As part of my regular duties as the father of University Students, I must act as the I.T. support for all computers bought in my house. I actually enjoy keeping my skills up to date with all of this, but it is also a very nerve wracking job, when the kids are long distances away (remote I.T. is not an easy thing). I use LogMeIn (a free utility) to try to do some elementary remote debugging, but inevitably the problems are fairly bad and not easily fixed over the phone.
Last term I ended up with both of my daughters’ computers BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) to the point where 1 of the machines would not boot. The following is my opinion of Laptop Computers in general and HP Laptops in specific:
Kids treat laptops with very little respect and laptops (in general) are more fragile than their manufacturers wish to let on. That being said, HP laptops are the work of the devil and should be avoided at all costs!!
Please treat this as only my opinion, but keep it in mind as well.
In the end my daughters had to beg, and borrow computing devices from friends to attempt to get their school work done, while their machines were being repaired by the technicians at the school book store. Using the technicians at the University Book Store can be a hit and miss proposal, sometimes the machines are back running in A-1 form, sometimes, not so much, however at the end of it both my daughters managed to muddle their way through it all, and I swore I was going to take measures not to have to live through that again.
With this in mind (and I view this as a Finance issue, because all of the costs in both time and money), here are my tips for student computer safety:
- If your child is going to take a laptop with them to school, teach them that the machine is not a toy, and should not be jostled and chucked around like it is indestructible, it is not. It is very destructible, and if it has a hard drive that spins, this disk will eventually break from being moved while running.
- As a precaution find an old computer that they can use as a back up computer (a desktop machine), you can find these cheap all over the place, and create a lifeboat (more in the following section).
- If your child really wants a portable computer look at something that has a Solid State Disk in it like the Mac Air, or some of the tablet computers. The main thing that breaks in a laptop is the disk drive, if you can eliminate it from the equation, your life is much simpler.
- Anti-Virus the hell out of your kids computer, and point out that each thing you download has virus or malware in it, no matter what you think, it is all bad, and that if their computer dies because of it, there is no sympathy for them (tough love)
- Warranties for these computers seem like a good idea, but find out what the warranty gets you and how the service will be done (having to mail something away for 4 weeks, ain’t really gonna cut it). I used Costco’s concierge for some warranty work, which was very quick replacing a broken power unit, but not so helpful with a flaky hard drive.
- If the data is important (i.e. documents, projects, pictures, etc.,) back it up in at least 2 different places, using Google Documents, a USB memory stick and/or a USB Shelf Disk Drive. If you have backups you haven’t lost your work, you have just lost your device. If you don’t back things up, you are asking for trouble. You can even just mail stuff to yourself and back it up using Gmail. Remember to test your backups as well (BEFORE you might need them). Backing up data is great, making sure you can use it after it is backed up is IMPLIED.
The one thing I am doing for one of my daughters is creating a Lifeboat computer. Remember a Lifeboat does not need to be as powerful or as good as the system it is going to act as a temporary replacement for, it simply needs to let the student limp along as best as possible, using the data that has been backed up. It needs to run a subset of whatever tools the student needs, and be able to connect to the Internet (no it can’t be an old XT or AT that you found in your basement).
Don’t spend a lot of money on the Lifeboat or it will simply become another computing device for your child to download crap onto, it is a use in emergency resource and that is it. In my instance my daughter’s boyfriend had an old Pentium-4 system that seems to fit the bill just fine.
Computers are now an integral part of all post-secondary students’ lives so now you must take steps to make sure it is as safe as it can be.