Future engineering major confused about MBP to buy!

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by mnsportsgeek, Jun 8, 2009.

  1. mnsportsgeek macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009

    Well, I told myself I was gonna hold off until after WWDC. It was VERY hard for me as i'm typing this on a 2.0ghz Pentium 4 processor, I can barely watch youtube without it stuttering. The updates I was hoping for came and I'm ready to purchase a macbook pro for college.

    I will be either (most likely) a mechanical or electrical engineering major at NDSU (North Dakota State University) and I'm very confused about which macbook pro to get.

    I'm fairly confident that I will want the 9600 GT graphics card so as to future proof my purchase as I would like this thing to last me a good 4 to 5 years. Correct me if I'm wrong in thinking this.

    Will the extra 256mb vram in the 2.8ghz model give me added performance in any CAD or math programs? Also, with snow leopard on the horizon, will the 512mb vram GPU give me added performance? I'm clueless as to what the innards of snow leopard really improve upon.

    I already have a 24" external monitor that I will be bringing with me, so screen real estate is not a problem. I WILL NOT GO 17" (please dont try and persuade). I guess I'm just looking for some re assurance that the 15" is plenty portable.

    And lastly, will the extra 3mb of L2 cache give me a greater performance in the 2.8ghz model?

    I guess in conclusion what I'm asking is. As a college student that will be majoring in engineering. I want to be able to dabble in a little bit of everything. Who knows, maybe I'll get an interest in video editing. I DO play the occasional computer game. So would you suggest to me the 2.66ghz or 2.8ghz model of macbook pro?

    Thank you so much for your help.
  2. rgarjr macrumors 603


    Apr 2, 2009
    Southern California
  3. kmaute macrumors 6502


    Oct 5, 2008
    In all honesty, the differences between the two are minimal. For the money, you could drop 8gb of RAM into the mid-range MBP and be set for the next few years. You would be surprised at the age of some of the machines that are in the EE/CAD labs, absolutely junk for the most part until you get into the Graduate labs. It's all about the coin at this point. If you have the extra cash, max it out by all means but don't think that you'll be gaining a noticeable difference either now or in your senior year.

    Good luck.
  4. mnsportsgeek thread starter macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009

    Can someone please elaborate more on whether or not snow leopard will provide me an added boost with 512mb of VRAM? I thought I remembered reading something about that before. If I am incorrect please correct me. Thank You
  5. sammich macrumors 601


    Sep 26, 2006
    VRAM is a little overrated. If you look at benchmarks on games between the same card with different amount of memory, there is like 5% diff in going from 256-512 on a desktop.

    OpenCL is a computing/number crunching thing, I can't imagine it would need much RAM at all.
  6. Zman5225 macrumors 6502a

    May 15, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    I'm in chemical engineering right now, and i'm about to purchase the new 13" MBP and 24" monitor. I'll pick up the baseline little guy, add my own ram, and add a bigger harddrive when I need it, but the computer + monitor setup will give me the screen real estate I need and the computer muscle.

    You could do a similar setup. I plan on keeping it for around 3-4 years max....and I mean MAX because computers just change and evolve so fast I know i'll end up upgrading again someday.

    I do have a 15" MBP last generation that I currently use, but it's a pain in the ass to lug around. A tad to big to have on a desk trying to take notes, read the book, do homework, use the calc TI-8gabillion at school so i'm downgrading to the setup I listed above.

    It's late and i'm rambling now. I'm fried from math.

  7. imthekuni macrumors member

    Jun 6, 2009
    I would go with the 15" mbp upgraded to 2.8. you can always use the extra power and obviously you want as much RAM as possible within your budget. I am a bioengineering student and I use COMSOL (FEM software) (I know COMSOL is optimized for multicore) and MATLAB a lot on my old black macbook2,1 and its just not cutting it anymore. I am going to be upgrading to the aforementioned notebook. Hopefully MATLAB and COMSOL will be optimized to run in the SL environment and those 8gb of RAM wont hurt either
  8. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    I'll be the devil's advocate and ask why you are considering a) a laptop and b) a mac? If you're going to do the majority of your coursework in any of the major CAD programs, they're all going to be windows only. Running through virtualization is stupid because you'd be negating the performance of the machine, and running Windows you might as well get a PC laptop.
  9. mnsportsgeek thread starter macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009
    good question

