Advice on Macbook configuration for an engineering student.

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by gtanner00, May 26, 2014.

  1. gtanner00 macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Hi everybody. I posted a similar thread on another forum about a month ago but now I have actually been to the computer stores about 3 times to see the machines in person. I will preface this message with a few things about me and my expected usage.

    I am starting my first year of engineering in the fall and have decided that as a non-gamer, portability ranks much higher than performance. Now before you immediately say "engineering, you need the fastest quad core workstation you can get with dual graphics, and 16Gb of RAM" (I have heard that many times before ) let me tell you a not more about my realistic usage goals.

    The University I am attending (UCalgary) has very robust and well funded engineering faculty. Therefore there is a lot of technology equipment and computer labs available to students which would certainly oit class a laptop. At the same time, many of the lecture halls are not renovated to include student power outlets. Hence the need for extended battery use and portability.

    From what I have been told, it sounds like I need a computer capable of light AutoCAD and MATLAB work if I would like to work on projects while staying in residence. (Calgary can get very cold in the winter :( )

    I understand that for professional CAD work you definitely need a full workstation however what are the requirements of light work for a student? From what I can tell, the software will run on any machine just much faster on some.

    I am fixed on getting a 13" display. If that means I need to buy a used monitor or something then so be it. I like the retina display however I'm sure if I bought the MBA I wouldn't notice the difference without the two side by side

    By the way, I am brand new to Mac but I thought it would be fun to learn both OSX (which seems more power efficient) as well as Windows 8 in parallels or boot camp.

    Now my main question is what would someone recommend to me?
    The 13" Macbook pro 2.4Ghz, 8 RAM, 256 SSD -$1449 (this was my primary choice)


    The Macbook Air with i7,8 RAM, and 255 Gb SSD -$1479

    I was first thinking about the Pro since I realized the base Macbook air wouldn't be enough. Now I am not so sure when I compare benchmarks of the MBP to the i7 MBA given that the better gpu in the pro is used to drive the retina display thus making it almost equal to the HD5000 for running programs.

    I also realize that Windows ultrabooks while driving 1080p displays, while using even less powerful HD4400 graphics.

    At this point I would like to know if the performance gain on the Pro is too little to justify the higher power consumption or am I truly missing something here after reading almost every major internet review of the two machines

    I am really looking for real world experiences here.
  2. mixxy macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2011
    Congratulations on the start to your Engineering future.

    After reading your usage details and understanding what is important to you, i would recommend that you opt for the 13.3 inch Macbook Pro.

    You need something portable, and capable. Although an Air would be capable of what you need to do, purchasing a macbook isnt their cheapest thing around and I'm sure you want this laptop to last your through your undergrad.

    If you go for the Air, you will likely manage all your need with ease, but when it comes to some taxing jobs it could prove to be a little underpowered. More than that, I personally would go for the higher resolution display on the MBP 13. The processor is more capable as well and the ability to expand and connect additional peripherals is a great option for connecting more than one external monitor for doing CAD and Schematics work.

    Although you will have labs at school with very capable equipment, it is a good idea to have a mobile system that you can rely on if the need comes. I believe the difference in price between the Air and the Pro is slight, but the benefits are great.

    If you are budget conscious, you could opt for a refurbished 13 MBP and save a few $$$.

    Remember that you also save with the student discount!
  3. AndyK macrumors 65816


    Jan 10, 2008
    Definatly the 13" rMBP. If you can afford it you could bump the ram to 16gb, it might come in useful for you, but that's a personal thing, I don't know much about the software you're using.

    You'll find the Air under powered for what you're doing for sure.
  4. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Thanks Mixxy for confirmibg NY previous thoughts. The prices I quited were already with the education discount. It seems the refurb store win save me much more and there availability in some if the more popular models is usually lacking especially this time of year.

    By the way, my city doesn't have an apple store, however there is one right around the corner from the university.

    If I choose I buy here in town at Best buy which I would prefer because of the ability to quickly return a faulty computer, would the Apple store honor the 1 year manufacturer's warranty at their own stores or would I have to go through best buy in Calgary? (Much further away from the school)

    I would definitely plan to buy apple care after the year is up but I wanted to know how the service works during the first year.
  5. mixxy macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2011
    Im in Toronto so I cant particularly speak for the Best Buy USA return process 100% but I know that from my own research BB did seem like a better option in terms of NEW macbook retina pricing.

