Hi, my name is Bill Finch and I am the Systems Administrator for the department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Risa Robinson, the Department Head of Mechanical Engineering asked if I would post an article for prospective students or parents that would like some general information on a computer purchase.
The department does not require a student to have a computer. It is however a general recommendation for the convenience and availability of having one’s own system. All of the software you, your son or daughter will encounter in our program will be available for use on the department computers found in the labs. Most of the applications are licensed to the department and will not be available for the student to use on their personal computer. This has to do with licensing and the prohibitive costs of purchasing single user applications of these programs. There are other computer labs situated throughout the campus that are available for every student to use as well.
In general, the computers available today will be able to run the types of software that most students use. e.g.; MS Office, Internet Explorer, sound and video files, CD/DVD burning software, etc. Unfortunately, no matter what choice of a system you make, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes outdated. My recommendation to other purchasers in the past has been to look at a system that is the top of the line with all the bells and whistles. Then, drop back one or two versions. The thinking is that usually, the fastest CPU, video card and memory are not worth the extra money you will be spending for the amount of performance that you will gain from them.
MAC or PC
Whatever you are most comfortable with. The Microsoft programs are compatible so that won’t be an issue for homework assignments. This is really a personal preference.
If you choose a MAC: Mac’s now come with Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8. MS Office for the MAC is Office Mac 2011.
If you choose a PC: Windows 8 is the latest operating System. If you are purchasing a laptop or desktop, you may want to consider Windows 7 or wait for Windows 8.1 which will bring back some of the elements of Windows 7 that users have become accustomed to. Although MS Office is now up to Version MS Office 2013, we are still using MS Office 2010 until the Institute upgrades as a whole.
Laptop, Desktop or Netbook
Laptops are great for portability and will run many of today’s computer applications. There is great coverage on campus for wireless networking. Laptops are more likely to “disappear”. If you choose a laptop, remember that the bigger the screen, the more the unit will weigh. Desktops give you more power for the money. They generally have a faster CPU, and are capable of more internal devices. They are also more upgradeable. It is really a personal choice and what a user is more comfortable with. Netbooks are one of the latest entries in the portable computing market. They are very light, easily portable and inexpensive but at a cost of performance. If all you want or need is something to browse the internet, create documents and spreadsheets, or give presentations, these will suffice. The labs are always available if you need more horsepower.
CPU’s Single CPU systems are slowly fading from view as companies strive to provide faster, cooler cheaper processors. I would advise the newer i Series processor. Faster is generally better. Following my earlier advice, look at the fastest CPU speed and drop back one or two steps. Many students have purchased systems with both INTEL and AMD CPU’s. The AMD processors are generally cheaper and the performance is comparable to the INTEL chip.
Dual Core/Quad Core More cores are faster. Affordability is the question.
64 Bit vs. 32 bit. If you want a more robust system, make sure it has 64 Bit capability. If you purchase a 64 bit system, make sure you have a minimum of 4 Gig Ram.
AMD vs. INTEL These companies are the big CPU developers. Generally, systems with AMD processors are a little cheaper due to competitive pricing. However, either of these processors would be fine for your system.
Today’s operating systems and applications need more memory than ever. I would not get a system with less than 4 GB of Ram. 6-8 Gigs is better if you can afford it. You generally can save money and installation costs if you purchase extra memory when you order your system. Remember, most laptops use “shared” video memory. The amount of memory the video card is setup to use will be subtracted from the system memory. This is something to keep in mind if you are a big time game player and are purchasing a laptop. Look for a laptop video card with dedicated or (discreet) video memory for higher resolution and graphics speed if you need it.
Blu- ray is the latest technology but probably overkill for most users. The hardware and media is still a bit pricey. You can still burn regular DVD’s with Blu-Ray technology but only a Blu-Ray disc can be read in a Blu-Ray device. Any DVD-RW drive will be more than sufficient.
External Hard Disk
I would recommend a USB Jump or Flash drive, (or 2) for file transfer (See below), and maybe an external hard disk for backups.
USB Flash or Jump drives
These are the small devices that connect to a USB port on the computer. They can hold from a few megabytes up gigabytes of data. They will work on almost any computer that has a USB connector. I would recommend one with at least 16 GB of memory.
MONITOR 19", 20”, 22”+
A flat panel is great if you have the money. It's a real space saver and the resolution is crisp. I would recommend a minimum of 19”. Monitors are nicer and are much cheaper than they used to be. Many companies now have flat panel/wide screen monitors. It’s really a personal choice
Ethernet card, (10/100)
The RIT campus now has total wireless coverage. (802.11n) backwards compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g
For desktop systems, 100(megabit)/1000(gigabit) card would be best.
Most discrete video cards today have 1GB ram. This should be more than sufficient for most applications and some games. Select an upgradeable card for games, CAD applications or TV/Video applications. NVIDIA GeForce series or ATI Radeon HD series are good choices.
Many laptops have shared memory. They actually use some of the system RAM for video memory. You can usually select the amount of memory from with the system BIOS. Laptops that have video cards with dedicated video memory (memory actually on the video card itself and not shared) are usually more expensive but are more robust for games, videos and high end applications.
Hard Disk 500GB +
Plenty of storage space and drives are cheap now. You will notice a difference in performance between a 5400 rpm compared to a 7200 rpm drive.
There are plenty of black and white printers on campus and we have a color laser available for our students. However an inexpensive Desk Jet might be advisable for those quick print jobs or to print pictures or papers of a personal nature.
Besides MS Office, any special applications you learn will be installed on the department lab computers. The Mechanical Engineering Department also subscribes to a Microsoft web site that allows free downloads for certain applications such as Visio, Project and Visual Basic products. NO Office applications are downloadable though. Use your RIT computer account and password to login. http://mechengmsdnaa.rit.edu/
Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns. I have a student worker that is very knowledgeable. His name is Alex and you may also contact him for advice, issues or problems. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I realize this is a lot to digest, especially if you haven't been looking. Maybe I've missed something that may be important to you. I'd be happy to help out any way I can.
You can find other helpful information at the RIT ITS (Information and Technology Services) web site, http://www.rit.edu/its/
Or buying guide information at http://www.rit.edu/its/services/