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Old 02-23-2005, 11:06 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Laptop or Desktop for College

Hi I know most of you are parents of younger children, but I'll try here anyway. I'd like to buy my niece a computer for her HS graduation gift. She is going away to college. She needs a computer. A laptop makes so much sense, yet the idea of how easily it can get stolen really makes me want to get her a desktop.
Anyone have any suggestions or personal experiences they would share? Thank you.
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Old 02-23-2005, 11:09 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Go for the laptop... get her a good security system for it as well.

Insurance wouldn't be a bad idea either.


Laptops are just way more practical.
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Old 02-23-2005, 11:12 AM   #3 (permalink)
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My sister just started college and had the same issue. It depends on what she will be using it for.

What is her possible major? Unless it is CS, I would suggest the laptop. Make sure to buy a cable lock with it as well. As long as she is responsible with it, getting stolen shouldn't be too big of a problem. And there are a lot of student who bring their laptops to class now, and that cuts down on having to lug around paper notebooks since you can take notes directly into the computer.

My sister went with the laptop option and seems to love it. Plus, during breaks (spring, winter, etc) she can just pick it up and bring it home with her, which always feels more secure than leaving the desktop sitting in an empty dorm for weeks.
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Old 02-23-2005, 11:48 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Buy her a reasonable laptop. One of my nieces was in the same boat. She didn't need a voodoo or vaio for writing papers or running spreadsheets. $600-750 gets plenty of horsepower and storage without excessive nail-biting.

A 17" CRT for use at home really helps the all-nighter usability.
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Old 02-23-2005, 01:27 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Laptop for sure. Desktops are impractical if she's going to be living in a dorm, especially if it's with a CRT monitor. Most people moving into the dorms this year had issues with not having anywhere to fit a CRT monitor because they would not fit on the desks provided for us. As for the issue of theft, I haven't heard of it happening to anyone, and I don't know of a problem going on with such a thing. Most people don't have issues with theft in dorms because many people make friends in the dorms, and such. Overall, as long as she practices common sense (keeping the door to the room locked, not leaving it out in the open unattended at say the library or something) there shouldn't be a problem.
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Old 02-23-2005, 01:35 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I'd go with the laptop as well, if she's not some sort of computer-related major. I'm a Computer-Aided Design major, so I have a desktop, because I have a lot of software that I need to have on mine, and I don't need to take it with me anywhere.

So, unless she's like me, she'd undoubtably prefer a laptop, most people I know seem to. Even if they don't lug it around campus all the time, if a situation arises where they'd want to, they have the option to do so.
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Old 02-23-2005, 01:42 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Congratulations on your neice graduating! It seems to be a rarity more and more. Desktops towers have gotten smaller/shorter and they do have flat panel LCD screens these days but you can't take it to class with you.

If your neice seems to be a responsible one and appreciates the value of something, which I'm sure she is, then a laptop may be the way to go in helping her with organization and success. It is nice to go to a coffee shop or library and be able to look things up on the internet for a paper.

If you do decide on a laptop, you will want to consider a laptop carrying case (the best college student style carrying case would be the backpack style), and/or a small printer. HP/Compaq usually has a deal going for a computer/printer sale and with their awesome warranties, it's worth the money spent.
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Old 02-23-2005, 03:30 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Back when I bought my computer as a graduation gift in 2002, the disparity between laptop and desktop prices and the processing speed and capabilities was high enough that I chose to stick with a desktop for the amount of computer resources I would need, since it fit my budget better. However, the technology has improved much in the last three years, and some days I do find myself wishing I had a laptop in addition to my home unit for those days when I just don't want to hunt down a computer at school. If you can find out her computer habits, the laptop is the most reasonable way to go for most people. Maybe instead of getting her THE computer, get her a card and in there tell her you will go with her to pick one out. She may have a personal preference and just want a desktop for the bigger keyboard - I know some people can NOT stand the smaller laptop keys.
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Old 02-23-2005, 03:44 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I'm going to go against the flow and suggest a desktop with a LCD monitor, based on my experiences with computers at school.

Where I went to school, laptops got stolen on a regular basis, regardless of how careful the owners were. Another issue is not that of irresponsibility on the part of the owner, but that of other people who visit their room. Laptops have a tendancy to fall off of desks, or be thrown across the room if your roommate doesn't like where your backpack is.

