After a long time spent championing Macs and iPads, I'm facing reality.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Laptop for college? Save big by choosing a Windows PC

August 11, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Choosing a computer to take to college used to be easy. You bought a laptop for your kid -- maybe an Apple laptop, if you were trying to do the right thing.

Things aren't so easy any more.

First, after a long time spent championing Macs and iPads, I'm facing reality. Apple's computers and iPads are incredibly overpriced, without a commensurate benefit in usability, configurability, quality, service or longevity.

Times are tough and things are out of whack. I think your money -- and my money -- should be spent wisely. PC laptop prices have plunged while Apple's MacBooks linger in the stratosphere. (Remember: With the economies of Chinese mass production, Macs don't cost more to make than comparable PCs.)

You can buy a PC laptop for your kid for a few hundred bucks. That's a new laptop, as in one that's fresh from the factory. You can buy a Mac laptop for your kid for $999. On up. I remember spending $2,700 for one.

PC laptops cost less to fix, too. I had to pay $800 to get Apple to fix my laptop while it was still under warranty, and my experience is not unusual. (You're right: I could have bought two PC laptops with that money.)

So I'm recommending Windows 7 or Windows 8 laptops this time around. Windows 7 is superb. I use the latest Mac and Windows software every day, and it's clear that Windows 7 matches the Mac operating system in just about every way.

Windows 8, by contrast, seems like a disaster, even if it's not. Microsoft put a face on Windows 8 that not even a mother could love. But tucked away beneath icons as big as Texas is, literally, another operating system. It's as if Microsoft begrudgingly realized serious Windows users might inadvertently end up with a Windows 8 PC and need to do a little work now and then.

That other operating system is Unadulterated Windows 7. What I call Windows 7 Plus. All you need to do if you have a Windows 8 PC is turn off the silly side. You can get Windows 7 Plus to appear all the time with a simple piece of software. Read more about it at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec011313.html.

With this change, Windows 8 (or "7 Plus") is an outstanding operating system. It's ideal for college use.

What about an iPad or an Android tablet? A tablet's fine for casual email, the web, Facebook, games, messaging and occasional note-taking, but not for heavy-duty research and writing. Taking a tablet off to college is a great idea, but make sure the tablet is the dinner salad, not the main course.