Hi, my name is Bill Finch and I am the Systems Administrator for the department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Ed Hensel, 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 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 Unfortunately, no matter what choice of a system you make, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes outdated.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 Leopard 10.5. Ms Office for the MAC is MS Mac 2008.
If you choose a PC: Most of the systems you can buy today will have the Vista Operating system. I would choose Vista Home or Vista Ultimate. We are also using MS Office 2007.
Vista or XP
We continue to use XP on our department machines due to compatibility issues with our other programs. Any system you purchase now will only be available with Vista. Your programs will still be compatible with the lab software. I would recommend a minimum of 3 Gig of Ram if you purchase Vista.
Laptop or Desktop
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.
CPU’s Single CPU systems are slowly fading from view as companies strive to provide faster, cooler cheaper processors. I would advise the newer Core 2 Duo processor for the latest technology. 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.
Core 2 Duo
The Core 2 Duo, Quad Core and the AMD Phenom are all current CPUs that have dual cores or quad cores in one package. Core 2 Duo is a trademark of Intel that describes a CPU that has 2 cores. To be beneficial, Quad cores need software that will take advantage of the multiple cores. For the average user, Duo cores will be fine. These newer processors from Intel have 64 bit capability but will run either 32 bit or 64 bit applications.
64 Bit vs. 32 bit. 64 bit computers are fast but at this point, a little overkill for most users needs. You really need 64 bit applications that take advantage of the system resources and there are still compatibility issues with 32 bit applications running an a 64 bit system. Standard 32 bit applications will run slower on a 64 bit operating system, (OS). I would recommend 32 bit OS unless there is some specific reason to go with a 64 bit OS.
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 the 3-4 GB of Ram. 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 video memory.
More software is becoming available on DVD's. This is necessary to accommodate for installation of larger data files in more complex programs. In addition, a CD or DVD burner would be very helpful for data storage; music files etc. and I would recommend one. DVD writers also read and write CD images as well and will hold over 7 CD’s worth of data. The newer type DVD’s (dual layer) will be able to hold 14 CD’s worth of data. The newer Blu-ray is the next generation of DVDs. They were developed to read, write and edit High Definition video files. Blu-ray DVD’s can hold up to 25 GB data on a single layer disc or 50 GB on a dual layer disc. At this time, Blu-ray technology is still very expensive and probably not worth the investment at this time.
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.
Many files have become too large for floppies. I believe floppy drives are becoming a device of the past in terms of storage. With the proliferation of other technologies such as USB, networking and wireless, floppies are not really the necessity they once were. Most of the computing labs on campus no longer support floppies.
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 2 GB of memory.
MONITOR 17", 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 17" though 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. I would check it out at a local store before purchasing a wide screen flat panel before I bought one.
Ethernet card, (10/100)
The Institute has a fast internet connection that is provided throughout the campus in the academic and living areas. Road Runner and DSL are available in the area for those away from campus. An Ethernet connection is a must. If you have a laptop, wireless would be a great choice if you plan to carry your laptop around. Wireless technology is available across the campus as well. RIT is just completing the latest wireless upgrade to 802.11n increasing the coverage and signal strength across the campus.
128 MB Ram should be sufficient for most applications and some games. Select 256 MB or 512 MB for games, CAD applications or TV/Video applications. NVIDIA GeForce 7 series or Quadro FX 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 160 GB +
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 DeskJet 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. There are some other types of Microsoft software that we have student licenses for, Visio, Project, and Visual Basic that you will be able to download in the future if they are needed for your course work. Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.
I realize this is a lot to digest, especially if you haven't been looking. There are still a couple of months before classes begin so take a look and get back to me with any questions you may have. Maybe I've missed something that may be important to you. I'd be happy to help out any way I can. Let me know if you have questions or if I can clarify any details.
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/
(Right side of page, under Products – Buying Guidelines)
Rochester Institute of Technology
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Rochester, New York 14623-5604