LibreOffice and change the File to the Microsoft  file type. Such as .docx for WORD files.

I use the AntiVirus/Malware that is built into Windows 10. I think it is called Windows Defender?  It probably has less of a footprint (less use of RAM) and fewer problems than the 3rd party anti virus programs I used until moving to Windows 10 last September.

 

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Apologies in advance for the essay.


Bad news: due to how long the PC has existed for, it is impossible to buy a PC that can't be used to play potentially-addictive games ("retro" games, and even some games from a few years ago, can be easily run by the weakest PC on sale) and difficult to future-proof it for 5 years. I would not count on getting the whole computer to last 5 years, but you can maximise your chances by making wise choices at the purchase stage. Some parts will likely last longer than others; in particular you may find yourself transferring the (switched) keyboard, mouse and (solid state) hard drive from this computer to its replacement, even if it's more than 5 years down the road.

Good news: getting a PC that is obviously meant for work and long-term use rather than play and frequent upgrades is fairly straightforward if you follow a few principles (either you can use these yourself, or hand them to your son and supervise where appropriate):

1) Check the college's advice about computers, if any. If special software is likely to be needed for the program, there's a good chance you will find the requirements and/or recommendations listed, and sometimes even what the program(s) is/are. In some cases, you'll need to look at the likely modules your son might study, write down the names of software that appears in courses he is likely to consider, and research 

Sometimes, colleges will even sell a laptop (it looks like it's a lot more common now than when I was last a university student). Whether you choose to buy the laptop from the college or elsewhere... ...the college is making those recommendations for a reason. Getting something close to the specification should help convey that you want the computer used for college work. (If you can't see anything with the exact specifications, go for something a bit bigger/larger/higher-numbered rather than something a bit smaller). Exceptions (where you might want something considerably better than the college specifies) will be covered further down the list.

If no such software or specifications are given by the college, it probably has no special recommendations. It's difficult to go far wrong if it's an essay-based course like English Literature or History. This is because office software and browsers are not especially demanding. Even maths courses don't necessarily change the requirements, because a lot of maths software will work on any new PC. You'll want more oomph if the computer is going to be used on a science, engineering or visual arts course. If you really can't get any specifications or software, "don't pick the slowest/cheapest one" is a good rule of thumb - but it's better if you have your son call the department(s) which have courses he's interested in to ask what software, if any, is useful for their courses first.

(While this isn't going to affect OP, buying a computer more than 3 months in advance of when it is needed is always a false economy, because as a rule, the later a computer is bought, the better value-for-money it is. Yes, even if there's a sale on).

2) Go for a solid-state hard drive. This is much more durable than a standard hard drive, particularly when it comes to resisting light knocks or drops. (Don't drop a laptop if it can be avoided, but especially don't drop one with a standard hard drive). It's better to go small and solid/SSD than large and platter-based (another name sometimes seen for a standard hard drive). It's also considerably faster than a standard hard drive. The way things are going, 500 GB (gigabyte) is the minimum size I would recommend for a solid-state hard drive. Don't get a full 1 TB (terabyte) drive unless the program recommends it or you are getting a good price on the laptop (more space is a potential temptation to fill with distracting stuff - not necessarily games, not even frivolous things, but things that can distract from the intended purpose).

Please note this is one of the easier parts to upgrade in a laptop. This is because it's possible to buy a new solid-state hard drive, take this and the laptop to a computer shop and request a "ghost transfer" of the information. This is not cheap, but means everything will be neatly copied across and tested for functionality. Expect this to take between a few hours and a few days (it's never a "while-you-wait" job), and always transfer key information onto the USB (and cloud system if in use) beforehand. This is to enable continued working - perhaps on a friend's laptop - and as a backup in case of problems. If you choose to upgrade a hard drive, please search for "solid state drive review", to check what the best options are at the time of upgrade.

3) Do not buy a laptop with a separate graphics card unless the software used by the college program specifically requires/recommends it, or it's a field that often needs it (think engineering, visual arts or architecture)! Graphics cards allow a lot more modern games to be played than the onboard graphics chips do, and neither office software nor browsers (the two main programs college students use) require graphics cards. They also cost a lot more than computers with just an on-board graphics chip. (If a computer ad doesn't clearly say what graphics it has, it's a graphics chip - laptops with graphics cards tend to make a fuss about it. Also, Intel doesn't do graphics cards, so if the "graphics" starts with Intel, it's a chip).