Yes, you can take a laptop to class, but everyone I saw with a laptop in class was using it to play solitaire and surf on the 'net, not to take notes with.

When a laptop has a problem, it is usually not a cheap or easy fix. With a desktop, the fix tends to be relatively inexpensive, and can almost always be easily done by the owner. (or the resident computer guru)

Don't get me wrong, I always wanted a laptop when I was in college, and would like to have one right now for the mobility, but unless your neice is really serious about taking it to class and will be doing a lot of traveling or coffee shop studying she might be happier with a desktop. I like amonkie's card idea. That way your neice can get exactly what she feels will fit her needs.
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Old 02-23-2005, 05:28 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I'm a college student and I have both. I only use my laptop for schoolwork and e-mail, and then my desktop is my media and gaming powerhouse (although my laptop is pretty hardcore as well), but this is really because I had my laptop first as much as anything else. I could easily do everything on either.

Assuming that you're not planning on spending so much money as to make either a "powerhouse", I would base the decision on what her needs are going to be. Most importantly, what is her major and where is she going to school? For example, if she's a technology-based major (engineer, anything computer based, architecture) she'll probably need to do work involving simulation or computer modeling, or just straight-up computer programming or the like. If this is the case, it would be easier for her to have a laptop so she can get work done in places other than just her room. If she's only going to need to type papers and reports and look up things on the internet, I'd say get a desktop. It'll perform better for less $, it won't get stolen, it'll be easier and cheaper to fix if something breaks, and it will be less likely to incur accidental damage.

A desktop also is significantly more upgradable and can perform more functions. For example, when I was in my dorm, my desktop was my TV. A cable card alone will cost under $100 with the remote, and it eliminates the need for a TV (which subsequently frees up more desk space in the cramped dorm environment) and also performs all the functions of a TIVO, without needing a subscription. Desktops can also have better sound cards and thus eliminate the need for a stereo, as mine does.

All in all, I'd say go with the desktop unless she needs a laptop or it would make her life significantly easier.
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Old 02-23-2005, 06:02 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I'd suggest a desktop...

Laptops are very usefull, and you'll have dreams of taking them to every class, never having to rewrite notes again, and generally having a ball

1. You'll stop taking it to class, its too heavy and you never manage to even bring your books, or get all the way dressed..
2. Laptops are very easily damaged by things spilled on them. And no matter how good you are at not spilling on them, someone else will always beat you to it.
3. Studying at the local coffee shop can be done just as easily without the laptop. Mostly my laptop ends up being a distraction

OR

buy a nice desktop, and a second hand laptop. You can usually find second hand old laptops for a couple hundred bucks
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Old 02-24-2005, 04:17 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Speaking from expereince, I used a desktop for my first two years at school. It worked fine but when I got a laptop, it became the only computer I use, even though I still have a desktop. I don't use it in class or much for studying, but it is great for traveling and lounging about. Plus it frees up a whole crapload of space in the tiny room she will have. Definitely go small though, she won't get the same use out of a larger, more powerful, laptop. My roommates both have very nice powerful Dell laptops, but they never travel with them because they weigh a ton. I've noticed that the small laptops, myself included, end up traveling a lot. On another note, if you do pick up a laptop for her, definitely get a backpack with a laptop sleeve built in for her. And just my opinion, but Mac laptops are awesome, and for a PC laptop no one beats IBM.
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Old 02-24-2005, 10:03 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Get a desktop with an LCD monitor. There is special adhesive glue you can get that is very, very strong and will prevent anyone taking the computer with them, unless of course they don't mind having the desk too.

You can get cable locks, but make sure you get strong ones or else some enterprising individual can come along with a bolt cutter of some sort and take it.

As stated before, I didn't know anyone with laptops in school who actually took notes in class. Sitting at a desk attempting to take notes fast while the teacher is writing on the board or talking is difficult unless you have very good typing skills.

Laptops are more difficult than desktops to fix and therefore more expensive. It will be a drain on your bank account and stressful for your child if they don't have one at their disposal when they need it.

