In Step One, we explored what to order and how to get the best deal for college students on the best laptop computer for must users, Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro. Step Two took us through recommended software options.  Step Three explored my recommendations for accessorizing MacBooks, any other Macs, as well as student computers in general, and the room in which it will live. Step Four discussed the most important, yet most overlooked essential of life with computers today – data backup and protection against catastrophic data loss.

Into the home stretch, Step Five is much of what’s left in the tech arena for the dorm or student room that has not been covered.

Power management and prevention of power-related disasters

Surge Protector Strip – This is NOT an extension cord with extra outlets. This is a piece or essential equipment if ever there was one.  It not only acts as a multi-outlet device, it has electronics built in that protect against voltage surges that could and would otherwise damage connected equipment.   Not all surge protectors are the same.  I’ve done the research for you.  This year I am again recommending the Tripp-Lite TLP810NET, with eight outlets, three of which are on one side and separated to allow easy plug-in of those big power “bricks” without interference.

With all the equipment students have today, they need the outlets.  By the way, do not plug a refrigerator or microwave oven into the same strip with a computer. Let’s see, now, they’ve got the computer to power and plug in, a printer, iPod, perhaps a radio, mobile phone, cordless phone, TV, and more.

The innards of this surge protector strip can protect against electrical problems that come from the wall socket AND the device is also equipped to protect from electrical surges through phone, Ethernet and cable TV hookups.  There are connections for all three, in and out, on this strip.  Even the plug is smart, with a space-saving right angle design.  There’s a 15-amp breaker that will trip if the strip is overloaded as well as lights to let the user know all is OK or not, such as if the strip has taken a hit, protecting what is plugged in yet no longer is protecting the equipment because it has sacrificed itself in the process.  The lifetime warranty takes care of its replacement. And if anything is damaged that is properly plugged in, their insurance policy will kick in to repair or replace it up to $250,000!  (Read warranty for details). The best price I’ve found this year is from Amazon at only $32.91 including free shipping.  You may wish to consider getting extras to use at home and in the office at this price and with the free shipping! If you find a better deal, take it. Get this one!

Powered USB hub

Most laptops have two or three USB ports.  Let’s fill them!  There may be a mouse to connect.  Even on a laptop, some students prefer to use a mouse.  In addition, there may be a digital camera or media card reader, a Webcam, printer, phone (using USB for charging or file transfer) an iPod and maybe more.

Instead of plugging and unplugging USB devices to allow access to the required number of USB connections, it’s best to just get a powered USB hub.  I’ve bought, trust and recommend the 7-port High Speed USB 2.0 D-Link DUB-H7, which retails for as much as $40. I can tell you that I own a couple of these and they perform flawlessly, just as they should.  There are cheaper ones on the market, but I know and trust D-Link AND this one does not have bright and obnoxious lights on it that would disturb students in cramped dorm surrounding.  Find your best price at Amazon.

Get your student a printer!

It is unlikely your student needs a color printer.  The need to print in color for any project to turn in is much less likely than the need to print in black text.  So, why spend the money for a color printer? It makes no sense and cost lots of money for the ink, not to mention the inconvenience of having to buy it and change cartridges often.  The solution I have implemented for our own children and the suggestion I have studied and maintained for many years is that the best bet is an inexpensive laser black & white printer, also known as a mono printer.  What I recommend is dirt cheap, works for years and years and costs bubkis to run and maintain.

 

Brother makes the best at this end of the business, hands down. Sorry HP, Samsung and the rest.  Really. I’ve studied this. Trust me.  These work equally well with Windows computers as well as Macs.

The HL-2140, commonly found online for much less than $100.  Don’t be afraid of a factory refurb, either.  Shop online for your best price. The next step is that, when the time comes to replace the toner cartridge, there is a choice of refilling it, a very easy and inexpensive and not messy thing to do for anyone handy with a screwdriver.  Shop Amazon.com.

