Monday, May 25, 2009

Rick's List of "Off to College" Computing Tips

If you read posts from the Drive-thru regularly, you have heard me extol the virtues of Twitter. But I also appreciate Facebook for the way it has reconnected me with former colleagues and students. Rick Strobl, the Photoshop mad genius behind Tom Schusterbauer’s demented profile pics, has been a regular correspondent. He and I are collaborating on a Weebly Site of web tools and are trying to get the Blog Squad off the ground. I have really appreciated some of his feedback on this blog and invited him to offer some timely advice to parents and students who are pondering personal computing needs for college. Please feel free to add your own "comment" suggestions to Rick’s tips:

“Parents (and students) are often confused about what technology they may need for college… I haven’t been able to find good information anywhere on the web . . . .

Most college dorm rooms are hard-wired for internet. Most students forget to bring along a network cable (at least 50 feet).
Many dorm rooms are now “wireless” (but make sure student’s laptop has a wireless card).

Virus Protection
Consider AVG (Grisoft) free edition online. Automatically updates latest virus descriptions.

Computer Disks
If your computer does not come with factory “restoration” CDs or DVDs, make an immediate set of emergency disks (follow the instructions that come with the computer). Invest in a binder-style computer disk holder. You will eventually need to re-install components or the entire operating system. Trust me!


Most college-bound students choose a “laptop” over a bulky desktop computer. Even though laptops have come a long way the last couple of years, most models are still considered watered-down versions of more-powerful desktop machines.
Spend as much as you can afford on ...
-- Processor speed (At least 2 GHz ?)
-- RAM (at least 4 GB)
-- Gigs on hard drive (at least 250 gigs)
-- CD Drive (Look for at least CD-RW plus the ability to watch DVDs)
-- Security cable

Office-type application (including PowerPoint-type presentation software) (But open source software like Google Docs is getting better and better.
AdAware (spyware eliminator)
LoJack tracker security (outstanding theft recovery capability)
Proper graphics card
Swappable cards (nice feature)

Laptop Graphics/Video Card -- Most PC laptops do not come with a dedicated graphics/video card (some are not even able to upgrade). Many students want to make movie projects for class, but most laptops are not able to process video movies. Strongly consider upgrading the laptop or purchasing a MacBook or MacBook Pro (graphics card standard). Also, there must be a way to capture the video from the source (camera or player). If a camera is not capable of USB or Firewire transfer, an external "capture" device is essential.

Additional Storage
Look for 4 gig USB drives for around $9.99
Consider 250 gig detachable hard drive for around $99 (also useful for backups).

Gift Cards
Use bank “gift” cards instead of credit cards for online purchasing. Some banks offer gift cards without added fees). Rechargeable gift cards are also a good option (but watch out for added fees).

Make sure printer has affordable ink cartridges.
Consider a portable printer saves space and friends don’t even realize it is a printer and won’t ask to borrow it!

Power Strip
Extension cord

Photo of Rick Strobl at the Big House in Ann Arbor, taken by Aaron Johnson


Canon continuous ink system said...

really a very nice tips list. i appreciate it very much.

Bridget said...

Very useful. I have two comments:

1. As far as printers go, I wouldn't even bother bringing one unless it comes free with the computer. I can't speak for all colleges, but generally there are computer labs with printers. At Michigan, we were given a basic computing package that provided us with 400 free pages of printing per semester.

2. Wait to buy the important software (i.e. Microsoft Office) until you get to college. Many universities have computer stores that offer these programs at heavily discounted rates. At the U of M Computer Showcase, you can get Microsoft office for $45 with a student ID (

Anna said...

on the printer tip...
a lot of places offer free printer/scanner/copier machines. While it's nice to have a scanner and copier, these use an incredibly wasteful amount of ink for the average college student who is printing articles and syllabi for classes. Stick with the cheaper, maybe old-school laser printer if your university doesn't offer print packages from the computer labs.

Rick said...

Bridget! Great tip about the discounted software. That's exactly what we did for my son. I wish I would have remembered to add that to my original list.

Good point, Anna. My son took FULL advantage of the free printing services at his college. But the portable printer helped him out with those "last-minute" print jobs. And not one "buddy" knew it was a printer. It looks like a CD case.

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