Monday, June 13, 2011

What laptop to purchase for College?

This question comes up over and over again and this time around we got a very insightful post from a member of our list-serve (Joseph Ugoretz) who is relied upon to make this decision for the many kids who receive a free laptop as part of their scholarship to attend the Macaulay Honors College.  He is their Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning, and Technology

My question : So for those of us without the benefit of a scholarship to pay for a college laptop, why did you say you "would never recommend a PC for any college student.".... 

The answer : 

There are several reasons I make that recommendation (and it's a decision I have to make each year for our incoming freshmen).  Generally, there are three groups of reasons I'm applying.

1. Software.  For the basics that every college student will have to use (word processing and internet access), there really isn't much of a difference.  A PC or Mac can run Firefox or Chrome or Safari.  Nobody should use IE.  Either can run Microsoft Office.  For presentations, most students know and use PowerPoint, which runs on both.  But for students who really care about presentations and need to do them frequently and well, Keynote is far superior to PowerPoint, and it only runs on the Mac.  And it's only $20.

Beyond that (still in Software) the iLife suite provides opportunities for creative and intellectual projects which you just can't get with any PC software.  iMovie and GarageBand alone are worth the price difference between the Mac and PC...but they will both come with any new Mac.  For free.  If your child is going to a school where technology is more than just an add-on, if it's truly integrated into the curriculum and students are making use of and learning from digital tools and multimedia, a Mac is the way to go.  Apple's software means students can focus on the intellectual work, rather than the technical work, and produce projects that can be shared and published and be compatible all around.

2. Hardware and service. With AppleCare (or even without, for the first year), you just plain don't have to worry about hardware issues.  Apple Stores are almost everywhere there is a college, and even if there isn't one nearby, Apple warranty service on a mail-in basis is just phenomenal.  Fast, polite, knowledgeable.  Hard drive failures, power cord issues, motherboard issues...all of these happen to Macs and PCs alike, but the way that Apple takes care of them is in a totally different league.  A quick, free, effective repair or replacement is the order of the day.

3. Overall reliability.  The Mac OS is rock-solid.  Fewer crashes (they do still happen), not as much lost work, quicker responses, no fiddling with drivers.  Most important (especially for college students--and the main reason why I said I would never recommend a PC for a college student)--NO viruses or malware.  While it's possible and has been done to create a virus to attach Macs, it's just not a problem that ever really happens in real life.  College students WILL visit websites they shouldn't.  They WILL click suspicious links in emails.  They WILL open attachments even when they're not sure where they're coming from.  On a PC, all of that (especially the first) will mean that very quickly, and very harmfully, the machine will be infected.  Even if nothing really bad (identity theft, and so on) happens, the machine will be slowed down by "gunk" (adware, "browser buddies" and so on).  This does not happen to Macs.

Even if everything else was equal, this would turn the tide for me.  The amount of time I've spent cleaning up and fixing infected PCs, the amount of lost student work I've seen because of infected PCs, and the way that none of that is ever a problem, all convinces me that college students should be using Macs.

(Add to that the fact that all Macs now can--very easily--run Windows, too, and it's a really easy decision.  On a Mac you can have a PC, just by rebooting.  On a PC, you can never have a Mac).

The price difference is really not that great, when you compare equal configurations.  And then add in the reliability and the fact that you will be paying for the PC repair or replacement (or losing time and work while the college helpdesk tries to help).

But...this is all true as of right now.  Things may change at any time, and next year may be a completely different story (I'm very interested in the Google ChromeBook which will go on sale in a week or so).

But coming from the perspective of someone who works with teaching, learning and technology for hundreds of college students, and from someone who will be sending his own kid to college in a couple of years (and she will probably not be getting the scholarship, either), I say spend the extra for a Mac.  It's completely worth it, and will actually save you money in the long run.

I should add that after all of this .. my daughter refuses a MAC!

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