What to consider before buying a computer
Whether you're buying your child her first laptop or replacing the dinosaur in the family room, consider these basic points.
Public computers in the libraries
If buying a computer isn't a practical option for you right now, you'll almost certainly be able to use one for free at your local library. According to a University of Maryland survey, 99.3 percent of public libraries offer Internet access and 85.7 percent have wireless Internet access available.
By Marian Wilde
Before you pull out your credit card, you'll want to make some basic decisions.
Mac or PC?
Don't get your heart set on a Mac or a PC, until you find out what the primary platform is at your child's school. If, for example, your school uses PCs, buying a PC will make file sharing easier.
Gayle Berthiaume, an award-winning teacher and GreatSchools' technology consultant, also advises considering what projects you intend to do on the computer before making the platform decision.
"You want one that will be multi-purpose for everybody. If it's going to be used for game playing, that's different than if you're going to use it for production and making things. I think all the way through school, it's better to use the computer for more creative projects."
Each platform has its strong advocates. Graphic artists and other arts professionals have historically tended to prefer the more user-friendly Macs, while PCs are less expensive and more pervasive in the workplace. As a member of the Apple Learning Exchange, Berthiaume's preference isn't surprising. "If you're going to make presentations or do multimedia, or if you're going to make photo books, I would go with a Mac, not only because I love Macs but also because now, with MacBooks, they run either Mac OS or Windows."
Desktop or laptop?
The next issue to consider is screen size versus portability, as this is the basic trade-off when selecting a desktop or a laptop.
Says Berthiuame: "I personally prefer notebooks because you can take them wherever you want to." Others, however, prefer desktops because of the larger screen size and the more ergonomic screen position and keyboard design.
What's a computer in today's world without access to the Internet? Now considered equally as important as the computer itself, Internet access is a critical part of the package, and not an insignificant one financially.
There are many types of Internet access, such as:
- Dial-up. This is the slowest method of getting around on the Internet and also the cheapest. If you're going to go with dial-up you'll need to make sure your computer has the right kind of modem, usually 56K.
- Broadband (DSL or cable). Make sure your computer has a Network card or USB port. Check with your local broadband provider for exactly what you'll need.
- Satellite. Currently, satellite download speed is faster than dial-up, but slower than broadband. A satellite connection may be a good option if you live in rural area without cable or telephone lines.
- Wireless. This service for laptop and handheld users allows access to the Internet wherever there's a Wi-Fi network. You'll need a Wi-Fi card that is compatible with your Wi-Fi Internet service.