Archive for Thursday, July 28, 2005

Laptop 101: What to take to college

Toplikar: KU, companies connect to offer student discounts

July 28, 2005


Time is short. It's almost time for my twin daughters to head to college. And we've been having it for a few weeks - The Computer Talk.

"Why do you need a laptop computer?" I asked Bonnie, who's going to major in business.

"I already told you, remember? I'll be using it for music, papers, research and e-mailing - you know, basic stuff like that," she said. "I need a laptop so I can carry it to class and take notes."

"And take notes?" I asked. I was skeptical. But Bonnie seemed serious.

"I'm really a slow writer," she said. "I can type a lot faster than I can write."

Julie, who's majoring in art, had given me similar reasons for needing a laptop: writing papers, listening to music, e-mailing and using Photoshop for art projects. They both told me portability was important.

I'd been hearing their reasons all summer, as I've been looking at computer catalogs.

I'm a little wary about getting expensive computers for my kids.

I've seen their messy rooms. I've cringed at the dents that mysteriously appear on their cars.

And I remember when one of them ran her new cell phone through the wash - learning water and electronics don't mix.

More flexibility

I thought I'd check with Kansas University to see if other families were having similar discussions.

"Incoming students often want to know, should they get a desktop or a laptop computer? We do not require either," said Allison Rose Lopez, public relations and marketing manager for KU Information Services. "We suggest students and parents sit down and talk about what the students' needs are and make a decision accordingly."

Lopez said she didn't have any hard and fast numbers about whether laptops were becoming as popular as desktop models.

"I think you're seeing more, because laptops are becoming more affordable and they do provide more flexibility," she said.

Multitasking tool

More students, for example, are using laptops to access e-mail and the Internet at KU's "Wireless Zones."

The zones are scattered across campus at about 25 areas where students congregate, such as Wescoe Beach, the Kansas Union and Allen Fieldhouse.

Plus, students use laptops for a lot of multitasking activities on the go: writing an e-mail, instant messaging, downloading songs or even bidding for items on eBay.

KU recommendations

Lopez said cost might be the main factor driving a decision about whether to get a laptop or a desktop.

She directed me to a KU Web page - - that lists the computer specifications KU recommends for students who decide to bring computers to school.

Most major university Web sites have similar specifications for bringing a computer to campus.

The idea is to make sure your computer is fast enough and powerful enough to access the school's computer network and handle the most commonly used software programs.

(Here's another Web page Lopez says will be helpful to students and their parents that deals with technology and research needs

Tech stuff

KU's site lists the specs for what is considered adequate, plus specs for what is recommended that a student bring.

If you bring a computer, it should be able to run the latest version of Microsoft Office (XP for Windows, Office 2004 for Macintosh). KU also wants you to have the latest version of Microsoft Outlook and a Web browser of your choice. The school recommends Mozilla Firefox, whenever Microsoft Internet Explorer is not needed.

Here are KU's "recommended" specs for Windows/PC computers: a 1 GHz processor, Windows XP operating system, 512 MB of memory, 40 GB hard drive, a V.90 (56 kilobytes per second) modem for dial-up connections, a 100/1000BaseT Ethernet card for direct network connections and a CD-R/DVD combo drive.

For Apple's Macintosh computers, KU recommends a PowerPC G4, 800 MHz or faster processor, the Mac OS 10.3 (or newer) operating system, 512 megabyte or more of memory, 40 gigabytes of disk storage, a V.90 (56 kilobytes per second) modem, a 100/1000BaseT built-in Ethernet card, and a CD-R/DVD drive.

The specs don't say it, but you also probably want a laptop that is fairly light (around five pounds or less) that will slip easily into a backpack. And it should probably be durable if you're going to carry it around.

Bundling it up

Dozens of laptop models will fit KU's minimum or recommended specs, ranging from about $500 to $3,000 or more.

