Engineering Student

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Nicholas Mosher, Nov 1, 2007.

  1. Nicholas Mosher macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    I'm looking for some advice on what to purchase for a new desktop.

    I'm a sophomore in Electrical Engineering and currently have a Macbook that I use as my primary computer. Haven't hit any bottlenecks with speed, but I have found some limitations with it's graphics capability and screen real estate. When running multiple apps like Mathematica, Excel, Word, and Safari I find myself in a never-ending alt-tab toggle to do my multi-tasking and get projects finished. I also tried playing with some 3D modeling software the other day and my Macbook was acting like a VW Bug with 30 people in it... choppy and boggled.

    I've really enjoyed the stability of OS-X and Apple Apps vs my old PC's, so I'd like to stick with OS-X. I'd also like to get involved with some software that allows construction of 3D animations for presentations.

    I'm in a debate over a 24" iMac or a MacPro w/multiple screens (probably 23" jobbers). What really appeals to me about the Mac Pro is it's ability to drive so many displays... I really would like to have a system where all my applications/schematics/reports are open and available to see simultaneously. I was considering the following...

    Mac Pro
    Two 2.0Ghz Dual-Core Intel Xeon Processors
    2GB (4x512MB) RAM
    500GB 7200RPM SATA HDD
    NVidia GeForce 7300 GT 256MB Video Card
    Two 16x SuperDrives
    Bluetooth & Airport
    Two 23" 1920x1200 Apple LCDs

    Any advice from you experts on here would be much appreciated.
  2. koobcamuk macrumors 68040


    Oct 23, 2006
    Go with what other people suggest, but spaces stops me from cmd+tabbing and an ACD gives me a lot of real estate. The Mac Pro will be awesome though. Someone else will advise you better I am sure.
  3. Geographigoria macrumors newbie

    Nov 1, 2007
    Bit much maybe?

    I've got one of the first-model 24" iMacs and I'm very happy with it. So I'd recommend that over the current Mac Pros, which I think are expected to get an update within the next few months (and probably a big one). For what you're describing, I think you'd want a better GPU than the 7300 GT. But I also wonder whether a pair of 23"ers might be over doing it a little. I bought a 22" secondary display but found that along with my 24" built-in, I had more room than I could efficiently use. It was my experience that you CAN have too much real estate, or at least you can pay to much for it to get your money's worth. So, I ended up returning it and going back to just my 24". If you're looking at stand-alone displays, I understand that the dells are significantly less expensive but of decent quality.

    I find expose so useful that I don't even see much point in spaces. Then again, I don't have Leopard yet and haven't tried spaces...

    Also, I think Steve Jobs said that Apple was going to try to phase out their current florescent-backlit LCDs with LED-backlit ones by mid-2008, so we'll probably see updates to the cinema displays in the next 6 months too.

    Lastly, I strongly recommend that you check out the ADC student membership and it's associated hardware discount. Start here:

    Hope this helps!
  4. Sesshi macrumors G3


    Jun 3, 2006
    One Nation Under Gordon
    Well - it's a system to build on for sure, but the actual spec is pretty pathetic, and you might find in many apps that it may not bring about the large benefit over the MB that you might be expecting.

    If you have to buy now, go for the 5160 - 3Ghz. All in all, the FX4500 is the only card worth buying in terms of performance of a machine in the Pro class but it's waaaaay overpriced from Apple for an obsolete GPU. The X1900 is perhaps the best of a bad bunch - it's a mediocre GPU nowadays on a lower-end consumer PC, but at least you're not paying waaaaay over the odds for it (only two aa's maybe).

    Two 23"s sounds like a good starting point in terms of screen real estate. As I said elsewhere, I like having multiple monitors no matter how big/small they are as it allows me to physically compartmentalise my work and I like that, especially if you're actually multitasking - i.e. actually doing many things at once or having multiple viewports, and not just switching between different apps that you happen to be running.
  5. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    Hmmmm... so Apple is planning to revamp their Mac Pro and Displays over the next year? I know computer technology is constantly improving, but a $4k-$5k purchase could certainly be delayed a semester or two if I would be getting a superior product that is worth the time.

    The student discount on the Mac site isn't very much - a couple hundred dollars or so on a Mac Pro - I'll look into that student link though Geographigoria, thanks.

    I really need more real estate. When doing labs I'm often running Mathematica for computation, Excel for data tables and clean graphs, Word for the actual write-up, Safari for quick look up of facts, and a software package that came with a couple of my texts. Next semester I'll be adding Spice to the mix. I would much appreciate a dedicated screen for mathematica, and a screen for the other apps.

