TECHNOLOGY COLUMN | Xu: Double up on computers for convenience, safety

As college students, our computing needs are often fairly simple. A laptop (either the PC or Mac variety) and perhaps some sort of external hard drive for back-up are usually sufficient. A laptop takes care of everything: we take it to class to take notes, then bring it back to our rooms for some quality Facebooking afterwards. Everything’s in one package, easily accessible and portable.

And so we all follow this seemingly infallible computing arrangement, dragging our 13-, 15-, or 17-inch buddies around to classrooms, libraries, dorm rooms. Our lives are bound to these machines, as if they were very extensions of ourselves. Imagine life at Yale without your laptop for a week. Don’t wince too hard! For most of us, it’d be an unimaginable disaster.

But what if it actually happened? What if your hard drive failed, or your screen broke, or your DVD drive suddenly became no more useful than an expensive toaster? You go to get it fixed, and they tell you it’ll take a week. Your life flashes before your eyes. How will you write that English 120 paper without your computer? How will you find that cute girl in your French class on Facebook without your computer? You can’t. And many people do feel helpless in those few days without their computer.

So why not diversify your computing across more than one machine? Why place all your proverbial eggs in one computing basket? Having more than one computer can protect you from possible technology failure — and we all know how common that is — while also improving your life in more ways than one.

The most cost-effective combination, in my opinion, is a desktop and a netbook. The netbook is lighter than whatever you have now, and most desktops on the market are more powerful and more reliable than whatever you have now. Together, they probably cost about the same as your current laptop. It really is a win-win situation.

Here’s a scenario. In the morning, you grab your three-pound netbook and throw it into your bag with your books and head to class. It’s lightweight, and its batteries last upwards of five hours. In class, you type your notes — and browse Facebook — on a computer that finally fits onto the miniscule surfaces in the lecture hall. The smaller keyboard and screen are pains at first, but you get used to them after a while. At lunch, you decide to work on your upcoming paper. Again, the netbook pulls through by fitting very easily on a very crowded Commons table as you add a few lines to your paper.

Later in the afternoon, you get back to your room and your desktop. Finally free of the power and screen-size confines, you have the power and freedom to work however you want to. However, your netbook has all the files you need. But luckily, you have Dropbox ( Dropbox is a fully-synced folder that can appear across both your netbook and your desktop. When you put files into your netbook Dropbox, they’ll immediately appear on your desktop. Within seconds, you’ve transferred your entire workflow to your desktop.

With this setup, it’s almost as if you have one computer that’s both powerful and portable at the same time. But you’re also protected from accidents. When one of the two fail, the other will be there to make sure your ever-important Facebook access remains uninterrupted.


  • ’12

    Netbooks are also great for going abroad, as many of us do each year. More convenient for travel because they are so small, and less of a tragedy if lost or stolen, as they are quite cheap when compared to a full-size/full-power laptop or desktop.

  • Skeptical ’09

    While I admire the cautionary and helpful spirit, this isn’t feasible for some Yalies.

    I came in freshman year without a laptop. (Try wincing all night for two semesters.) Computer clusters, Pantheon, and USB sticks are a more affordable answer than buying two computers.

    Getdropbox is, again, a good idea – security and privacy issues notwithstanding — but Yale has its own FTP client that is free and secure:

  • Old time ’08 guy

    Or maybe a few sleeves of paper and pencil? Super efficient, and capable of copying some very difficult diagrams quickly. Then again the zoo computers are top notch and very high powered. Especially for facebooking.

  • Michael

    This is a good idea, but you don’t necessarily have to go with the desktop/netbook combo, especially if you’re low on desk space in your room. A laptop and netbook or even two laptops would work as well. Personally, I have the last setup. I have my main laptop, a backup laptop (that I actually got for free!) just in case I ever have problems, and an external HD. Personally, I’ve had difficulties with the netbook keyboards. I know some are better than others, and there are some good ones out there, but for those of us with bigger hands, those tiny keyboards are brutal when you’re trying to keep up with the professor who’s rushing through the end of his lecture because he’s running out of time. The screens also require squinting at times, especially if you have the 8″ variety. I guess it all comes down to one’s own preferences. As long as you have some type of backup computer, whether it’s a netbook, laptop, or desktop, you’re probably good. Even having your files on an external HD and using a computer cluster for a few days would probably be ok.