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Choosing a System
Select the brand, model, and components that are right for you
There is no requirement to have your own computer. Computers are available in public labs,
some of which are open 24 hours. Nevertheless, almost all Haverford students bring a
computer to campus.
If you are buying a new computer system, Academic Computing strongly suggests you order from our list of
recommended Macintosh or Dell computers. Students who purchase a recommended computer will receive the
highest level of support. See the Computer Support Policy for Students for details.
This section explains both what to look for in a computer; Placing Your System Order has our recommended
configurations, along with ordering information on additional items you will need.
Apple or Dell
Both Macintosh and Dell make excellent computers. They consistently work well on our campus and rank near
the top in nationwide customer satisfaction surveys.
The majority of our students select Dell computers, but the majority of faculty members select Macintosh
systems. Both platforms have equal access to the Internet, run a similar set of supported software packages
(Microsoft Office, Netscape, Internet Explorer, Eudora, etc.) and have access to the same servers on the campus
network. Assignments can generally be done on either a Macintosh or a Dell computer, and you can move back
and forth fairly easily between platforms. In those rare cases when you need special software that will not work
on your personal computer, computers are available in our public labs. If you don’t already have a preference for
either platform, consider other factors like features, design, and price of the hardware. Feel free to call ACC for
additional help with this choice.
If you are considering a Windows-based brand other than Dell, please see the question, “How will it affect me if
I have an unsupported or partially supported computer model?” in the Common Questions and Answers section.
Laptop or Desktop
A desktop computer is designed to sit stationary on a desk, and has several separate components. A laptop
system fits the CPU, display, keyboard, and pointing device (i.e. mouse, trackpad) into one lightweight, easily
transported, bundle. Although desktops traditionally offer better features at lower prices, today’s laptops offer the
capabilities of a desktop system in terms of speed, disk storage, and expandability at comparable prices. Large,
bright, color screens, CD/DVD drives, and expansion ports are now standard features on laptop computers. If
desired, you can even use the same monitors, keyboards, or mice used on desktop systems.
As an undergraduate, you will find yourself moving frequently between dorms, home, classes, the library,
computer labs, and various other study locations. If you are like most students, you’ll appreciate the flexibility and
mobility a laptop offers.
We strongly recommend the Macintosh iBook, Macintosh PowerBook, or Dell Latitude laptop for most students.
However, if you are on a tight budget, or you seek top-of-the-line hardware, you may prefer a desktop. For
Windows users, the Dell Dimension line offers a range of options from less costly to high-end components.
Macintosh users on a budget should look at Apple’s iMac; those seeking the fastest speeds and best components
should consider a G5 PowerMacintosh.
The iBook is an excellent choice for most students who prefer the Macintosh operating
system. At 4.9 pounds and starting around $1200 for our minimum configuration, this
computer will help you complete your academic assignments, and do the fun “i-stuff”
that Macintosh users enjoy: iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iPod, etc.
Choosing a System 1 April 2004
Macintosh users looking for something more robust than the iBook should consider
the PowerBook. Depending upon the screen size, the PowerBook weighs between 4.6
and 6.9 pounds. It is a bit faster and sturdier than the iBook, more upgradeable, and
has options, such as the 17” screen, not available for the iBook.
The higher quality components cost a bit more than those of the iBook. Our
configurations start close to $1600.
If you like the Macintosh, but you do not want a laptop, you may like the iMac. The iMac
combines the computer’s base unit and display in one piece, with a separate keyboard and mouse.
Although priced similar to the iBook, it offers more features for the same price.
Our configurations start around $1400.
Apple’s G5 PowerMacintosh
The G5 PowerMacintosh is for the Apple enthusiast looking for top of the line
features. Our configurations start around $1800.
Dell’s Latitude D600 Laptop
The Latitude D600 is an excellent choice for most students who prefer the Windows
operating system. With weights starting at 4.7 pounds and prices starting around $1600 for
our minimum configuration, you can order the Latitude with a basic configuration, or add in
lots of extra speed and features.
Dell’s Dimension Desktop Systems
Dell Dimension modular desktop systems offer a traditional style computer, with a wide range
of options whether you are a tight budget, looking for a top of the line sytem, or somewhere in
between. Its separate base unit, monitor, and keyboard, make upgrades and repairs relatively
easy because each piece can be changed separately without modifying the rest of the system.
CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs
The CD-ROM drive has become an essential part of every computer system. This drive uses laser technology to
store and retrieve information, and is often described as an optical drive. The computer CD-ROM drive uses the
same technology as a music CD drive and your computer’s CD drive will play your audio CDs. Software is
typically delivered on CD-ROM discs.
DVD-ROM is similar technology to the CD-ROM but holds more data. The DVD drive will play DVD video
discs, as well as audio CDs and data discs.
CD and DVD drives may allow you to read only, or read and write to optical discs. We recommended getting
some combination of CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive that enables you to read and write CDs, and to read
DVDs. Apple and Dell each offer a variety of optical drives. See “CD-ROM and DVD-ROM (Optical Drives)”
Choosing a System 2 April 2004
in the Glossary for details. You will also find more detailed information on the Apple and Dell web sites, or from
your sales consultant.
Until the late 1990’s, almost every personal computer on the market included a 3.5” floppy drive. The floppy disk
provided an inexpensive and easy way to back up data and move documents between computers. However, the
floppy disk is used much less often today and is not readily available on Macintosh systems. The floppy drive
continues as an option on most Dell systems. No one standard has replaced the floppy in popularity. Instead, you
now have the option of various removable media.
We support the following types of removable media: floppy disk, Zip disk, CD disc, DVD disc, and USB
Flash Key. Although still popular, as document files sizes grow, the inexpensive floppy disk becomes continually
less useful. The Zip disk, which can hold a couple of hundred times more information than a floppy can store
today’s typically larger files, but the high price of each disk ($10 - $15/disk) limits its popularity with students. As
the writable CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives have dropped in price and become easy to use, these have become
attractive options for backing up files.
The USB Flash Drive (sometimes called a USB Keychain Drive or a USB Memory Key) is a relatively new option
that many students like. This tiny drive fits on your keychain, plugs into any USB port (Macintosh or Windows
PC), and automatically appears to your computer like any other removable disk, such as a floppy or Zip disk.
These drives come in a range of prices and sizes, ranging from about $25 for 16Mb to $350 for 1Gb. Apple and
Dell both sell this type of drive; Apple offers a mix of brands (look on their web site under the 3rd party storage
accessories) and Dell has its own branded USB Memory Key. Additionally, you can find these at any office supply
A variety of excellent ink jet printers are now available for $200 or less. ACC does not have a specific
recommendation. Both Apple and Dell offer printer options with their systems, often at promotional pricing. If
you wish to look at some options before buying, you may prefer to get your printer at a local office supply or
Almost any printer on the market now will work with a Dell system. Macintosh users should check the printer
specifications to make sure it will work with OS X.
Order a cable with your printer! Cables are not usually included.
ACC strives to recommend cost effective systems that will meet the needs of most students.
You can save money by getting a slower system, less memory, a smaller hard drive, etc., but
you will often find that your system will then not perform as you would hope during your
time at Haverford. Likewise, you may find very similar looking features from a non-
supported vendor at a lower price, but you will give up the support benefits you get from
using a system familiar to ACC, as well as the assurance that your system will work on our
network. If you have trouble configuring a system that meets our recommendations and your budget,
please contact us. After talking with you, we should be able to come up with a solution that will satisfy your
needs and our requirements.
For those students who value extra features, feel free to upgrade any component of our recommendations.
Because prices and system configurations are subject to change, we provide only rough guidelines for your
system purchases. Contact Apple or Dell for current selections and pricing.
If you have problems with your Apple or Dell computer, your Residential Computing Consultant (RCC) will try
to help you. However, if you have a hardware problem, you will need to get additional assistance to have the
Choosing a System 3 April 2004
computer repaired, as RCCs cannot repair hardware. Apple and Dell have different warranty policies, and
different methods of providing repair service.
Haverford College has an authorized Apple repair center on campus. If you want to take advantage of our on-
campus technicians, you will have to bring the equipment into our shop. However, you can use any authorized
Apple Service Dealer. Either way, there is no charge for repairs on items covered under warranty, but you will
have to pay for parts and labor on non-warranty repairs.
All Apple computers include a one-year warranty. Apple does offer an extended warranty, called AppleCare. We
highly recommend AppleCare, especially on laptop computers. In addition to hardware support, AppleCare
offers you extended telephone support and additional help resources. Note that AppleCare covers manufacturing
or part defects and failures; it does not cover damage caused by accidents (spills, drops, etc.) or power failures.
We do not have an authorized Dell technician for repairing Dell hardware failures. Instead, we include the three
year CompleteCare warranty as part of our recommended Dell laptop system. We find this the best value because
CompleteCare covers spills, drops, and power surges, not covered in the standard warranty, but very expensive to
repair on laptops. We ask you to get the 4 year standard warranty on Dell desktops, although CompleteCare is an
option on desktops. With either CompleteCare or a standard warranty, you can call Dell’s support number and
speak to a technician if your Dell has problems. After trouble-shooting over the phone, they may suggest
software changes, send out a part, or send out a technician.
Dell has a 21 day return policy on new products, starting from the date the product is shipped. Apple has a ten-
day return policy on standard systems, counting from the date the product ships; they will not refund or
exchange custom built computers, unless they arrive damaged or broken. Because the Macintosh systems we
recommend are custom built (due to memory upgrades), they are ineligible for Apple’s refund or exchange
Choosing a System 4 April 2004