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It’s my favorite time of year.
That one magical, mystical time when lazy summer days evolve from sunshine and giggles to the early autumn days filled with smells of pencils being sharpened and new clothes ready for the wearing.
It’s back to school season!
As a mother of young kids, I will miss them terribly when they are at school, but I also know that they will be learning so much and having fun and new interactions with their new teachers and classes. But because I’m also a college student, for me it means a few more blissful weeks until my classes start – plenty of time to buy oodles of office supplies because in this fantastic time of year when the supplies I adore are plentiful!
I really love office supplies. Sometimes I think part of the reason I went back to school was to have legitimate reasons to buy more office supplies. The only thing I love more than office supplies is tech gear which makes sense given my major.
I’m working on a degree in Cyber Security and Information Assurance. Sounds fun, right? It totally is – very interesting and intriguing. I started in this degree after having worked as a technician for almost a decade. I like doing things in interesting orders, as you can tell.
Back to School Technology
My interest in computers started very early thanks to my father who is also interested in computers and works in the field. My first introduction to the world of tech support didn’t start right away, though – I didn’t start helping other people until high school.
I attended a residential public high school (shout out to Indiana Academy!) back in the days when we used ancient technology like hubs and zip drives. In those days, we also didn’t have a tech support service to call at all hours. Or maybe other people know of a person to call, but I simply enjoyed finding my way through? We may never know.
When my friends who lived on the same floor needed help, I was happy to pitch in. Using computers was fun and exciting, and I had learned quite a bit about it from my dad, so there was no downside for me. For my friends, having printers work from their rooms was super sweet (especially after curfew when you HAD to have a paper done, long live procrastinators).
In my experience, there’s always one person in any crowd that seems to repel technology. No matter how well configured a setup may be, there is one person (like my friend Kate) who is able to merely sit near the technology and sparks start flying, smoke emitting, and then nothing works ever again. That might be a slight exaggeration, but still…
These days, I also have children who really want to learn how to use a computer well, but are still dangerous enough to make repairs long and tiresome.
However, there is a solution that I use for my schoolwork that will also help other students – and parents – to make their computers less likely to be crashed by the tech repellent, curious kid fingers, and even weird software you may have to download for classes: creating virtual machines.
By setting up virtual machines on your computer, you will be able to get the most out of your classes while still being able to have fun. And by have fun, I mean play games, because despite what my father used to say, computers ARE for playing games. And also for doing work/education stuff, but let’s be real – totally for playing games.
My Back to School Computer – HP Pavilion 15-au010wm
This year I am very excited to be heading back to school with an amazing computer – it’s an all-new HP Pavilion from Walmart that has a ton of features like the fantastic audio experience (courtesy of dual speakers, HP audio boost, and B&O PLAY tuning), lightweight stylish frame, and seriously packed specs in this affordable computer, including:
– 6th generation Intel Core i7-6500U Processor
– 12 GB DDR4 SDRAM
– 1 TB hard drive
– NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics card with 2 GB DDR3 dedicated video memory
– Wide Vision HD Webcam with integrated dual array digital microphones
– Backlit keyboard (vital for studying/gaming at night!)
– HP Fast Charge and a battery life up to 7 hours
Playing games, chatting to my sister in Arizona via Google Hangout, and listening to music have been amazing on this computer – and it’s the perfect back to school computer for families, gamers, and college students.
These computers are all new and can be found at Walmart:
Why set up virtual machines on computers?
1. “You gotta keep ’em separated” – The Offspring
Virtualization is a hot commodity these days – there are many benefits to using virtual computers, but for me the foremost reason is always to keep the suspicious or dangerous without access to the important bits of the computer. In my case, suspicious and dangerous applies to schoolwork that I need to complete, as well as children or other people who want to use the computer but don’t necessarily have the best track record with technology. As an online student, I cannot afford to have my computer blow up in a poof of smoke. So we make them their own little virtual computer that they can use – and they’ll likely not be able to tell the difference.
2. “Distractions always get you down” – The Bangles
I also like to use virtualization to keep myself focused – I know when I log into my school computer that I’m supposed to be working on school work and nothing else. This helps me to limit my distractions, game playing, and random surfing so that I can pay attention to the ebooks, websites, research, etc that I’m supposed to be doing for class. True, by now I should have more discipline than that, but that particular adult skill may not have kicked in yet. I prefer to play games on PC than on console, and you won’t see the same game play quality (video, network, etc) if you set up the game in the virtual machine. So let’s put the school stuff over there. Plus, it’s easy to backup your school stuff if you just have an image of your machine with everything school related on it. Save it to a disk and you can take it with you anywhere.
