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Picking the right back-to-school computer

Back to school usually means back to school supplies shopping. And some of those supplies are pricey and complicated.

We’re talking about computers.

We’ve teamed up with Ken Colburn from Data Doctors to share his expertise and give us a few tips on how to choose the computer (desktop or laptop) best for your child.

Desktop vs. Laptop

Desktop computers are helpful for younger kids. They’re cheaper to purchase, maintain and repair. You also get larger storage and processing power. Laptops allow for mobility and greater accessibility, which is especially needed for college students.

Mistakes to avoid

When buying a laptop, evaluate the needs of the student first. Don’t just base it on price or gadgets you think they may need (or not need). Most students now only need basic features that do not require sophisticated devices or software. Check with the school to find out what your child needs.

The main things to look for are access to the internet, a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint and email.

Some schools simply use Google Docs to avoid problems with software that may fail.

For older students that are going into specific fields such as video game development, video editing or photography, there may be a need for more powerful computers and programs.

Pricing is important

Buying based only on price can lead to mistakes. Low prices may translate into lower quality such as cheaper batteries and future purchase and maintenance requirements.

Look for the differences between laptops and prices. Checking with schools for what students may need can help save you money. Don’t let your children make the decisions on what they think they need.

Warranty or no warranty?

Generally, buying an extended warranty on a laptop makes sense, especially if the student is moving away from home or has a clumsy streak.

For desktop computers, warranties may be less critical. Be aware that when filing a claim to repair/ replace/ refund a laptop via the warranty, it may mean sending the device to another state and possibly going without it for several weeks.

Must-have programs

A tracking device is extremely important. If the laptop goes missing or is stolen, it allows putting a lock on the device and alert authorities about its location. Virus protection is also critical. Adding good quality protection software can keep the computer running smoothly.

Money-saving tip: Upgrade

That older laptop or computer you have may help you save money. Upgrading a computer hard drive can save you some cash too. Adding memory can also help improve the user experience without shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars on new equipment.

Beware of refurbished devices

Buying refurbished products can mean buying someone else’s non-refurbished problem. Do the research, know what to look for and know that oftentimes refurbished products with big problems are not easy to pinpoint, which could leave you with a useless computer.

For other helpful tips from Data Doctors that can ease the back to school pressure check these out:

Tips to speed up new laptops

How long should my laptop last?

Tips for better tracking of stolen laptops

Colburn also recommends these sites for parents who wish to help their children with their homework:


Khan Academy

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