With most classes now online and the risk of illness keeping students out of the campus computer labs, students need a reliable computer to take classes and perform their work. It no longer makes sense to share a computer at home and run to campus when you need to put in some serious screen time. The University is working on a minimum standard and whether to make it required for all students but in the meantime, here's guidance to help you choose.
As a college student, what computer do I really need?
There is no one answer to this question. Your program of study and the software that you will use in your classes will dictate what computer you need and that varies widely from program to program. Most students also need to consider the cost and balance the computer capabilities with the available budget.
Ask this question: Does your college have a minimum requirement for your program of study?
Some programs have a specific minimum computer requirement. Programs like architecture, computer science, media production, and engineering use applications that require more powerful computers with more memory. Check with the department to see if they have a specific computer they recommend. Graduate programs especially will have a published standard because they ask students to use specific software.
In many majors, however, you will find that most of your classes will NEVER require you to use more than basic applications such as Excel or Word, or applications that run in a browser. In these programs you can get through with a much more affordable computer if you are willing to accept that it might be a little slower or may not allow you to have several applications open at once.
Published Minimum Recommended Computer Requirements:
Check with your college if it's not listed here.
Ask this question: WHEN do your computer intensive classes will begin?
In general, you don't start seeing the computer intensive classes until the third or fourth year of study. If you have an older computer or a hand-me-down, you may find that your best strategy is to put off getting a new computer until you know what you need and then invest in something with more horsepower. This makes a lot of sense for undecided students or students that focus on general courses as freshman and sophomores. This strategy provides you with the latest and greatest when you really need it and means that when you graduate you are not applying for jobs or entering graduate school with a 5-year-old computer.
Should I consider the warranty or service agreements when making my decision on what or where to buy?
Warranties and Services Agreements will determine what repairs are covered, how much they will cost, and how long your computer will take to be repaired. Read the conditions carefully, onsite service agreements will generally get you the quickest turn around time for repairs.
What does UIT recommend?
UIT has standardized on a Windows based laptop for the student laptop checkout program that is a good all-around computer. We recommend this standard because it meets the minimum requirements of most programs of study and will support all but the most hardware intensive applications. It is also a very common configuration that is readily available and affordable. Most students can expect this computer get them through graduation.
What is MINIMUM RECOMMENDED computer for more advanced study or higher-level work?
- Intel Based Dual Core i5 processor
- 8GB of RAM (upgrade to 16GB if you need more power)
- 500 GB or higher hard drive
- WiFi 802.11ac
- 15 inch or greater monitor
- Will support all but the most advanced applications and programs.
- Many affordable options to choose from.
- Running several applications simultaneously may reduce performance.
- Will not support the most advanced application used in some scientific, arts, or media creation disciplines.
Thoughts from IT…
This is a solid option that will meet most needs and is likely to get you through 4 or more years of college unless you are in a field that uses high end applications and requires a lot of storage. However, upgrading to 16GB RAM and a larger Hard drive will make this more versatile for multitasking. We use this model for student loaner laptops, and it is the standard for several graduate programs.
Prefer a Mac?
Mac computers are the computer of choice in several professional fields, especially media and the arts but they are not required in any program of study at UH. The technical standards above can be applied to Mac's but check with your academic program. A word of warning, although most applications that run on windows will also run on Mac there are some differences that may impact your choices: Applications like Microsoft Teams and some other business applications may not be fully supported or operate differently. Be aware that Mac will cost more.
Are there lower-cost alternatives?
Purchasing a computer can be a financial challenge for students. Students often ask about ways to cut corners to save a few dollars by purchasing a low-end, low cost computer or making do with a hand-me-down, or a tablet.
At a BARE MINIMUM, the computer you use must be able to support distance learning through Zoom or Teams, basic programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and the web applications. This will require at least a Windows computer with a dual core i3 processor, a 256 GB hard drive and 8GB of RAM. It must also be able to connect to a WIFI network and include an integrated camera and microphone or support an external webcam and microphone. This configuration will support BASIC computing needs and minimal multitasking. This approach may not carry you through four years of study. Expect that you MAY need to upgrade mid-year and plan for an upgrade in year 3 or 4 of your degree program. Buying a low end computer is not a good investment.
The Chome OS is fast and most applications can be used in Chrome or through the browser on a Chromebook. However, there are some limitations when doing distance learning especially when presenting and sharing your screen. They also do not multitask as effectively as Windows and Mac PC's. Chromebooks do not support some of the testing applications and may not meet the requirements for proctored exams and are therefore not recommended at this time.
As with Chromebooks, there are Ipad versions of most basic applications including Office, Zoom, and Teams. But they do not work the same and they have several limitations that does not make them well suited as a primary computing device.
Android versions of basic apps exist, and you can use them for distance learning and basic computing, but they often lack critical capabilities such as screen sharing. As with Ipads, they are not a good choice for a primary computing device.
Where to buy:
There are many options for purchasing computers through resellers or directly from manufacturers. If you are concerned about the warranty and service, you will want to ready the fine print carefully before purchasing. Many box stores offer great prices, but support is often a problem if something goes wrong.
Cougarbyte is the on-campus computer store provided through UIT. They can assist you to select a computer based upon the needs of your major. They also have repair services for the computers they sell and will provide onsite warranty work for many other computers.