Brother would like you to buy a new toner cartridge every time the printer needs it, which won’t be that often for any student.  However, I know that the cartridges are easily refilled through the convenient end plug or cap on every Brother cartridge.  Toner refills are available via eBay for as little as $10 each including shipping!  I’ve done this for years without a problem on several Brother printers.  You just cannot beat this price and performance.  Get at least 2,500 pages per toner fill on this model printer with its specific cartridge.  After the second refill, buy a complete remanufactured toner cartridge, full of toner and start the process over again – twice refill, then replace.  Notice how many pages will be printed, however, and compare to the least expensive inkjet printer total cost of ownership.  Just do the math and trust that this is the most inexpensive and highest performance way to go, all at the same time.

The printer is fast, at up to 23 pages per minute and it just keeps on cranking them out.  Get inkjet and you will spend hundreds of dollars more, yes HUNDREDS of dollars more.

 

For home office, small office and home environments where students and the entire family many users may be able to share just one printer wirelessly, consider the Brother HL5370DW.  Placed anywhere convenient to a power outlet, this speedy workhorse prints at up to a blazing 32 pages per minute and can print internally on BOTH SIDES OF THE PAPER!  This is called duplex printing.  In addition, it is equipped with built-in USB, wired Ethernet networking AND wireless networking.  What does this mean?  It means that where there is a wireless Internet connection, such as in a home or small office, this printer can join the network and stay on it.  From then on, any local computer, PC or Mac, wired or wirelessly connected to the network can print to this printer as if it is hard wired to each computer!  It also means that, at the same time, it could be USB connected to a specific computer or it can also be Ethernet connected to the network. It’s totally flexible in the way it is connected.  Again, put it anywhere convenient to all the users, even in a closet, so long as there is power and wireless Internet signal available. It has an astonishingly low retail cost of $250, but it is not uncommon to find it online with careful shopping for less as I just did.  I found it lowest priced at Amazon.com for about $160, including shipping!  It’s a bit more than twice the typical cost of the HL-2140, but it’s faster and better in all ways, and ideal for shared use.  Even at its suggest retail price, it’s still a bargain, considering the expected longevity of such an item.

In addition, the optional high-yield toner cartridge on this model prints up to an amazing 8,000 pages before needing to be refilled.  How long would it take you and your family to go through 8,000 pages?  That’s nearly two cases of paper, 5,000 sheets, 10 reams to a case.  That’s a lot of paper in a home, home office or many small offices.  And, of course, there is the same refillability to the toner cartridge.  It may be initially difficult to find availability of refill kits for this new cartridge but they should soon be around, likely long before the need for the first refill!  Even if replacing it with a compatible toner cartridge instead of refilling the first time, you will still be money ahead.  Having a high speed shared, duplex printer is fabulous. I’ve got one and everyone takes it for granted.  That’s just the way it should be. I don’t even think about the cost of printing it is so inexpensive and of such high quality.

Contrast this with our inkjet printers. Every 400 pages or so, it needs at least a black cartridge, which costs either $10 for the Kodak printer or $15 or more for our Canon. And the cost of the color ink is much more. I have nothing against the color printers. They are great when we need color printing, which is rare, but relatively speaking, I’d be nuts to use one of these for routine, day-to-day printing instead of the Brother mono laser.

Think about it, won’t you?

TV on the MacBook saves space in cramped dorm rooms

Get a TV and DVD player for the dorm?  Dorms have either cable TV connectors or they rely on over-the-air TV using an antenna.  Here are possibilities that may eliminate the TV and DVD player, yet supply excellent pictures that are viewed on the MacBook (or any computer) screen. 

The best current solution is EyeTV Hybrid with EyeTV 3 software from Elgato.  I use this on my desktop Mac Pro and it is a remarkable product, truly like cable TV with simple DVR on my Mac. Watch the demo and you’ll buy this powerful and easy-to-use software! It’s the best and only solution I can recommend at this time for Mac users.  Only about $130 at Amazon.com with two years TV Guide Data

Desktop Lighting 

 

Lighting is so very important.  It should be natural spectrum light producing no flicker that can fatigue the user.  A simple desk lamp that meets the needs of students and others is the $80 Verilux Original Natural Spectrum Deluxe Desk Lamp.  Equipped with a long-lasting 27-watt bulb, this product takes up little desktop space yet provides loads of useful illumination.  Available in pink, graphite and ivory.