    As for returns, yes you are correct, you could do this with relative ease if a BestBuy is close by. Regardless of where you purchase your macbook, if it is brand new and you have a proof of purchase, you will have a 1 yr warranty on the system.
  6. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    I am moving in Kelowna BC and moving to Calgary Alberta. So the return is 1
    The same 14 days of apples online except I don't have to ship it back to apple if I buy from a store that will match education pricing.
  7. mixxy macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2011
    Makes sense. In that case, I would buy direct from Apple.

    I personally dont see an upside of buying from Best Buy. The biggest reason I wouldnt buy from best buy right now is that June 2nd may bring a spec bump for the MBPr and if so, apple will swap out your laptop if it was purchased within 30 days (i believe this is true based on the words of a manager from my local apple store but ymmv).
  8. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    You are probably right about a new model not being added to best buy's stock for a while. I definitely won't be buying until at least June 20 so I will wait and see what happens between now and then. Who knows maybe apple will start there back to school promotion (gift cards) by then.

    By the way. I apologize for the horrendous typing errors that I don't bother to correct on my phone :)
  9. mixxy macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2011
    =) All good! Its great what the human mind can substitute in when reading. I didnt notice the errors to be honest. Anywho, good luck with the future choices.

    I personally was deciding between a 13/15 or a non-apple laptop and ended up purchasing a brand new Early 2013 MBPr 15 for $1800 taxes in. Im happy with the choice. Very happy. I have the dedicated GPU that is great to have but not a need and I saved a good load of $$$.
  10. Barney63 macrumors 6502a


    Jan 9, 2014
    Bolton, UK.
    Classic ;)

  11. mixxy macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2011
    But you noticeee! lol

  12. gtjeta macrumors member

    Mar 31, 2012
    Just one stupid thing. Matlab support in Mac is really bad, and for instance most current versions have important problems with retina displays (for me they are unusable). I use 2013a version, still not suffering this problem. In windows/linux this program works much better, specially when doing things related to graphical presentation of results.
  13. brdeveloper macrumors 68020


    Apr 21, 2010
    I would recommend a Lenovo Thinkpad which seems to be a more resistant machine for using outside. It's not as portable as a Retina Macbook, but I think the Lenovo follows the "built like a tank" philosophy. If you're planning working in not so friendly environments, maybe it would be a better choice.
  14. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    I am familiar with the think pads however I don't for see being in those environments for the lifetime if the machine. Perhaps later on when looking for a job after my degree my needs will drastically change.

    I also know from experience using about three or four different think oad models recently that the touch pads are not that great especially in the context of windows 8 gestures. I am either looking for something with a fantastic glass track pad or an IPS touch screen. I also prefer to be able to try out the models in a store rather than order something.

    I fully expect to use boot camp (or possibly parallels) to have access to windows and also don't expect to be able to do everything for my degree exclusively on my personal machine.
  15. snaky69 macrumors 603

    Mar 14, 2008
    What specific kind of engineering?

    Honestly, for student level stuff, AutoCAD will not be very taxing on your system, neither will MATLAB be.
  16. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    I am leaning towards electrical or civil engineering. Honestly I have gotten very mixed opinions of how demanding the projects will be. I fully expect that I will probably not want to do all of them in a 13" screen but it is nice to have the option.
  17. snaky69 macrumors 603

    Mar 14, 2008
    A nice external screen can take care of that. I'm a mechanical engineer myself and sometimes I have to work with AutoCAD (shudders, I hate having to work with it, too primitive). The only times where AutoCAD gets demanding is with very large files with many, many layers. Things like the layout of a plant or a building with all spaces represented.

    For basic stuff, AutoCAD is just 2D lines, so it's not all that taxing.
  18. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Good to know. On am very surprised that everyone over at notebookreview forums was shouting at me to buy a business class workstation with quadro graphics as if nothing else would suit my workload. They also seemed to think that a PC is the only way to go in engineering. I spoke to my cousin who is working in an engineering PhD at MIT and his entire lab uses macs. Go figure
  19. bkribbs macrumors 65816

    Jan 15, 2012
    Sorry for skimming a bit but I have to run. Anyways- I'm an engineer, just finished my first year. Personally I went with a rMBP 15 inch, maxxed RAM. I just have always had a 15 inch so that worked best for me.

    I'm actually studying Computer Engineering, similar to EE. For that, 13 inches may be small, so a good monitor might help. Anyways- my advice:

    1. Buy Parallels. I can't emphasize this enough. There's a student discount for it for half off. You will NOT regret it. I also would advise having a different copy of windows installed in bootcamp for graphic intensive purposes if you need it. I imagine your tech support will provide you with windows. But parallels is amazing.

