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Computer for undergraduate introductory computational physics course that requires Mathematica

  1. Sep 6, 2016 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm justifying asking the forum because I'm currently in an introductory computational physics course that requires Mathematica, and I hope to soon start other computational work. My https://www.amazon.com/Lenovo-Y580-15-6-Inch-Laptop-Dawn/dp/B009AEPQDI's motherboard and hard drive are supposedly failing, but all I've noticed is minor excess heating and a clicking sound in the hard drive (which I know indicates failure, but it's been doing it for a while). I've cleaned it thoroughly and had it analyzed by several tech support departments and they've all recommended I simply purchase a new one. However I'd really rather avoid it financially, and the only performance issue I've noticed with it is an inability to play games from this decade at normal speed. It plays streaming video fine, and programs like Audacity and Codeblocks also have acceptable load time. Would replacing just the motherboard work? And if not, would a cheap $250 laptop replacement be acceptable at my level?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Companies typically replace laptops every 3 years and ordinary folks every 5 years. However, I think in your case it would be warranted to replace it now.

    Why are you waiting for the drive to fail?

    Have you backed up the machine to an external drive yet?

    I've got a cheap ASUS that works well for web browsing and video display. I run Ubuntu 16.04 Linux on it and don't play games. This machine works well for me. It's an ASUS XM200 laptop with 500GB drive and no CD-ROM drive. I've been using it for a couple of years now.

    To run Mathematica, you should check the website to see what the minimal requirements are and then get a machine a few notches above that so as not to get caught when an upgrade comes in and the bar is moved.

    Personally I would recommend a Macbook Pro (runs on Unix) as it will be a good investment for the next couple of years at least and it should run Mathematica and other numerical software (like Open Source Physics or Numerical Python eg Anaconda distribution) just fine. However, there are some good windows based laptops that will work well too with i5 or i7 processors.
  4. Sep 6, 2016 #3


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    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    A cheap $250 laptop (either refurb or new, low end) would be preferable to a dead unit that you may have ie kicks the bucket when you need it most ie just before a term paper or major computational project is due. How fast can you recover from such a disaster? If you have a week of cushion time, no big deal, but if a failure might mean only having a day to recover, well, that could be a real disaster as getting older or installed software to run on a new system might be time consuming so much so that you will miss deadlines.
  5. Sep 10, 2016 #4


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
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    If the drive is iffy, you should replace the hard drive as well and include that cost in your analysis. The question is, is the cost of repair worth it to hold on to a relatively old computer, or would the money be better spent toward a new computer? It's not an easy question to answer. It depends on your financial situation, what advantages and disadvantages would come with a newer computer, etc.

    This question made me laugh. In the past, I've done what the OP has and gambled that disaster wouldn't strike before I got around to dealing with a potential problem. Then disaster struck, and the first thing I thought was, "That was dumb. I could have easily avoided this hassle." I get where the OP is coming from, though. If you have limited resources, it's easy to downplay the risk of potential problems.

    I wonder if the OP can afford a MBP if the cost of a $250 laptop would be a financial burden. If it's a possibility, the timing is a bit unfortunate as Apple has let the Mac languish, and the hope is that the company will refresh the various models next month.
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