Two things I can suggest:
1. Using open formats to save files. If your child looses out on the desktop or laptop, they can send the documents to someone else who can open and print it off if need be. There are viewers for Microsoft Office. If you cannot use these, having open formats allow for other office suites to open, view and print them with ease.

2. Using online backup sites like Yahoo! Briefcase or X-Drive are essential. Professors will not accept excuses for a crashed computer nowadays. It's cheap.
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Old 02-24-2005, 10:10 AM   #14 (permalink)
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laptop without a doubt!
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Old 02-24-2005, 11:51 AM   #15 (permalink)
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if she's not going to run any modeling programs or play games, a laptop would probably be most convenient. They do break more easily, and are slower, but they're also easier to take into the shop =p Find out the return and warranty policies and buy based on those, they are pretty much the only difference in pre-built laptops. They all use the same generic sub-standard and sometimes refurbished parts. How fast will they fix dead pixels? Can they offer a replacement while they mail it back to the factory for repairs? They will *not* be able to fix anything hardware on a laptop at a local store.
As far as peripherals go, as long as you get USB2.0 (standard now), you can buy a hub and plug everything into that. USB keyboard, mouse, printer, even network card if needed. Won't have to use the flimsy built-in keyboard.
Whichever way you go, make *sure* you find out how fast they can fix it. up to 20% of these things can ship with dead pixels out of the box, depending on the brand. They tried to charge me 700$ for a broken power input at Best Buy less than 2 weeks after I bought it, and I've had to fix all kinds of problems.
You'll probably end up having to buy more RAM as well, prebuilts generally come with only 256, sometimes shared with video ram down to ~200, nowhere near enough to run even basic OS functions and office programs.
http://www.crucial.com will tell you exactly what kind of ram slots you particular model/brand of laptop can use; total slots, free slots, and default amount of ram included.
I'd recommend adding 512 to a 256, especially if it shares ram with an onboard video card, if slots allow. otherwise you might end up tossing the 256 stick if there is only one slot (or ebay it).
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Old 02-26-2005, 09:57 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeysugar
I'm going to go against the flow and suggest a desktop with a LCD monitor, based on my experiences with computers at school.

Where I went to school, laptops got stolen on a regular basis, regardless of how careful the owners were. Another issue is not that of irresponsibility on the part of the owner, but that of other people who visit their room. Laptops have a tendancy to fall off of desks, or be thrown across the room if your roommate doesn't like where your backpack is.

Yes, you can take a laptop to class, but everyone I saw with a laptop in class was using it to play solitaire and surf on the 'net, not to take notes with.

When a laptop has a problem, it is usually not a cheap or easy fix. With a desktop, the fix tends to be relatively inexpensive, and can almost always be easily done by the owner. (or the resident computer guru)

Don't get me wrong, I always wanted a laptop when I was in college, and would like to have one right now for the mobility, but unless your neice is really serious about taking it to class and will be doing a lot of traveling or coffee shop studying she might be happier with a desktop. I like amonkie's card idea. That way your neice can get exactly what she feels will fit her needs.

I second everything monkeysugar said. When I went off to college, my parents bought me a great laptop (and it wasn't cheap by any means) but within a month, I wish I had gotten a desktop. Sure, the laptop was portable, but I never took it anywhere and I would have much preferred having more storage space. Plus if I had more than two programs running, the thing would get so bogged down it would be pointless. Not much fun when you are writing a paper, surfing the net for references and trying to listen to music.

On top of that, later in the semester my roommate spilled an entire can of pop on my keyboard and bye-bye motherboard. It would have cost me so much to fix that I just spent the money on a kick-ass desktop (which I love).

Good luck, I'm sure she will love anything that you get her.
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Old 02-28-2005, 02:34 PM   #17 (permalink)
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I'm curious about the CS majors who say don't buy a laptop.

I'm finishing up a CS degree this week and I use my old Toshiba with a P2 processor for all of my CS work.

It has J2EE/javabeans, C++.net, PostgreSQL and Visual Basic on it...no problem. I personally don't know how I did school without it.

