Off the bat, I usually recommend the 11" MacBook Air and undoubtedly the first thing I get back is "but they are so expensive". I figured I would look at the numbers and see how it would pan out. The comparison is against an HP machine which is the cheapest I found in OfficeMax.
There's also the question of iPad (w/ bluetooth keyboard) vs full laptop. I believe students still benefit from a full laptop (I'm thinking about writing those 40 page papers and gamers). I'm willing to be proven wrong, though.
Here's what I came up with:
|Feature||MacBook Air 11"||PC|
|Price||$899 (typically there's a 10% discount for students)||$399|
|Weight||2.38 pounds||5.5 pounds|
|Anti-Virus (2)||Not needed||$159.96 (you have to renew virus license every year)|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Dual Core||1.6 GHz Dual Core|
|Storage||64 GB (flash drive; up to 2x-4x faster)||500 GB|
|Backup||$0 (Time Machine included)||$80 (typically $20 / year)|
|OS Upgrade (3)||$29 (at least the last 2)||$119 (at least that's what it was for Win 7 Home Premium)|
|Battery Life||Up to 5 hours (30 day standby)||Up to 5 hours|
|Screen Resolution||1366 x 768 (up to 2560 x 1600 w/external monitor)||1366 x 768|
(1) You could save by using the free versions of Office like Symphony or OpenOffice . I'm assuming students will need a word processor ($19.99 for Pages), spreadsheets ($19.99 for Numbers), and presentations ($19.99 for Keynote). If students only need a word processor, Pages is enough and it's ~ 1/8 the price of MS Office)
(2) Some colleges have a site license for anti-virus. Used Symantec Anti-Virus at $39.99 / yr. Update 3/Aug/2011: Apparently, Microsoft has a free solution for anti-virus. Not sure how good it is or how it compares to the paid ones.
So the Mac is costing you about $80 more over a 4 year period. Yet, it's about 2 pounds lighter and it's up to 2x faster. Personally, I would recommend the 13" MacBook Air which would come up to about $1258 over 4 years (vs $907.91 for a PC). The 13" MacBook Air gives you 7 hours of battery, it's still under 3 pounds, a 128GB SSD of storage, and has a faster processor at 1.7 GHz.
(3) I'm assuming that in 4 years Apple will release another update to their OS and Microsoft will release one as well.
Of course, cost is not the only consideration. Some tools will only run on a Windows environment so it might be good to ask current students in the prospective major what they are using.
There you have it. Hope this helps.