What is the best computer for an online student?

The good old days of text books, library cards, and filing cabinet “data bases”  have been replaced by Google, smart phones, and of course…the computer. Colleges have begun to completely integrate modern technology with curriculum, making it necessary to have a computer at your fingertips. This is especially true for students attending online school. However, what students don’t realize is that not just any computer will do. What works best in office or at home, may not work as well for school.  It’s important to be sure the design, equipment, software, and other components of your computer are going to meet the needs of a modern distance learner.Best Computer for College Students

First decide on mobility

In today’s hurry-up world, mobility is a hot-button. Being mobile is everything for most consumers but is it necessary for an online student? The truth is that an online student can learn just fine with a desk-bound PC, monitor and printer, as long they have the necessary specifications required by the online school.

But modern culture has placed a few caveats on what is culturally acceptable and what is not. Laptops are far more widely used than desktop PCs. And unless the laptop has a portable printer, it is going to be less productive in some cases than an office PC. However, most online colleges with web-based learning systems don’t require any paperwork be submitted to complete coursework. So, to be honest, a printer could be superfluous.

Look at the Numbers

Laptop computers began outselling desktop PC’s for the first time in 2005, according to cnet.com. That year, over 200 million laptops were sold and the computer industry has never looked back. But laptops come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and capabilities. So which configuration is best for online students?

The important issues to consider

When it comes time to start doing some serious research, consumers have all kinds of help finding what is available for purchase. The problem is, with all the varieties and configurations, what makes the most sense for online learners? The most important aspects to consider when buying a portable computer are how it will be used, where it will be used, and why it will be used.

3 Ways to Start Ranking Features and Benefits

How it will be used – This speaks to issues concerning usability and productivity. If the student will be getting online while at work, during breaks, and at other opportune times, the computer must be able to start up quickly so the student can get down to business quickly.

Where it will be used – This is more about environment than opportunity. Some environments are better suited to using computers than others.

Why it will be used – This is the meat and potatoes issue for all users. Whether the purpose behind using the computer is to receive a college degree in graphic design or accounting, the engineering of the computer will be important in either situation.

Tip: Knowing what classes and school you will be attending will help you figure out what your computer and software needs are. Need help figuring out your major? Browse our home page (classesandcareers.com) for a list of program and degree options. If you are looking for a school, our online education tool can help. Once you have everything figured out talk to students, instructors, and school counselors to find out what your program requires.

Issues to consider before buying:

  • Durability
  • Speed
  • Compatibility
  • Upgrade-ability
  • Networking capability
  • User features


The first laptop computers closely resembled boat anchors in terms of weight and usability. The original idea of having a portable computer was a lot like the idea of having portable telephones – the first designs weren’t exactly user-friendly. And those early models didn’t do well with being shaken, dropped, spilled on or charged up. In today’s world, durability has been enhanced with rubber-wrapped exteriors designed to absorb shock and repel water. Internal components have been beefed up to withstand drops from the table to the floor.


Right now processors are so fast, humans can’t really conceive of the speed at which they function. But there are other components and values of speed which humans do detect. Download speed for internet pages, connectivity speeds with Wi-Fi and other devices and other operational needs make the speed factor important.


If the computer, or its operating system, isn’t compatible with the needs of the internet website providing instruction, the whole educational effort can go quickly awry. Compatibility with software programs, hardware installations, and internet processes can mean the difference between an enjoyable educational experience and using the computer as a boat anchor.


New software programs, enhanced website processes, better communications access, and a host of other improvements need to be easily accepted by the computer. Intuitive programsthat search out compatible driver software for installation of new hardware devices or inclusion in new application processes cannot be overlooked or undervalued. In the constantly evolving world of computers, being unable to upgrade will leave the user far behind.

Networking capability

More and more online colleges are instituting a combination of synchronous and asynchronous classes and discussions to augment the learning process. Synchronous classes means all the students are doing the same thing at the same time. Lectures, class discussions, researching, and other activities are conducted simultaneously between students and instructors. If the computer isn’t able to stream video or audio on a networked basis, a student might be staring at a blank screen, screaming their head off and no one else will know. Linking up with other computers and devices seamlessly is an important feature for any online student.

User features

This is a broad subject because every user has special needs they want their computer to meet. Cameras to be used for online discussion groups and chatting with other students are an important feature. Connecting to wireless devices like printers and scanners can be highly useful. Ergonomic keyboards and large format screens are fundamental needs which many students overlook.

What is the answer?

There really is no single answer that best delivers the perfectly configured computer for students but these are the features most students find necessary for their computer to function properly and support them with school work:
  • Operating system – Windows 7 or Mac OS x
  • Processor – make sure the processor is as fast as possible – 2.0Ghz or faster
  • RAM Memory – the temporary storage memory – 1 Gb or more
  • Hard Disk Memory – where the files are stored – 100 Gb or more
  • CD/DVD player – does anyone not know about DVD’s? – 4x or faster
  • Modem – connects to the internet – any current model of modem
  • Router – wireless connection to the internet – any current model of router
  • Screen size – student’s stare at this a lot – 14” or larger
  • Camera – needed to interact with classes and instructors – any current model of camera
  • Keyboard – laptops have standard keyboards – consider wireless ergonomic keyboard
  • Mouse – laptops use touch pads or nibs – consider wireless mouse
  • Audio – laptops have built-in speakers – consider plug-in microphone
  • USB ports – get as many as possible – consider a USB hub also
  • Printer – wireless costs more but is easier for laptop users – Black & White laser
  • Scanner – wireless costs more but is easier for laptop users – color > 600 dpi
  • Fax – laptops have built in faxes – use scanner to download images for faxing

Specialization based on curriculum

Some degree programs require more audio/video capabilities to produce graphics and motion. Students need to be able to produce written material (Word processor), spreadsheet materials (Spreadsheet/Database program), and, in some cases, provide presentations to other students and professors (PowerPoint-type presenter). If the student will be working in the field a lot, it’s best to have a rubberized covering of some type to prevent water or dust damage.

Which is the overall best configuration for online college students?

The latest trends are toward lightweight, high-speed notebooks with on-board cameras, microphones, wireless connectivity to printers and other peripherals, and exceptional graphic displays and audio systems . Newer designs of notebook computers less than 1” thick, with 15” displays, high speed processors, high-capacity storage devices, and that have connectivity up the wazhoo seem to be one of the better choices for online students. However, this isn't a popularity contest. You are the person who will ultimately be living with the decision. Make sure whichever computer you pick will be the most useful to you.  

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