    2. Max RAM if you can, then max the SSD. Honestly both of these are important. Actually- not max- I went for the 512 GB, but 256 is pretty small for multiple OS's and engineering programs. RAM is important to max if you want to be able to use OS X and Windows at the same time.

    Let me know if you have any more questions.

    edit- rereading, I see maxxing isn't looking like something you are considering. I would go with the pro for sure. Max the ram if you can, and you can do the hard drive later if need be. If you don't max them, you should just plan on not using OS X much while in parallels, and to have to carefully manage your space, but you can handle that as well.
  20. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014

    I no problem about the skimming bit. I mentioned in the OP that since I am living in residence and on campus that I would prefer to use the top spec faculty desktop machines to do more intensive work and have the MBP 13 for portability.

    Nice tip about parallels. Do you think it really is much better that boot camp. How is the performance drop from the virtual machine? Would it be better to simply exclusively use parallels rather than both if I want to conserve disc space? I also thought I read that you can load windows from the boot camp partition into parallels so you only need one license.

    Another question. When you run a virtual machine, and say allocate 4 GB of ram to it. Can you temporarily put it "to sleep" and re acquire the RAM when you need it? Do most people do this or do they just always leave parallels running?

    I am reading David Pogue's book "switching to the Mac" beforehand and it is getting me excited about all of the different operating system features of mavericks. It really seems like it is designed with productivity for the power user in mind.
  21. Barney63 macrumors 6502a


    Jan 9, 2014
    Bolton, UK.
    With Parallels the RAM is allocated dynamically. It just uses what is needed when it is needed.

  22. bkribbs macrumors 65816

    Jan 15, 2012
    I'm going to break this up a bit:

    Yep missed that. Whoops!
    Well if you plan on using OS X, then yes. Completely worth it. I have seen no real hits in performance, again, really graphics intensive stuff is probably not going to work super well, but windows worked great, and I ran Matlab, Chrome, and Excel in it. The convenience is what is really worth it.

    It depends what you want. I'll talk more about this in a minute, but yes and no. If you install it once in bootcamp and then boot into it, it works. I may remember having a couple problems with activation of either Windows or Microsoft office, as technically, the VM has different hardware from bootcamp, so the OS thinks you need to reactivate.

    Here is another advantage to installing a copy in parallels. If you install in parallels, you can "pause" the VM and resume it later. I believe this will release the resources, and again, the convenience factor is awesome, not having to close everything and shut off windows every time you finish with it but might need it an hour later. If you just use the bootcamp install, you cannot pause it. One thing you could do is just to a parallels install and not do a bootcamp unless you need it. I doubt you do much CAD as an EE, but you might. I have no idea what Civil Engineers do though so I can't help there.
    Yeah mavericks has some neat features. I love OS X. I've been using it for several years, and as long as I can afford it, I'll be sticking with it unless they do something terrible to it.

    Not sure if what I said helped, but let me know if there's any clarification that I can help you with or you have any more questions!
  23. cube macrumors P6

    May 10, 2004
  24. bkribbs macrumors 65816

    Jan 15, 2012
    Meant to include the following in my last post actually, but this guy reminded me.

    Barney- you sure about that? I just loaded Parallels and from what I see, that isn't true.

    gtanner- Also a neat feature in parallels, you can make a dynamic hard drive if you install in windows. So you can start with a 40 gig virtual hard drive, and as more space is needed, the virtual hard drive can expand to the size you need. Note this will not work if you are loading the bootcamp install, or if you import bootcamp into parallels. I do believe you can make a second hard drive for those cases though. Pretty sure that's how mine is set up, as my Parallels was originally my bootcamp install.

    As far as resources, you do specify the RAM and how many cores to give the VM. I'm pretty sure it just takes them then and holds them.
  25. gtanner00 thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Sounds good. So you were talking about the pause function though. That definitely releases the resources? But when the VM is running I will take up all of the ram/ cores it has been assigned.

    You mentioned office as well. I will have access to a 5 device subscription within my family so I could potentially take two licenses to use in either Mac or windows (I realize that is bit what you were talking about) do you prefer the Mac version over the standard windows suite? One is from 2011 and the other from 2013 but it shouldn't really matter. Also how is power consumption in parallels in relation to battery life?


    You obviously haven't read any of this discussion.

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