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Back to College! Tech Advice from University IT Personnel

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posted on Aug, 21 2012 @ 07:41 PM
This post was motivated by countless threads I've seen regarding technical problems/advice on other forums. This post also comes from the point of view of a former university IT "computer guy" and recent college graduate. So feel free to enjoy, critique, or add to the post

The Essential Computer Checklist:

1. The laptop itself.
Check and see which PC manufacturers provide discounts with your college. Dell and HP offer good discounts to most university students. I would advise against spending over $1000 total on a new laptop while enrolled in college. It will eventually get abused beyond utility and this will happen much sooner than you think.

I would recommend purchasing the lightest laptop that fits your needs, as most college students will be carrying their laptops with them at least 50% of the time. For the heavy PC users (gamers, CS majors, etc.), consider building a PC rather than purchasing a "desktop replacement" laptop. You shouldn't be playing Skyrim in class anyways (hint: the professor will notice).

1a. Mac vs PC?
Having one or the other really boils down to personal preference and budget. There's no general advantage with having one or the other. I will say the only students I knew/encountered that have had a laptop last them their entire tenure of college were Macbook/Macbook Pro owners.

1b. Laptop warranty.
Please get a good laptop warranty if you've spent over $600 on a laptop. Your computer will malfunction/break at the worst possible time. It happens to every student and the warranty can save you a lot of money. I've had good experiences with SquareTrade and AppleCare. I would advise against Geek Squad's Protection Plan, as its usually pretty expensive for what you get. Plus, they end up sending laptops with hardware malfunctions back to the manufacturer anyways.

2. Antivirus/Anti-malware software
Don't buy any antivirus or anti-malware software as there's a chance it may not work with the university's online resources (ahem Norton). There are plenty of free antivirus/anti-malware tools online that are comparable or better than the paid ones. There are several posts in this forum pertaining to this topic. Example Post 1. Example Post 2.

3. Must-have software
Microsoft Office ($$$). While you could get away with using Google Docs or LibreOffice for a time, it will become a big hassle for you because of odd file formatting errors on your professor's end. Don't worry, universities either offer the software for free or provide good discounts. The university I worked for offered the full version of Microsoft Office (PC/Mac discs) for only $16. Beware, the campus bookstore sold the same discs for ~$60.

Dropbox (free). It made backing up all of my work seamless. Dropbox became my professor's go to tool for class/group projects. Of course, any online backup solution will serve this same purpose (ex. SugarSync, SkyDrive, Box).

Evernote (free). I found this to be the best digital note-taking software for my uses. Evernote allowed me to create a virtual notebook for each class. Everything was searchable and backed up to the cloud. I would add to my notes by uploading screen captures and pictures. Other similar tools: Springpad and Simplenote.

Google Voice (free). For students on a limited budget, free calling and texting with Google Voice is a godsend. There are also multiple tutorials available online to set-up free Wi-fi calling/texting with Google Voice on your smartphone.

iTunes (free). I personally loathe iTunes and I really hate to admit it, but iTunes is great to have on a college campus. The reason: virtually every student will have iTunes installed on their computers to sync their music libraries with their iDevices. With iTunes, you can listen to other people's music libraries and there will be plenty to choose from.

GeniusScan (free for iOS, $0.99 for Android, $1.49 for Windows Phone). This app turns your phone's camera into a document scanner. Its a great tool for sharing notes or creating digital backups of them. There are countless other apps that serve the same purpose, but GeniusScan was my favorite.

4. Other tidbits of wisdom from the IT dept.
    External hard drives are always a good idea.

    Have on hand USB drives (and lots of them). They're still the easiest ways to share files and are invaluable whenever **** hits the fan. Just be prepared to lose several of them.

    The IT dept. doesn't monitor what you are doing, just how much data in/out per user. We will throttle you if you're downloading/uploading a lot ("a lot" varies on the university). We will throttle p2p traffic regardless of the amount of traffic.

    Campuses nationwide in the US are beginning to throttle Netflix and Hulu traffic. Consider upping your Netflix subscription with the mail in discs.

    You don't need to buy a printer. Printing on-campus is much cheaper than buying ink. If you really want to buy a printer, I recommend purchasing a Brother monochrome laser printer. They cost ~$100 new, the starter toner will last you ~2000 pages (at least), and replacement toner will cost you much less than ink in the long run. Whatever you do, don't purchase a wireless printer if you live on campus.

    If you live on campus don't purchase a wireless router (unless officially told otherwise).

    Check with your university's IT department about available software discounts.

    If you can't afford a new laptop, remember the university will have computer labs available to use.

    Most important, Murphy's Law is in full effect the day your paper is due.

P.S. Linux user living on campus: Just don't bother with Linux as your primary operating system if you don't know what you're doing. If you need to learn please start with live discs, virtual machines, or vhds. The first line of IT support on campus will have little to no experience with Linux and will not be able to assist you. What always happens after this: one of the IT managers contacts the student to walk them through the appropriate fix via bash. The student gets confused, gives up, then verbally "bashes" the IT department for being useless. The whole ordeal is frustrating for all parties involved, so just don't do it.

edit on 8/21/2012 by Lysis because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 21 2012 @ 07:47 PM
Congratulations on a first rate , well thought out and informative post. I'm sure many people here will find this very useful.


..and welcome to the Computers Help forum

edit on 21-8-2012 by PhoenixOD because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 21 2012 @ 07:50 PM
reply to post by Lysis

Now if only I could find a wacom intuos 4 or 5 large for under $350 bucks...

posted on Aug, 23 2012 @ 02:29 AM
Thanks for the help

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