Essential Computer Gear for Recent Grads

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With any luck, school campuses will fully reopen this fall, meaning many recent high school grads will soon be heading off to college. To help those incoming freshmen thrive during their first year on campus, we’ve put together a list of useful tech we think will benefit them in and outside of the classroom.

Essential: Laptop

Ask one hundred college students to name the one piece of tech they can’t live without. Half of them will tell you “laptop” and the other half will be wrong. A good, reliable laptop is arguably the most important and beneficial piece of tech a student can take with them to college. It doesn’t need to break the bank, but it does have to be dependable. In other words, a good laptop is one that will allow students to accomplish all their tasks—whether it’s taking notes in a class, writing a paper in the library, or finishing up a project back at their dorm—without any operational fuss or hiccups. B&H carries an exhaustive catalog of laptops, including models optimized for college students and even those in specific majors or fields of study.

ASUS 15.6" 32GB C523 Chromebook
ASUS 15.6" 32GB C523 Chromebook

Optional: Pen Display or Tablet

Speaking of specialized devices: A pen display isn’t something that every new graduate needs, but for students pursuing any kind of artistic degree (photography, digital illustration, graphic design, etc.), a pen display can be an essential piece of tech. When it comes to choosing the right model, many people will tell you that there’s a Wacom pen display and then there’s everything else.

Wacom Cintiq 22 Creative Pen Display
Wacom Cintiq 22 Creative Pen Display

Optional: Specialized Software

Similar to a pen display in that it’s more beneficial to some students than others, certain specialized programs or non-OEM software are considered essential. Consider Adobe Photoshop and Premier Elements, for example. Though targeted at a more specific set of users, this consumer-level suite of photo and video editing software is vital to those who are just starting out or near the beginning of their post-production education. If you are (or you’re shopping for) a recent grad with any kind of multimedia ambition, Photoshop and Premiere Elements should probably be on the list. Likewise, if the grad in question has their eye on some other equally explicit educational endeavor, it’s worth researching whether or not there is any kind of specialized software that would aid them in their pursuit.

Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements
Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements

Essential: Webcam

One of the things we learned during the pandemic was the value of a good webcam.

Whether it was for work, school, or just to stay in touch, webcams became essential tools for our virtual lifestyles. Even with pandemic restrictions gradually lifting, webcams will likely remain an important part of working and educational lives—thanks to the clear benefit they demonstrated during our lost year. For new grads, we’d recommend evaluating your laptop’s built-in webcam (assuming it has one) before shopping for something else. If you do find that its specs aren’t up to snuff, check out our list of favorite webcams for some better options.

Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam
Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam

Optional: Hardware Upgrades

While we do consider a laptop the better option for most college students (largely because of its portability), a reliable desktop computer can be just be as effective and useful. And like laptops, you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money to find a desktop computer that will be suitable for college.

For example, if you already own a desktop, but it’s not quite at the performance level you need, consider a hardware upgrade. Bolstering computer components can be a quick and easy way to enhance overall performance without breaking the bank.

Looking for more speed, better bandwidth, or faster response times? Consider beefing up your computer’s memory. Easy-to-install memory modules, like those from PNY Technologies, can (depending on the model and compatibility) add up to 16GB of internal memory, dramatically improving clock speeds, boot times, and overall performance. Best of all: PNY memory modules cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars less than the price of a new desktop computer, giving them one of the best returns on investment overall.

PNY Technologies 32GB XLR8 Gaming 3200 MHz Desktop Memory Kit
PNY Technologies 32GB XLR8 Gaming 3200 MHz Desktop Memory Kit

Essential: Portable Storage

When prepping for college, it’s easy to remember big tickets items like a new laptop or graphics tablet. However, we sometimes overlook the smaller, simpler items that are equally important. Take, for example, portable storage solutions. While your laptop or graphics tablet might include a certain amount of built-in storage, it’s essential you back up all your important files on a separate drive.

Transcend CFexpress 820 Type B Memory Card

There are a wide range of portable storage that will serve the majority students well, but one type in particular we favor for grads interested in photography, videography, or other areas of content creation are CFexpress memory cards. You’re probably familiar with this new media format, but in case you aren’t, just know that CFexpress cards offer vastly superior speeds over current-generation media, such as XQD or SD. 

There are plenty of choices of CFexpress cards you can choose from, but one lineup we happily endorse comes from ProGrade Digital. They multiple options, but their Gold card is likely going to be the go-to choice for most photographers and videographers—thanks to its promised sustained write speeds of 300 MB/s or greater (600-1000 MB/s for anything smaller than 256GB) and max read speed of up to 1600 MB/s. 

Another option we like is the CFexpress 820 Memory Card from Transcend. Designed to meet the needs of today’s demanding digital equipment, these high-speed memory cards offer maximum read speeds of up to 1700 MB/s and maximum write speeds of up to 1300 MB/s. Now, just to be clear: These memory cards aren’t necessary for all students. But for recent grads who will need to transfer large amounts of data quickly, the Transcend CFexpress 820 memory card is a great option.

There are a wide range of options that will serve students well, but one in particular we favor for grads interested in photography, videography, or other areas of content creation is the from Transcend. Designed to meet the needs of today’s demanding digital equipment, these high-speed memory cards offer maximum read speeds of up to 1700 MB/s and maximum write speeds of up to 1300 MB/s. Now, just to be clear: These memory cards aren’t necessary for all students. But for recent grads who will need to transfer large amounts of data quickly, the Transcend CFexpress 820 memory card is a great option.

Essential: Internet Access

Right now, there is a debate over whether Internet access is so critical to everyday life that it should be categorized as a public utility—similar to water or gas (i.e., something that is essential for modern living). If that’s the case, it should come as no surprise that consistent and reliable access to the Internet is critical. Almost all college campuses offer some kind of Internet access; however, it’s important to evaluate the extent of the access. Take time to research and evaluate the network of the college you or the grad in question will be attending. If it’s not at the necessary level, you might want to consider other networking options, including setting up your own wired or wireless network.

TP-Link Archer A7 AC1750 Wireless Dual-Band Gigabit Router
TP-Link Archer A7 AC1750 Wireless Dual-Band Gigabit Router

Optional: External Monitor

Depending on the size of your laptop and area of study, you might need, or at least benefit, from an external monitor. Again, if you are or you’re shopping for a new grad interested in a graphics intensive field or any kind of content creation, having a specific type of external monitor might be helpful. For instance, if you are working in a field that requires higher levels of color accuracy than your laptop screen can provide, you might want to look at supplemental options. Brands like BenQ and HP (as well as many others) offer great solutions for content creators looking for the highest level of image quality.

Sony BRAVIA XR MASTER Series 55" Class HDR 4K UHD Smart OLED TV

Another, albeit more extreme, route is to use a television as your external monitor. Not as many people opt for this solution, although with the right set, it’s great solution with plenty of added benefits. Say, for example, you’re a recent grad interested in a career making movies. It’s not the craziest idea in the world to consider a cinema-grade set for watching, reviewing, and editing your films. Consider Sony’s BRAVIA series, for example. Sure, a 55” HDR-ready 4K Smart TV might not be what you would expect to see in your average freshman's dorm, but with plenty of simple connectivity options and absolutely breathtaking image quality, you could make the case the BRAVIA is actually one of the best external “monitors” you can buy for a new graduate. 

What other essential computer gear should new grads bring with them to college? Give us your recommendations and reasons why down below, in the Comments section.

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