College Laptop Buying Guide: Part 1 [PC v. Mac v. Linux]

My mind is starting to get used to the idea about college coming in a few months and the idea is becoming more and more likable. However, like most incoming freshman in college schools and universities, laptop computers are starting to become a prime necessity in order to interact properly in the classroom and on the college campus itself.

Even at Virginia Tech, there is a computer requirement for all incoming Engineering students. I think that’s a pretty neat thing because it sets standards in terms of what they are expecting their students to have. It’s pretty much like school supplies. This allows them to use more modern software and technologies because these newer computers would already exceed the minimal requirement.

This is what people don’t realize is the good side about the launch of Microsoft Windows Vista. By setting the requirements for the operating system so high, it forced the prices of computer parts to go down. This way, even the average Joe could afford the latest streamline computer at a reasonable cost. If Windows Vista didn’t require any more resources than the fewer installments, Windows XP, then hardware and software makers alike would hold their prices firm and locking out the newer technologies to the common man, making them a luxury. Don’t get me wrong, Vista is still a pretty solid operating system right now as it has matured with the many security updates and service packs.

Now, back on topic. I know that a lot of my friends are planning to go computer shopping within the next few months so I wanted to put together a series of articles that will break down the main parts of a laptop that they should be looking for in order to decide on their purchase.

Computer hardware aside, there are three different operating systems in which your laptop can have. The operating system is pretty much the flavor of computer you will have. It hosts the applications that you install on your computer and provides a user interface for to interact with your programs and hardware. On the market, there are two mainstream flavors of this operating system and a little underdog.

As you may have guessed, Vista (Microsoft) and OSX Leopard (Apple) are the two mainstream operating systems. On the smaller scaled style, Linux/Ubuntu is an open source alternative, meaning that it is free.  In terms of cost, I am going to break down some of the main differences between all three versions.  In my later articles, I am going to discuss the more minute details that separate the men from the boys.

Microsoft Windows Vista

Photo Credit: flickr

  • Less Expensive than Mac
    • If you decide to take the Windows route, the costs of your laptops would be significantly less than buying a Mac.  You can easily get a pretty solid computer for around $750 including taxes and such, if not even sigificantly less.
  • Familiar
    • More than likely, most people have used a PC more than a Mac.  You can’t really go wrong with something that you are used to and at a smaller price, it is even more enticing.
  • Rebates
    • There are a lot of rebates that come with laptops.  This can significantly lower your expected cost by at least $50 to even a couple hundred of dollars.
  • More bang for the buck
    • Without a doubt, Windows computers will come with more bang for the buck.  In terms of the speed of the computer, memory and hard drive space, you will definitely get more.  While the higher end Macs can match up to these laptops, they the will be at least as twice as expensive.  Just something to keep in mind as well.
  • The downside of getting a Windows computer is that they tend to come packed with a lot of bulky software and things you don’t need.  They are removable, but it is a little time consuming and even the uninstallers don’t properly remove all the excess files.

Apple OSX Leopard

Photo Credit: flickr

  • More Expensive
    • Apple MacBooks start at pretty hefty $999.
    • You can easily knock off a few hundred dollars by buying it refurbished.  There is no real difference in buying it new and refurbished and you are still covered by the 1 year standard Apple warranty. (More information:
    • Another option is to buy it used from someone else.  I got my Black MacBook for $700 used from a guy on Craigslist which is easily $500 lower than the original retail price.  In addition to that, the laptop already had a transferable a three year warranty (Expiring this September), the original box, power adapter and the guy was even so nice to through in a 2G Nano.  With all those additional attachments, I easily saved a grand just by buying it second hand.
  • Everything built in
    • One thing that Apple stresses is that everything in built into the operating system.  I must admit that this definitely holds true.  Every MacBook comes with a webcam built in so it is easy to communicate with your family back home.  This is one thing for sure that is becoming more common in Windows laptop, but it still isn’t a staple yet.
  • Anti-Virus
    • Because of the small market share (a whopping 8%), OSX does not have a lot of security threats.  What this means is that hackers don’t really spend that much time focusing on the Mac users, which is, at least for now a good thing in terms of anti virus.  Personally, I’ve never had an anti-virus while using a Mac and I don’t intend on getting one any time in the soon.
  • Windows on Mac
    • Another great thing about having a mac is that you can run Windows on the Mac as well.  While this is not necessarily needed for every college user, this is great for me personally as an engineering student.  This allows me to access both sides of the spectrum for my classes, where the professor may only use Windows software.  It is definitely a great feature but again, it comes at a decent cost.

Ubuntu (Linux)

Photo Credit: flickr

  • Free Software
    • The overall price of the computer will significantly be less than either Mac or PC.  Using mostly open source software, it will be either come already pre-installed, or free to download online.
    • With this in mind, you will not get the most top of the line hardware.  Hardware still costs money unfortunately.  But it will be more than sufficient to do what you need to do for sure.
  • Anti-Virus
    • It is the same idea behind Leopard but the market share of all the Linux computers is significantly smaller.
  • Office Suite
    • Ubuntu is the only real operating system that comes with a powerful office suite pre-installed.  Packing a powerful punch with, it will provide you with Word, PowerPoint, Excel, the works all for free.
  • The downside about Ubuntu is that not a lot of things are specifically made for Linux.  Most of the software out on the market is geared toward Leopard and Vista and this will more than likely be the same in college.
  • Here are some handy links that you can check out

Well that’s all that is all I have for now.  I am hoping to get the next part of the series up within the upcoming days!  I hope you liked the read, comment what you would like to know more about please.

6 thoughts on “College Laptop Buying Guide: Part 1 [PC v. Mac v. Linux]

  1. I agree, but osx would probably be the best choice, you do not have to worry about all those security update nonsense with windows. It would probably be best if you pay more for something reliable, then to deal with windows unstable programs.

  2. @Jerry
    Thanks for the compliment. Stick around for more to come 😉

    It may seem like the better choice, but not necessarily. I’ve been using OSX all year on my laptop and I’ve experienced the same thing that I have with Windows. The slowdowns in startups once it’s been running for a while as well as the unexpected crashes.

    Also, I think a major thing to consider is what you plan to use the laptop for. Obviously, if you are just going to be checking your email and browsing the internet, it is unnecessary to spend over a grand, especially in this economy. Once again, it boils down to which one you feel the most comfortable with and what works best for you.

  3. Pingback: Linux breaks 1% on the desktop, Internet Explorer continues to slide : Another linux Blog

Comments are closed.