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Computer Purchasing FAQs

Should I bring a personal computer to Calvin?

Although Calvin does not require that students purchase a computer, having a personal computer is a great convenience. Computers and the Internet have become an important tool in our everyday lives, and this certainly holds true at Calvin College. As a Calvin student, you do have access to our computer labs and our state-of-the-art campus data network; however, many students enjoy the benefits of owning a computer.

Convenience - Most of Calvin's faculty currently use online material to enhance their classroom teaching. Students who have a personal computer connected to the Internet have unlimited access to these academic resources. Although Calvin does provide over 600 computers across campus for student use, occasionally there is greater demand for computers than the resources available.

Access - Students with personal computers can use them whenever they need, at any time of the day. Students with computers can use Calvin's high-speed Internet and network service, both wired and wireless.

Study Habits - Students have differing study habits. Some do their best work in a quiet environment while others can be productive surrounded by people. If a student owns a computer, especially a laptop, he/she has more control over the environment in which he/she chooses to work in.

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Does Calvin require that students own a computer?

No. Students can choose not to bring a personal computer to Calvin, opting instead to make use of the public computers available. There are computers available in each dorm, the library, and many public labs throughout the academic buildings. There are also InfoXpress stations for web access in many public areas.

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Can I bring a computer I already own?

Many students bring computers from home, and in most cases, these computers are adequate. A computer system that meets the minimum standards should provide an acceptable level of performance. For general purpose computing (e.g., word processing, e-mail, and Internet access) an older computer may be adequate. However, some students may have additional needs that warrant using a computer beyond these minimums. Keep in mind, an older computer may not be useful in a year or two and the operating system may not be supported.

If your computer system does not meet or exceed the published minimum standards, we recommend that you upgrade your current computer system or purchase a new one. The Calvin Information Technology (CIT) HelpDesk does not offer technical support for wireless or wired access on computers that do not meet our minimum standards.

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If I decide to purchase a new computer, what should I buy?

Memory (RAM) - The amount of memory installed in your computer is one of the biggest factors in its performance. The more memory you have, the faster your software will run. With more memory, you can run more applications at once and it is easier to switch between them. Adding additional memory is relatively inexpensive.
For preferred and minimum requirements, see Hardware/Software Requirements

    • If you intend to add more RAM later, make sure to purchase a computer that allows for more memory to be added.
    • Make sure that your computer has enough RAM to power the operating system, applications, and antivirus program you are using.
    • While RAM can sometimes help speed up a computer, if the processor is not sufficient additional RAM may not help.

Hard Disk Space - New computer systems commonly come with hard drives that hold 100 GB (gigabytes) or more. Some systems allow you to add more disk space later.

Operating System - New computer systems typically come with the operating systems (e.g. Windows 8) pre-installed. If possible, students should bring the original operating system CDs with them to Calvin in the event that the operating system needs to be reinstalled.
Minimum Requirements for HelpDesk support

Networking (wired) -To connect to Calvin's wired (ResNet) service, you need a network card and a category 5 or 6 ethernet cable (not a phone cable). You can obtain Ethernet cables of varying lengths from the Campus Store.

Networking (wireless) - To connect to Calvin's wireless network, you need an internal or USB wireless card that supports WPA2 Enterprise encryption and is AES compatible. It must have 802.11g or 802.11n capability (802.11a only supported in some areas and 802.11b no longer supported).

Printer - Calvin provides laser printing services in all public access computing labs including the dorms and apartments. Each student receives a built-in print quota of $30 every semester.  Print jobs are automatically charged against this quota.  If you exceed the quota, the additional charges will appear on your Miscellaneous Charges bill (you will not be denied printing if you have exceeded the quota).  We have a web interface called Paper Cut which allows students to login from any computer including your personal computer and send print jobs to a public printer.  You can print to public printers by logging into lab computers or you can use Paper Cut to submit print jobs directly from your personal computer using WebPrint.

You may choose to bring your own personal printer. However, personal wireless printers will not work on wireless. This is because most printers do not come with the configuration options necessary to access our secured wireless networks. If you have a wireless printer, you may be able to use a USB A-to-B cable to connect the printer directly to your computer.

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Should I get a desktop or a laptop?

In the end, the decision as to whether to purchase a desktop or laptop computer is one of personal preference. Some things to consider:

eduroam - Calvin's wireless network is available in most areas around campus, including all dorms and apartments, classrooms, Hekman Library, Johnny's, the Fish House and the DeVos Forum. For a current list of hotspots, visit our wireless page.

Portability - With a laptop, you can take your computer anywhere, especially if you like to take notes during class, need to work in a quiet location, want to work in a group, or want to use the laptop for a presentation.

Security - Because laptops are portable, they are easier to steal. We recommend you purchase a security cable and lock system.

Cost - Laptop computers tend to cost more than desktops for the same amount of computing power.

Size - You might want to take into consideration the size of your computer. Desktop computers have the tendency to occupy a lot of space. Some monitors may stand from 17-20 inches high. The dimensions of a desk in the residence halls are as follows:

length = 36 inches
width = 22.5 inches
space between the desktop surface and first shelf = 15 inches

Repair and Upgrade - Laptops cost more to repair as spare parts are more expensive.

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Should I get a Mac or a PC?

It's really a matter of personal preference. CIT supports both as far as assisting with access to wireless and wired internet access, recommendations for free antivirus programs, and offering student computer support services. 

