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Laptop Advice

Hello, my name is Peter, and I've been with James Madison College for 18 years as the IT/Systems Analyst. While I don't often work with students directly, I often get asked about the MSU laptop requirement. While you may be stressing about a laptop purchase, it's not as important as you think, just about any laptop will do these days. The following advice is my own personal opinion and may not reflect the opinion of Michigan State. This page was updated on April 27, 2022.

Specs to look for

  • Solid State Drive - smaller in capacity, but exponentially faster, this is the most important feature.
  • At least 8gb of ram, but 16gb would be better.
  • PC: Amd Ryzen or Intel i5 or i7 processor, i3 is ok, but they are a bit slow. Quad core is better than dual core.
  • Mac: Apple Silicon (M1 processor)
  • 256gb or more of storage. 128gb is too small.
  • Built in HDMI port. Optional, but useful to have for presentations. If you don't have it built in, all laptops work with an adapter. You should have your own adapter, one will not be provided for you.

PC vs Mac

I grew up as a PC user but currently use a Mac, so I am well versed in both and both are good choices. If you're looking for an easy recommendation, I recommend the 2020 MacBook Air with M1 proccesor.  Now with Apple's own processor, this computer is competitively priced, lasts 15 hours on battery, and is faster than most PCs.  You can buy with an educational discount. You could get a 2020 MacBook Pro but the Air is more than sufficient for my needs as an IT Professional and you can avoid spending the extra money. On the PC side, I would recommend Dell, either a Latitude 5400 series, or an XPS13. Again, make sure to get an i5 quad core (stay away from dual core), and 256gb of solid state storage or more (SSD). I would lean towards the Mac though, we have fewer issues with them, and with the new Apple Silicon chips it's hard to recommend a PC at this point.

What to avoid: anything 'used' or renewed. ANY Intel Mac, and the 2016-2019 Macs all had a design flaw in the keyboard.

If you have an existing laptop, feel free to take that and use it. Just make sure you use your free cloud storage as a student. You don't NEED a new laptop to be a successful student. You do NEED to backup your files to be a successful student.

How about a tablet?

I don't recommend a tablet acting as a primary computing device, although several students I know do it and they seem to like it. A Chromebook, while inexpensive, would be too limiting.

Anti Virus?

I am required to run anti virus on departmental operated machines, but for student machines, MSU offers a discounted option. PC/Windows has anti virus built in and Mac machines are slightly less prone to infections. I don't use anti virus on my personal machines, as long as you are careful you should be fine. And, an anti virus will lull you into a false sense of security. They won't stop you from reusing passwords, or clicking links you shouldn't, or installing software that you shouldn't. If you're mindful of what you're clicking on, downloading, and installing, you should be ok.

Buying Advice

  • Costco - Costco sells laptops and they most have 2 year warranties and an excellent Costco Concierge service in case you have difficulties.
  • Buy it on a Credit Card - some credit cards offer extended warranty, free of charge. As long as the laptop was purchased on the credit card, they will pay for any repairs after the warranty is over, for one or two years. The Costco Citi card adds two years, no other card does that as far as I know. Most of the MSUFCU credit cards do not offer this, except the new Visa Signature card, although that carries an annual fee. Other credit card companies vary, call the number on the back of the card to find out, although many are removing this benefit. 
  • If you choose to buy an Apple laptop, the AppleCare insurance is a must.

Operating Advice

  • MSU provides 1TB of cloud drive storage. Store your school work on it. Your computer having a malfunction will not be an excuse since MSU provides a robust file back up and sync option. Google Docs are fine, but when you turn in a document, your professor will be expecting a Word document. Save as a Word document and you'll be fine.
  • Back up files. As they say, two copies is one, and one copy is none.
  • If the website link looks sketchy, don't click on it.
  • Passwords - use a different password on every website. Use a password vault such as Strongbox, KeepassXC, 1password, Bitwarden, mSecure.
  • Use two factor authentication on every website that offers it.
  • Students get free access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and all the other applications while enrolled. No need to purchase Office software. Download at office.com.