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The Master's College

Notebook Buying Guide

The use of computers, telecommunications, and the Internet has expanded at an explosive pace in our society; virtually every profession has been affected by the recent growth of technology. To enable students to keep pace with the technological changes taking place around them, The Master's College has implemented a notebook computer ownership requirement for all full-time TMC students. The following information details your options for fulfilling that requirement and provides some tips on what to look for when considering what to buy.

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Notebook Buying Tips

There are many options to consider when buying a new notebook computer, including notebook features, price vs. performance, and warranty options. In order to ensure that you purchase a notebook computer that will continue to provide solid functionality during your time at TMC, you should evaluate the following in regards to any notebook computer:

Storage Media Options

Your computer should contain a DVD-ROM drive. You also have the option of purchasing a CD-RW/DVD combo drive, which will write files to CD-RW or CD-R media, or a DVD-RW drive, which will allow you to watch DVD movies, use software that is published on DVD-ROM, and burn files to a DVD-RW or DVD-R media.

Another storage option that you may want to consider is the USB "memory key" or flash memory disk. This is a small unit slightly smaller than a pack of gum which conveniently plugs into the USB port on your notebook or any desktop computer and comes in various capacities, commonly 1GB to 16GB. You can use a USB key to transfer data or backup your files.

Network Connectivity

In order to connect to the network at TMC, you will need a wireless network card. We recommend that you purchase a notebook computer with the wireless networking built in. If you have an older computer that does not have built-in wireless you can purchase a USB Wireless Adapter.

Although most notebook computers will come with a 10/100 network card installed, please note that this type of network card is for connecting to a wired network and will not connect you to the wireless network here at TMC (we do not have wired connections available for student use).

Hard Disk Capacity

Most notebooks available today contain a 120 GB or larger hard disk. Unless you are going to play video games, do video editing, or convert a large CD collection to MP3 files, you may not need a larger hard disk.

Suggested Memory

We suggest a minimum of 2-4 GB of RAM for users who plan on running Windows 7 and/or Microsoft Office 2010. 4 GB is recommended.

Screen Size

Most notebook computers come standard with 14.1" WXGA TFT Active Matrix screens at the 1280x800 resolution (this determines the number of pixels or picture elements on your screen-the more pixels, the finer the detail on your screen). You may find that you need a higher resolution if you are doing detailed graphics work; however, 1280x800 is sufficient for most uses. You may also find that a larger (15" or higher) screen is easier to read, especially at resolutions higher than 1024x768.

Accessory Connections

If you want to have the option to add peripherals to your computer, you should check to see if your notebook includes the necessary ports. There are two general categories of ports: standard and legacy. Standard ports will allow you to connect your computer to a vast number of devices, so be sure to look for VGA, USB, Stereo Line In/Out and/or Microphone Jacks, HDMI, and FireWire (I. Link, IEEE 1394) ports. Legacy ports include serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports; these are only necessary to connect older devices to your computer (such as a parallel printer), so unless you already have an older device you want to use with your computer, don't worry if these aren't included.

Warranty Options

Many notebooks, especially those purchased at retail stores, come with a standard one-year factory warranty. In order to ensure that the computer is usable for the duration of your time at TMC, we recommend that you purchase a notebook computer with at least a three year warranty. Notebook computer repairs are expensive; for example, you could incur $200+ in repair costs for a system board if your computer fails after the warranty period has expired.

Accidental Damage

Warranties do not cover all repairs to your notebook computer; they are expressly written to cover manufacturers' defects that cause system failure during the normal use and life cycle of the product. If you damage your notebook computer by dropping it, stepping on it, spilling liquids on it, etc., you are liable for the repair costs to restore the notebook to working condition. Some manufacturers offer accidental damage plans that you can purchase in addition to extended warranty plans. Although an accidental damage plan may seem expensive at first, it could be a very valuable investment considering the cost of repairs; a cracked screen, for example, could cost $300+ or more. Some more common repairs that we have seen at TMC are liquid spills and broken power jacks from someone tripping over a power cord, which could cost $150+ to repair.

Service Availability

You may also want to consider the service options that are available with a particular computer. If you encounter problems or defects in your laptop, you may have to deal directly with the manufacturer by telephone, or you may have to take the computer to the store you bought it from in order to have any troubleshooting done. If there is a hardware problem with your computer, you may need to leave it at the store or ship your computer to the manufacturer for repairs. Some notebook manufacturers also offer on-site warranty repairs where they will come to your place of residence within 24 to 48 hours with the necessary replacement parts.

Students bringing their own notebooks to campus will be responsible for their own hardware troubleshooting and tech support, which can be obtained from the the manufacturer or vendor where the notebook was purchased. Computer Services does not offer any hardware tech support for student owned notebooks other than assistance in connecting to the wireless network.

Additional Resources

Online notebook buying guides and product reviews from sources such as CNET and PC Magazine can be very beneficial and can assist you in purchasing a notebook. Product evaluations and purchasing suggestions can be found here. Note that TMC does not specifically endorse any particular brand or model of notebooks mentioned in the above buying guides and reviews.