Fans

Room and desk fans are indispensible in many dorm rooms.  An easy breeze without much noise can be very pleasing while working at the desk.  In addition, a small fan aimed at the student while in bed can also be pleasing on warm days and nights.  These from Vornado are all excellent choices for the cramped quarters of most dorm environments.

Flippi V6 is a $25 2-speed personal air circulator that projects a quiet beam of air toward the user. These are ideal to rest on a desk aimed in the direction of the student in bed within a distance of about 20 feet.  NOT battery operated.  See the other models in the Flippi line, too.  In raspberry, raindrop and passion colors.  Check prices at Amazon.

Smaller still is the $20 Zippi, a personal fan that sits on the desk and directs air at the user at very close range, yet is quiet and safe.  The “blades” are cloth and cannot injure fingers placed in their path.  NOT battery operated.  They’re cute, too, available in black, yellow, green and orange.  Check prices at Amazon.

Calling on the cheap

Is there a high school or college student without a mobile phone?  Sure, somewhere.  And we parents love those phone bills, don’t we.  There may be an easy way to allow for a lower monthly mobile phone bill with a touch of creativity and a whole lot of horse sense.  Here are some that WILL save money.

The easiest way to communicate for FREE with voice as well as video is using the built-in iChat client on all Macs.  This software can use the ubiquitous AOL Instant Messenger to do the chatting between Macs and Windows PCs.

 Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro for Mac

    Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 for Windows

If a computer does not have a built-in Webcam, get the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro for Mac, $130 retail but shop online for best price, including this Amazon link, or the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 for Windows PCs, $100 retail but shop for best price as above including this Amazon link. There are many really inexpensive webcams, some for as little as $25.  None I’ve seen in this low range are good in low light nor do they have good audio. Their video’s not so hot either.  I’d rather recommend these that I know will satisfy over the long haul than send you to buy relative junk.

Another FREE method for calling between broadband connected computers anywhere is with a service called Skype.  Sign up and load the software on a Mac or Windows PC.  Calls between computers, even with video, are FREE.  It’s not as convenient as phoning in the conventional way, but it is FREE.

These methods dictate some coordination between the parties because both computers have to be on and connected and with the Skype or other chatting client launched and ready to go.

Neither method allows for FREE calling between a computer and a real phone with a real phone number.

The cheapest way to do this is with the new magicJack.  Buy it for only $40, which includes a full YEAR of calling to ANY US or Canada phone, a real phone.  magicJack is a USB device that connects to the USB port on ANY speedy, modern Mac or Windows PC.  Plug in your own corded or cordless phone.  I like magicJack and see great potential here.  Read my review HERE.

T-Mobile customers will like their new T-Mobile @Home service.  Here’s the skinny.  For $10 per month on top of many T-Mobile mobile phone plans, subscribers can sign up for this service that provides unlimited nationwide calling.   It operates transparently, just like your regular phone. T-Mobile ships a wireless router and can supply a cordless system to connect to it if users do not have one.   The hardware connects to your existing broadband service.  In the package will be a card, similar to a mobile phone SIM card that gets inserted in a slot on the device sent by T-Mobile.  Set-up was easy.  Their device either replaces your existing broadband wireless router or it can connect to one of your router’s Ethernet ports. Users’ current landline can be ported over to their T-Mobile @Home service so they can keep their existing phone number. The only hitch is that users must be a T-Mobile subscriber to be eligible for the service. I’ve tested it and it works flawlessly, so long as broadband is up and running. It comes with the same array of services one would demand or expect; voicemail, call waiting, CallerID, etc.  Any down side?  None that I experienced.  The hardware cost is $50 and the service requires a two-year commitment. It’s worth a look.

Better computer speakers 

Looking for better sound for a desktop or laptop computer?  I am impressed with the Companion® 2 Series II multimedia speaker system from Bose.  Currently $90), these little wonders are pure magic.  Small in size, big on clear, wonderful sound for music and video. With connectors for another input, such as iPod and a headphone jack on the front, they’re about the best I’ve heard for anywhere near the money.  Shop Amazon. Just get them

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