Let’s be real. Back to school shopping has become as nightmarishly crazy as its winter holiday counterpart, and it doesn’t help that anybody old enough to ride a bicycle needs that brand new iPad Air with LTE support.
Even the most seasoned shopping veterans will feel the pressure as their life flashes before their eyes and they scramble to find their credit card, when they hear that deafening tone of the Interac machine declining their payment. Can you even prepare for that?
Maybe you can, maybe you cannot. Regardless, this is where I come in. I’m one of those people that gets their fix from the sound and scent of freshly opened shrink-wrap. I’ve graduated well beyond “seasoned veteran” and I am a technology guru.
How did I receive this title? Years of experience selling electronics and working as a technician for a few different organizations, one such organization being the Geek Squad. However, whether or not that moniker of technology guru is true is up for debate, but I can’t hide the fact that I have deeply embedded myself into the technology and retail worlds long enough to understand a few things about back to school shopping. After all, I have worked numerous years in the retail industry, and acted as a technology consulted for shoppers and businesses alike.
I have a deep understanding of what it takes to discover that ultimate technology solution, and over the next few weeks my goal is to share enough of my knowledge to help you – the reader – survive another year of summer shopping.
Now let’s get to the good stuff.
Picking your brand
Chances are you have “new PC” somewhere on your list this year. If not – or if you’re looking for an Apple machine – stay tuned for next week and we’ll cover some of the other technology that is necessary for students heading back in the fall.
A lot of people will tell you that Dell is a terrible brand, and that ASUS is the best. I choose to live by a different philosophy: the computer is only as flawed as the person that assembles it. Everybody has an off day, and if the quality control department is having a case of the Mondays, you might end up with a defective hard drive right off the start.
However, build quality and what you can find in the core of the computer are two important factors that I consider when suggesting computers for friends, family and colleagues.
Typically I find that Lenovo and ASUS offer a wide range of sturdy machines, and are also free of the dreaded “bloatware,” or preinstalled software with the sole purpose of taking your money. I also find that Lenovo places the same amount of care in their lower-end laptops as they do in their higher-end laptops.
Outside of the sticker on the box, I cannot stress the importance of purchasing Intel-based internals. Some people may never see the benefit of Intel-based products, but the basic reasons to buy an Intel processor are that the products generally run on less power, they have a more diverse lineup and in my experience they tend to be more reliable.
Not to mention that Microsoft uses Intel primarily in their Surface Pro lineup, so there’s a definitive chance that the Microsoft software is built with a “Intel first” approach.
Ideally if you have the money, the ultimate consumer processor is the Intel Core i5. While some might say to purchase an i7, the i5 is a well rounded processor lineup. They’re not overly expensive, but still have some of the more advanced features that power-hungry users might be lost without.
If you’re on a budget, you might have to throw that idea out the window, and you might need to look at something that isn’t Intel. If that’s the case, don’t worry. We still have some suggestions for you.
Buying on a budget
Chances are that not everybody reading this will have the opportunity to buy their dream computer, or simply want something that comfortably does the job.
While normally it would be important to suggest an Intel Pentium series processor over some of the mid-range AMD series processors, an AMD A10 is more than sufficient for what people generally use their computers for and provides a happy-medium when looking at a machine on a budget.
The AMD A10 is marketed as an APU, which is AMD’s fancy way of saying that it also includes AMD Radeon technology to give a performance increase when running graphically intense applications, such as video games, video streaming and video or photo editing.
The degree to which the AMD chip can run video intense programs varies amongst each specific device, but something is absolutely better than nothing.
The strict rules for purchasing that new computer is steering clear of anything with an AMD E1 and generic “Intel Inside” label on the box. While the “Intel Inside” label could reference a wide-range of products, it can be confusing as it is commonly used by manufacturers using lower-end Intel products – the best thing to do is look for an Intel sticker with the series listed.
Avoidance of the AMD E2 line of processors is also recommended, but not necessary. The E2 series is vastly superior to its E1 brethren.
Complimentary software and other tips
It seems to be quite difficult to get anywhere in life without a copy of Microsoft Office. While some might choose to use an older version or a free alternative, others might choose to buy a fresh copy. Luckily, there’s actually a ton of options to choose from these days.
While you could buy Office Home and Student 2013 or Home and Business 2013 – $139.99 and $249.99 respectively – which are both good for one device, Microsoft does offer a surprisingly economical solution for students or families that require multiple devices. It’s also loaded with benefits!
Office 365 Home Premium is available for $99.99 annually. While this price might seem steep at first, it does have some benefits. To break it down, Office 365 Home Premium comes with support for five laptops/desktops and five mobile devices – including iPads!
The package also allows users to download any Office application – whether it’s the coveted Access or simple OneNote – along with 60 minutes of Skype time every month for domestic or international calling. To top it off, the package comes with a whopping 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for every device linked to Office 365.
If five devices is too many, Microsoft does offer a discounted version for one device and one mobile, or a University edition that covers two devices and four years – but be warned, the University version requires a valid student ID.
Finally, a few questions that I often encounter are related to RAM and hard drive space. Ideally, anything above 6GB of RAM is sufficient for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. My experiences with both versions of Windows demonstrate that Windows 8 and 8.1 are incredibly flexible, and are designed to run fairly well with less.
In regards to the hard drive, if you plan to purchase a service like Office 365, you can safely get away with a lower capacity. Typically each user has a different requirement for space, but if you can survive on a limit or if you opt for cloud storage, a solid state drive will increase the speed and life of your computer substantially.
In my experience, a solid state drive can reduce startup times from 90 seconds to nine seconds.