Computer advice for college

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Undead Toaster, May 27, 2015.

  1. Undead Toaster

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 6, 2015
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    I'll be starting college this fall (just finished high school), and need/want a better computer, but I'm not sure what I should be looking for. I'm currently an undeclared engineering major; I'm deciding between electrical and mechanical engineering. I'm willing to pay around $1000 and am looking to get something relatively high-end - I don't plan on gaming, but I do intend to run CAD programs and hopefully audio production stuff as well.

    Would it be better to get a laptop or a desktop? Or both? Or one of those and a tablet? A laptop is nice in that its portable, but hauling $1000 around campus is somewhat worrisome to me and laptops are harder to service and more likely to break than desktops. Would it even be that helpful to have a computer (or tablet) with me in class sometimes? A desktop would be cheaper and more reliable, but then I have to have a monitor and transporting it between school and home (2500 miles) would be a pain and I can't take it anywhere easily, obviously. I'm leaning towards building a desktop, and considering getting a decent laptop or tablet as well (I'd likely wait for a week or two into school to see if more than a desktop would be necessary).

    As far as specs, I'm looking for a quad core Intel i5 or i7, 8+ GB ram, 500+ GB HDD and smaller SSD, and low to mid level gaming graphics card. I suspect I'll be running Windows 7 or 10 most of the time, but will likely dual boot with Linux. Does that seem reasonable?

    Thanks!
     
  2. takao21203

    Distinguished Member

    Apr 28, 2012
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    I'm running a business with a small netbook, the screen by now is broken.

    The plan is to get a Toshiba laptop for 500 or so.

    I dont know why you need 8+ GB. Tablets arent really good quite a pain to use for working, more suitable for SNS and the occasional short email or uploading photos.

    For class a netbook is much better, you can use it for working, but its not as heavy as a laptop.

    Why 500+ GB Hard Drive? Unless you deal with movies it will never fill up not even close.

    So you need a college laptop, but want to do gaming/store movies?

    Think about better specification of requirements.
     
  3. joeyd999

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jun 6, 2011
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    I took a TRS-80 with me to college. About $699 at the time....
     
  4. wayneh

    Expert

    Sep 9, 2010
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    You have a hard choice to make! One thing that helps with any tough decision is more data. Your school may well have some words of advice for you, including what support services they offer, what deals they might have with suppliers, and so on. Be sure to find out what you can.

    My daughter is heading off to grad school and just chose a Dell XPS13, which has been favorably reviewed (in Fortune, I think). She's been a Mac user but is entering an environment where there will be Windows IT support but not Mac, so she had to make the hard choice. It may be a bit beyond your budget, but something to consider.

    Personally, I think the age of the desktop has passed. The "premium" price (including risk of loss, failure, repair, etc.) for a laptop is justified for most people. They're just too darn handy. I have both but hardly ever visit the desktop.

    On the other hand, you could make a good case for a powerful hand-held (iPhone, iPad, etc.) backed up by a desktop for when you need more screen and/or keyboard space. If you're going to have the portable device anyway – whether you get a laptop or a desktop – this can be a cost-effective solution.

    Whatever you choose, don't forget a backup system, for instance a 3Tb drive at home that you use religiously to keep your data backed up. There are online solutions, too. It's <$100 and you're plain nuts to overlook it.
     
  5. Undead Toaster

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 6, 2015
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    takao:
    Autodesk recommends 12 GB of RAM for running Inventor 2015. I figured 500 GB to be safe (and I'd be surprised to see a HDD smaller than that on any modern mid to high end computers without SSDs), and for lossless audio and an SSD for general speed, especially in booting. I could certainly get by with less though and a tablet probably isn't worth it (probably more expensive than a decent refurbished netbook, too). I guess I wouldn't even need a dedicated graphics card... And if I built a desktop I could always add one.

    wayneh:
    The XPS13 may be a decent option. I've always tried to stay away from Dell, but that may not be justified. I'd certainly want a separate keyboard and monitor though for in my dorm. I've never done much with mobile computing (my laptop seldom leaves my room and I've only had a smartphone for a few months), so a desktop seems pretty natural, but the laptop may be worth it for the flexibility. I'd still want an external monitor/keyboard/mouse in my dorm though... I'm leaning away from a ultra-portable device now, but that is indeed something to consider. And shockingly enough, a backup system is something I was indeed overlooking. I will certainly invest in one.

    Thanks guys.
     
    JohnInTX likes this.
  6. atferrari

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 6, 2004
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    Twice in life I was arrogant or just lazy loosing full data from MANY months of my work and corresponding administration.

    Now no more. Automated backup and really redundant. ensure a realistic time of the day.
     
