Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Best Laptop GPUs and Screens for Aerospace Engineering?

  1. Jul 20, 2015 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am about to start college as an aerospace engineering major, and have a few questions regarding laptop GPUs and screens.

    First off, I am looking at the Dell XPS15, with the nvidia Geforce gt750m, and the alienware 15 with the nvidia gtx 980m. My main concern is that the Dell's GPU won't be able to handle heavy duty software in 3-4 years. Based on everyone's experience here with CAD systems and other intensive software, do you think I will have a problem?

    Second, the Dell has two options for screens - a 3200x1800 and a 3840x2160. Will the better resolution be very helpful later on in 3-4 years or will the lower one be just fine?

    Thanks for everyones' help!

    Quinn Nietfeld
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2015 #2
    We've done well with Dells, getting a lifespan over 4 years without them seeming overly slow or underpowered for scientific and graphics intensive applications.
  4. Jul 20, 2015 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    A four-year old laptop is ancient. IDK what kind of operating system you plan to run, but in the Windows world, it takes a fair amount of work to update operating systems, especially if you can't find compatible device drivers for your hardware.
  5. Jul 20, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    CAD systems have different GPU requirements to the gaming oriented GPU's you mention. You need to be looking at Quadros and Firepros.
    whether you actually need a high end CAD focused GPU is another matter, they cost a fortune!
    I built a CAD workstation when I needed it - in 3rd year, had I done it in 1st year it probably would've cost over twice as much and been underutilised for 3 years.
  6. Jul 20, 2015 #5
    I think I will settle on the Dell. Thanks guys for your help!
  7. Jul 21, 2015 #6
    I'm not sure I would be eager to make folks feel inferior with older computer equipment. I would estimate at least half of my own productivity in science and engineering has been with computers older than 4 years, including a number of older laptops.

    At the Air Force Academy, cadets are issued laptops as incoming freshmen and keep using them productively through their four years there.

    The seniors in the science and engineering majors are capable of all kinds of advanced coursework and original research with their laptops.

    I expect this is true in many other schools as well.

    The computer on my lap now is over 4 years old and just beginning to show the first signs of age. It was plenty powerful enough to compute Fourier transforms using explicit integration on data sets with half a million points, and it still does a fine job communicating with all our laboratory instruments and running all our scientific and video editing software. Unless I spill something on it or drop it, I think it's productive life will likely extend a couple more years.
  8. Jul 21, 2015 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I agree with some things in your post. I had once purchased a high-end laptop in 2002, which was almost brand new, and was one of the first machines which came loaded with Windows XP. I used this machine until it blew up in 2007 (I think the thermal paste between the CPU and the heat sink finally disintegrated, and the machine shut down due to overheating).

    The point I was trying to make is, that unlike a desktop machine, a laptop usually contains many custom pieces of hardware which often are not available for desktops and which become increasingly hard to find after a particular model of laptop goes out of production, making it unlikely, in the event of a failure, that you will be able to repair the machine. While the machine is working, everything is fine, until one day, when you least expect it, Boom! And then you have to procure a replacement.

    I think to avoid these hassles, especially, people whose work depends on having a functioning computer will upgrade every year or every other year to the latest model, and avoid the problems in trying to keep an older machine running. It makes for a great tax write off, too.
  9. Jul 21, 2015 #8
    You make some really good points. We favor the higher end Dells and ThinkPads. We've never had one die younger than four years old. We also tend to buy multiple instances of identical machines for both household and laboratory use. This allows greater familiarity with the quirks and interchangability of parts when they begin to fail. Of course, backing up often help also.

    Colleges that provide laptops usually have IT services working hard to keep parts and software patches available for their students over the needed four year life span.
  10. Jul 21, 2015 #9
    I would not recommend Alienware. I am currently on one, and when I first got it, I had to work for almost 10 hours to get it into a condition that was usable by any sense of the word for Aerospace. The customer service for Alienware is crap, My "Warranty" is worthless. And the computer continues to have random stupid issues with the sound card, video card, and touch-pad/keyboard.

    If you do decide to go with Alienware, just be aware that you need an external mouse if you intend to do ANYTHING. Any time you touch a key, you have to wait 3 seconds before the touch-pad is usable. If you use headphones, unplug them before letting your computer goes to sleep or else the built in speakers wont work until you restart or hibernate (sometimes it only works after restart)

    Otherwise all the other specs that you said should be fine, I am running on 1080p and it is more than good enough for all the CAD programs that I use (Solidworks/Autocad) at the same time as MATLAB, VirtualBox (running Linux), Microsoft Silverlight, Word, and My web browser. All I would suggest is that you get 16 Gigs of RAM at least so that you can run all the programs you need on top of each other. (Also MATLAB likes to run you out of memory when you make mistakes if you don't have enough).

    Also, if you are gonna use the I-9 APU processor, Don't ever use the built in GPU... it sucks.... Badly....
  11. Jul 21, 2015 #10


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Alienware is supposedly the best for graphics. Game graphics that is. You are probably best served by Dell's business class machines with a GPU card, perhaps with 2 Gig of Ram installed on the GPU Card and 8 Gig (16 Gig sounds even better) with a 512 (Heck 1 Terabyte even) Gig SSD drive. That sounds like a great system. If you buy refurbished, you can probably get such a machine for around $1000 or so for the lower specs mentioned above.

    I bought a refurbished Lenovo Yoga (nice machine) with an i7, 8 Gig and a 256 Gig SSD drive for a lot less than the above and it is fast (boots up in seconds), light, small, portable, touch screen, and lasts 5-6 hours away from any power. Its weaknesses: Has built in GPU that uses on board RAM, not a dedicated GPU. It is limited to 8 Gig of RAM (no way to expand memory), and my 256 Gig SSD is NOT a 512 Gig SSD. It is also limited to only 2 USB ports and does NOT have a legacy VGA port (does have an HDMI, which is better, if you have to chose). I am happy with it, but I don't use it for super high end computing. My CAD needs are 2-D and my computing needs are for small to medium modeling.

    However, I would suggest starting with at LEAST 8 Gig as my work laptop, a Dell Precision (4 Gig RAM) with an added 1 Gig GPU card is crippled and does act up with the newer AutoCAD 15 Lt release. My support engineers all have 16 Gig on their workstations to run full blown AutoCAD 15, and I am not sure they can run with anything less.
  12. Jul 21, 2015 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I don't recommend using the on-board graphics, but it is a handy feature to have if your regular graphics card craps out, as has happened to me a couple of times. You can reboot your machine and use the on-board graphics for trouble-shooting or until you get a replacement graphics card installed. Your machine won't be turned into a useless brick should you lose your graphics card.
  13. Jul 21, 2015 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    And some numbers to illustrate;
    Solidworks 2011 min ram = 1GB
    Solidworks 2015 min ram = 8GB

    So if you want to run SW in 4 years time you better get 64GB of ram now :nb)
  14. Jul 21, 2015 #13
    Thanks again! Does anyone know what the benefits would be from getting a dell precision over an XPS? Most everything is the same except the GPU (Quadro vs Geforce). I understand one is for gaming and one for more business-related things, but how is refreshing the screen with complex changing images differ between the two to make a difference?
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook