MacBook Pro Specifications for Engineering Student

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by EclipseGreen, Jun 21, 2009.

  1. EclipseGreen macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2009
    This fall I will be attending the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at the University of Virginia. I am very interested in getting a 15" MacBook Pro, but unsure of exactly what level of specifications I would need.

    As far as specific uses go, I plan on:
    • the basics (web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.)
    • watching DVDs
    • some gaming (mostly strategy)
    • maybe some audio encoding and image manipulation (just using the basic software of OS X for now)
    • whatever engineering programs are required for coursework. I am unsure of what exactly that will entail, but I assume AutoCAD, among other things, will fall into there somewhere (maybe someone familiar with engineering curriculums can shed some light). They suggest "your computer have a dedicated video card with a 256MB minimum of video RAM."

    I do have the option of purchasing from the the computer division of the book store, CAV Computers, which allows for four year warranty, plus priority at the Service Center, access to in-stock spare parts and loaner computer in case of extended repairs. My only concern with buying from CAV Computers is the specifications available. Their top model is the 15" 2.66 GHz, 320GB HDD, 5400rpm, 256 MB Video Ram.

    Would that be enough, or should I buy directly from Apple and go with a 2.8 GHz (or 3.06) processor and 512 MB Video Card? What sort of performance differences could expect to see with the faster specs?

  2. masse macrumors 6502a


    May 4, 2007
    The Video Ram does not make a sizable difference (<1%). As long as you have the 9600GT gaming should be fine.

    You want 4GB of ram. As far as processor goes for any engineering uses there is not much difference with processors.

    I used my UMBP 2.53ghz (see sig) for 3D CAD applications and it ran great.

    I would go with the mid range 15", so you get the dedicated card and the larger hard drive. Anything higher specs than that is just a matter of if you need to have the best and want to spend the money.
  3. twodeko macrumors newbie

    Jul 11, 2007
    What type of engineering will you pursue? The best machine will differ between agricultural engineering, aero engineering, electrical, etc.

    I am an electrical engineer and found myself using Matlab and remoting into linux/unix machine for circuit design/CAD work. For electrical engineering and computer engineering, RAM is arguably one of the most important aspects of a laptop.
  4. EclipseGreen thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2009
    I am pretty undecided as far as what I want to do. I guess I trying to get something that versatile enough even for demanding fields.

    In addition to that, I suspect I'll be using Vista a good bit, either through Boot Camp and virtualization. They actually recommend a Windows computer, but mainly because of the lack of support (by Apple, Windows, or CAV Computers) of the dual boot or virtualization setup. Does that make any difference as far as what's needed?

    All the models I am looking at include 4 GB of RAM. If I need more down the road, I guess I can always upgrade, but I don't think it is worth the extra $1000 for 8GB right now.
  5. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    I'm going into computer engineering next year, and I'm probably going to get the high end 15". I would get the mid range but I want the extra processing power and bigger hard drive. I was thinking about getting the 17" for the higher resolution screen, but I think I might be a bit big for everyday use. I think that the 9600gt is a good thing to have for engineering because you never know when you'll need it.
  6. EclipseGreen thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2009
    I definitely agree with you about the 9600gt; actually my school requires a dedicated graphics card. 15" does seem to be about the right size, because it's a good balance of portability and usability (especially for some of the engineering stuff and watching DVDs). I'm not certain if I'm going to get more than the 2.66 GHz, 512 MB Video RAM (EDIT: 256 MB), since that's the highest offered by the campus store (which offers a pretty good support program if something is broken).

    What's your take on how much of an actual performance boost would you expect to see with the 2.8 GHz (or 3.0 GHz) vs. the 2.66 GHz?
  7. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    More than the 2.53 -> 2.66, but for most of the things you list it's not going to matter at all.
  8. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    Edit: Double Post, sorry. Read the next post.
  9. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    Well first of all, why is your campus store still selling the 2.66 GHz model with 512 MB of VRAM? That model is no longer being sold, as the entire lineup was just updated. That is the high end 15" from the last cycle. Wait until your campus store updates their product line -- the new battery gives you a couple extra hours, the screen is better, and you get an SD card slot (may or may not be a plus for you vs. the old Expresscard slot), along with a speed bump to 2.8 GHz and a 500 GB hard drive up from 320 GB. Ask UVA when they plan on getting the new models.

    Regarding the performance boost, it really depends. For most people, which may or may not include you, the increased power will never really be noticed. For people who use applications that milk processing power for all it's worth, like me, it may or may not be worth it. I use Logic Pro to make music, and most virtual instrument plugins, when running multiple instances, basically top out the processor. Regarding the 3.06 GHz upgrade, $300 is a little steep even for me, so I'll be sticking with the 2.8 GHz model. If I did get the 2.66 GHz model, which now only costs $1849 direct from Apple with the student discount, I'd replace the hard drive. So it's a toss up.

