Office of Information Technology

Recommendations for Buying a New Computer


A majority of faculty and staff use computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system and Microsoft Office applications; however some academic programs emphasize Apple Mac computers. A majority of students utilize Macs as well.

Most information today is shared in file formats that are platform-independent, so there are very few issues that prevent students and faculty using different operating systems from sharing files.

Consult your school, college, or department to find out their requirements and recommendations, if you are unsure whether a Windows or Mac computer will best meet your academic or administrative needs. We will be happy to support you with either decision.

IMPORTANT: AU has negotiated special prices on certain computer configurations for personal purchase. Links to all the vendor sites are available from the myau.american.edu portal on the TECHNOLOGY page under the GENERAL LINKS list. Academic pricing on Apple computers is also available through AU's Apple store.

Any computer bought new during the last few years will probably have enough processing capacity and memory to provide a satisfactory computing experience for most needs, but the specifications outlined in the Related Links section of this page provide useful benchmarks for comparison to the computer you may already own, or one you may buy.


General Tips

Here are a few items to consider when buying a new computer for use on AU's network:

  • If you know you have specialized needs, such as video editing or doing large numerical calculations, you will likely have more substantial hardware requirements than those outlined.
  • Plan for a three to four year life cycle for computer purchases – not because the computer will wear out, but because the changing and increasing demands of applications will often outstrip its capacity. Your need to upgrade will likely be influenced by what software you use.
  • Buying a little behind the technology curve usually gets you the most for your money. Last semester's high-end computer processor will be almost as fast as today's latest and greatest, but will cost significantly less.
  • Laptop computers are recommended for both space and mobility considerations.
  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 are all currently supported by OIT; however, it is important to note that Microsoft will be ending support for Windows XP in April of 2014, so those machines will no longer be supported by OIT or allowed onto the network after that date.
  • An external or built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless network card is required to access AU's wireless network.
  • The single best enhancement that can be made for any system is an increase in the amount of random access memory (RAM) installed, if funds permit.
  • Obtain a three-year on-site warranty repair plan covering parts and labor as part of your purchase, since AU is not able to provide hardware repair assistance for personally-owned computers.

Useful Review Sites

www.cnet.com is one of many web sites to visit for reviews of computers and accessories. If there is a particular model about which you are interested in reading, you might try entering the make and model with the word "review," into a search engine like www.google.com.


How to Get Help

For help with any software-related problem, contact the IT Help Desk at 202-885-2550, helpdesk@american.edu, or AskAmericanUHelp. For assistance with hardware problems and operating system issues, contact the computer manufacturer if the computer is not owned by the university.