New Computer Buying Guide

The most commonly asked question by incoming students and their parents is "what computer should I buy?" Some universities require a certain computer and some require certain software. At Niagara, we feel that people should buy the computer they are most comfortable with and offer tips and suggestions, rather than limiting incoming students to a certain make and model. The following FAQ should help you a great deal in deciding what kind of computer to buy.

Should I buy a laptop or desktop?

The trend that we've seen on campus leans toward laptops. Laptops simply offer more flexibility and with wireless internet access all over campus, you can be truly mobile and can work from anywhere on campus including the library and other areas where students gather. When working on group projects it can be very convenient to have your computer with you and many student enjoy taking notes in class right on their computer. When buying a laptop, you want one that is durable as they do take a beating over time. You definitely want to opt for a 3-year warranty as hardware failure rates in laptops are greater than desktops. Students that choose desktops are usually people that use their computer for other things that require the flexibility of upgrades. Gamers, video editors, and musicians often choose desktops because they can be more powerful and can easily be upgraded. The disadvantage is of course mobility, and when traveling between college and home it can be quite annoying to have to bring your desktop and monitor with you. 

Should I buy a PC or a Mac?

There is a somewhat simple answer to this question. If you've been using a Mac or PC for years and have no problems with your current situation, why change? Macs have made enormous progress in recent years in appealing to college students and home users, while PC's have continued their success in the business world and have enormous usage numbers in homes. We have many Mac users on campus, and even more PC users. Both camps get by just fine and realistically it's the software on the computer that is going to make the difference. Buying a Mac will not limit you at Niagara, although we recommend buying Office 2010 for Mac (coming soon!).

What specs should I look for?

At this point, these are the minimum specs you should look for in a computer. Anything better than the specs listed below is fine. Again, these are the minimum specs.

  • 2.0Ghz Core2 Duo processor or better, i3, i5, or i7
  • 4GB Memory (this is the minimum you'd want for Windows 7)
  • 160GB Hard drive (if you store a lot of music and movies, you may want something higher)
  • 3-year warranty: We can't stress this enough. You want to be covered in case things go wrong (and they can!)
  • DVD / CD-RW (Combo Drive): You'll want to be able to play DVD's and read/write CD's. If you movies are your thing, you may want to look for a DVD writer.
  • 802.11g wireless for laptops
  • If purchasing a PC, we recommend Windows 7

What about warranties?

The biggest mistake people make when buying a new computer is to take the cheap offer in the newspaper that comes with a 90-day warranty. It's extremely unlikely that hardware failure will occur within 90 days, but there's a reasonable chance you'll need that warranty over the course of 3 years. Computer repair shops, both local and chains, tend to charge a lot of money for basic repairs when a simple warranty would have covered the problem for free (and usually, conveniently).

What software should I buy?

You'll definitely want Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows, or Office 2011 for Mac, both of which are about to be released. Most majors at NU use several applications from that suite and you want to be sure you have the software you need. We sell different versions of the Office suites at our IT help desk at academic pricing, so you may want to purchase this from us during CARE or once on campus.  Antivirus software is a must and most antivirus packages that come with new computers expire after a few months. We recommend NOD32 from Eset. It is the best one we have found.

Does Niagara sell computers?

We do not sell computers to students. We do partner with GovConnection to offer academic discounts on thousands of technology related items to students. We get particularly good discounts on Lenovo computers from GovConnection. If your looking at buying, it is definitely worth a phone call or e-mail to our account representative Rob Mitchell. He can be reached at rmitchell@govconnection.com, or by phone at 1.888.294.0275. The GovConnection website is http://www.govconnection.com and if you find something there you'd like, contact Rob for our discounted pricing.

MacWe also have established our own online storefront with Apple, where you can purchase Apple computers and other products at academic pricing. Just visit http://www.apple.com/edu/niagara.