    I don't seem to have any troubles with speed when I'm running all this software on my macbook (2.0GHz Dual-Core), so I figured two 2.0Ghz Dual-Cores would be more than enough processing power - and I would have the option down the road to jump to twin 3.0GHz CPUs if I needed. Same with the RAM. I'm running 1GB now which seems to be more than enough, so I figured 2GB would be a good starting point. What type of software is there (otehr than games) that would require more than 2GB of RAM and dual 2.0GHz dual-core processors?

    The upgrade to the ATI card sounds like a good idea though. Eventually I would like to get into some 3D modeling software, and I'm guessing this would be a boon when running that type of software.

    How about dual 23" screens vs one 30" screen? The dual 23" version has 13% more screen, but the 30" option opens the possibility of dual 30" screens.

    I'm not really worried about HDD space. For some reason I never seem to use much space. After two years I've only used about 30GB of space on my current laptop.

    What type of rumors/info are out there about these new Mac Pros and Displays?
  6. Geographigoria macrumors newbie

    Nov 1, 2007
    Well, for rumors on the pros and displays, check out the MR buyer's guide for each product (with stats & linked articles):

    I'm guessing that the two xeons and 2GB RAM would be plenty for you to start with, but perhaps not enough for you later work so it's a good thing that you'd have the room for expansion.

    If you really want to support and drive so much screen space, the more you spend on you GPU the better. I noticed real sluggishness when I had my 22" secondary, and my iMac's got a NVidia 7600 GT w/ 256 MB Ram. I really can relate to your desires for more room to read from and work on, but don't you think that going from a single 13" to dual 23" might be a bit too big a jump? By my calculations two 23" displays would only give you ~32% more real estate than two 20" ones, but they currently cost ~50% more. Not very efficient if you ask me, and I'm guessing 30" would really be overkill at the moment? And two 20" still gives you ~373% more screen space than one 13".

    I wonder, if you're using your MB now for labs, do you need a portable solution? You can't very easily tote a mac pro around now can you? I know I can't do too much of my lab work at home, so I've got a MB of my own for when I'm out of my room.

    I'm in physics and I'm expecting to be going to grad school within the next few years. As part of my research it's very likely that I'll be doing a lot of serious computer modeling. Depending on the specifics, that can require huge amounts of CPU cycles and/or RAM capacity. It also depends on how you write your code... Anyways, I'm thinking that in 1 or 2 years' time I may want to invest in a MBP, but we'll see. Whether or not you need to be able to do this kind of heavy simulation will probably depend on what kind of engineering you want to do. If you're not sure about that yet, I recommend waiting until you have a better idea of your intentions/needs.

    Another thing about the mac pro plan is the issue of cost to upgrade. Assuming you start with the 2.0-GHz Xeons, how much will it cost you to get a pair of dual-core 3.0-Ghz replacements? It may be one hell of a lot, and you may have a hard time selling the old ones (I don't know what the demand will be like for older Xeons).

    Don't want to rush into such a big purchase only to discover big surprises do you?
  7. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    I'm also floating the idea of a 24" iMac with a 23" Apple Screen on the side, but it all seems so hodge-podged.

    Then I read about these rumors of a new Mac Pro soon, and revamped apple displays.

    I don't think I need dual Xeons... I simply don't run stuff that requires that much horsepower. But I do want the graphics capability and expandability of the MacPro.

    Damn, I wish Apple offered something like the MacPro with it's expandability and PCIe slots, but with the iMac components like a single C2D, space for 4GB of RAM (I really have no need for 16), and even just a couple HDD slots.

    I dunno... I guess I'm at a point where nothing seems to fit - so I'm just going to sit on my money.

    EDIT: Thinking about this Mac Pro setup too...

    Two 2.0GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon "Woodcrest" CPUs (Do I really need any more speed than this?)
    2GB RAM (Expandable as needed.)
    250GB 7200-RPM SATA HDD (I plan to just keep Apps on my HDD as I do with my MacBook for the most part.)
    ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB Video Card
    Two 16x SuperDrives
    Bluetooth 2.0+EDR and AirPort Extreme (A few less cables...)

    Then either dual 23" screens, or a single 30" to start and another 30" down the road as funds allow.
  8. Geographigoria macrumors newbie

    Nov 1, 2007
    Probably a good idea. One thing you can do for now (even every day if you want) is let them know that the options they're currently providing are not meeting your needs:

    Tell them that you're interested, but that you'll sit on your money because they need to get the lead out and show you a new model that you'd be satisfied with.

