Article: Back to School Hardware Spectacular 2005

by on August 9, 2005

As this is the beginning of the back-to-school season, many people wonder what are the essentials for students going off to school. Here at SchwarzTech, we’ve compiled some things you should keep in mind when getting things ready for your student…


If you haven’t yet picked out a computer for your off-to-school student, there are quite a few options. Most schools recommend laptops, as students can always bring them home on breaks, or take them to class for notes. The downside is that laptops do cost more and are stolen much more than their deskbound counterparts. Here are some things to consider:

  • iBook or PowerBook: Is it worth more to have a silver case, a bigger screen, and slightly more power? For most students, an iBook will prove to be more durable, and a better value.
  • Educational Discounts: Apple offers all students about 10-15% off the price of any computer when they order—you just have to ask. It’s also worth noting that many schools offer “bundled systems” through the Apple Store which usually come with AppleCare, free major updates to OS X, and more for usually only a little more than the cost of the computer itself.
  • AppleCare: Anyone who has a laptop should get AppleCare—it will cover your butt if anything fails on your computer. It should be noted that it won’t cover accidents caused by abuse (spilling beer on a keyboard).
  • Maybe a Desktop?: If you’d like a bit more flexibility, there’s always the option of the desktop. Apple’s Mac mini is almost as portable as a laptop, is much cheaper, and still offers quite a bit of power. eMacs and iMacs are also good choices, since they are relatively compact.


iPods are very popular on college campuses—duh. Right now, Apple has a promotion where you can get an iPod mini free with any Mac purchase…not bad, eh? If you’d rather get a more powerful iPod, the promotion knocks $179 off. There are some iPod products you might want to get, as well (read the reviews in our reviews section:

  • Case: You don’t want your iPod to be damaged, so a case is the cheapest and easiest way to avoid trouble.
  • Speakers: Many iPod-specific speaker systems are small, will charge the iPod, and offer decent sound. A dock and regular speakers will offer the same features and usually better sound, but will be much bulkier.
  • Other Accessories: Griffin’s iTalk is great for recording lectures, while SendStation’s PocketDocks are good for making any old USB or FireWire cable work with the iPod’s dock connector.


Most schools offer free or cheap printing for students, usually in computer labs or in lounges in their dorms. However, the ability to print things without having to walk all over the place is always good. If you don’t get a free printer with your computer, Canon or Epson inkjets are always a good bet. The replacement cartridges are moderately priced, the print quality is very good, the printers themselves are very reliable, and you can sometimes use even cheaper generic cartridges. Nothing’s worse than having a printer fail when you have a big paper due in 2 days.

Backup Options

Hardware failures happen, and you don’t want to be stuck. The best thing to do is make a backup of any important files. The easiest methods are just to copy files to some sort of storage device.

  • Flash drives are extemely popular, as they’re small, only need a free USB port, relatively cheap, and can be used to transport files from computer to computer. They don’t hold much, though.
  • Recordable CDs or DVDs hold much more and can be put away for safe keeping. All Macs come with at least a CD burner, although a DVD-burning SuperDrive is optional on most.
  • External Hard Drives are, in most cases, cheapest in terms of cost-per-gigabyte. Some schools require them for students doing video work anyway. You can always buy a cheap internal hard drive and convert it using a hard drive enclosure.

iTunes Gift Cards

Buying music for anyone is hard, especially if there’s a big age gap. Fortunately, we’re suggesting picking up a few iTunes gift cards—you can find them just about anywhere, although Target was one of the first retailers to have them in its stores. The $15 amount is the most widely available, but other increments can be found, too. The only downside is that tax is charged with the songs, so $15 does not equal 15 songs. Fortunately, the excess change is kept in the iTunes account and can be used towards songs with a credit card of another gift card. Any student who has a PC, Mac, or iPod will find one of these gift cards very handy.

Most importantly, think of your purchases in terms of “how will this hold up in four years?” Since that’s an eternity for computer equipment, you’ll probably want something that can be upgraded without too much trouble.

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