Models that usually get high marks among computer magazine reviewers are IBM Thinkpads, Toshiba, Sony, H-P, Dell and Apple PowerBooks and iBooks.

With so much to look at, I got some help from Zack McDougall, the technology consultant at the Tech Shop at KU Bookstores.

McDougall said the Tech Shop, a nonprofit service for students, worked with Dell and Apple to bundle together a laptop and service agreement for students that includes educational discounts.

The Dell student bundle includes the Dell Latitude D610 laptop, a three-year service contract and a 128-megabyte USB flash drive, all for $1,199.

McDougall said the best Apple bundle is built around the new iBook 12-inch model, which was released by Apple this week.

The iBook is bundled with a three-year service agreement and a 128-MB USB flash drive, all for $1,249.

McDougall said the iBook also has a larger hard drive than the Dell D610 (80 GB compared to 60 GB). The iBook also has Bluetooth capability, which enables is to wirelessly run printers, scanners and other peripherals up to 30 feet away.

Apple also is including an iPod Mini (about $179) with any student computer purchased through September.

Dry books?

The more I read about the new Apple iBooks, the more I was leaning toward them.

Durability is important - thinking about how rough my daughters have been on some of their other possessions.

Apple says the outside of the iBook is made with "ultratough polycarbonate plastic - the same material used in bulletproof glass - with an internal magnesium frame for added strength."

The new iBooks also have a "sudden motion sensor" designed to keep from damaging data on the hard drive if dropped.

Then I thought about the time one of my daughters put her cell phone through the wash.

I checked the specs, but there was no mention as to whether an iBook is designed to survive through the rinse and spin cycles.

I hope we aren't the ones to find that out.


twiggle 12 years, 9 months ago

iBooks are great. I have a G3 iBook and a G4 Powerbook, and I wouldn't give either of them up for ANYTHING.

Those iBooks can take a beating and keep on ticking, and for a REALLY good price.

Plus, no spyware on a mac. Fewer viruses too.

And OSX is pretty. So pretty.

audvisartist 12 years, 9 months ago

For all you college kids on a budget that aren't supported by mommy and daddy, go grab yourself a cheap laptop at a used computer place or eBay (circa PII-450 and above with 64MB RAM or so and a CD-ROM drive) and install a copy of Feather Linux. Your computer will run just as well as any new model running Windows XP and you'll save yourself a grand or so. Visit to download a copy of Feather Linux and see for yourself what you can pack in only 115MB of space. It runs off a CD, USB stick, or your hard drive. Best of all, it's NOT Microsoft. Now back to your regularly scheduled program...

Dani Davey 12 years, 9 months ago

As someone who has just spent the last four years as a student at KU I can tell you that laptops are becomming more popular, but I wouldn't say they are flooding campus. Rarely do students take them to class, especially freshman and sophomore level classes so I'd say that a desktop is just as good.

That said, I got a Sony Vaio last christmas and I love it.

Doug Peschka 9 years, 5 months ago

I have heard that the MacBook is now the top-selling laptop computer on college campuses across the nation.We switched from an 8-year-old Dell PC to a new 20" iMac two months ago, and I can tell you all that the difference between an IBM/Microsoft-based PC or laptop, and an iMac or MacBook is like the difference between day and night.PCs are vulnerable to viruses and adware and spyware.To date, Apple computers have not had that problem.iMacs and MacBooks are built upon the most stable operating systems on the market.It has occurred to me that, if MacBooks are indeed the #1 selling laptop on college campuses across the nation, and Apple computers [iMacs and MacBooks] win large numbers of converts from IBM/Microsoft users, then those websites that are uploaded and updated through the use of Windows Frontpage will be limited to a shrinking percentage of computers owned by the public.Only Windows Internet Explorer can open websites that are uploaded through Frontpage. This could become limiting for such websites as Animal Outreach of Kansas, which was last seen uploaded through Microsoft Frontpage.Frontpage users might want to reconsider other options.MountainLion413

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