Student Computer Suggestions

Tags computer

We often get requests for advice on what is the best computer for a new college student. With a seemingly endless amount of choices, plus differing needs and budgets, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. This article provides some tips which should be taken into consideration when assessing options.

General tips

  • Consult your major/dept as they may have certain requirements that may influence purchasing decisions.
  • Webcams come standard-issue with most modern laptops. If purchasing a desktop, it is highly recommended you also purchase a webcam
  • A bigger screen adds to the bulk/weight of a laptop. On the other hand, a smaller screen can be frustrating to use. When in doubt, aim for 14-15 in.
  • Hands-on demos reveal more than a list of specs and measurements will. Avoid mail order unless 100% sure of what you want.
  • While functional laptops can be had at under $300, there are trade offs: short battery life, weak processors, less RAM, and slow mechanical hard drives. On average, products in the "mid-range" budget of $600-$900 will have more acceptable specifications.
  • Choose a brand with a good support reputation.
  • Consider USB sticks, external hard drives, or cloud-based storage for backups. Your Xavier account includes OneDrive, which offers 1TB of cloud storage.
  • Consider an extended warranty, including coverage for Accidental Damage. Standard 1 year warranties generally do not cover such damage.

Windows PCs

Windows 10 Home is the standard version installed on all new Windows PCs. Do not buy a used PC with Windows 7 unless it can be upgraded either yourself or by a local repair shop prior to arrival at school. Before considering a used PC in such condition, make sure it will exceed the Windows 10 requirements for an upgrade.


Macs tend to be more expensive than equivalent PC models. We strongly advise against buying a used or refurbished Mac unless it is Apple-certified for many reasons, including the one-year warranty. The older a used Mac is, the more likely it will eventually be incapable of receiving essential security updates.


ChromeBooks have appeal mainly due to their lower price and long battery life. Most have flimsy construction and are under-powered, compared to Macs and PCs. It equally important to note that the ChromeBook's "operating system" is designed for light web browsing and email. A ChromeBook will be unable to run native Mac or Windows software, including the Respondus Lockdown Browser often used for online tests. For these reasons, we strongly recommend against purchasing ChromeBooks.


Like Chromebooks, iPads are primarily designed as consumption devices for entertainment and lightweight tasks. Although keyboards and other useful accessories can be added, iPads are not designed as a full substitute for a Windows or Mac laptop. While many mobile app equivalents are available in the App Store, their functionality tends to be limited compared to their Windows or Mac counterparts. For these reasons, we strongly recommend against purchasing iPads as a primary device.


Article ID: 595
Mon 3/30/20 1:24 PM
Fri 5/29/20 9:22 AM