July 7, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Toeing the line on back-to-school PCs

College students will have more than their fair share of choices when picking their PCs for the upcoming school year--assuming their universities are copacetic with the systems they haul to campus.

PC makers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Toshiba are cramming entertainment features into their laptops and desktops in order to offer a one-stop shop for productivity, entertainment and communications. Apple Computer also has entertainment features built into its Mac OS X operating system, which powers its iBooks, PowerBooks and various desktop models.

However, universities aren't nearly as multimedia-happy as PC makers and take a more conservative tone when establishing PC purchasing guidelines for students. Many are recommending laptops over desktops, and several are asking for the more established Windows XP Professional OS or Mac OS X over the next-generation operating systems.


What's new:
PC makers such as HP, Dell and Gateway are gearing up for an aggressive back-to-school buying season.

Bottom line:
While companies are targeting freshmen with promotional prices for their latest revved-up desktop systems, many universities and colleges recommend students use notebook computers with either Windows XP or Macintosh operating systems.

More stories on this topic

While few, if any, universities ban a particular PC configuration, many have contracts with vendors that give students and faculty specific systems, making the multimedia features PC makers are cramming into their computers a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for campus life.

Even with all of the bells and whistles being offered by PC makers, students may want to check with their school's PC requirement policies before shelling out for a new system.

Students at the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, coordinate their purchases with TigerTech (formerly Computer Spectrum), which acts as a sales consultant for the university. For students looking for a desktop, the university recommends either a Dell Optiplex GX280 or Apple 17-inch G5 iMac. When it comes to laptops, TigerTech says most students would do well with either a Dell Latitude, an Apple iBook, or an Apple 15-inch or 17-inch PowerBook. Students aren't required to buy the university-recommended PCs. But if they do, they can get a discount of up to 10 percent.

While remaining semi OS-agnostic, the staff at the University of Missouri recommends using the Microsoft Office desktop productivity suite, as well as buying a 512MB USB flash drive. However, the university does not suggest students use Microsoft Works or WordPerfect for word processing or the XP Home Edition because it does not network as well as Windows XP Pro, according to Megan Cawan, student and auxiliary services representative.

back-to-school PCs

Jay Lambke, president of GovConnection.com, a sales consultancy for universities such as the University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota, Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Oklahoma State University and the University of Pittsburgh, breaks the PC buying process into three categories:

•  A hard mandate--a buying strategy used by private schools where the university includes the PC along with the tuition.

•  A soft mandate in which the school has relationships with specific vendors but only supplies recommended hardware and software configurations.

•  No mandate, where the school assumes that students will supply their own PCs and outlines a set of preferred requirements.

Beth Ann Bergsmark, director of academic and technology services at Georgetown University, suggests campus computers run Windows XP Professional, but students aren't locked into one particular operating system. The university has also seen its different schools move toward using specific vendors. Georgetown's School of Business has a relationship with Lenovo's PC business (formerly IBM), while the majority of PCs sold to students at its schools of medicine and law come from either Dell or Apple, the two reigning sales champs in the education sector, according to market researcher Gartner.

"Gateway is also a strong player, and Lenovo has had a couple of wins in the last couple of months, but students are choosing more business class machines," Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering said. "They are sturdier, more reliable and have longer buying cycles, so service and support will be higher, although it comes at a premium."

With this new generation of PCs, specific trends are emerging. More models are shipping with Windows Media Center Edition as the default configuration instead of Windows XP Professional or XP Home Edition. The Media Center operating system is similar to other versions of Windows XP but adds a second interface where people can display pictures, play music, watch videos or record television shows using a remote control.

Upcoming PC models are also shipping with additional multimedia features such as DVD burners and TV tuners, which turn the computer into a television. Larger hard drives, dual-core Intel Pentium D or Advanced Micro Devices Athlon 64 X2 chips, and PCI-Express technologies are also showing up as featured highlights of the fall buying season.

Multimedia is campus king
Several PC makers have already announced their lineups for the back-to-school season with a heavy emphasis on entertainment.

On the desktop side, Dell is offering its Dimension 5100 tower starting at $899 and its 5100C compact computer for $1,049 with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, a Media Center Extender, a TV tuner and a DVD burner. Dell's recommended notebook selection for students includes its Inspiron 6000, Inspiron 9300 and its Inspiron XPS Generation 2.

HP has started shipping its Pavilion a1000n series desktop and its Media Center m7000n series Photosmart PCs to retailers, while consumers can order its Pavilion d4100e series through HP's online configure-to-order channels. The company is also offering an array

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One thing not said.....
... Laptops in the classroom are a huge msitake. Student note
taking skills (or any one else's) just don;t work very well at all on
a computer. A simple notebook and pen or pencil are the only
way to go for a serious student. Writing retains mental clues to
the context of a note, spatial relations on the paper comtain far
more information than words alone can provide, and the
student's imagination is unfettered by a keyboard and a mouse.

If thee were a good tablet design, that could work - depending
on how the tablet software transforms the input.

PC's and Mac's should be used when and where keyboard input
actually is needed - dorm room, library, work spaces, etc. There
is no place in the classroom for a laptop if the student is really
interested in learning.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good point.
I was debating if I should use my 12" Powerbook G4 at seminary. I
think you just helped me answer that question. Your right, you
can't remember as much if you just type it in vs. writing. However
the built in mic of my laptop will allow me to record the classes for
later use.

The brain, or at least mine, cannot do that.
Posted by rodnarms (45 comments )
Link Flag
i beg to differ
i am a student with a learning disablity. when i can, i write notes with a pen, but if i must write quickly then i have to use a laptop. i simply cannot write fast enough by hand. disability services on campus make it possible for me to do this, even if an instructor wishes me not to. i dont try to cause trouble, but there are times with i needs these tools.

take these things into consideration.
Posted by Dibbs (158 comments )
Link Flag
Wonder if
Any school will be putting a PPC Mac as a recommendation, or if when a school does so will it remind people that Apple is switching architectures.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
no biggie
its not a big deal. you'll be able to get software for your PPC Mac as long as you want.
Posted by Dibbs (158 comments )
Link Flag
And switching processors....
... is all that Apple is doing. The Macintosh maintains it's
'architecture' (Same car, just different engine).

And most schools who really know what they are doing just ask
for the students to have a laptop, Mac or Windows or even Linux.
The key elements are tha ability to link into the school's network
and to produce college quality papers, at least for appearance.

If the school doesn't know what they are doing, then they are
likely involved in a commercial deal with a computer
manufacturer to require specific laptop computers in return for a

And some schools, like some people, think that WIndows is all
there is. Hardly the mind set for a center of learning ;-)
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Has to be said . . .
I have been an educational professional for almost twenty years,
and I think note-taking is of little importance. Read, study, do
exercises if appropriate, and just listen to what the instructor is
doing in class.
Posted by rbannon (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
... but typically instructors provide alternate views on the subject
being taught, views not obvious in the text. And the instructor's
focus in lectures is the focus to be expected on tests and in future
applications. Verbal memory is not that good among most
students. Visual memory ususally is even worse. Note taking
becomes an essential way to recover the teachings.

And.... note taking keeps you awake. In some classes, and on some
days, that's a very difficult task.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag

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