4) Consider screen size. A small screen is less likely to promote games and is easier to carry around campus, but some people find it easier to do college work on larger screens. Small-screened laptops (below 12") tend to be cheaper, will fit into more laptop pouches and have lower specifications. Large-screened ones (above 14") more expensive, fit into fewer pouches, but they are more powerful - so if the college is using complex software on your son's course, you may find a larger screen size comes with the territory. You may need to discuss that with your son. Personally, I prefer smaller screens and currently use an 11.6" screen on my laptop, but preferring larger is also legitimate. Whatever size you get, make sure you also order a case of an appropriate size (even a light silicone sleeve case is helpful against dust, minor knocks and splashes of water when the laptop is not in use). The case does not need to be customised for the laptop, though consider it if that option exists for your chosen model (some enterprise-class laptops do).

5) Weight matters. 1 kg is pretty light (and for a student who is careless or struggles to keep track of items, is at risk of being misplaced). 2 kg rather heavy. 3 kg is weight training and only suitable for a laptop that will spend all day in the dorm (or an athlete who doesn't mind having a bit of rucking built into their study day). Better statistics and larger screens tend to come with more weight. Think about how this computer is going to be used, and select accordingly.

6) 8 GB or 16 GB of memory will be needed. More is a temptation to game, less will make running the computer (especially if it's Windows 10-based) slow. (Typically, a computer shop will be able to upgrade this for you if necessary later on).

7) Once you've found a computer model that looks suitable, make a note of it and run a search for "[computer make] [computer model] review". You need to check what is said about that model's cooling. This is because university environments are hard places for laptops. If the review notes particular cooling problems, look for a different model with similar specifications - small differences in vent placement, component position and quality control can make a lot of difference. Typically, reviews also give insight into what battery life can be expected from a variety of uses - the laptop optimised for long battery life while playing games isn't always the best choice for a long battery life when doing essays, and some manufacturers' battery life numbers are more realistic than others. You want a laptop that has good battery life under "light use" or "office programs". (Also, if you see anything else in the review that makes the laptop a particularly bad/good choice in your view - noise is another thing that often matters more to students than computer advert writers - take it into account).

8 ) Lammy is very much correct about the  USB/external keyboard and mouse, Ethernet cable and VPN. (I've never used a Logitech device, but can confirm they've had a good reputation for over 2 decades, which is a long time in computer circles). There are two things I wish to add to that...
8a) It is worthwhile to pay a small monthly subscription fee for the VPN, as this will give faster speed than a free VPN. Even if the internet is only being used for regular research, this will likely matter at peak times. This applies even if the free and subscription VPNs being compared are from the same company. I'd advise the VPN be used whenever your son is connecting to the internet anywhere except at home or other 100% trusted location (even if he's on Ethernet cable), because they are involved at different levels of security.
8b) If there is an unusually large amount of typing on the course (e.g. it's English Literature or Philosophy), or your son finds typing tiring/achey, it may be worth investing in a (relatively) cheap mechanical switched keyboard. Consumer laptops tend to have membrane keyboards included, which are at risk of failing due to crumbs or simply excessive wear. If you take Lammy's advice about getting an "enterprise class machine" and a USB/external keyboard is included, you may find that keyboard is already mechanically switched. Otherwise, I'd recommend initially sending your son to college with a keyboard that happens to be in the house (of whatever type that may be) or is otherwise easily obtained (in which case it's what's known as a "membrane" keyboard, not that most ads for standard keyboards will mention this). This is because an external keyboard is only helpful if it gets used! If the keyboard is used, then get your son a mechanical switched keyboard. Expect to pay no more than $90 for a new one, potentially less if used. This is one occasion where a "used" keyboard can be worthwhile - I've had my mechanical switched keyboard for 23 years so far (PS/2 keyboard with converter), it's still excellent for typing and these days, is worth more than the computer to which it is attached.

9) Given that there's a pandemic on, making sure there's a webcam is a smart move, as is packing noise-cancelling headphones with a microphone (either attached to the headphones or as a separate device). Preferably not a webcam that's 10 years old either (the technology has moved on a bit since then and nowadays people seeing the output of 10-year-old webcams consider them almost useless)...

10 ) Whatever model you get, buy a spare battery. If you can send it to your son in a hurry, it need not go with him, but absolutely get that battery before you need it.