    I do know what you mean about the expandability on the iMacs, especially the GPU. I really wish I could bump mine up but I'm not willing to try risky "experimenting" that can void a warranty. The iMac line's got great value, but you're bloody well stuck with it (unless you sell, that is).


    But, just incase you didn't notice, it is worth noting that the ram can be upgraded on the iMac (and easily too!) up to 4GBs. Just don't order it that way; way too expensive. It'll cost something like half that if you order it through a separate store. Based on past experience, I'd probably use NCIX: <--Canada <--USA
  9. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    I tend to use the Mac Pros in our labs (which are connected to a bunch of instruments that output Data via USB), then transfer the data over to my MacBook and do the actual lab write-ups in a more comfortable setting (who likes spending hours in a fluorescent lit lab on hard stools at a counter trying to conceptualize trends/relationships from data?).

    Right now I really don't need a lot of power, but I would like more screen real estate and the ability to upgrade the muscle if future work demands it.

    I can run eveything I need to on my MacBook, but it's a pain constantly scrolling through data tables/calculation history, and toggling apps like Mathematics/Excel/etc... I can feel the inefficiency and loss of time as I struggle with multi-tasking with this 13" screen. For leisure it's great, but not when I'm doing labs.

    I'm also getting into CAD (both as a class next semester and also in my spare time), and would like the graphics horsepower (and screen real estate) for large 3D objects. I would also like to get into some 3D animation software for design project visuals that would benefit from an animated view.

    Other than that it's just basic internet/eMail/word processing/powerpoint/visual-basic/Java/C++, etc. I do enjoy digital photography and would like to get into aperture, but thats just an aside. Every once in a while I'll play a computer game too... but thats once or twice a month for a couple hours at most. I'd like to be able to run StarCraft II if it's eventually released for Mac, as I enjoyed StarCraft back when I was in High School.

    I do like your recommendation to wait it out a bit though - nothing seems to click 100% at this moment.
  10. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    Just sent an eMail through the MacPro feedback.
    If I'm lucky maybe someone will read it and sympathize - haha.

    I guess I'm going to just keep plugging away with the MacBook and wait to see what Mac comes out with.
  11. Geographigoria macrumors newbie

    Nov 1, 2007
    this might help tide you over

    Here's the site for a little program you might find of interest:

    It allows either of my macs to work as an external display for the other. Now, this doesn't really work for games (eg supreme commander's dual-display mode), but I feel like I've gotten my money's worth. I know you've only got the one mac but if you've got an old PC gathering dust you could use that to serve as your secondary monitor for now, or even as a third display if you get a better secondary later. Assuming you've got the computer lying around, it's much cheaper than an entire external display.
  12. ktbubster macrumors 6502a


    Jan 20, 2007
    I think... in all reality your idea for a macpro 2.0 dual processors is actually a really good option for you. It is easily expandable in the future and will give you plenty of horsepower. Like everyone is saying though, the macpros are due for an update. If you can sit on your money till early 2008 (look at macworld in january) you will get more for your money and chances are new processors at a higher speed will be the same price as what you would be paying now for older tech.

    So... I would sit on your money and once the macpros are updated go ahead for the bottom line processor and up the graphics card to whatever the best you can when it's changed... get bottom line ram.. up it to 2 or 4 gb from a third party source and I think you'll have a great machine for years to come.

    If you are used to a 13inch macbook screen though... I think you could probably go for ONE 23 now and then update to another 23 when you have a chance. You might not need all that space, but ofcourse a 30 inch would be great, but you probably don't need all that right now.

    Go with your basic plan for the macpro... get one 23? inch acd and go from there. I think it's generally a good plan. Just wait till atleast January or so, because the macpro is up for an update... may as well get more bang for your buck, whether you think you'll need it or not, you'll be happy you will wait. Not to mention, the ACDs will be changed probably soon as well. Sit on your money (gain some nice shiny interest from the bank on that cash hehe) and buy in a few months...

    However... if you weren't so worried about expandability... I'd say sell the macbook, and buy a macbook pro and then one 23inch or 30inch and hook it up when you are home on a stand and use that plus the external monitor. I find my macbook pro CD can handle solidworks and other 3d programs quite well. So that might not be a bad idea either, it would avoid the hassle of movin information from your macbook to your macpro when you got in and save space.

  13. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    Geographigoria - That software looks cool, but I don't have any extra screens lying around. I gave away my 20" LCD with my old PC to a family member.
    Yeah, I think I'm just going to wait on a purchase.
    I don't want to buy something that won't meet my needs, and I don't want to spend more money than I have to. I also don't want to buy into a product that is due to be revised in a few short months.

    Ah well... off to do some Calculus. :apple:

    ktbubster - I'm in a toss-up between the 23" and 30", but I'm leaning towards a single 30" to start. A 30" has almost as much real estate as dual 23" screens, but also leaves open the possibility for a second 30" (aout 3.75 23" screens!). If I got a Mac Pro, I would just use a thumb-drive to transfer data from the lab Mac Pros to my Mac Pro.

    So if I purchased now I think I would get the following...

    Two 2.0GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon "Woodcrest" CPUs
    2GB RAM
    250GB 7200-RPM SATA HDD
    ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB Video Card
    Two 16x SuperDrives
    Bluetooth 2.0+EDR and AirPort Extreme
    30" Apple Cinema Display

    But... I'm going to wait.
  14. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    I went and experimented with the 23" and 30" screens again.

    I think I'm going to go with a 30" jobber. I love having all that space to have multiple apps open and visible. It also makes viewing large photos and drawings a much better experience.

    Now if only Apple would hurry up with their new Mac Pro (and possibly revamped screens).

    Oh, and I love the new keyboards... quite similar to the one on my Macbook.
    But I still like a two-buttoned mouse...
  15. ToddW macrumors 6502a

    Feb 26, 2004
    Well just to give you some advice, I'm an electrical engineer and do have a few recommendations for you. It all depends what you are looking for. Currently my work rig is just an IBM thinkpad, it works okay for me but the real engineering I do on the outside at home is my with my macbook pro.

    Currently I have a big widescreen monitor somewhere between 23-26 inches. It works perfect when i'm coding up some stuff for a client or configuring a system. Works great for CAD as well as running SPICE and some schematic capture applications. LabView works great on a mac and I have developed and compiled apps for customers. Office works well with all my write ups that I do from time to time.

    Being in school I would go for the pro laptop / big screen combo. The macbook pro can pus a 30" and make things a lot easier for you as well. I haven't gotten around to using leopard yet.

    Hope this helps.
  16. lasuther macrumors 6502a

    Feb 13, 2004
    Grand Haven, Michigan
    I recommend getting a 24" iMac and a 23" monitor to go with it.

    Your Mac Pro set up is going to cost about $4604.

    A top of the line 24"iMac with a 23" monitor will cost $3198.

    After taxes, the Mac Pro could cost you almost $1500 more. Buy the 24"iMac first. Start using the spaces feature in Leopard and see if you still need more space. If you do, pick up a 23" monitor.
  17. gotzero macrumors 68040

    Jan 6, 2007
    Mid-Atlantic, US
    I am sure I am going to get flamed up and down for this, but it sounds like you are trying to use many Windows programs for school.

    Why not home build a PC that fits your desired specs (and would be much cheaper), and get a fantastic external monitor (which you could use for both the PC and an external for your Mac.

    When I was in college I ate ramen for a long time in order to afford a G5 powermac, and I ended up only using it for audio work (which was "fun", income generating, but still not schoolwork...) while I used my PCs for the day to day stuff. However, Windows on a Mac was not an option back then either...

    If you wanted a crazy top of the line system, I would say Windows on a mac pro would be great, but it sounds like you could home-build for a lot less, and still have the power you need for your studies, and you would be able to keep OS X and your laptop for fun/notes for class/etc.
  18. koobcamuk macrumors 68040


    Oct 23, 2006
    Spaces is so much better than exposé. Imagine if you have 15 graphs open in an app, mail, safari etc etc ... one app per space (4 spaces) means that you can keep better control. At least I do. It's the only thing stopping me from going back to 10.4.10.

    Get a MBP and a 30" ACD if you can. Or a 23" ACD and see how the MacBook copes - then upgrade as needs be. It seems like it's just screen estate you want. I can testify that the 20" ACD looks amazing, and works well with the MacBook.

    My girlfriend (Architect) uses a 24" iMac. She loves it.
  19. Nicholas Mosher thread starter macrumors member

    Nicholas Mosher

    Nov 1, 2007
    I already have a Macbook, and enjoy the portability and small form factor it has. I can get by okay with it (after all, I do everything on it now anyways), but I would like to get something at home for my desk that can handle a couple displays and has the option for expansion. Buying a Macbook Pro kinda seems counter-productive, or settling for something without full benefit.

    I've been thinking about a 24" iMac, but after adding an external display it just seems so hodgepodged.

    I definitely prefer OS-X over Windows. All of my apps are made for mac (or a mac version). So I'd like to stick with mac.

    Guess I'm going to wait and see what happens with the new Mac Pros (whenever they eventually hit the market).

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