If you do not have a personal preference, it is best to consider the programs you are interested in studying and whether not these programs/departments have their own recommendations for which type of computer to buy. Also consider any sales or special promotions like student discounts that might be offered.

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Where should I buy a computer?

You can purchase your computer system in a retail store or via the Internet. The clarity of the monitor or the comfort of the keyboard may be important factors to consider in making your purchase, and testing is only available at a retail outlet. Purchasing a computer through a national retailer or major manufacturer may make getting repairs and/or upgrades easier.

You may want to start by looking through the online catalogues of those companies that offer Calvin students special discounts.

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What about an extended warranty?

You should consider purchasing an extended warranty, or at very least an accidental protection plan. Warranties can be on-site, depot (mail back), or carry-in. The Calvin HelpDesk does not provide hardware repair services. Depot or carry-in service will leave you without your computer while repairs are performed. On-site means the warranty provider will come to you.

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Should I get my computer insured?

You may want to consider getting your computer insured by including a "special rider" on your parent's home owners insurance policy. This may cover accidental damage such as liquid spilling on your laptop or the computer being dropped/broken that normal computer warranties do not cover.

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What support does Calvin College offer for personally-owned computers?

The CIT HelpDesk provides support for connecting and registering personally-owned computers on the wired and wireless networks.

We also offer limited computer diagnostic services. Bring your computer down to the HelpDesk if you are having any trouble with your computer. We will try our best to fix your computer, but if it involves failing hardware or Operating System reinstallation, we offer recommendations and service shops in the Grand Rapids area that will help you out. Please read over the Hardware/Software Requirements website for a full list of system requirements.

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What software should I have on my computer?

The following software packages are widely used at Calvin College:

Virus Protection - It is very important to use and maintain antivirus software. Maintenance of your antivirus software includes regularly updating your antivirus definitions. You do not have to purchase additional antivirus coverage as Calvin Information Technology does offer recommendations for free antivirus programs. If your new computer comes with a trial version, you do not need to purchase a license for that program; you can download one of the our free recommended programs. Do not install more than one antivirus program as running more than one antivirus program can slow down the computer and cause problems.

Office Productivity - The standard suite of office productivity software at Calvin is Microsoft Office suite, which includes word processing (Word), spreadsheet (Excel), and presentation software (PowerPoint). Calvin lab and classroom computer have Microsoft Office installed. Active Calvin students are able to download the Microsoft Office for free through the Office 365 Student Advantage program.
You also have Google Docs available to you as part of your StudentMail Google account. You can use Google Docs as free office productivity software, but remember to save any documents in Office format before submitting to a professor.

Web Browser - In order to access Calvin's Web resources, you need a Web browser and Internet access. The browsers currently used on Calvin's campus are Microsoft Internet Explorer (PC), Mozilla Firefox (PC and Mac), Google Chrome (PC and Mac), and Safari (Mac). You may also need to install browser plug-ins such as Adobe Acrobat or Flash. Internet browsers and all the listed plug-ins are available free online.

Email - Your Calvin email is accessible from any standard Web browser at mail.students.calvin.edu. No additional software is necessary though you may use third party email clients to connect to your StudentMail. Please refer to the instructions provided by Gmail.

Academic Software - CIT does not provide any software to students. Some of the software applications used in classes may be available for you to purchase from the Campus Store. If you are a Computer Science, Engineering, or Information Systems major you may have access to Microsoft software through the DreamSpark program (contact the Computer Science department for details).

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Do I need to buy additional peripherals or storage?

We do not require you to purchase anything related to technology, but we recommend an external hard drive for storing your personal files. If you experience problems with your computer, the HelpDesk may be able to recover files from the hard drive but will require an external hard drive on which to store the recovered files.

You may purchase either a portable or desktop hard drive. Portable drives are smaller and flatter, with only one cable to connect to the computer that also works as a power cable. Desktop drives are usually larger and need to be plugged into an electrical socket. Either should cost under $100, although the price changes according to size. External hard drives are often available in the Campus Store.

As a Calvin student, you will have 2GB of personal network drive space which can be accessed using any Calvin computer. Since we run daily backups of these network drives, we recommend saving important files to the Novell Netstorage web client, which allows you to download and upload files to your network drive from any computer. Files saved to this space can be restored in the event of hardware failure or accidental deletion.

As a Calvin student, you have access to Google Drive cloud storage, where you can store documents and files and can be accessed from any computer. These files are stored on Google's servers.

We also recommend that you purchase a lock for securing your computer in your dorm room or when using the Library or study facilities.

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Are there discounts available to students?

Calvin is part of the Dell Education Purchase Program (EPP) that gives Calvin employees and students discounts for Dell purchases. You may shop online at the Apple Store for Education and click on the Education discounts for discounts on Apple products including iPods. HP offers the HP Academy program which includes educational discounts on certain products.

The Calvin Campus Store also sells some hardware, operating systems, and external storage devices. You can purchase this from the Campus Store when you arrive at the beginning of the school year or when you are visiting for PASSPORT.

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What about wireless access points?

The attachment of any wireless access point or router to the Calvin network is a violation of Calvin's Policy on Responsible Use of Technology. If you would like to connect your computer via wireless, please connect to eduroam. Note: Some devices may act as a wireless access point and violate Calvin's policies.

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