Requirements and Recommendations

The Upper School "Bring Your Own" laptop program allows families to independently purchase a laptop that is the right fit for their student. Providing more flexibility for our students and families, this individualized approach to computing also empowers students to select the laptop that best suits their needs in and out of the School. This purchase can be made from any store or manufacturer. 

The recommended Apple laptops are:
  • Intermediate: 13" MacBook Air with 8GB RAM
  • Advanced: 13" MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM
For PC we recommend the Business and Ultraportable lines from Lenovo and Dell. 
  • Lenovo - ThinkPad and Yoga models with 13" or higher screens and at least 8GB RAM
  • Dell - Latitude and Precision brands with 13" or higher screens and at least 8GB RAM

The detailed information below is intended to assist you and your family as you select a laptop for your student.

Requirements:

  1. Minimum 11” and Maximum 15” screen size
  2. Capable of connecting to Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s wireless infrastructure (802.11n or better wireless connectivity compatible with WPA2)
  3. Battery life of at least 3 hours (actual runtime with normal usage and WiFi connectivity)
  4. Meets the minimum functionality list for the 21st Century classroom:
    1. Word Processing
    2. Internet Browsing
    3. Reads and Prints Adobe PDFs
    4. Email
    5. Photo and video editing capabilities
  5. A desktop ‘OS’ - Windows 8.1 or 10, Mac OS X
  6. Antivirus Software

Recommendations:

The Operating System (OS):

We highly recommend a laptop that supports a ‘Desktop OS’ – Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or Mac OS X. We do not recommend iOS, Android, Chrome OS (for our Upper School program), or even Windows 8 RT.

We are not strictly against such devices like Android tablets or iPads, but they can require a lot of knowledge from the user to get them to do everything a full OS does, especially when it comes to transferring or storing files, printing, screen sharing, mimicking the functionality of applications we commonly use at the School, and compatibility with web based applications (Google Apps for Education (GAFE), Flash, etc.). The devices are very application-centric and can perform some functions very well but can also be frustrating when you try to get them to do something outside of their common functionality.

Applications:

As with the OS, we require students use software applications already in use by the School and faculty. First and foremost, we use GAFE (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.). GAFE accounts are provided by the School each fall. Additionally and depending on the courses taken, students may also need additional software as directed by their teacher. The Technology Department will assist with the installation of any additional software required for class by a teacher.

The Hardware:

We highly recommend students take into consideration portability and usability when selecting a laptop. The laptop will be carried to and from school on a daily basis and from classroom to classroom throughout the day, so it is important that the laptop is small, light, and durable. However, students will also want a laptop large enough, powerful enough, and runs long enough to be an effective tool.

Screen size:

We require at least a 10” screen and recommend you look for a screen size in the range of 11 inch to 14 inch range. You want the screen to be large enough that is comfortable to read documents, watch videos, browse internet, look at maps, look at photos, or anything else you might do on the laptop. However, you want the screen to be small enough that the laptop remains lightweight and portable, doesn’t take up your entire work area, and also doesn’t create a barrier between you and the rest of the people in the room (instructor) when using it at school. Note: The screen size is typically given in inches that represent the diagonal length of the screen – you should also be aware of the ratio of the screen which is typically either 4:3, 16:9, or 16:10. Some ratios are more suited to certain application (for example – watching a 16:10 video would be most applicable on a 16:10 screen, however, we have no recommendation as to which ratio is best in general.

Battery life:

Students will be permitted to charge their laptops while using them in the classroom. However accessing an outlet is not always convenient or appropriate during class time. Students will want at least five hours on the manufacturer's battery life rating. Battery life degrades (battery life gets shorter) over time and typically the battery needs replacing before the machine does. Additionally, prior to purchase, determine whether the battery is removable (self-replaceable) or whether it requires a service center to replace.

Weight and durability:

Light is better but not at the cost of durability and usage. Smaller screens and keyboards - thinner glass, chassis, and body – using more plastic instead of alloy, as well as smaller batteries will lower the weight of the system but at the cost of durability and usage. Systems that are sized right, durable, and lightweight are typically more expensive. Some manufactures have commercial lines and consumer lines and typically the commercial line is, among other things, more durable. For example, Lenovo has Thinkpads (commercial) versus Idea Pads (consumer) and Acer has Travelmate (commercial) and Aspire (consumer). Panasonic has a line called ‘Toughbooks’ that can be dropped off a building and still be fine. Durability does come with a price so choose the right trade-off for you between durability, weight, size, and cost.

Performance (Processor, graphics, memory and storage):

A common trade-off is the power of the computer (processor, graphics, ram, storage) with the size, battery life, and cost of the laptop. Low-voltage mobile processors are just not as fast as their full size counterparts but require less energy and put out less heat. The same goes for the graphics and resolution the laptop offers, the amount of RAM, and the amount and type of storage – all of which is a trade-off with, size, heat, weight, and battery life.  ARM processors, which are commonly found in phones, iOS, Android, and Windows RT laptops, are not yet powerful enough to run a full OS and should be avoided. Students will need a minimum of 4GB of ram, with 8GB being preferred. Apple laptops cannot be upgraded after purchase so we recommend a minimum of 8GB Ram for all Apple laptops. The Intel Atom line of processors and their AMD counterparts are ‘netbook’ level processors and though they will handle a full OS they are designed for basic applications and browsing functionality and should be avoided as well. Solid State (SSD) storage can definitely increase the speed of the laptop, but at trade-off versus capacity and cost.

