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Notebook Computer Recommendations

General Recommendations

Intended use

What do you plan to use your notebook for? There are two basic styles of notebooks: smaller, more portable models (including the "ultraportable" models, or netbooks); and bigger heavier ones. The smaller ones usually sacrifice screen size, keyboard size and performance for a smaller physical package. Bigger notebooks tend to improve on these qualities at the expense of bulk and weight.

If you want to use your notebook for taking notes in class, and expect to be mobile (that is, in a lot of different places often), the smaller format models are the way to go. If you primarily use it in one place such as your office, or you need to run very high end programs or simulations, the bigger models are the best choice.

Screen size

Common sizes are 12”, 14”, 15” and 17”. The 12” and 14” screens are usually seen in the small ultraportable category of notebooks. The 14” and 15” are the mid-size options, and by far the most common. 17” screens are great to look at, but are only found in the really large notebooks.

Upgrading the screen to the ultra-high resolution options should be considered with caution, as these ultra-high resolutions can make reading text every day very hard on the eyes. Usually the base model resolution is more then enough.

Processor (aka CPU)

Common processor choices are the Intel i3/i5/i7 series and AMD variants. The AMD variants are somewhat cheaper, while the Intel processors give improved battery life. Also, the Intel processors tend to perform the best in notebooks. Generally the Intel processors are the best choice when factoring in the combination of price, performance, and battery life.

Unless you are running many engineering programs or simulations for extended periods, higher clock speed processors are not as important. Additionally, the Quad Core processors are unnecessary unless your programs are specifically designed to use such a processor.

Memory (aka RAM)

Four gigabytes (GB) is the bare minimum; 8 gigabytes is more realistic. More than that is usually a waste of money unless you are running high-end programs or very high powered simulations.

Hard Drive (aka Storage)

Practically any hard drive in a modern notebook will be big enough for common usage. Bigger isn't a bad idea, especially if you plan to store a lot of music or movies on the system. Mechanical (spinning) hard drives are more cost effective while the more expensive solid state drives (SSD) can improve performance dramatically.

Video Card

Some high-end notebooks will offer Nvidia and AMD upgrade options for the video card, though these are not required except in very special cases.

Extras

Consider what you will be connecting to your laptop and what kind of connectors are required.

Operating System

For Apple laptops, ENS does not recommend upgrading to the latest OS X until it is well-vetted. We recommend waiting two to three months before upgrading.

Note that computers purchased on CSU accounts are eligible to receive Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office
at no additional cost. Personal computers purchased by Engineering students and faculty may be
eligible to receive Windows at no cost through the Microsoft Imagine program.

 
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This document last modified Monday January 25, 2016


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