How to Pick a Computer to Use at College

If you’re buying a computer or laptop to study with at college, make sure that you choose one that’s up to the job. As a general rule it needs at least 256 megabytes of random access memory (RAM) and a processor of 750 Mhz in order to run the software you’re likely to be using at a reasonable speed. A PC should be able to run the Windows XP operating system, or OS X if it’s a Mac.

If you don’t have your own personal computer or laptop before you start further education, you may find that your college has quite a fast turnover of computers and may dump them or sell them cheaply to students after a couple of years.

This often occurs because the maintenance costs of computers soon become higher than their value and computers become outdated quite quickly. Nevertheless, monitors and computers discarded by colleges are often better than ones bought second-hand from a shop or through advertisements. If you have to pay for a college computer you should have it checked over first, so ask if it’s been serviced.

If you need more temporary storage space, you can always buy extra capacity (RAM, or Random Access Memory) for your computer and save things you definitely want to keep onto a hard disk, which is also useful as back-up.

Alternatively, you can use a memory stick which, like a hard disk, can be carried in the pocket and then inserted into a computer connected to a printer so that you can print out your work. You can probably survive without owning a printer!

In some cases your tutor may allow you to write by hand short essays and other work that requires hand-drawing or the working out of calculations on the page . In most cases, and almost certainly for assessed work for a degree, you need to use word-processing. If your word-processing is slow, it will soon speed up with practice and it provides several benefits over handwriting your work. Word processing skills allow you to:

  • Correct and reorganise your writing by cutting and pasting.

  • Save your time and energy with pagination (page numbering), word search, spell check (but be careful) and other facilities.

  • Make sure that your work is legible!

Most institutions will set up computers to use Microsoft Word for word-processing and related office tasks, or may use Apple Mac computers, which have their own document and word-processing packages (usually the iWork suite).

However, you don’t need to purchase an Apple Mac even if it is the preferred computer in your subject area because if the software offers some advantages in presenting the subject material, you will have access to it on campus.

The computers in computer laboratories dedicated to a particular subject are the best ones to use and you will have access to them for usually at least 12 hours per day. The computer laboratories run like a library, with a technician on hand to help instead of a librarian.

You can also find computer clusters – groups of computers – in the library or language centre that you can use, usually set up to use Microsoft Word. The groups of computers on site will have printers set up to serve them, so you can plug in your memory-stick, computer disk or laptop to get a print-out. Most work still has to be handed in on paper.

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