Computer Buying Tips for your High School Grad



It’s that time of year, seniors everywhere are preparing for graduation.  Congratulations to the Class of 2019! Along with celebrations, many Moms and Dads (and seniors) are starting to look at what kind of computer is needed for college.  The answer is not simple as there is no “one size fits all” answer, however, there are tips that will make buying a computer easier and hopefully get you more bang for your buck.  (While this article is specifically for the college bound grad, many of the tips are also helpful if you’re in the market for a new computer for other reasons.)

Rule Number One for buying a computer:

Please DO NOT go to your nearest retail store and select a computer off the shelf.  Yes, it’s quicker, however you will not always get the best value for your money.  Retail stores can lean toward “economy” computers.  The price looks enticing but often doesn’t have the processing and memory power you need.  Also, off-the shelf computers typically do not have the same type of warranty as a computer ordered (Will your computer be fixed the next day or be sent back to the factory for two weeks?)

Your student may also have the opportunity to purchase a computer from the university book store. One of the benefits by purchasing at the book store is getting the computer repaired on campus. They may also offer a loaner for the student, which is helpful if the repair takes several days.

Rule Number Two: 

Don’t be in a rush.  For new grads heading to college, many schools have computer requirements (all students need one of these models) and/or purchase programs, which can save you money.  If you’re buying for the new grad, please wait until you know what program they are in and check the school’s requirements before purchasing.  (I know of parents who purchased a new PC for their student only to find out the student’s architecture program required all students to have a Mac.)

Here are two links that may give you and your student some additional options to purchase a computer:

Dell University    Apple Education

If you’re not a grad, there are still things that can save you money.  There are the usual “sale seasons”: Back to School, Christmas, Tax Season.  There are also sale seasons you don’t think about such as the end of a fiscal quarter or year.  If your requirements aren’t stringent, you may even find a great deal on a refurbished or “off lease” computer.  For instance many of my personal PCs over the years have come from the Dell Outlet or the Apple Refurbished Inventory.  However, unlike factory refurbished PCs these often come with little or no warranty.

MAC OR PC? The next most popular question for purchasing a new computer is “What do I buy?”  This question depends on the individual but there are some guidelines that help.

Macs and PCs are very different.  I oftentimes tell people that switching from one to the other is like learning a new language.  It can be done but the transition takes time and patience.  Whether you want to make the switch depends largely on who you are and what you want to do.  For Graphics intensive programs such as architecture, photography and web design, to name a few, Apple products are the preferred choice.  If you simply need a computer for word processing and research, then you may find that a PC suits your needs for a better price.

Hardware – what’s in the box?    Hardware is the most baffling aspect of computer buying for non-techies.  The “specs” are confusing and oftentimes engineered to point the buyers focus away from important facts.  Here is what you need to know:

  • Laptop or Desktop: If you’re buying for the long haul, I would recommend a laptop.  Even if you think you won’t need a mobile PC, laptops “grow with you” more gracefully than PCs.
  • Hard Drive: Size doesn’t matter all that much.  Most systems have hard drives that are big enough unless you want every song ever written.  Solid State Drives (SSD) are faster than SATA drives.
  • Processors/CPU: (The brain of the computer.) There are two major makers of CPUs.
    • We recommend purchasing computers with Intel processors. For Intel processors, most users will be fine with an i5 processor.  Power users will want an i7 processor.  Intel classifies their processors by generations and the most current generation is the 9th  These processors all start have models that look like i5-9xxx or i7-9xxx.  We recommend not purchasing a computer with anything below an 8th generation processor.
    • If you need a more specialized discussion about what processor is likely to suit your computing needs, this article by Techradar goes into which processors suit which applications best.
  • Memory: Memory is the last of the big specs you need to review.  Think of memory as the desk or counter space your computer has to work with.  While Microsoft claims Windows 10 works on 4GB of memory, my observation is that it needs 8GB to function well.

The remainder of the specs listed are typically less important but keep in mind any activities you know you want to accommodate.  For example, if you love to watch DVDs, you’ll need an optical drive.

Hopefully these tips will help make your computer buying adventure more successful and less overwhelming!

written by Liz Calder, IT Support Specialist