Hardware is the general term used to describe the physical components of a computer system. The components include:
Processor: The part of the computer that runs the programs or apps you will need.
Storage: The location where you store your work. You can also store information on a flash drive or in the network cloud.
Peripherals: The tools you need to interact with your computer, such as the monitor or screen, keyboard and mouse/ touchpad.
Most computers are referred to as either Windows or Apple. Whilst many companies make computers that use a Windows Operating System (OS), Apple exclusively makes their own computers using a Unix based operating system called ‘Mac OSX’. Linux is another Unix based system, and it has many different versions such as Red Hat and Ubuntu. Linux will run on computers designed for a Windows OS but requires many workarounds and considerable computer expertise to keep maintained.
A desktop computer with one of the mentioned operating systems will prove suitable for your at-home study. There are also computers available in the library and computer labs for on-campus study. You will simply need to use a flash drive or cloud storage to keep your files with you.
If you plan to purchase a new computer, consider a laptop. Laptops are handy because you can study wherever you are. You can use the cloud or a flash drive for backups, but your work will be with you wherever you go.
Your basic computer will require some other components incorporated into its system, including:
To connect your flash drive to the laptop, you will need at least one USB port. If you need to connect peripherals such as a mouse via USB, then having two or more USB ports is desirable. Some laptops have five USB or even more built in to them.
If you have ‘inherited’ an older laptop with few USB ports, just buy an external USB docking gadget.
Wireless networking or Wi-Fi capability
It is reasonable to expect that all modern computers will have the ability to connect to a wireless network. This is the simplest way to connect to the internet when at a university campus; it can also be used to connect to your phone or your home router.
It is also beneficial, though not essential, to have either a HDMI or other video output for connecting a second monitor. For more on this, go to the information on peripherals.
Your computer will have two types of memory. Memory used to process your work, and memory needed to store your programs and files. Memory is measured in terms of Bytes.
The capacity of computer memory is constantly improving. From kilobytes (kB: 1 000) in the 80s we progressed to megabytes (MB: 1 000 000), then gigabytes (GB: 1 000 000 000) and it is now possible to find devices which store terabytes (TB: 1 000 000 000 000).
The peripherals you will need are:
- mouse and
Laptop packages often include all except the printer. Many assignments can be submitted online as Word or PDF files so you may not need a printer at home. The University has public printing available in the library and at other key locations across its campuses. If you choose to buy a printer, be aware that the real cost is in refilling ink cartridges. Often a year’s supply of ink cartridges will cost far more than the actual printer.
A larger screen may be beneficial when working from home with a laptop. Widescreen format LCD screens can easily display two documents at once. Having extra screen space gives you more options to design a virtual workspace that suits you.
Most laptop keyboards are smaller than a full keyboard, which can impact on your forearms if you do concentrated work on it. Consider getting a full-size or ergonomic keyboard and/or mouse to plug into your laptop for long-haul study.
The touchpad on a laptop is adequate for general computing needs. However, a wireless mouse will make navigation easier. Wireless mouse/keyboard combinations are available, and use a dongle that supports both devices.
How you set up your computer work space can seriously affect both your productivity and your health. Our bodies aren’t built to sit for long periods of time, and if you don’t take time to adjust your work space, your body will tell you all about it.
Be aware that most laptop keyboards are smaller than a full keyboard, which can impact on your forearms if you do concentrated work on it. Consider getting a full-size or ergonomic keyboard and/or mouse to plug into your laptop for long-haul study.
Avoid RSI, get some tips on sitting at a computer.
Many of the University’s systems can be accessed through your Android or Apple tablet and phone. However, the small screen size and limited functionality makes this a good back-up system at best. Do not expect to complete your studies on a device of this type.