Different users have different needs, and the features of your computer (like screen and hard drive size) depend on what you want and how you work. Be sure to take your preferences for storage, backup, and connectivity into account when choosing a system.
Different users have different needs, and the features of your computer (like screen and hard drive size) will depend on what you want and how you work. If you are buying a laptop, you may want to consider a larger external monitor and keyboard. In our experience, memory is more important than processor speed. These days, even slower processors are more than fast enough for most purposes.
For storage and backup, the best and safest way to move files around is to copy them over the Stanford network. For removable storage, Residential Computing recommends USB flash drives and rewritable CDs and DVDs. All three hold a lot of data, and are convenient when your computer is not networked. All cluster computers have DVD±RW drives and USB ports. Many students also have small external hard drives as an easy and high-capacity way to backup files, an important task.
For networking, make sure you have built-in Ethernet and/or wireless. The ease of setup, simplicity, and reliability makes built-in interfaces preferable to external third-party cards. If you would like specific package recommendations, see For Students: Resources: Getting started page. As for software, basic applications for Macs and PCs (anti-virus, anti-spyware, online storage, etc.) are freely available to the campus community.