Laptops: What to Buy

This is often a common question from students new to the program and making the correct laptop choice can allow for a higher level of productivity. However, often the best choice depends on the individual.  But here are some things to think about:

  1.  Think about comfort. Large laptops with big screens are not worth the extra energy to carry around. Small is good because you will be more likely to have your laptop with you when you need it.
  2. Have good keyboard/mouse-track pad/screen support. A computer that you do not like to use is a useless computer. Get a laptop that you find comfortable typing on and do not mind looking at for hours at a time.
  3. Purchase a durable machine. Students are often very hard on their laptops and, given the role of that device in their life, it is easy to understand why. These machines are with you night and day, good days and bad. Purchase something that will hold up.
  4. Now think about processor speed, memory, and so on. For what will be done for home work assignments, often fast-fast is not the end all and be all. Faster is better, but I think the first three points come into consideration first. Also, if you want to play computer games, then purchase a desktop to go along with the laptop. You will get much more power for your dollar with a desktop machine, and you will have separation from your school work.
  5. Now think cost. This final point is also very important, but for a decent laptop running Linux you do not need to spend a lot of money. Often less than $500 will get you a very good machine to run Linux.

Operating Systems:

The majority of the work done in the department of computer science is done using open source tools. This means Linux, but you can do Ok with an Apple or Windows machine. It is just incrementally more hassle.

  • Linux — this has become the work-horse of the computer science community. It has the greatest amount of open source software available for it and often was first developed on Linux. The down side it is a greater learning curve, but if you want CS this is where it is at. One advantage is that you can set up the laptop to dual-boot either Linux or Windows, but with Windows 8 that has become harder.
  • Apple — just about everything you could ever need is available for OSX. You have all your MS Office tools, there is a great variety of really awesome graphical programs, and support for open source is 98% there. So you get everything you need without rebooting your computer. The downside is that dual-booting Linux is much trickier, but you really do not need to do this.
  • Windows — Open source support is about 60% there for Windows, but it is coming along. On the flip-side, you can dual-boot Linux with Windows. Note: dual-booting Windows 7 is very straight forward, but Microsoft has put up some serious roadblocks with Windows 8. Note: if you do want to dual-boot Windows 8, start with the Ubuntu Linux distribution.