3. “Set up my options” – Barenaked Ladies
Not crashing is another big perk of using virtual machines. In my classes, I have several new pieces of software that I have to use for various assignments. I also have to use various operating systems so that I’m familiar with a variety of systems. That may not be the case for everyone, but usually kids will have specific websites or software that they need to use for school – and not having that run wild on your computer, possibly compromising it or crashing it because it may or may not work with your current configuration, operating system, software, etc you can create a separate virtual machine and test the software BEFORE putting it in your regular system. This is how companies test software and updates before rolling it out live to all of their hundreds of computers – so why not try it at home too?
There are more reasons and more ways to use virtualization, but these are the top reasons for me during back to school season. So let’s look at how we can get the serious, work-type school stuff set up and then have fun playing games.
Tutorial: How to set up your computer to get the most out of your classes while still having fun
- Verify that your computer meets the requirements. In this tutorial, I chose to use VirtualBox to set up the virtual machine. You can use VMWare, VirtualBox, or Windows 10 Hyper-V, among others.Minimum requirements:
– A processor that is reasonably powerful
– As much RAM as the operating system you want to install on the machine requires (look it up first!)
– Plenty of hard disk space – even though the software to create and run virtual machines doesn’t take up much room, your virtual machines will be huge files.
– An operating system that will run your chosen virtualization software
– An operating system to install on your virtual computer (don’t forget this part!)
- Once you have verified that you have what is required, you can start by installing the virtualization software on your computer. This is pretty straightforward – download and install the software. Other than choosing where you want it to install, there’s usually not many more decisions to make but, of course, that depends on which software you’re using.
- Verify that you have virtualization turned ON in the BIOS. If you’re using Windows 10, you can press the Windows button, choose Settings, and then choose Update and Security. From that screen, you’ll select Recovery, then Restart Now under Advanced Options. It will restart and allow you to pick Troubleshoot, then Advanced Options. There you’ll choose to Select UEFI Firmware Settings. When you click restart, the system will restart and enter the BIOS. The virtualization option will be in the processor settings, which depend on the processor in your computer. Once you have it enabled, save and exit.
- Now that your virtual computer manager is installed and virtualization is turned on, you’ll be able to create your virtual machine! Here’s the opening screen for VirtualBox. I typically use either VirtualBox or VMWare when creating virtual machines. To set up a new machine, press the New button.
- The Guided Mode of creating a virtual machine is the default that opens. If you’re already familiar with how to set up virtual machines or want to do the advanced settings, you would choose “Expert Mode”. From Expert Mode, you can return to Guided Mode. In the first screen, you’re going to create a name for your virtual machine and specify which Operating System you will install (you don’t select the installer yet, but you do need to know where your installer file is located).For school purposes, I like to use Edubuntu – it’s “the free education oriented operating system for kids of all ages” (edubuntu.org). You can choose settings for preschool, elementary school, high school, and college to configure the machine to the level of the user.
- The next step is to choose the memory size that you will use with your virtual machine. If you’re installing Windows, you’ll definitely want 2 GB or more. The amount of memory you need to assign depends on the needs of your operating system – that’s why we verified in our prep work what the spec were for the OS. For Edubuntu, 512 MB RAM is required, but 1 GB is recommended.
- Next, we will choose the settings for the hard disk for the virtual machine. This is where the files for virtual computers start taking up room – as you can see, the recommended size here is 8 GB. First, we need to decide if we’re creating a virtual hard disk now, using an existing virtual hard disk file, or not adding one at all.
- Next we choose the hard disk file type – for this setup, we’ll be using the VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image).
- When setting up the storage on the physical hard disk for the hard disk of the virtual machine, we can either set a maximum file size and allow it to only take up space as needed – up to the maximum size, or we can allocate the entire allowed amount at set up. I use the dynamically allocated option.
- Now we choose the file location and size for the virtual hard disk – you want to make sure that the drive you’re choosing for a location has enough room. For Edubuntu, we’ll need at least 8.6 GB.
- Once we’ve gone through the setup in VirtualBox Manager, the machine is now available
- Now while we have the machine selected, we will push the start button to get it started. This is where we will choose the installer file for the operating system, as we are preparing to launch our virtual machine. Choose the folder beside the dropdown box to navigate to the location in which you have the operating system installer file.
- If you receive an error when you try to boot the machine about needing pae enabled, you’ll find that in Settings > System > Processor tab > then check the “Enable PAE/NX” button.
- The virtual machine will boot, and you will need to go through the installation setup options per your operating system.
- Once the installation has completed for your operating system, you’ll have your computer set up with the school (and/or kid) section separate, and you’ll be able to have fun on your computer and get back to gaming! Your next step now is to save the virtual machine so that you have a clean image if anything bad should happen to it. What if you accidentally configure some wild changes that make the machine crash? No worries – you can save your virtual machine right after setup is complete, then always have a clean backup ready to go!
For your listening pleasure, I’ve also put together a Spotify playlist of songs that I’ve enjoyed on the HP Pavilion Notebook from Walmart – the audio is seriously SO good on this machine!