Sep 21

Money what money

In Part 1, I mentioned some factors which we considered important when buying a laptop for college work. Now to install Vista and some software. As I already mentioned, my son’s Dell Inspiron 1545 came with Vista Home Premium and he’s entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 7 Premium in October, so with that in mind, we’ll probably do a fresh install when the new OS arrives. So I didn’t want to load up the machine at this stage, just install a suite of applications to see him through until Windows 7 arrived.

As I run Windows XP or Ubuntu on my machines, this was the first time I’d installed Vista so I was pleasantly surprised at how painless it was. In all, it took about 20 minutes to install the OS. Dell used to have a reputation for installing a fair amount of trialware and junk along with the OS – don’t think they’re as bad as they were, but anyway, the first thing I downloaded and installed was PC Decrapifier to remove all the applications and trialware we just didn’t need. Here’s a list of the stuff it can remove. Having removed the trialware security suite, I then added the free antivirus program which has served me well over the years, AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.5 and the spyware remover SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition. Adobe Reader came installed so I removed that and added my favourite pdf reader, Foxit Reader.

List of apps we installed

Firefox: my favourite browser

Firefox Plug-ins: Adblock Plus, All-in-One Sidebar, LastPass (this one’s absolutely essential)

SpeedyFox: to clean Firefox’s SQLite databases and help prevent it slowing down

CCleaner: an essential utility for PC maintenance

Recuva: to recover accidentally deleted files

Revo Uninstaller: for completely uninstalling apps

Skype: so we can keep in touch

PC Wizard 2009: for PC information

CD Burner XP: to burn CDs and DVDs

FastStone Image Viewer: for managing and quick editing of photos

Serif PagePlus: DTP app; the link is to the free version of this commercial app

Rainlendar: a nice desktop calendar with reminders and a to-do list

Microsoft Office: this is the only commercial software in the list; for a free office suite, OpenOffice is excellent

Change Caps Lock to Shift Key: remap the annoying Caps Lock key to a Shift key

The only additional things were to set up a GMail account for him and place a small batch file on the desktop for one-click backup of everything in the Documents folder to a USB stick and impress on him the importance of using it. I’m still looking into laptop security/theft apps such as LocatePC, Prey or LaptopLock and will update this post when we decide on one.

Finally, I thought for completeness, I’d throw in a couple of links to some excellent posts on web apps and services for students I’d bookmarked on Delicious:

Notely Helps Students Get Organized Online

The Ultimate Student Resource List

Best Web Applications and Resources for College Students

Back to School: 15 Essential Web Tools for Students

So which applications would you put on a student’s PC? What about web apps and services? Drop a comment below.

Image credit: stuartpilbrow

Sep 19
A laptop for a student – Part 1
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Hardware | icon4 September 19, 2009| icon3No Comments »

My son is going back to college just now and needed to buy his first laptop so I tried to help out along the way. The first decision was straightforward – he’d used the Windows OS for years and was familiar with that, so it had to be a laptop with Windows. Not a MacBook because, even with student discount, this was beyond his budget and not a Linux OS because, well, because if you’re familiar with Windows it’s easier to stick with what you know, especially if you’re not tech minded. I’m just learning Ubuntu and would still struggle to help him out, especially away from home. Besides, buying a laptop with Vista Home Premium at the moment entitles you to a free upgrade to Windows 7 Premium, which by all accounts promises to be a great OS.

So off down to our major PC retailers to see what was on offer. First surprise, no Toshiba laptops in either retailer we tried. My daughter had bought a Toshiba laptop 2 years ago and we were all quite pleased with it. Ah well, so we had a choice of Acer, HP, Compaq, Packard Bell, Sony, Dell, Advent, etc. It was now that my son really surprised me. The first things I would look at when buying a laptop are hard drive size, amount of RAM installed, processor type, monitor size, but his first priority was build quality and design – the feel of the keys, the feel of the touchpad, rigidity of the case, etc. Some of the laptops had what I can only describe as bendy keyboard platforms which visibly sagged as you touched the keys – he didn’t like that, nor keys which seemed to be mounted poorly. He checked the feel of the keys as he typed. He also preferred a grainy-feel touchpad rather than the smooth ones. He pointed out that when his thumb or fingers were sweaty, they would stick on the smooth surface touchpad but were fine on the rougher surface. He also didn’t want the largest screen size laptops as this wouldn’t fit in his backpack and would be less portable.


So, at the end of the day, with all these points in mind and with a budget to stick to, he went for the Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop. Nice build quality, 15.6 inch screen, and 4GB RAM. The only slight downside was that the hard drive was only 160 GB. However, my daughter’s Toshiba has the same size and she manages fine – it forces you to be more organized and not hoard a lot of stuff. In any case, we spotted Iomega 1TB external hard drives for around £70 so that’s an alternative for storage when the time comes.

We then steadfastly refused all offers of Microsoft Office Home & Student, Norton Security, after sales help and insurance from the dogged salesman, paid up and left quite happy.

So what software should we put on it? Well, that’s coming up in Part 2 which I’ll publish in the next day or two.

What do you look for when you’re purchasing a laptop? Is build quality important or do you go for specs… or even looks? Let me know in the comments.

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