    My response to that is... a) I want a laptop for the portability. I feel that the 15 inch maximizes performance while also maintaining portability. b) I want a mac because I loathe windows. I will be using windows for just that school work. just like many people have to use boot camp to do their job. how is me needing to use boot camp for school work any different?
  10. cookieme macrumors regular

    Aug 22, 2005
    Both are just stupid comments! I'm a mechanical engineering graduate and Mac user for more than 9 years. During my engineering degree I used CAD (CATIA and SolidWorks) extensively on my MacBook Pro 2CD 2.33GHz with 2GB RAM (2 yrs old not uni-body) and various simulation tools (Ricardo WAVE - engine simulation, ANSYS etc). My notebook is my only computer and the portability is paramount as a student. I never needed to use the University's computers (a: because they sucked and b: because I preferred to use my Mac for everything). Regarding using Windows in a virtual environment being stupid that's just plain bulls***t!! I use VMWare Fusion and have multiple Virtual Machines (don't run more than one at a time). I only run Windows when I need to use SolidWorks, CATIA or some other simulation Windows only software and still have access to everything Mac from mail etc. I am also an IT admin and need to run Windows for other IT related tasks to test software and configurations.

    In summary, I push my Mac to the max and although I wished that my Mac was capable of more than 2GB RAM, I have been able to do some crazy intense stuff from CAD to 12 concurrent engine simulations which the modern computers at my University would have trouble handling. Windows on the Mac is a much better experience than on PC hardware.

    Anyway, it's your decision and these are only my experiences and observations. Good luck!
  11. geoffreak macrumors 68020


    Feb 8, 2008
    I'm a computer engineer with a MacBook Pro (lowest spec early 2008). I end up having to use Windows sometimes for software that isn't for Mac, but this doesn't happen often and there are many alternatives available for anything you can think of.
    Virtualization is perfectly capable of everything besides playing graphically intensive games.
  12. mnsportsgeek thread starter macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009
    Here is a question for ya...

    Will the high end 13" MBP run all my needed software for an engineering student? Or is the dedicated GPU a "must have" for engineering students?
  13. cookieme macrumors regular

    Aug 22, 2005
    Like I said I have a 15" MBP which does not have the latest technology and I have been able to do everything I want and more. Of course I like the latest stuff so eventually I will upgrade.

    However, for your situation I would never go with a 13" if you are planning to do a mechanical engineering degree and will use CAD, simulation software extensively. Even with a 15" I wanted larger, but carrying 17" was not appealing at the time. If you are going to connect an external screen at university/ home then sure go with 13", but I wouldn't because I want the larger screen when manipulating 3D models.

    In my opinion regarding the GPU it is not a "must have", but if you can afford it I'd choice it. Bottom line as long as you are happy with the screen size and add adequate RAM any Mac is going to make your computing a pleasure whether you use Mac OS X or Mac OS X with a Virtual Machine running Windows. There really isn't any need to use BootCamp unless you want that little extra, but with the inconvenience of having to reboot when you want to use Mac and vice versa.
  14. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    Because e-mail, photos, AIM, and watching movies are essentially the same, regardless of OS?

    I am genuinely interested in how you used SolidWorks on a Mac before the Intels. Elaborate?

    Suit yourself. I tried running both AutoCAD and Solidworks via VMWare on my MBP once, and it was a huge headache. My machine is similarily spec'd to yours.
  15. mnsportsgeek thread starter macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009
    Windows is a PIECE OF TRASH! I would like nothing more that to have all of the CAD programs run on mac, but the sad truth is that they don't. Hence why I will be using boot camp in order to complete my school work. School work is not EVERYTHING at college my friend. The world would be a better place without windows.

    I would much rather use snow leopard... the far superior OS to windows 7 when I am not FORCED to use winblows.
  16. cookieme macrumors regular

    Aug 22, 2005
    I never said that I used SolidWorks BEFORE the Intel transition!! I said that I have been a Mac user for more than 9 years and that I have been using VMWare Fusion and SolidWorks on my MBP which if you would have paid attention has not been around for 9 years!

