Student Laptop Purchasing Recommendations♯
Buying a new computer can be a daunting task. There are multiple models from multiple vendors with hundreds of options to choose from, and the price can go up quickly once faster processors, larger hard drives, and other add-ons are chosen. We've compiled our recommendations below. If you've found a model you'd like to puchase, but would like to run it past us first, feel free to contact us with the specs and any questions you might have.
Intel and AMD both make excellent processors that are fully capable of supporting demanding workloads. If opting for Intel chips, make sure you're getting a Core I5, I7, or I9 processor. Some laptop models listed as mobile workstations may offer server-grade Intel Xeon chips. If the laptop you're looking at has AMD processors, look for a Ryzen 5 or better (7, 9, or Threadripper). While you can save money picking a processor that's 1-3 years old, we recommend newer processors that have been released in the past year for better performance and battery life.
You can get by with 8GB of RAM, but 16GB (or more) is recommended. While you may not notice the difference while browsing the internet and editing documents, once you start jumping back and forth between CAD, finite-element analysis, or other computationally intensive engineering applications, the extra memory will make a huge difference in the system's responsiveness.
You should look for systems with a solid-state drive (SSD) that uses an NVMe or PCIe interface (as opposed to the older and slower SATA interface). These may be listed is Class 40 (or higher) SSDs by some vendors. We recommend at least a 250GB SSD. If you're planning on running macOS or Linux and will need to run Windows virtually, you should opt for at least 500GB. If you're concerned about running out of disk space, a 1TB SSD should give you more than enough room to grow. Aside from an external backup drive, there are no circumstances where we recommend a spinning hard drive as the system drive.
Most engineering software will benefit from having a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU). This will usually be listed as NVIDIA GTX/RTX or AMD Radeon GPU in the laptop specs. For newer laptops, even integrated Intel UHD graphics are good enough to run most graphically-intensive software acceptably.
Touch Screens / 2-in-1 Flip-Around Laptops♯
Years ago, laptops with touchscreens were gimmicky and of questionable utility, usually causing more issues than they solved. Since then, touchscreens have evolved a great deal and are actually useful, allowing precise control using a stylus or your finger. A 2-in-1 laptop allows you to use your laptop as a laptop when you prefer, or to flip the screen around to use it as a tablet. Some people find this ideal for jotting down notes in class instead of typing or for annotating and reviewing documents.
We don't recommend specific brands over others, but we always recommend going with a business class laptop over a model meant for home use. Business lines tend to be more durable and have higher build qualities. The list below is not exhaustive, but should give an idea of the models we have had positive experiences with.
|Dell||Latitude, XPS, Precision Mobile, or Alienware|
|Lenovo||Think T, X, or P series|
|HP||ProBook, EliteBook, or Z series|
|Microsoft||Surface Pro or Surface Laptop|
|Apple||MacBook Pro or MacBook Air|
We recommend purchasing at least a 3-year warranty that includes on-site service with coverage against accidental damage. This usually adds roughly 10-20% to the cost of the laptop.
Most manufacturers include mail-in warranty service (also called depot service) meaning that you will be without a laptop while you mail your broken laptop in for repairs. On-site service means that they will schedule a time (usually next business day) with a technician to come to you to service the laptop at home, residence hall, or other space on campus of your choosing.
The COE CTS team is unable to perform hardware repairs on student-owned laptops, but can offer basic troubleshooting assistance to point you in the right direction.
Many brands offer outlet or refurbished systems at discounted prices, including Apple, Dell, and Lenovo. If you're comfortable purchasing a refurbished system, the warranties offered are typically the same as are offered on brand new systems and give full coverage from your date of purchase. We have purchased many outlet systems in the past with no difference in failure rates compared to systems purchased new.
Choosing an Operating System♯
Windows, MacOS, or Linux♯
While we would love to be able to say "it doesn't matter," the reality is that in the world of engineering software, access to a Windows environment is (almost always) necessary. However, this doesn't mean you can't buy a Mac or run Linux. All of our Engineering academic programs have access to Windows virtual desktops loaded with the software necessary to complete the coursework and assignments.
For some licensed software, physical or virtual computer labs are the only way the software licenses allow us to make it available. For many other software packages, student licenses are available to allow you to install the software on your computer. If you want to be able to run engineering software directly on your computer, then Windows will be the easiest way to do this. If you're running MacOS or Linux, you'll have to run Windows virtually to accomplish this task.
Andriod, ChromeOS, iOS, or iPadOS♯
While tablets are certainly useful devices for consuming content and entertainment, there is still too wide of a gap in capabilities between tablet operating systems and their desktop/laptop counterparts. While that gap is shrinking with each passing year, we still aren't at the point we could recommend a tablet as a student's primary computing device.
Likewise, Chromebooks have made large strides in K-12 education as being good enough to support educational needs while being cheap enough to purchase for entire schools, but they are not capable of running most engineering software required by our curricula.
Both types of devices can be used to access engineering software provided by our virtual computer labs, so in theory, it's possible to get by using one.