Think education, not entertainment: A college computer's primary role is to help with studies. The first priority is to make sure it can perform all the necessary functions for your particular school-related needs. The ability to burn DVDs or make fancy videos is, in most cases, something you can do without.
Software: At the very least, most students will need the basic Office components: Word, Excel and possibly PowerPoint. These can be expensive to buy separately later, so make sure they come pre-installed in your computer. Depending on the student's major, they may also need other programs such as Photoshop or Adobe.
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Netbooks: Netbooks are very popular right now, but for college use they have both pros and cons. On the upside, they are extremely light and portable – this Acer Aspire One weighs around two pounds – and can easily be carried around in a backpack. But in order to stay small, netbooks sacrifice components such as disc drives.
Storage: Students need ample memory, especially if they will be dealing with large files. They also often need to move files from one computer to another, so be sure to stock up on flash drives. No student wants to spend hours working on a project only to lose it when the computer crashes, so consider setting up a virtual backup account with a service like Mozy or StudentBackup.
Security: Viruses and other threats can damage your computer and destroy valuable files. Make sure your computer has a good virus program.
Connectivity: In a poll of college students by the Wi-Fi Alliance, nearly half of all respondents said they would give up beer before doing without Wi-Fi, if forced to choose. Luckily, most campuses do have wireless access in at least some public areas. If your computer doesn't have a wireless card, try a USB wireless adapter like this Linksys model. You'll have instant wireless access – and the adapter can easily be moved from one computer to another. Students staying in a dorm lacking wireless internet should be sure to pick up some Ethernet cables.
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