Buying A Computer For A High School or College Student


Wayne A. English

So, you’re favorite student needs a computer. The good news is that you don’t need a high end machine. An entry level computer will be fine and don’t forget to plan for after school activities like music and movies. The cost will be in the range of $500 to $700 for computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, extra print cartridges, printer cable, and headphones. Don’t forget paper for the printer, blank DVDs, a DVD case.

Much of the hardware and software listed here will be included on any new or late model computer. So, don’t let the through of shopping for all this only-a-nerd-could-love stuff throw you. As to software, much is available at no cost and what you must purchase, such as a antivirus software, is not terrible expensive.


          A desktop computer will cost less than a laptop. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Should you buy a laptop, consider a full size keyboard and mouse for ease of use. They are easily connected with an inexpensive adapter. And don’t forget a carrying case.

  • RAM (Random Access Memory) at least at least 256 megabytes (MB). A megabyte is one-million bytes. Geeks will tell you that it is 1,048,578. That’s nice, for the rest of us it’s a million.

  • DVD (Digital Video Disk) burner. This will allow your student to view movies, play music albums, install software from CD-ROM or DVD, and back up vast amounts of data by writing the data on blank DVDs.

  • A Network Interface Card (NIC) will allow your favorite student to connect to the school’s network and perhaps the Internet as well. When connected to the Internet via a network card the telephone modem is not necessary and does not need to be connected to a phone jack.

  • USB (Universal Serial Bus) port(s) for plugging in a printer, flash memory, or other peripheral.

  • A USB flash memory device for secure data storage. Do not rely on floppy disks as their rate of failure is high. This device can be carried on a key ring and is not terribly expensive.

  • Printer. These can be had for as little as $35. Be aware that printer cartridges can be expensive. So, check the cost of cartridges before you buy.

  • Speakers will likely be included with a desk top computer. Headphones are a good idea as well.

  • A 56k dial-up modem for connecting to the Internet through a telephone line.

  • A two button mouse with a scroll wheel.


  • Microsoft Windows XP unless you are purchasing a Mac.

  • The Microsoft Office Suite.

  • A Web Browser such as Netscape, Microsoft Explorer, or the lesser known, but excellent Fox Fire will provide the computer with Web access. We use Firefox exclusively. You may download it free of charge from: http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox.

  • To find material on the Web we recommend Google, http://www.google.com. For even more powerful searching, use Google’s advanced search capabilities which are available from a link on the opening page.

  • Adobe reader. We consider this a necessity because of the amount of data on the Web in this format. Download the latest version free of charge at, http://www.adobe.com.

Spyware, Adware, Viruses, and Windows Update

Spyware is a program(s) that are placed on your computer, without your permission from the Web. They will do various things such as: reporting on your habits, where you go, and what you do. Some, not all free downloads, come with spyware. An excellent spyware hunter-killer is Spybot Search and Destroy. You can download it free of charge at, http://www.spybot.info/en/index.html.

Adware will call advertising to your computer and worse. It is not good to have on your PC. Some adware will dial a long distance phone number without your permission and you will be billed for exorbitant phone charges. An excellent adware hunter-killer is Ad-Aware® by Lavasoft. Download it free of charge at http://www.lavasoftusa.com/.

Viruses are malicious programs that will do bad things to your computer. We recommend Norton or McAfee Antivirus products. These products require you to pay a yearly fee. They are worth the price. Be sure to update them daily via the Web.

Windows Update. Microsoft offers updates for security and other needs. To connect to the Microsoft update website go to http://v4.windowsupdate.microsoft.com/en/thanks.asp or follow the steps below if you are using Windows XP:

  • Start

  • Help and Support

  • type the word - update - in the search box and click the arrow or press the Enter key

  • Click on - Update your system files using Windows Update - found in the left-hand column.

  • Note: the dash - character is used to separate the text of this article from the commands you need to type or select. Do NOT type in the dash character.

This site will tell you what updates you need to consider for download. Check here daily for the latest security updates. Microsotf does not charge for this service. Check here daily for security updates.

The Web and Email

The World Wide Web and email have become an integral part of computing, in fact, without the Web and email a computer is nowhere as effective as it can be. Their prices range from $10 to $40 per month. You can also find free CD-ROMs at the post office ane elsewhere that will give you many hours of free access through AOL, that’s America On Line. On the high end you can have a 3megabyte per second, (3MBps), connection using your cable TV connection and a cable modem. This technology is very fast and only needed if you download large files or want your telephone back because our student is online all the time. This is a serious consideration if you need the phone free to take important calls. Or you can have a second phone line installed just for the computer.

For your student’s email needs you can obtain a free email account that can be accessed from anywhere via the Web. For free email, see Yahoo at, http://www.yahoo.com/, click on Mail, or for the Microsoft Network’s free email, http://www.msn.com/, click on Hotmail. Other providers can be found with a Google search.

There you have it, a well equipped computer, email, Web access, and software that any student will love.