    It's a shame that you have had trouble with VMWare and SW. I've explained my usage and experiences and everyone is free to run the software as they see fit.

    BTW afurry13 I couldn't agree with you more!!
  17. idonotliketostu macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2008
    Can't watch youtube on a 2.0ghz p4? :eek: Unless you messed up your os with tons of crapware, thats really hard to believe.
  18. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    Firstly, there's no big difference between the 9400 M and 9600 M.

    The 9600 M is considered a mid-range laptop graphics card, although there aren't too many laptops that use these superior graphics card. The ones that use the high-end mobile graphics cards need to be pretty thick, because many of them use 2 or 3 times more power (the 9600 M uses 23 Watts). That means only a small number of laptops actually use really good graphics cards in their laptops.

    Since most laptop manufacturers are trying to keep most of their laptops, including their high-end models, as thin and light as possible, the MBP's 9600 M isn't a bad choice. An alternative would be the ATI Radeon 4650, which uses 35 W of power, but I don't see why they'd bother. The card really isn't that much better. The ATI Radeon 4670 is better than both and also uses 35 W, but it's not worth switching away from Nvidia, since you'd lose the integrated 9400M by going with ATI instead.

    There are also other alternatives, but again, the gains aren't really that high, and you'd increase power consumption by the graphics card by 50%, which lowers battery life. You also wouldn't get a 9400 M for extended battery life if Apple switched to ATI video cards, since the 9400 M is made by Nvidia.

    The best Nvidia alternative is the GeForce 130M, which would have been nice, but again, not a big difference. THey're both mid-range cards. The 130M GT happens to be clocked slightly faster than the 9600M GT.

    Having said that, the 9400 M isn't far behind the 9600 M in terms of technology. Its clock speeds are a bit slower, but it's not a generation or massive technology gap.

    You'd be more than happy with a 13" MBP, IMO. Yes, SL may be able to use the graphics card for massive processing tasks (this post sounds a little bit like the Altivec vs non-Altivec days....), but you'd get similar benefit out of the 9400 M.
  19. Scott6666 macrumors 65816


    Feb 2, 2008
    I had the same question when I bought my early-2008 MBP. The story I got from the various threads and googling was that the VRAM made very little difference. I recall they said that the graphics chip itself was not fast enough to really utilize the extra VRAM effectively. I saved $500 and got the lesser MBP.

    Dunno if the graphics chips have improved enough in speed to utilize the VRAM now but it's a direction to explore.
  20. xhambonex macrumors 6502a

    Apr 17, 2008
    I said the same thing you did. Hey I'll get a MBP and just run boot camp for my required school programs that are Windows only. Its not fun. In fact, I usually will only switch out of one OS just to use a OS specific software. Example: my adobe creative suite is on OS X, but solidworks is on XP. But since both OS's do the exact same basic tasks very well I tend to just leave my computer in whatever OS until I need to use that specific program. It would be much easier to just have XP.

    But where we differ is you are ok with what the new MBP offers and I am not. So I am much more likely to look somewhere else for my next purchase unless I see changes.

    And to answer your OP. My 2.4 GHz MBP with 256vRAM and 2GB of RAM takes down Solidworks, a rendering program and another 3d surface modeling program (Alias) all at the same time. So you'll be fine with whatever, but I'd save money on the computer for accessories like other software or extra storage. Those things come in handy.
  21. St Soichiro macrumors regular

    Jun 30, 2004
    Tulsa, OK
    My 2 cents. I am a mechanical engineering faculty member and extensively use Macs in my research group. We run ABAQUS through both VMWare and BootCamp.

    My primary machine has been a 15" MBP for the last 5 years. It drives a 30" monitor in the office and at home. Yet, I find it convenient enough to use as-is when I am working off the couch or traveling. BTW, I was a PC user before that. Don't worry about the specs too much. My current configuration is a 2.6 GHz C2D with 4GB RAM, but that is probably an overkill.
  22. mnsportsgeek thread starter macrumors 68000

    Feb 24, 2009
    Just thought I would update you guys... I ended up purchasing a refurbished 15.4" MBP 2.53GHz with 6mb L2 Cache and 512mb Vram for $1449.

    I figured that a 7 hour battery was NOT worth the extra price and I could care less about the slightly improved screen.

    Thanks for all your help.

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