Anywho, you can get an even more powerful machine today for the cost of a decent desktop, but yes, get a cable security system.
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Old 02-28-2005, 09:44 PM   #18 (permalink)
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I'm currently in college and have a laptop, I've never had a problem with anyone trying to steal it or having anyone spill crap on it, the only reason I wish I had a desktop would be for a larger hard drive, but that has nothing to do with school work. I don't take my laptop to classes, the sound of me typing would likely get on other students nerves, and bother the professor. My laptop works just fine for programming, and I haven't had any real problems with it bogging down that I haven't also experienced with a desktop. Although I must say that the main reason I have a laptop is because I go home every weekend and it would be rather inconvenient for me to move a desktop that much. As far as I've been able to determine a laptop is just as good as a desktop when it comes to school work, the only difference is in space taken up, and portability(along with the problems caused by the portability). And if your worried about the laptop taking abuse, well, I've droped mine down a stairway, it was in a soft sided case, and it still works just fine, I checked the owners manual and it's apparently rated for a 160 g shock when off.

Oh, yeah, I have a Dell Inspiron 5100
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Old 02-28-2005, 10:00 PM   #19 (permalink)
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a laptop is a must for the college student. i save so much time typing all my notes in class. i rarely ever take notes on paper now since i got my laptop.

i always take my laptop cable lock to school with me. its basically a leash for your laptop. you wrap is around anything (like a table,pole,etc..) and the other end attaches to the laptop.
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Old 03-01-2005, 02:36 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Save the money and get a desktop, god knows I wish I had.
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Old 03-04-2005, 05:41 PM   #21 (permalink)
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I had one of each in college, Freshman/sophmore year had a desktop and junior/senior year had a laptop. I would recommend checking to see what the theft rate for laptops is at the college is. They usually have a good idea on this. If it's fairly low I would highly recommend going with a laptop. It's great because you can take all your notes for class on it, save all your reports on it & take it with you everywhere. If you need to go home over a break and still have work to do you have it with you.

I would recommend a lock of some type to prevent theft.
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Old 03-04-2005, 05:43 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Desktop...*puzzled look*

They still make those????
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Old 03-12-2005, 08:17 PM   #23 (permalink)
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just dont get a dell and everything will be okay
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Old 03-12-2005, 08:31 PM   #24 (permalink)
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depends on how big her room is, and if she's neat. If she's anything like me, a laptop will be a god-send, especially for finishing work on your bed, or some other place you like.

It's just much easier to take when she needs to go home or move houses or something.
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Old 03-12-2005, 09:50 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Many of the good points have already been stated, but there has been one thing that has been slightly overlooked (though some have brushed against it).

The usability in lectures depends on the faculty. If she is going into an Arts or Business program, a laptop would be very useful as there are lots of notes to take during those classes, even with the current availability of text books and course notes. If she is going into Mathematics or Engineering or even sciences, there are lots of formulas and different notation to right down. Now searching through MS Office's little symbol thing can be tedious, and in the middle of a fast paced lecture, it's much easier to just use the old pen and paper method to worry about trying to use a laptop for it.

Both ideas have their ups and downs, but I would suggest a desktop computer with an LCD screen. I'm in University and have both, and found that I use my desktop much much more. If I ever take my laptop to class, I always find myself doing something else on it, rather than paying attention to the class, no matter how much I actually should be paying attention. Plus there's the infamous 'cone of death' which usually forms behind the person with the laptop in the lectures halls, as all of the people behind usually get bored, so they want to see what you're doing. This is from experience too, as I find myself looking at people's laptops to see what they are doing.

And then there's also the security issue. Laptops are getting smaller and lighter than ever, and much too easy to steal. Sure there is the cable lock, but the lock is only as smart as the person using it. I've heard from many students on campus about them having their laptops stolen the first time they neglected to put the lock on. During one week, 4 students in my faculty (a faculty of only 100 students), had their laptops stolen from their rooms.

And well desktops are getting cheaper. Also if you suggest that she back up all of her notes on her desktop (assuming she would take a laptop to class to copy down the notes if she had one), then she would have a paper copy from class, and then a digital copy. So if one thing goes missing, she's not missing all of her information.
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Old 03-14-2005, 07:24 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Actually, I have a question to those of you that has a lot of laptops in your lectures, (only one girl brings it to one lecture, and I don't sit near her.) But doesn't the constant tapping sound drive you nuts?
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