Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



Back to School: The Evolving Computer

Get back to the basics with our Foolish back-to-school special! Start your journey here.

When I headed off to college, first-person shooter games and the famously illegal Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS  ) file-swapping service were both hitting the big time. For all their fun, they also carried drawbacks: One was against the law, the other took a big bite out of study time, and both required serious computational horsepower.

This meant that I wanted to head off to school not with just any computer, but with a brand new juiced-up computer. (OK, I was also a little bit of a geek.) At the time, my options included such familiar names as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Gateway (NYSE: GTW  ) , but also legacy names like Compaq, which later became part of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) ; IBM, which sold its PC business to Lenovo; and Packard Bell. The latter's still out there, but does anyone actually own a Packard Bell?

I ended up with a top-of-the-line PC made by Micron (NYSE: MU  ) , whose computer division is now part of MPC (AMEX: MPZ  ) . It had a processor measured in megahertz (Mhz), a hard drive that barely entered gigabyte territory, and it had to be hooked up to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to be useful at all.

Eight years later, my younger brother's just heading off to start college, but his need for a robust computer is no less important. Instead of Napster, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes now keeps students' hard drives far more filled than mine ever was. Meanwhile, video games are also bigger and badder than ever; digital photography is consuming ever more hard drive space and processor power; and who could possibly bear to have their computer slow down even a little bit while updating that all-important Facebook profile?

Notebooks are now increasingly popular on campus, and today's models could easily run circles around my hulking freshman-year desktop. It's also far more common, and far more important, for students to have their own computer, rather than relying on campus computing centers.

The evolution of the college computer has been a mixed blessing for the companies selling them. Though the market has expanded by leaps and bounds, prices have been squeezed, and margins are far slimmer than when I plunked down a few thousand for my Micron.

The landscape has also changed. Though Dell and HP (thanks to Compaq) are the industry's two major players, Apple's sleek designs and iPod-assisted cool factor have put it back in competition as well. Foreign rivals are also much tougher; Lenovo has major presence thanks to its IBM acquisition, Acer just bought Gateway, and Sony, Toshiba, and Fujitsu are also snagging U.S. sales.

Despite all this change, however, one thing remains very much the same about computers on campus: their vulnerability to spilled bee -- uh, I mean, soda.

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 536220, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 10/28/2016 6:46:08 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated 9 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,169.68 -29.65 -0.16%
S&P 500 2,133.04 -6.39 -0.30%
NASD 5,215.97 -34.29 -0.65%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

10/27/2016 4:00 PM
AAPL $114.48 Down -1.11 -0.96%
Apple CAPS Rating: ****
DELL.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Dell CAPS Rating: *
HPQ $13.99 Up +0.08 +0.58%
HP CAPS Rating: ***
MU $17.53 Down -0.11 -0.62%
Micron Technology CAPS Rating: ***
NAPS $2.64 Down +0.00 +0.00%