Don’t Waste Money on a New Computer for College


Heading off to college? Here’s my suggestion: buy a used laptop from Craigslist and install Ubuntu onto it. Seriously. You don’t need a new computer for college. If you’re pursuing a liberal arts degree, you really don’t need a brand new computer just to write all the papers you’ll write. If you’re pursuing an engineering degree, the chances are high that your department’s computer labs are better than anything you can buy for yourself.

The value of computer labs should not be underestimated, even for liberal arts students. In addition to hopefully beefy hardware with properly installed and maintained software, there’s a very important social component to using computer labs. This is not to say that’s just an opportunity to watch lulz videos on YouTube with your pals, of course. The people you meet in your classes and your degree program are kindred souls, and you should get to know some of them. Whether it’s a team project, or help with a tough assignment, or simply making smalltalk, the interactions you can have in the computer lab are an important component of the social college experience, and you should not avoid them by locking yourself in your dorm room to plug away on your fancy new workstation.

That janky old laptop you buy from Craigslist will not be as attractive a target for theft as a brand new computer. If it does get stolen, you won’t be out as much cash. No, it won’t be a speed demon, but what do you seriously plan to do with it? Type some papers, read some emails, Facebook, maybe watch some Internet pornography? It’ll sit unobtrusively on your desk, under a pile of papers, until you need it. Even if the battery doesn’t work, you can still lug it with you to plug in at the library or the coffee shop when you need a change of scenery.

You’re not going to play games on your college laptop. Your roommate, or someone in your hall, will have an Xbox 360. Someone else will have a PS3, and there’s a strong chance that there’ll be a Wii somewhere, too. Make friends with these people and play their games. Save yourself the grief of soda spilled into your own precious gaming console. Save yourself the trouble of kicking people out of your room when they want to play RockBand every night during Finals Week. Take the time to learn a couple new card games, too: Euchre, Golf, whatever. Going old school — you know, without electricity — can be a fun and super portable way to enjoy games and meet new people, too.

You’re also not going to use your used laptop as a media PC to stream movies in your room. Oh sure, you can, but you’ll be watching those things alone: none of your friends are going to want to crowd around your 14″ laptop screen to watch anything. For more social viewing opportunities, rely on those friends with XBox 360s and PS3s and big TVs. You can, however, load up your laptop with MP3s so that you can rock out (with headphones on if you have a roommate) while cranking out that paper on Plato’s Republic.

The used laptop you buy from Craigslist should be used to help you get some schoolwork done, and little else. Ubuntu provides everything you need. OpenOffice can open and save files in Microsoft Word format, so you’ll have no real trouble integrating with most of the campus systems. In the event that your school uses a classroom management system like Blackboard or Desire2Learn, you may have the occasional situation that requires some goofy ActiveX control, or proprietary shim component. See the paragraph above about the computer lab.

Ubuntu will keep you safe from the Wild West that is a dorm network. You can be absolutely sure that a good many of the computers on the dorm network are compromised by malware. There’s also a slim chance that some miscreant in your building fancies himself a hax0r, and will probe and poke at every device he or she can find. Your Ubuntu laptop will not easily become a victim, and it might even become a conversation starter.

  1. Download the latest version of Ubuntu and burn it to a CD.
  2. Search Craigslist for a decent, moderately priced used laptop.
  3. Buy that laptop.
  4. Boot that laptop from your Ubuntu CD and follow the instructions.
  5. Enjoy your college experience.

More TechCrunch

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine