Engineering Student looking for laptop... Help

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by mattzz10, Jul 17, 2010.

  1. mattzz10 macrumors newbie

    Apr 1, 2010
    Hey guys... Long time reader and first time poster.

    I am writing because I am headed off to college and need some laptop help. I am going to be an undecided engineering major and I was wondering what I should look for in a computer.

    First off, what are some of the components I should be looking for?

    Second, there will be some computer labs up there that I can use... So do I need to get a dedicated video card on my laptop.... Basically what I am asking is for any college students in my situation. Did you do a lot of your heavy lifting stuff (Auto-CAD/Math simulation) on your laptop, or did you just go to the lab?

    Basically why I am asking is because I was looking at a 13'' macbook pro until i went up to the campus and my parents asked the computer store what an engineering student needed... So they pointed them towards the higher end 15'' which my parents think is too expensive. So they want me to go with a Dell.

    So my choice right now is explain to them that I could use a 13'' macbook pro or get a Dell through my parents business for a little more discount. Any other engineering students that went through my situation that can help?
  2. wordoflife macrumors 604


    Jul 6, 2009
    Remember that the baseline 15 inch is $1,699 with student discount. To be honest though, I think Macs are worth it. They last a really long time (We still use iBooks at school) and those are 6-7 years old and they work fine for basic work. Also, I think the 13'' should be fine for you. Like you said, you have the labs for more intense stuff.

    Just curious, what are you being offered by Dell? I still think that the Mac would last longer
  3. mattzz10 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Apr 1, 2010
    Well I was thinking about building my own studio 15. And I know the 15'' Pro may not sound like a lot, but then I might have to buy windows 7 to boot camp and then MS office and warranty. And I am worried about the "All the software only runs on windows" argument that I keep hearing.
  4. Tomorrow macrumors 604


    Mar 2, 2008
    Always a day away
    Contact the school of Engineering and talk to them about what to look for in a computer. Many colleges either require a certain computer or build to be purchased, some make recommendations that they support and everyone else fends for themselves, and some flat-out don't care.

    I majored in engineering, and there was a good deal of software that either I had to purchase or that my professors wrote for us to use. In my case, they were all either Windows programs or Unix binaries. You'll need a system that's compatible with what they're going to ask you to use.

    You might get lucky and they tell you to buy whatever you want; but I would strongly recommend you check before you make a purchase.

    Happy shopping!
  5. MacVibe macrumors regular

    Dec 21, 2009
    I would recommend getting the macbook. The reason for this is that everyone (or nearly everyone) you go to school with will have a personal computer. Microsoft has deals with most colleges so that you could run windows very inexpensively, perhaps even for free, as a student. You will use the programs you mention for so-called 'heavy lifting' but not so much as a freshman and undeclared major. There will probably be some decent hardware updates by this time next year and you could sell the macbook and upgrade to a mabook pro at that time if you think you need more power. Given the good resale value of Macs, you shouldn't really lose much money in the long run. I also suspect that no matter how much you want your machine to last for 4-5 years, when a couple of years have gone by, you are going to want a new machine. Also for the cost of the 15" macbook pro, you could get a macbook plus a very powerful desktop if you really need heavy lifting (check out deals on revonate, tigerdirect,, etc.)
  6. alust2013 macrumors 601


    Feb 6, 2010
    On the fence
    Personally, I did most of my work in computer labs for engineering. Drafting on any sort of laptop screen sucks, and my labs used workstation-class computers (albeit not high-end), and that made it easier. My computer (see sig), handled the Inventor suite pretty well, so the 13" really would work for you, the people are just trying to upsell you to make more money for them. If you want the 13" pro, go for it.
  7. SidBala macrumors 6502a

    Jun 27, 2010
    Yeah im an engineering student too. Currently, i'm finished with my 3rd year. I would recommend that you stay away from the 13 inch laptops if you want to do anything more than check email and write papers. I had one for my first two years and I got fed up of the small screen estate. It was a pain to do anything meaningful on it for class.

    I dont think you will need something too portable. Class notes, i am sure you will take down mostly on paper. Most engineering classes contain symbols and notations that you just cannot note down on a laptop. So forget about the 13 inch.

    Try to go for one with 1080p screen. You would need the screen estate for engineering. Hardware, you don't need anything too powerful though. Even a moderately powerful CPU(c2d) should be fine. GPU, again nothing too powerful, midrange will be fine. RAM, get 4gigs.

    My personal recommendation would be the baseline macbook pro 17 inch from the refurb store. It's $1700, but it is a pleasure to work on. It is better than most of the lab computers I have at my univ. And it doesn't weigh too much (6.6 lbs) so unless if you a weak person, you will not have trouble carrying it around. I personally feel that buying Apple's high-end laptops new(not from refurb store) is a bad deal.

    If you want to take a bit more risk, you can check out craigslist. It usually gets you very good deals. I got my MBP 17 unibody for $1200.

    Alternatively, you should also look at the dell store. I would also strongly recommend Dell studio 16 series. These are also very good laptops and in many cases exceed the performance of the MBP. Battery isn't as good though.
  8. mattzz10 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Apr 1, 2010
    Thanks for all of the help guys! I will try to do a little more research and then make my decision. Hopefully I can contact the school too.
  9. wordoflife macrumors 604


    Jul 6, 2009
    No you're right, the 15'' Pro is a lot (at least in my opinion when you add warranty + software). To be honest, if you've really got a budget, you should get what benefits you personally, the best. Your asking this question on a Mac Forum so most people are going to say yes over here, but it's really whats better for you. Although the Macbook Pro may be a very nice computer, if it doesn't work for you, then there's no reason paying a lot more. Try to see what you can build with an HP or Dell for a decent price.
  10. SuperSnake2012 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 11, 2005
    I'm a civil engineering student and we don't use CAD for anything really... anything that I would use it for would be in the school's lab. They have 30" monitors and fast computers that I pay tuition to use. I have a 13" Macbook and it's more than enough.
  11. owenimholte macrumors newbie

    Mar 7, 2005

    Hi All,
    I just graduated with CompSci and Electrical Engineering degrees. I enrolled in 2005 with a 12" Powerbook. At that time Mac's were somewhat common in the CS department, since it focused heavily on Unix. They were rare (i.e. 2%) in EE which was heavily Windows based at the University of Minnesota. I was just fine using the labs for all of my EE classes (the lab-classes had computers at the stations).

    By graduation I had upgraded to a gen1 MacBook Air (low end) because I wanted to do iPhone development. A lot of the software, such as Mathematica or Matlab will run fine. Some might require the dual booting, but a lot of times you can get good deals on Windows (We had a license agreement and student MSDNAA access = free OS + free office).

    I'd recommend the 13" MBP. They are so solid, and the battery is killer. If you need more screen real estate you can use an external monitor as was mentioned.

    Everyone knows Windows, but picking up some Unix skills can be greatly advantageous down the road.

    Good luck!
  12. MuDPHuDStudent macrumors member

    Feb 8, 2009
    Hanover, NH
    Go with the 15 inch MBP. I'm a graduate engineering student and more than half of the grad students here have MBPs. You can definitely use them for much of what you need to do, but you'll need a decently big screen (I have a 13 inch aluminum macbook and hook it up to an external monitor). For the heavy lifting (math with large matrices) I connect to one of the linux-based labs through my Macbook and have those computers do the calculations. Honestly, having a macbook made my life a lot easier when taking a computational PDE class because the compiler and debugger for the class were on linux machines at the engineering school and I could interface directly with those computers from my macbook (and work from anywhere) while my classmates with windows machines had to physically sit in the lab for 40 or 50 hours a week to do the homework.

    Also, my school's engineering IT people have licenses for things like matlab, comsol, windows 7, vmware fusion, etc so you might not have to spend anything on that software (but check with your school).
  13. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I teach electrical engineering and use a MacBook in class for demonstrations and even to record my lectures. About 15% of my students have MacBooks or MacBook Pros, almost all are 13". All have either Parallels or Fusion to run the Windows-only programs. As little as two years ago I never saw a student with a Mac.

    The 13" display is adequate for EE-CAD software, and, of course, I'm limited to the resolution of the projector. I think a good solution for students is to attach a large external monitor and separate keyboard&mouse, and use as a desktop computer outside the classroom. The extra hardware costs less than the difference between the 13" and 15" models, at least if you buy, say, a Dell monitor instead of the Apple.

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