This page is designed as a general guide for incoming first year students and their parents as they decide what kind of computer will be best given the individual student’s usage trends and his or her goals and reasons for deciding on Pomona College. Since manufacturing, performance and pricing information changes each year, it is always best to review technical specifications at the point of purchase.

Types of Use

Before purchasing a computer, most important is to consider how will it most likely be used. Determining how and what the unit will be used for will dictate, to a large extent, whether or not the user should purchase a machine with a typical setup or spend some more money to purchase one of the typically more expensive high end machines.

Most applications will function well on just about all recently (i.e. in the last few years) manufactured computers, however there are certain programs that are quite complex and require significantly better hardware. Most students tend to fit into one of two categories, the typical student user or (usually due to majors requiring computer computation, simulation, programming or graphic design) users with high end computing needs who can be loosely termed “Power Users”.

Typical User The typical student user will use his or her computer to surf the web, to email, watch DVDs, play games or music, and use productivity software such as: Microsoft Word, Kaleidagraph and Adobe Pagemaker.

Power User The power user on the other hand in addition to the above uses, will employ their machine for such usages as the following: media (includes video, image and audio) editing, complex designing programs, high-end gaming (usually requiring the latest 3D graphics cards), coding and simulation, and 3D rendering programs such as Maya or 3Ds Max.

Apple or Windows based PC

Essentially, for the needs of the typical student user, both Apple and Windows based PCs are capable of doing the same things. The effective differences being a matter of which operating system a user is more comfortable using. Consequently we suggest buying based on which the user is more proficient with. In the case of the user who desires a change or is fairly proficient at using both, here are some points to consider:

  1. Graphic designers, artists, web developers, and video editors almost all use Apple computers, since they handle graphics better and offer better software suites.
  2. A new Apple computer is typically considerably more expensive than a new Windows based computer of comparable system specifications, however, the Apple may retain its resale value better than the comparable Windows based system.
  3. Apple computers are generally less susceptible to spyware and viruses, and will rarely experience the slowdowns or security problems of an unpatched and unprotected PC. The vigilant PC user, however, can be just as safe and protected, as long as its user follows the necessary precautions.
  4. Due to the fact that Windows based PCs are more common than Apple, there are more programs written only for Windows than those written for the Mac operating system. If there are certain programs (for instance computer games or certain specialized pieces of productivity software) that the user finds necessary then check to make sure that a Apple-compatible version of them is available before buying one of these computers.
    Note: The current Intel-based Apple computers alleviate this problem to a degree as it is possible to run both OS X and Windows on these computers.

Desktop or Laptop

Students are not required by any course nor major to own a laptop. The few classes that require the use of a computer will usually meet in one of the Pomona computer labs rather than require students to bring computers.


  • Mobility and Convenience: The main advantage to laptops is the ability to travel with and setup your computer almost anywhere. This includes being able to take your computer to the library, class or maybe simply a nice spot outside. The mobility of a laptop though may increase the chances of its being stolen.
  • Price and Fragility: A laptop will cost considerably more than a desktop computer of comparable system specifications. In addition, greater care must be taken against spills, dropping the unit and taking care of the battery amongst other precautions. The cost of laptop is greater, the cost of repairing an out of warranty laptop is also understandably higher.
  • Power Users: If the student user fall into the ‘Power User’ category, a laptop to meet his or her needs will be quite expensive, typically heavier, and have limited battery life.


  • Performance and Price: While desktops can’t offer the convenience and mobility of laptops, desktops offer a lower price tag with better performance. Desktops usually have larger hard drives, more memory, faster processors, better audio and video capability and larger screens than laptops, all for significantly lower prices.
  • Upgradeability: Due to the smaller intricate design of most laptops, upgrading is difficult and recommended to be done by experts. Conversely most desktops are designed to be upgraded, for the user to install more memory, secondary hard drives, functionality cards (e.g. TV tuner or wireless cards), or a new DVD recorder drive. So the desktop owner has the ability to affordably increase the power and functionality of his or her unit, therefore increasing and prolonging its value to the owner.

Specifics in Making a Purchase

After making the decision on the model and type of computer needed, next is to consider the specifics. This includes but is not limited to: considerations with regards to price, manufacturer to purchase from, and more detailed questions such as how much memory to purchase for the computer.


The ITS student consultants have put together their thoughts and ideas on making computer purchases.

We also welcome your feedback and opinions. Please email: