Thursday, May 25, 2006

The 7 P's of Laptop Purchases

This time of the school year, I am often contacted by parents who are getting ready to send their child off to college, and they are confused by the array of laptop choices. (It was a busman's holiday this week, too, while I was helping parents at my son's college orientation session!)

Here, in a nutshell, are the things I tell parents to think about and questions to answer before they begin the process of trying to buy a laptop.

Price: think about the most you want to spend before you begin the process

: Will your child be taking the laptop to class, study group, and the library? Consider the fact the bigger the screen, the heavier the item and the less battery life (usually) the item will have. Large, wide-screen laptops are great as desktops, but toting a 10 pound laptop around campus can get old really fast! Consider getting a 17" LCD monitor for the student's dorm room desk that will give them more "screen real estate" when they connect the laptop to this monitor when they are at their desk. (Thanks to Alfred Thompson for this suggestion!)

Processor: Consider the area your child will be majoring in when looking at the processor types and speeds. A Celeron processor is not the best choice for an engineer, math major, or someone who is going to be using applications that take a lot of rendering or computation. You will also see laptops with Pentium M, Centrino, Centrino Duo, CoreDuo and AMD chipsets. Each type of processor has different functions, so investigate this if you feel it is important for your student.

Package: I do suggest customizing a laptop to allow for the best expandability in the future. For example, I recommend 1 gigabyte of RAM and suggest, if possible, this be on a single chip (to allow for expansion later to more RAM), since most laptops have two slots for RAM. I would suggest a DVD+-RW/CD-R drive since data files are getting so huge, a CD-R of 700 megabytes might soon not be large enough! I would also suggest, based on intended usage, that the hard drive be at least 80 megabytes in size. You might also take a look at a convertible TabletPC as one option for your child. It is not for everyone, but the price difference for the added functionality is not too great.

Ports: There are an array of ports available on laptops today. Noticeably absent is a parallel port and a serial port, so, if your child has legacy hardware that requires these type of ports, you will need to shop carefully. Most laptops have 2 or 3 USB 2.0 ports (for printers, a mouse, a scanner, a handheld computer, an portable audio player), a IEEE1394 (aka Firewire) port (for external large hard drives and video cameras), a modem jack, an Ethernet jack, an internal wireless (802.11 b/g) network card, and some have slots for secure digital or compact flash memory cards (found in cell phones, handhelds, and digital cameras.)

Pen Drive: Also known as flash drives, thumb drives, and USB drives, these devices are essential adjuncts to the use of the current day laptop. Sure students can load files up on the network to share with others, but the easiest way to transport files from one computer to another is the pen drive (the equivalent of the old floppy drive.) Don't skimp on the size-- get at least a 512 megabyte version.

Postscript: Students in K-16 have access to academic pricing for all types of software packages. Don't buy the Office suite at a retail store-- either take a look at the college bookstore or use one of the sites that allow for academic purchases (I use CampusTech.)

This is not intended to be the be-all, end-all laptop purchasing guide-- just some tips to help you help in the purchasing process!

Kathy Schrock

Monday, May 15, 2006

Morris Knolls and the Hall of Fame

My high school district, Morris Hills Regional School District in Rockaway, NJ, has created a Hall of Fame, and I am one of the first class of inductees. Because I had to scan some pictures to send to them for the banquet slide show, I figured I would create a little Hallmark Scrapbook Studio page of some of the K-5 and 9-12 pictures I sent in and share them with my blog readers. (No middle school pictures of me will EVER go public!)

Kathy Schrock

Educational Technology Blog Listing

I know how to create a blog, obtain an RSS feed, build a blogroll, tag items for Technorati indexing, and aggregate my favorite feeds.

However, when I start trying to explain these processes to fellow educators, I often get that glazed-over look from them that occurs when I get really excited about some technology phenomenon and they haven't a clue as to why they would even want to get more information sent to them and wonder how they would have the time to check an aggregator for new items.

So, in order to get teachers to read, and hopefully contribute, to some of the great dialogue going on in the blogs in the area of educational technology and education in general, I have stepped back one step and started an old-fashioned Web (1.0) page with links to some of the best, informative, controversial, and useful educational technology blogs. If you have any others that you feel I should evaluate for inclusion, send me a note!

Kathy Schrock's Educational Blog Listing

Kathy Schrock

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Kathy does Apple!

I have always been in awe of the Apple hardware, but, being the terminally left-brained user that I am, I have been a diehard Windows user since the early DOS days.

I know the two platforms have gotten a lot closer in the past few years, and I even bought a little 12" iBook G4 last year to see if I was able to get over my trepidation. I still got frustrated using the iBook, but became a little better cross-platform user. I think the frustration had more to do with the little things that interrupted the work process for me-- different key commands, different navigation practices, etc.-- rather than the software available for each platform. However, there is some software that I require that is only available on the Windows side (Homesite for HTML coding for example.)

I DO realize it is not about platform, but choosing the best tool for job at hand (which I constantly preach!), so I wanted to get over my phobia. With the release of Bootcamp for the new Intel-based iMacs, I decided to take the plunge and try it out. I bought a 20" Intel-based iMac to replace my main machine at home. (Okay, I did not let the Windows desktop go too far, and have two other laptops in case everything failed miserably...I am left-brained, remember!)

You have to understand, as the Gadget Queen, I probably have more devices hanging off my PC than most of you (at last count, it was 14), so I really did not know if the transition would be as seamless as the newsgroups (and Walter Mossberg) were saying it would be.

Well, I would like to share that it was REALLY easy! The directions for the install of Bootcamp and Windows XP Pro are clear, and there are only two decisions to make-- what size you want each platform's drive size to be (I chose to divide it right down the middle at 125GB each) and whether to format the Windows side as FAT32 or NTFS (I had to choose NTFS which limited my ability to see the Mac side from within Windows, but allowed me to choose the large hard drive partition.)

Windows installed easily, and all of my many, many Windows programs work flawlessly (and fast!). All of the hardware, once I downloaded the drivers for both platforms, work like a charm-- HP multifunction device, stand-alone USB scanner, external Firewire hard drive, PocketPC Smartphone, Logitech Orbit camera (needed on the PC side since the iSight does not have Windows drivers, yet), USB mic, Microsoft wireless mouse, external NEC LCD monitor as a second monitor, Wacom drawing tablet, yadda, yadda.

Now, I feel I definitely have the best of all worlds-- a fast Windows machine, access to the Macintosh programs to learn more about them, and a beautiful, 20" wide-screen display!

Hum, I wonder when the dual-boot Apple OSX/Windows Tablet PC OS will be available?

From both sides of my brain,
Kathy Schrock