11 ) Pre-install programs needed/useful to succeed in college, with the help of your son (or at the very least, make sure you check they get installed/linked/favourited and work before your son sets off to college). Either LibreOffice or Microsoft Office for Students should be on there, if only so your son has something to work in if the internet connection goes down. If you use a cloud-based app such as Google Docs, make sure there is a nice obvious icon for it right there on the desktop. Bookmark pages likely to be used during the college career, and check your son has a favourite organisation system that works for him.Make sure there's an antivirus and firewall running (Windows 10 comes with a basic one called Microsoft Security Essentials, but still check it's running). Switch on the VPN. If the college has special programs that it uses for your son's intended major, and access to them is granted before registration, by all means install/make obvious shortcut/favourite these too. Do the same with any other software you can think of that will help with success (especially programs your son already uses for success in his education).

12) Send your son to university with a small can of compressed air, screen cleaner bottle and glasses cleaning cloth, or ask him to buy and use these things soon after arrival. Regularly cleaning a laptop makes it last longer, run cooler and may help get friends (because most students don't think of cleaning their computer unless attention is brought to the subject, and offering to lend use of the cleaning materials after the potential friend has seen your son use it is a conversation-starter). Obviously, this works better if your son knows how to use these things before he leaves home.

13) Also send your son to school with at least one USB memory stick. Even if the backup plan is cloud-based. This should be marked in a way that allows him and others to identify it as his, be that with a permanent marker or a string through the little lanyard hole typically found on its case. It needs something that makes it different from the 50,000 other memory sticks on campus. (The IT department head at my alma mater said plain black USB sticks should be banned because it seemed everyone who lost a USB memory stick lost a plain black one...) This can be small (unless the program specifies it wants a hard drive bigger than 500 GB - a sign that large files are going to be generated as part of coursework - a 16 GB will be more than enough). A cheap model will do, though be suspicious of any that are being sold "10 for $22" or similar - a worthwhile model is likely to cost at least $5 each (there is a small premium for larger-capacity, big-brand or faster models, all of which may be worthwhile depending on the exact situation). They are very helpful for backup purposes, especially if there is the slightest doubt regarding internet connection. I recommend backing up the bookmarks to this USB stick as well, so that those initial choices can be refreshed even if there is a later problem with the favourites in the browser. (I have an emergency set of portable programs and a bootable Linux distribution with software useful for education on my USB memory stick backup, in case of total disaster, but it is unlikely your son will need any of that).

 

Edited by ieta_cassiopeia
Realised how long the post was
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On 5/7/2020 at 4:38 PM, Lanny said:

But, what happens if there is  an issue and it is the Laptop the student depends on to be working 24/7? 


I'll answer this one - if the student is smart, they are regularly backing up to cloud storage, whether that is provided by the University, purchased from Google, Apple, or any of the host of options that charge just a few dollars/month. Then they will be able to use the school computer lab, accessing everything that is in progress from there. 

I will suggest avoiding Chrome Books. Most of my students with Chrome Books are very frustrated with them. They have some compatibility issues with BlackBoard if the University uses it as their LMS. 

I wouldn't wait until they get to school, but I would make sure you've looked at the school and department websites to see if they have specific requirements. I would also set a budget and let him pick, giving him the option of adding some of his own money if he wants something nicer than what you're willing to pay for. 

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This thread seems IMO more important with the possibility/probability that many students will be taking courses that are Online or partially Online, during the Fall 2020 semester. Even if that was not the case, they should be copying all of their important files (school related) to a Cloud Backup provider. Frequently... Last night or this morning, in my Google Feed, there was something that said that Microsoft is going to increase OneDrive space from 5 GB to 100 GB for Free users. I have 5 GB, so 100 GB would be a huge increase for me.  There was also something about students (with a .edu email address) have or will have 1 TB of space on Microsoft OneDrive?  Backup and backup and backup...

The other thing that was covered upthread is that I now believe that it is more important than ever, for college/university students to have immediate access to a Backup machine. Desktop or Laptop doesn't matter, but they need to be able to continue working if their primary machine goes down and if they are in a school where the students take their Laptops to classes and/or the school doesn't have immediate repair available and/or doesn't have loaner Laptops, this could prove to be critical. One can buy a Refurbished (for one example) Dell Latitude E6400 Laptop like I am using at the moment, from a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, with a new license for Windows 10 and a warranty for approximately $200 USD on eBay. (Buy it Now price, not an auction) and probably one can buy a slightly newer model, like my Dell Latitude E6410 (I could not get the Free Upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 to work on that machine) for a few dollars more.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@Lanny

DS15’s power cable (brick and cable are conjoined) for his ASUS laptop died. Luckily I have a spare MacBook power brick and cable that is compatible. I’m near a few Best Buy stores so not too worried about getting a compatible power cable within 24hrs. Just another spare to consider buying for your daughter.