WiFi Connectivity:

Students frequently use cloud-based applications, such as GAFE and Haiku, so it is important to look into the laptop’s WiFi connectivity. This a difficult one to pinpoint when purchasing a laptop – the type of wireless card, the number of antennas, as well as the antenna’s strength and placement can all affect the signal range, strength, and speed of your wireless connections. If possible students want ‘802.11ac’ - wireless ‘ac’ is the most current and fastest protocol, and is preferred on the School’s wireless network. Not all laptops support this latest standard so a minimum of 802.11n is required. All recent Apple laptops support ‘ac’, while Windows PCs vary. Pay close attention with cheaper ‘consumer’ PCs (under $500), as the wireless card is one area where manufacturers cut corners and the laptop’s performance on the School network will suffer.

Mobile connectivity - such as, WiMax, 3G, 4G - is not something we recommend. Even though this allows students to connect from just about anywhere, these require students to carry and pay for their own data plan and are typically not as fast as WiFi connections. These also bypass the School’s network’s firewall, so if students do choose to purchase a laptop with a mobile plan they are required to turn off the mobile connection at any time while on campus and use the school’s wireless network.

Additional Recommendations and Considerations:

The right laptop is different for each individual. Some laptops have definite pros and cons for everyone, but some things are based strictly on personal preference and usage. For example, if you like typing notes, the keyboard size, make, and feel may be very important, but if you much prefer handwriting your notes on the laptop then a digitizer pen may be a must-have. Below is a list of additional things to consider when selecting a laptop that is the best fit for students.

The Hardware:

  • Type and Interface:

    • Typically portable laptops come in one of three flavors; the clam-shell notebook, the flat tablet, or a hybrid laptop that converts from one to the other. Choosing which is best for you depends highly on how you prefer to interact with the laptop. The tablets and hybrids are typically touch laptops with options for having keyboard, mouse, and, less often, an active stylus (a digitized pen, very important for drawing and handwriting notes - that is more accurate and usually pressure sensitive than a passive stylus that just mimics the touch of your finger). This option is only available on PCs running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10. Apple does not offer touch capability on their laptops.
  • Ports and connections:

    • USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports – We highly recommend the laptop has at least one USB 2.0 port (3.0 is better but not necessary) – USB is very versatile and with at least one USB port you are able to connect many different laptops to your computer.
    • Video ports (Display ports, HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Thunderbolt) allow you to connect external monitors, projectors, and TVs to your laptop Display, HDMI, and Thunderbolt ports can carry sound as well on the same cable – there are also adapter that can let one type of video port support a different connection like Displayport to HDMI adapter. These ports combined with a USB port make it easy to ‘dock’ your laptop – at home you might have a desk with a large monitor, Keyboard, and mouse so when you get home you can plug your portable laptop in and use it in a more desktop (dual – screen) like way.
    • Audio ports allow you to connect external speakers and/or microphone to you laptop – in a classroom environment where multiple students may be doing an activity that requires sound – being able to plug in headphones is a real plus.
    • Other ports and connections that are nice to have are – Ethernet, card readers, expansion slots, thunderbolt, firewire, Bluetooth, or even NFC – basically the more ports you have the more flexibility you have in connecting your laptop to other laptops (note: USB and thunderbolt ports have the option of using adapters to create other type of ports for your laptop – for example you can connect a VGA monitor to a computer using a VGA to USB adapter but this is not ideal)
  • Speakers, microphones, and cameras:

    • Most laptops these days have built-in speakers and microphones – these are typically not of the best quality. Many laptops have built in cameras as well – a front facing camera would be used for recording yourself or for video conferencing (like Skype or Google Hangout) – rear facing cameras, which often have higher resolution, are designed for shooting video and taking photos directly with the laptop. All of which have possible applications at school.

Recommended Technical Specifications


Feature
Minimum Required
Recommended (if applicable)
Processor
i5 (Windows/Mac)
i7 (Windows/Mac)
Memory
4 GB Windows
8 GB Mac (The Mac is not upgradeable after purchase)
8 GB
Hard disk
250 GB
500 GB or a Solid State
Drive for increased performance
Networking
Windows and Mac: 802.11n
Windows and Mac: 802.11ac
Video RAM
512 MB
2 GB
Operating system
Windows 8.1 Pro, Mac OS 10.10 (Yosemite)
Windows 10, Mac OS 10.11 (El Capitan)
Support & protection
Extended warranty plan provided by the manufacturer/service provider, including accidental damage coverage, for expected life of machine and a laptop bag to protect your computer.
Extended warranty plan provided by the manufacturer/service provider, including accidental damage coverage, for expected life of machine and a laptop bag to protect your computer.
Battery Life
3 hours
5 hour
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