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Eight Things a College Student’s First Computer Must Have

Free Xbox 360
Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

Let me guess: College just started, but you haven’t yet decided on a new PC for the freshman you just sent off. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the choices or have no idea what kind of PC your son or daughter needs, as opposed to the kind of PC he or she wants. Here’s eight things the college student’s first PC has to have. At the end, we’ll offer some recommended purchases that fit all these criteria.

We should also point out — though it won’t do much for your son or daughter’s productivity — that if you buy a Windows PC through a participating retailer by September 3, you get a free Xbox 360.

All that said, here’s what the machine has got to have.

1. The right type of machine for the job

There are three varieties of PC you can buy these days: an all-in-one PC, a standard PC with a separate monitor, and a laptop.

All in Ones

All in One PCs often look like a monitor and nothing else. The discs go in the side of the machine and it takes up a very small footprint on the average small desk. Unfortunately, you pay a premium to have everything in such a small space, and you get an underpowered machine as a result. If the dorm room really is tiny, or your student will be bringing the machine to home and back on breaks frequently, this is a definite option. One bonus is that the PC will likely have a touch screen. Though Windows supports these now, you’ll really start to see Windows take full advantage whenever Windows 8 is released.

Standard Desktop PCs

Regular desktop PCs, with a separate monitor, are where you’ll find the most power for the least money. If you’re not inclined to build one yourself, you can get great back-to-school deals on a desktop PC, monitor, keyboard, and mouse from places like Dell and HP. Most likely, you’ll end up choosing one of these.


If your student is interested in taking his or her laptop to class, in order to take notes, then a laptop may be the way to go. Consider getting one with HDMI so you can buy an external monitor for it. This monitor can stay in the dorm room for a bigger screen in that environment, and the student can simply unplug it when it’s time to go to class.

2. An LCD monitor

LCD is easier to move around, is sharper, lasts longer, is inexpensive and provides a lot of screen space compared to old CRT monitors. If you don’t have to carry around those heavy-duty monitors of old anymore, your back will thank you. Also, LCD monitors support HDMI, which is a high-definition interface between your PC and your monitor.

3. Windows 7 64-Bit

There’s no sense sending your student off with a substandard operating system. Make sure the PC is loaded with Windows 7, and try to make sure it’s the 64-bit edition. Why? Because it can handle more RAM, or memory, which makes an enormous difference when multitasking.

4. Plenty of RAM

Make sure the PC is maxed out on memory when you buy it. If not, consider buying RAM seperately and either having the manufacturer (such as Dell) install it, or installing it yourself. RAM is cheap these days, and more is better, because PCs will run much smoother and faster that way. Four gigabytes (GB) should be the minimum. Keep in mind that Windows 7 32-bit can only see 3 GB, but the 64-bit edition can see much more.

5. A big hard drive

Hard drives are cheap, but PC manufacturers can often give you less than what you need. Don’t settle for anything less than 1 terabyte (TB). A large hard drive will ensure that documents, high-res images, applications and other important class-related items will not fill up the machine. Finding a laptop with that big of a drive might be difficult; in that case, you may have to settle for 500 megabytes (MB).

6. Microsoft Office Student Edition

Though Microsoft Office is expensive for you and me, it’s sold at a massive discount to students. Office is absolutely essential for writing papers, doing graphs and charts, calculating formulas in spreadsheets, and so on. The student will likely have to buy Office him or herself at the university bookstore using their student ID.

7. A lightweight printer

Even in the digital age, hard copies are important for turning in homework assignments and so on. Nobody wants to have to wait for the printer in the computer lab. Consider an easy to transport external printer that can fit on the desk next to the PC. Make sure it’s a recent model that uses USB to connect to the PC.

8. ReviverSoft products!

If you want to make sure the PC you buy lasts a long time without having to replace it — perhaps even an entire college career! — be sure and install our Registry Reviver and Driver Reviver, and make sure to ask your student to run these scans regularly. Keeping drivers updated and the registry clean is essential for good PC maintenance.

Our Recommendations

Here’s a recent-model all-in-one, standard PC and laptop that we recommend. These choices have plenty of RAM, hard drive space, come with Windows 7, and are from recommended brands.

Laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad T420

Desktop: Dell Inspiron 620 MT

All-in-One: HP TouchSmart 610q

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