MacBook Distracting Students from Acquiring Functional Systems

It’s back to school time, and that means it is time for college students to think about their computer arrangements. I was playing with a MacBook Pro the other day and generally liked it, but was astonished at the price. After a some contemplation I concluded that there are far more powerful setups that can be attained for a fraction of the MacBook’s lofty price.

The MacBook family offers screen sizes of 13”, 15” and 17”. The base prices for these units start at $1,200, $1,700, and $2,500. Unfortunately all these customers have is…a laptop. It is sad to see what people are missing by spending this much.

While college is a very mobile environment, it also is one that requires much efficiency and organization. Imagine being able to take all of your notes in class while you record the lecture, and have those notes and the recording tied in real time together. Using OneNote, the student can! Unable to fully recall the discussion when a cryptic diagram was drawn? Simply hit the musical note next to the diagram and that segment of the lecture immediately plays back.

When the student returns to his or her desk in the dorm room, they will want a clean, neat full desktop setup, so a 22 or 24” monitor is needed. For an extra $75 or so the laptop can be used as a DVR, so there goes the need to buy a full-fledged TV.

One of the most powerful tools a student can buy, however, is a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner. Instead of lugging around notebooks and syllabi, the efficient student uses this football-sized scanner to scan all notes and all syllabi. This way all notes are neatly organized, portable, and sharable on the network.

Theft is rampant on college campuses, so an external hard drive is needed at the desk for nightly archiving of notes and media.

$1,200

Here’s is an option in the $1,200 range worth considering:

$550 I recently got an HP laptop with Vista Home Premium, 3GB of RAM, 320GB HDD, a/b/g/n wireless, and a 17” screen for $550
$400 Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 Scanner
$80 1 TB Hard Disk Drive (3.5” internal) – prices are falling rapidly
$25 Sabrent ECS-STU35K 3.5” HDD enclosure
$170 Pegasus Portable Notetaker – Digital pen that memorizes your notes
$1,225 TOTAL

plus $250 Samsung 233SW 23” Widescreen Monitor (If one were to get a little 13” MacBook, they would certainly need a large monitor at their desktop, so the monitor’s price is pulled out of the comparison.)

Now we have a powerful system. A fantastic laptop serves as the core. One can quickly scan all documents and enter notes directly into the computer, and archive all of this data. For leisure periods, the laptop can be used as a DVR.

I would mount the hard disk drive enclosure under the desk (out of sight), and buy an extra AC adaptor that stays installed in the desk setup for an almost “docking station” setup.

$2,500

In the $2,500 market? Then we really have some flexibility. Consider a scenario that has the 23” monitor and backup system mentioned above, as well as the scanner. At the core, though, we use a Lenovo tablet PC. This allows the student to take notes directly on the screen in One Note while recording lectures instead of using the Pegasus pen.

$1,600 Tablet PC – Lenovo with 1.86GHz, Vista Home Premium, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD, 8-cell battery, Microsoft One Note.
$400 Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 Scanner
$80 1 TB Hard Disk Drive (3.5” internal)
$25 Sabrent ECS-STU35K 3.5” HDD enclosure
$2,105 TOTAL

plus $250 Samsung 233SW 23” Widescreen Monitor

It appears that we have an extra $400. Instead of shipping it off to Steve Jobs, perhaps we could consider something more interesting. Let’s remove the portable HDD and put that $100 and the $400 towards a dorm room server. Something like a Windows Home Server or a stand-alone PC that runs Windows Media Center would be a fantastic solution. A media center PC in the room would always be available to record shows, and could act as a archival center for the documents on the laptop.

Another option is to take that $400 and conservatively invest it so there is seed money for the next computer the student will need (probably in two years). Imagine how out of date that 4 year old MacBook pro will seem compared to a fairly new computer in 2013.

The MacBook Pro is a nice computer, for sure. However its staggering price seems to be luring students away from a far more powerful armamentarium. It is leaving students with a tool that allows them to get on the internet and write documents. The MacBooks are only the seed to a fully integrated system. For that price, wouldn’t you rather just take the fully integrated system and be done with it?

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