Friday, May 27, 2005

MBA Buying Guide 
Since summer is finally approaching, I thought I would put together a little MBA gadget buying guide, just to throw in my 2 cents on what you do and don't need for your MBA.

Laptops: While many schools have a laptop deal, I think most overestimate your needs while in b-school. Of course, HBS may be different due to the low intensity computer usage. We never run anything more intense than MS Excel, Word, or Outlook. In light of this, I recommend that the budget conscious MBA student purchase a fairly basic laptop instead of the latest and greatest. We paid over $2000 for my IBM T42, but I think Jie's sub-$1000 Dell Inspiron 6000 would work just fine instead. The primary issue is weight, but if you live on campus you should be willing to purchase a laptop weighing up to 7 pounds. Just make sure that you have built-in wireless or a wireless card, as almost every school has a wireless network.

PC Accessories: I have a Brother monochrome laser printer that I really like, since it's fast and fulfills my basic printing needs at a low cost (it ran around $150). I don't see any need to for a color printer, and it would be fairly easy to get by with no printer at all at HBS. I don't have a docking station, which I've never needed, though I do have a portable optical mouse, which is very useful at home.

Digital Camera: Everyone has one, but it's still nice to have your own as well. I would go for size above all else, since you won't carry it to all the balls/parties/games if it's a pain. I'm in love with my new Canon SD400, but I know people who are crazy about their Sony and Nikon ultra-compact models. As for resolution, you can get by for almost all pictures with a 3.2MP camera, but it's probably worth it to go up to 4 or 5MP if you have the cash.

MP3 Player: These things are ubiquitous at b-school, and for good reason. Studying on campus is difficult due to constant interruptions, so it's nice to have a portable music player to be able to concentrate. They're also great for the walk to and from class and while working out. Again, I would recommend something small, like the Ipod mini, Creative Zen Micro, or Rio Carbon. The mini has the best accessories, but the ZM and Rio are compatible with the new subscription based music services, a life saver for people like me without a large music collection.

Laptop cases/backpacks: Longtime readers of my blog may remember that I splurged on a Booq Bags BP3 backpack system last summer. This was a big mistake, as a plain jane backpack with a laptop sleeve would have worked just as well. If I could go back, I wouldn't spring for an expensive bag (Booq, Tumi, Coach, etc.) and would instead get something functional and inexpensive.

Wireless: I want to cover two subjects here, wireless routers and cell phones. 802.11g wireless routers have become really cheap, and it's possible to buy a good model for less than $50. I recommend Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link, in that order. Be sure to configure the WEP or WPA security, though, or you'll have a bunch of free-riders on your network. I like providing wireless access to others, but several times my router filled up and I couldn't get on it. As for cell phones, Jie and I have not regretted our decision to go without a land line. We have a family plan with Cingular wireless with a ridiculous number of minutes for about $80, tax included. I would recommend either Verizon Wireless or Cingular, as they have the most extensive coverage and large customer bases, which is important with free in-network calling.

Feel free to drop a comment if you have questions on any other purchases. Also, if you disagree with my opinion, let me know that too.

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