As school districts across the country announce what classrooms will look like this fall, parents and students are gearing up for the new normal.
If you’re learning from home and spending even more time online, it might be time to upgrade your technology to make sure you’re getting the most out of your virtual classroom.
Here’s some helpful advice from Geek Squad Agent Derek Meister for what to look for in a new laptop.
The operating system is the core of your laptop. It manages all the software and hardware, including files, memory and connected devices.
Agent Meister recommends checking in with your school district to see if they require, or at least prefer, a specific operating system (OS).
“Some schools may recommend Chromebooks because their lessons are designed to be accessible through the web,” he said. “Or some may require a Windows computer so students can run specific apps, including Microsoft Office.”
Look closely at the internal specs when you’re choosing the right laptop for virtual learning. This includes the processor, system memory and hard drive.
“The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to get a good computer for school,” Agent Meister said. “For a beefy brain in your laptop, we recommend at least an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor for most schoolwork.”
For system memory, he says to make sure you have enough RAM to help overall performance, especially when running multiple files, apps and even video conferencing.
“When it comes to the hard drive, I recommend at least 50 gigabytes (GB), and where possible, a solid-state drive (SSD) to increase performance and decrease your time waiting for apps to load,” Agent Meister said.
Weight vs. screen size
Consider how often you’ll be moving your laptop. A heavier pick might not be a big deal if you’re staying around the house, but weight can be a concern if you’re heading to campus in the future, Agent Meister said.
“A larger screen size, such as 15 inches or more, means more screen real estate to have multiple apps open and running, including your video conference window,” he said. “On the other hand, a smaller screen typically means a lighter, more portable laptop.”
Learning from home means plenty of virtual classrooms and video chats with classmates, so it might be a good time to upgrade your webcam and even your microphone.
“The webcam specs will largely impact how your teacher and other students see you, versus the other way around,” Agent Meister said. “Still, we recommend making sure a laptop has at least a 1080p laptop, so the class can see your smile in HD.”
If your computer doesn’t have a great built-in camera, an external USB webcam is a good alternative.
“Even for laptops with a webcam, these offer greater flexibility to move around on your desk, and they often have better microphones and cameras that can see better in low-light conditions,” he said.
Slow internet can be frustrating, especially when your success in the classroom depends on it.
A good network connection means better video and audio for teleconferencing, Agent Meister said. When you’re shopping for a new laptop, look out for 802.11ac (sometimes referred to as Wireless-AC) or 802.11ax (Wireless-AX).
“This is also a good time to review your wireless router and broadband connection,” he said. “An older wireless router or slow broadband will make even a fast laptop feel slow on the internet, especially when remote video is involved.”