    EDIT: I was looking at that store you gave a link to (Cavalier), and they want $2299 for a 2.66 MBP with a 3 Year Apple Limited Warranty. Not sure what that is... you'd think it would be AppleCare, but their other option is $2599 with a 4-year AppleCare protection plan. To my knowledge a 4-year AppleCare does not exist, unless it's special for the university. If the $2299 price does include AppleCare (there is only one kind, which is a total of three years including your 1 year limited warranty), it's not a bad deal, even for an older model. If the $2299 machine does NOT include AppleCare (again, their terminology is confusing -- check on that), then it's a bad deal -- the 2.8 GHz current model retails for $2299 and you can get it for $2099 with your student discount direct from Apple, and AppleCare on top of that will run you an additional $239, bringing the total to $2338 + Tax. I'd buy from Apple unless I confirmed that the older model has AppleCare. The $2599 machine sounds like BS.

    DOUBLE EDIT: Well, I just noticed the price on the UVA site includes Windows Vista, Microsoft Office for Mac, and antivirus software for both. That changes things, especially if you need to use Windows. You really can't go wrong with either option.
  10. EclipseGreen thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2009
    Yeah, I was mistaken. They are offering the new (June 2009) MacBook Pro (with SD card slot, etc.) 2.66 GHz, 256 MB VRAM. The four year AppleCare is available because they have some sort of deal with Apple that provides coverage for the entire four year undergraduate program. I did notice the price discrepancy and am going to ask about it when I go there tomorrow. I did notice that it does include VMWare Fusion 2, in addition to the support offered by the on campus service center (priority repairs, loaner computers, etc.), but I don't know whether the service is worth the ~$180 (considering Fusion is about ~$80).

    Now about the hard drive. If I do buy from Apple directly (in which case I would go with the 2.8 GHz, at least), is it worth upgrading to the 500 GB 7200 rpm HHD? Is there noticeable difference over 5400 rpm? Any trade-offs in battery usage or heating? Are the HHDs still user replaceable, or has the new release changed that?
  11. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    7200 RPM drives will not show a noticeable decrease in battery life or heat, but they may make a bit more noise. I would personally love the 7200 RPM drive, but here's the thing. If you get a CTO Mac (customized to order), you cannot exchange it at an Apple Store if there is a problem; you have to ship it. I considered that and decided that I will probably get the stock 2.8 model, and then I'll use an partitioned 7200 RPM external through Firewire 800 for Time Machine and my music recording needs. That way, if something goes wrong with the MBP, I can exchange it for a new one in a timely fashion, which is important in college. Oh, and the hard drives are still user replaceable, but you now need a screwdriver.

    Also, if you live near a state that doesn't charge sales tax (i.e. Delaware), you can buy it there and save another chunk of change. In addition, the only 7200 RPM 500GB hard drive on the market now is the Seagate 7200.4, which is okay, but there will definitely be better offerings from other companies down the road. In your case, the four year AppleCare is neat, but I'm not sure it's worth the extra money for just one more year (if that is the case).

    In addition, some tips for your situation. You should be able to register for Microsoft's Developer Academic Alliance if you're in engineering (link for UVA: There is an email address on that page, and if you are eligible to register by request through it, you get Windows XP and Windows Vista for free. Just something to keep in mind.
  12. EclipseGreen thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 21, 2009
    Yeah, that's a good idea as far as the external goes. Any recommendations for the external? UVA does have one available as part of a data storage bundle. It appears to be the LaCie Poulton 1TB but there's no mention of FireWire. If it is, then I guess that would be a pretty good deal. Another thing I need to look into when I visit.

    Thanks for the free Microsoft link. That could be pretty useful. I know they do offer it for $10 at UVA, but I think that's just Vista. You never know if XP could come in handy.
  13. Zenze macrumors newbie

    Jun 19, 2009
    Yea, I am a computer engineering student. We also used Matlab and do a lot of remoting into the schools linux boxes for various stuff.

    Honestly I think that the 15" middle model should be enough for anything you are going to do. I am also considering getting one of the new 15" as I am moving off campus next year and could really make use of the great battery life (my current laptop now only lasts about 1.5 hours...). One thing you may want to be cautious of however... the new models are currently limited to SATA 1.5Gbit/s which would limit you if you wanted to get a SSD later on. I am personally going to put off the decision to buy a new one until the last second to see if this issue is resolved.
  14. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    You're welcome :) I'm looking at external drives at the moment as well. That LaCie drive is sweet looking, but it doesn't have Firewire 800, which is twice as fast as FW400. The best external I have found thus far is the WD My Book Studio, which you can get much cheaper and has FW800. That being said, I'm more tempted to buy my own external enclosure that's metal (runs about $80-90 for one with FW800, unfortunately) and get a Western Digital Caviar Black 3.5" drive, which really packs a punch.

    Also, ask yourself, do you really need 1TB of storage? I don't :p 500GB/640GB drives are a little cheaper.

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