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I am not a computer guru, but we bought my oldest a cheap $300 HP from Target last year to do her basic classes on- both on campus and online.  The plan is to use it for 2 years, then she will need a new $$ one when she gets into her major classes. If it's just basic core classes, you could just get a cheap one that meets their needs and save for when they need the better one for their major.  So much can happen to computers that are being hauled around in backpacks- broken screens, drinks spilled,  power outages, ect.  I prefer to wait until she needs the $$ one to buy- it will be the newest model and not need to last quite as long.  Plus who knows if kiddo will even stick with that major, they might end up in a totally different place and have different laptop needs it software.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I want to reiterate this, because the Fall 2020 semester is going to begin soon, depending on the schools your DC attend.

For anyone whose DC have a computer not purchased from the school computer program. And I do realize that not all schools have a program that sells computers to their students...

Be prepared to supply "Tech Support" remotely to your DC...

Before they leave to go to their school (assuming they are living on campus) be sure their machine has an Administrative account and that you know the User Name and the Password of the Administrative account.

If something goes awry, if the machine needing help is Windows 10 and the machine providing help is Windows 10, you can connect via something built into Windows 10 (sorry I forget the name as I type this) or with "TeamViewer" which you can use free and then you can Remotely Control the machine with the issue and get your DC up and running.

Ask me how I know... 2 days ago, in the morning, my DD, who knows  100X what I know about Microsoft Windows, called me. She couldn't log into her Windows 10 Enterprise Laptop. She had been getting messages to update her User Password, but she didn't do that and her User Password expired. 🙂  In her case she called "IT Support" after calling me and they gave her the Username and the Password they used for the Administrative account, when they set up her Laptop, In a few minutes, she was "up and running".   🙂

If your DC have an issue, even a trivial issue like my DD had, it can be very frustrating and when the semester is underway, it will be more frustrating.

If you can give them "Tech Support" by Remotely Controlling their Desktop, or watching what your DC are doing, that will be a big help to them.

 

Edited by Lanny
correct typo
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5 hours ago, Lanny said:

 

Ask me how I know... 2 days ago, in the morning, my DD, who knows  100X what I know about Microsoft Windows, called me. She couldn't log into her Windows 10 Enterprise Laptop. She had been getting messages to update her User Password, but she didn't do that and her User Password expired. 🙂 

If she knows her hotmail/outlook/live/OneDrive password, she can use that too to login. I tend to login to my windows laptop using my hotmail account (linked to OneDrive) and then login to Canvas for school work. I do have my homework files on my OneDrive set to keep a local copy so that I could work on my school work even when internet connection goes down.

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On 8/1/2020 at 11:54 AM, Arcadia said:

If she knows her hotmail/outlook/live/OneDrive password, she can use that too to login. I tend to login to my windows laptop using my hotmail account (linked to OneDrive) and then login to Canvas for school work. I do have my homework files on my OneDrive set to keep a local copy so that I could work on my school work even when internet connection goes down.

 

Her Windows 10 Laptop has the "Enterprise" version of Windows 10. I've had machines with licenses for Windows "Home" (this one had that before I did the Free Upgrade to Windows 10 last September) and also Windows "Professional", but I've never had one with the "Enterprise" version.  I suspect the lower cost versions can also be set up to have their Passwords expire and I know with your background you know that's a good thing to do, although, sadly, I don't have this machine set up for the User Password to expire. In fact, Microsoft is so lax (and me too) that when I did the Free Upgrade to Windows 10 last year, from Windows 7, they did not even require me to have a User Password.   I have no idea what DD uses for her User Password, but I don't use things like Facebook, to log into any of my Online accounts.  I am using OneDrive now and the Online version of Office and have gained a lot of respect and trust for Microsoft, during the past couple of years, to my astonishment, because they have greatly improved the quality of their Software and their Online products.. Safety and Stability and their adoption of "Open Source" and Linux   (I took a MOOC course on Canvas.Net several years ago but when I went to their web site recently, it doesn't seem to have courses available to Consumers).

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