When I started my first website and online presence to teach TOEFL iBT in 2010, I started with the computer I had brought with me to Turkey: a teeny-tiny Gateway netbook. The keyboard was really cramped and the screen was about 10 inches.
I had never been the type of person who looked at the “specs” (specifications) for any computer I ever bought. In fact, the most important consideration I had in buying computers back in those days was, “Will the computer make me tired if I lug it around? How light is the battery pack?”
Hence my Gateway netbook with the 10″ screen. When I bought it, I never could have guessed that I would learn how to code the most amateur html website ever, and build not one but two websites, and teach up to 4 hours a day in Skype lessons. Although my Barbie-sized netbook did get me started, I quickly realized I was physically suffering from its limitation and I upgraded.
I helped one of my teacher friends upgrade, too. She took me shopping because she wanted me to interpret the weird tech jargon and just pick one for her. As we sat drinking coffee, post-purchase, I asked her how she felt about her new tech beast. Holding the bag, she said, “It feels like freedom.”
Once you reach a certain point as an online teacher, your computer really is your freedom. It becomes everything.
Over the years, I’ve logged in excess of 20,000 hours of teaching online lessons in Skype and Zoom — not to mention the website design, graphics and video editing projects. From all that, I have become highly sensitive to what specifications make a good computer and I wanted to share that with you.
For the record, refurbished computers are fine. I saved money by buying refurbished computers off eBay more than once. Just make sure you’re buying from a vendor who has a very high percentage of positive reviews.
Processor. The processor speed matters. It’s like how much caffeine is buzzing through your computer’s brain. Faster is better. I currently have an Intel core i7 processor, but I’ve also had an i5 processor.
RAM. This is like the short-term memory of your computer. Especially if you like having lots of programs and tabs open simultaneously, then a higher number of RAM is better because your computer can multi-task better. I currently have 8 GB of RAM. I used to have 4 GB in a desktop and after I upgraded, I could really tell a difference.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) vs. Solid State Drive (SSD). Your computer needs long-term memory and storage as well, so you have the choice between HDD and SSD. You can do loads of research on this and geek out, but basically, HDD has some moveable parts and that ultimately makes it less reliable than an SSD. If you can afford it, splurge on an SSD.
Webcam and Audio. The built-in devices for the webcam’s or microphone’s quality really does not factor into my decision. As I talked about in a video blog here, these should be external devices that you buy separately.
USB Ports. l used to be concerned about how many USB ports I had. After all, when I’m plugging in my webcam, an external wireless mouse and keyboard, and a microphone, I need a lot of ports. Then I learned about “USB hubs” that let me plug in even more devices. Problem solved!
Especially if you’re plugging in external devices, you would probably be fine with any desktop or laptop that has…
- Processor: i5 or faster
- RAM: 8GB or more
- Drive: SSD, 240 GB or more
What I’m Using:
PC, Dell Latitude 6340u (This is what I’ve been teaching and working on since January 2015 and I’m very happy with it.)