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So I am called a grey beard in the industry because I am older. Well in my case it is literally true, I have a beard and it is grey. So when I graduated high school along with luggage another big graduation present would be a typewriter. Yes I said typewriter. And actually once I got to college it was surprising how many others did not have one and would regularly want to borrow mine for typing papers. Well times have definitely changed. Kids no longer use typewriters, and many probably have never even seen one (other than maybe in a movie). They all use computers now. Maybe they currently use a family computer, and you are looking to get them a computer for college. But the question then becomes what computer to get. Well the first thing you need to consider is what they will need to do with it. This links with the age old question of "what are you studying". The reason this is important is that it will make a huge impact on what is the best choice, and how much you need to spend.
So obviously the two biggest uses of the computer will be research and typing papers. All the computer options will handle this. If they are going into social sciences, history, or some other discipline where they will not be doing computer programming then they very well could get by with a Chromebook. They can then use Google Docs to type all their papers, and Google Sheets for spreadsheet work. The Chromebook will set you back $150 to $300, with the bulk of them running about $190. So the computer is very inexpensive. It is not going to be a huge target for theft. And all their data is in the Google cloud. So you don't have to worry about losing that important paper if the computer crashes. They will be able to still do research, waste time (I mean keep in touch) with Facebook. They can video conference with family with Google Hangouts. In short for probably 70% of all students this will do everything they need. It is also a great choice for that graduate that is not heading off to college too.
Now if your prodigy wants to go into say computer science, math, or is pre-med then maybe a full computer is a better choice. They might need to be able to load and run special programs. At this point the best choice is probably a Windows 10 laptop. Go with a laptop and not a desktop here because they will want to/need to take it around campus to work on it. Desktops are so last decade unless it is a high powered gaming machine. Along with Windows 10 laptop make sure to get them a subscription to Crashplan to back up the hard drive into the cloud. Don't even think about relying on them using an external hard drive to do backups on their own. You don't want to be that parent with a kid crying on the phone three days before the end of the semester because their hard drive crashed, they have not backed up since Halloween, and they just lost the research paper that is due in two days. With Crashplan they can login and get to the backups from anywhere. Of course if they are smart they will have used Google Docs and will be able to get to their stuff from anywhere. But if it is a really complicated paper that they needed to use a local copy of Word then at least the document is safe in Crashplan. Or if they have a fancy stats program all the data is in the cloud and they can load the program on a new computer (or the now fixed computer) and download the data and they are good to go.
If they are planning on being a film student, art, photography, or graphic design it used to be a given they would run a Mac. But that is not as true as it used to be. Mac is still run by most people in film and art. But pretty much all apps are available on Windows as well. So you could go either way. The big thing here is don't go cheap. They will need a fair amount of memory and processing power to run those programs. If you are going with Windows you might want to look at a gaming laptop. The specs you will need in a good video or graphic design laptop are the same as what a gamer will want. You need a really fast processor, a dedicated video card with plenty of video memory, lots of RAM, and good cooling for it. My Windows 10 computer is an ASUS Republic of Gaming laptop that I got for $1,200. It is a beast. I can render video so well on it. And Photoshop works really well too.
If your student will be doing graphic design or other art work then a Windows Surface is a solid choice. Something with a stylus will be really good for doing that art work. You can do it with a laptop and a digitizing pad, but that is so last decade. And it is much less intuitive than the touchscreen on the tablet/laptop convertible device. You want to make sure that the stylus is pressure sensitive.
A higher end Macbook Pro will do really well for the film or art student also. Or if they are wanting to do like graphic design you could get the larger iPads and then get a keyboard to go with them to do writing and such. Again, make sure to get Crashplan.
I am truly a geeks geek. I have worked in computers for over three decades. I have worked on mainframes, Unix systems, Linux before almost anyone knew what it was, and many other systems. I love computers, and love making them do things people think is impossible.