How to Choose a PC or Laptop For Online Learning

You're about to start your online classes and you want to make sure you have a reliable computer. When you start looking for a new computer, there is a lot of technical information that is important to understand. Before you get caught up in marketing gimmicks and sleek designs, take a moment to think about your technology needs. If you're one of those people who travel frequently and are able to concentrate while being surrounded by loud noisey people, a laptop is the best option for you. Laptops are portable and will help you get your work done in all kinds of situations. A laptop will help when you have to:

  • Type a paper in the doctor's waiting room.
  • Read your e-book at the airport.
  • Post a question during your lunch break at the diner.
  • Finish school work while you're on the train. 

If you have a fairly regular routine, and you prefer to study alone without distractions, then a desktop computer may be a better option for you. Though you aren't able to take a desktop on the road with you, they are typically less expensive than laptops, and are less likely to have hardware and software problems.

Ask yourself some quick questions about what kind of machine you'd like to have for your online classes:

  • Will you be traveling a lot during your classes?
  • Is there one place in your home where you can study?
  • Will you be studying in small increments, or in big chunks of time?
  • Are you able to study anywhere and with distractions?

Searching for the Best Laptop for Online Classes

Just like any purchase you want to make sure that you're getting the most bang for their buck. In particular, durability (can it withstand bumps?) and mobility (is it small enough to fit in a bag) should be top priorities. It would be worth looking into laptop screen sizes as well, because laptops are often catergorized by their screen size. It's not a bad idea to test the laptop out instead of shopping online for one. This way you can start typing and using the touchpad to getter sense of if it's the best laptop for you. Ask yourself is the cursor too senstive? Is it easy to navigate?  Here are some additional key features to look for when researching laptops:

Processors

Processors (also reffered to as a CPU or APU) mostly determine the performance of your laptop. Look to see if it has an AMD A series, or Intel Core i3/i5/i7. Granted these laptops with those professors are quite expensive, but the better the processor, the faster your computer can process your data.

Hard Drive

When comparing laptops, ask about the amount of space it has on its drive. A hard drive, or hard disk drive, refers to the place where data is saved. Think of it like this: your hard drive is like a book shelf. It's the place where you store all of your books. When you need a book, you take it off of the shelf. A hard drive is where you permanently store your data, and you can "pull it off the shelf" whenever you need it.

RAM

Check to see if it has at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of memory. A gigabyte is equal to one billion bytes of memory. A computer's memory is a lot like your short-term memory—the more memory a computer has, the more it can do at once. You want to have as much memory as you can afford.

USB Ports

Find a laptop with at least 2 USB connections/ports. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and it's designed to make it easier to use other gadgets with your laptop, like a printer and a flash drive.

DVD Burner

See if it comes with a DVD burner. If you are able to burn your own DVDs, you can save class projects on compact disc or backup older files.

Wireless

Pretty much every laptop now comes with Wi-Fi, but If you plan on taking your laptop everywhere to study, it will be important to buy something that has wireless communication. Wireless communication means you'll be able to access the Internet from any place that provides wireless Internet service (like airports, coffee shops, hotels, and your local library). If you're in an environment where there is no Wi-Fi, then if you have a smartphone, look to see if you can share your phone's internet connection with your laptop. This is called WiFi tethering. You can check with your service provider if you can connect internet to your laptop.

Operating System

Know if the it has either Microsoft Windows 8, 10, or if you prefer Mac see if it has Apple Mac OS X. The Mac OS X, El Captain is the latest OS for Mac laptops, so you may want to upgrade to this. Bascially, an operating system controls how memory is managed and how stuff is stored. You want to be sure you have a laptop with the latest and greatest operating systems.

Things to Know About Laptops

Size Matters

Probably one of the most important features of a laptop is its size. That's why we recommend you head to your local electronics store to find a laptop size that's ideal for you. Note: larger screen sizes tend be heavier laptops.

Keyboards

The feel of the keyboard is also an important feature to consider since it's something that cannot be replaced. While you are doing research at the store, make sure the keyboard is responsive to your typing, and the way the keys feel is to your liking.

Temperature

Watch out for overheating! Check if the computer's bottom gets uncomfortably hot when it's running.

Battery Life

Pay close attention to the laptop's expected battery life. Note: battery life is almost always less than what the manufacturer advertises.

About Desktop Computers

The price range for a reliable desktop starts at $500 and goes up to about $1,500 should be more than enough to purchase a desktop computer with an abundance of good features, like a dual-core processor (this feature is useful for homework assignments, photo viewing and editing, and managing MP3s/videos). At around the $500 range, you'll still be able to perform common distance learning tasks like using PowerPoint, Word, and Excel, but any kind of advanced graphic work will probably require more memory, hard drive space, and additional features.Below are a handful of features to research before buying a desktop computer.

Processors

See it if has an AMD A8-7600, AMD A10-6800k, Intel Core i7-4770k, or intel Core i3-4330. Again, these are different types of computer processors that we reccomend for best perfomance.

RAM

Take notice of the amount of RAM the computer comes with. RAM stands for random access memory. A good (and fast) desktop computer will come equipped with at least one gigabyte (GB) of DDR2 memory (which stands for "double-data-rate"). What the heck are we talking about? RAM is like short-term memory. The more RAM you have, the more your computer can do at once. The more short-term memory you have, the more you can multi-task, right? The same is true for your computer. DDR2 memory simply means that it runs really fast.

Hard Drive

Look for a 250 gigabyte (GB) hard drive. Again, 1 gigabyte equals 1 billion bytes. A 500-word document typed using Microsoft word requires about 25,000 bytes of space on your hard drive. So, if you have a computer that holds 250 billion bytes, it could store a million 500-word papers!

Graphics/Video Card

If possible, get something with a 128 megabyte (MB), DirectX 9-capable graphics card. A good video card (also called a graphics card) will help you view videos for class.

Monitor Size

When researching screen size, it's best to get something that measures at least 17 inches. Anything beyond 19 inches might be too big for your desk. Most desktop computers will come with an LCD monitor. LCD stands for liquid crystal display.

Speakers

Purchase a computer that comes with speakers. This way, you will be able to hear the sound on any lecture videos, or listen to music as you study.

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 8, 10, or if you prefer Mac see if it has Apple Mac OS . (See above in the Laptop section for more information about operating systems.)

Productivity Suites

Most computers come with software installed. There are two good options for software, which are Microsoft Works Suite 2010 or Apple iWork '09. 

Things to Know About Your Desktop Computer

User Feedback

It may help to ask around. Poll your friends and co-workers about the kinds of machines they have; where they bought them; if there were any problems; and whether they're happy with their choices.

RAM

The more memory, or RAM you can afford, the better off you will be. At the very least, your computer should have 256 megabytes (MB) of memory, though you are better with 512 MB if you can afford it. Remember, RAM is like short-term memory. More RAM means that your computer can multi-task better, and faster.

CD and DVD Burners

Consider purchasing a DVD or CD burner so you can back up valuable data (this will also allow you to make your own music CDs).

Monitors

LCD monitors are different than the computers of 1995, which had glass monitors. You want to avoid touching an LCD monitor, as it may cause permanent damage to the screen.

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