  7. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    If you're considering a portable AND a desktop, you might want to do what I did. Buy an inexpensive motherboard and enclosure and load Linux on it (pain in the neck, but it's free and you have other advantages) Use it for your backup machine, and you can install a web server for working over the network (internet) A decent laptop with Windows should be sufficient to run CAD stuff. I run my business with a mid-level Dell laptop, and have CAD software running on it.

    Of course, you can use cloud storage for backup too.
     
  8. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    I did homework on a Coco.
     
  9. tracecom

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 16, 2010
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    If you decide on two machines, look into a Chromebook with a solid state drive for the portable unit. It's not a Windows machine, but it's light weight, inexpensive, has long battery life, a reasonable keyboard, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, boots in seconds, and apparently needs no anti-virus software. I have an Acer Chromebook, which I carry with me when I am going to be away from my desktop Windows machine; it suits my needs very well. (I also use it with headphones to watch Netflix or similar while my wife watches Nancy Grace on the TV.)
     
  10. Sonoran Desert Tortoise

    Member

    Oct 30, 2014
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    @Undead Toaster

    You will want a laptop. Buy a durable one.
    Nobody wants to be your partner on team projects if you will not have your computer with you. Many, many many engineering projects are done in teams. You will be a misfit without a laptop.

    Also, get the 16 Gb if you can afford it but 8 Gb with a small SSD partition works well. Very fast swaps if you get to that point. Often do with 3D rendering.

    Don't get bigger than 15" screen, spend extra on an external monitor or plug into an external monitor at the computer lab if you need more. A big laptop (17") is a tank and doesn't fit on the desk.

    I5 or i7 is the right choice. Don't go non-intel. Nothing but problems on the CAD software with the student license.
     
  11. Undead Toaster

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 6, 2015
    7
    1
    ^ I had not thought about that, but that makes a lot of sense. Thanks. I'll probably go with the laptop then. I'm currently looking at a refurbished 15.6 inch Lenovo Y50 with 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD and i7. Would it be wise to get a HDD as well (if there's space...)? As far as backups go, I'll probably just use a several TB external HDD. A Linux server is something to consider but probably more hassle than it's worth at this point.
     
  12. tjohnson

    Active Member

    Dec 23, 2014
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    I'm also starting college this fall, and am looking into buying a laptop. I found that Staples has a Toshiba on sale this week: http://www.staples.com/Toshiba-Satellite-156-inch-Laptop-C55D-B5203/product_1680126

    It has sufficient specs and is quite affordable (especially since I would get a $50 discount as a college student), but I haven't been able to find any ratings of it apart from the two reviews on Staples' website. Do you think this laptop would be a good buy?
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
  13. wayneh

    Expert

    Sep 9, 2010
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    I'd look harder. I'm not at all bashing Toshiba or Staples, just suggesting you cast a wider net. See what you can get from Lenovo or Dell, using their online tools. If you can take your time, get on a promotions e-mail list and wait for a discount from Dell. They are known to offer one-day deals and such that can save serious money if you're patient. See if your college has any preferred suppliers offering discounts.

    You may want to see what your college supports. It used to be that you could take for granted that a Mac would be scorned by the IT guys, but that might has reversed in some places. You don't want to be the only Toshiba in a sea of MacBooks.
     
  14. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    You must be younger than I am. I did homework on a teletype machine in the school library. :D
     
  15. tjohnson

    Active Member

    Dec 23, 2014
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    Thanks for the advice. I contacted one of my professors, and found out that I actually won't need a laptop capable of running design software, since I can use both the lab computers and my desktop PC for that. So I think I'll probably just buy a Chromebook to take notes with.
     
  16. JoeJester

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 26, 2005
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    My last desktop was retired in 1996. Since then it's been laptops. The processor, memory, and hard drive you chose depends on what you will be doing. You can make backups of your important data on a 32 GB SD modules.

    My wife hurt her knee about a decade ago and I let her use one of my older laptops during her recovery. She upgraded to a better laptop when she recovered and gave her desktop to a friend.

    Your school will have the specifications of the computer that would satisfy your course needs.

    Once you go to a laptop, it's unlikely that you would return to the desktop world ... unless of course, you rededicated it for another purpose.
     
  17. justtrying

    Active Member

    Mar 9, 2011
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    I did very well with an Acer. Dell would be better but was more money. I was able to run CAD and other software on it no problems. Had to replace screen once as i closed it on a pen at 3 am when studying for a midterm
     
    GopherT likes this.
  18. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    Yeah, that's why I stick with desktop computers, Lappies break too easily. That and the little finger pad that pretends to replace a mouse. I just can't seem to make friends with them. :mad:
     
  19. joeyd999

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jun 6, 2011
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    I run multiple 24" monitors on both my desktops. That'd be a neat trick on a lappy.
     
  20. wayneh

    Expert

    Sep 9, 2010
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    And I'm reading your post while sitting outside on my front porch with the morning coffee. Not gonna move my desktop outside!
     
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