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Do you need a decent PC for college level computer science?

  1. Jun 2, 2016 #1
    Hi guys I'm going to study CS in college this fall, but don't know if I need to upgrade my computer or not.
    I understand you need alot of computing power for some heavy caculation but just wondering is that going to happen at the college level courses.

    My current set up is a pc with i3 3220, gtx650 ti, 8gb ram,and 560 gb storage(not ssd). Also a macbook pro 13 in.

    Any suggests will be helpful.
    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2016 #2

    D H

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    Either one of those is fine for your first couple of years, and possibly fine all the way through your undergraduate career. You might want to get yourself on a three year update program, but that's just to have your everyday equipment be up to date (but for students, a three year update program is rather pricey).

    If you're going to major in an area such as high performance computing, you'll be working in a lab or VPNing into a lab that has clusters of somewhat expensive machines, more than $10000 each. If you're going to major in an area that puts you on the path toward supercomputing, a good but not great supercomputer is very much out of reach. Even with cheap and powerful CPUs and GPUs, a mediocre supercomputer costs $50000. A good but not great one costs ten times that. You'll once again be working in a lab or connecting to one.
  4. Jun 2, 2016 #3
    In college, I think the laptop will get more use on campus. Is the MBP fairly recent? I doubt you'll be doing heavy calculations on a local machine. Anything intensive, your school should to let you SSH into a server (or even cluster as mentioned above) if they maintain one. It seems the more modern way is to give students AWS credits and such to rent servers on the cloud, e.g. this deep learning course at Stanford: http://cs231n.github.io/aws-tutorial/ I'd hold off on upgrading for school until you find out you actually need to.
  5. Jun 2, 2016 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Your machine seems sufficient for running an IDE where you'd develop, build and run your code. If you were doing some heavy computational stuff it might take longer to do but will still complete in a reasonable time.

    If you plan on gaming for recreational purposes of course when taking a break from your academics, it might be a bit slow. The laptop is definitely the preferred computer to bring. It's compact, portable and will allow you to go where it's quiet to study or be creative.
  6. Jun 2, 2016 #5


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    I concur on the wait and see approach. Size up the nature of the work you are performing, resources available at your institution and homework demands to assess your computing needs. No need to anticipate hardware demands before developing familiarity with them.
  7. Jun 3, 2016 #6


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    Wait and see is probably the best approach.

    Just about any modern computer should be able to do what you need it to do. However, one thing to consider is the ergonomics. If you are going to spend a lot of time in front of the computer it is important to have a good keyboard/mouse and most IDEs are easier to use if you have a reasonably large screen (or even better, two screens). Hence, whereas it is possible to work in front of e.g. a small laptop it is not something I would recommend.
  8. Jun 3, 2016 #7
    Your setup is plenty, if you are going to do something intense, you can either do it overnight, or in one of the computer labs. For the first couple of courses, you won't do anything that's terribly hard on your setup.
  9. Jun 3, 2016 #8
    Note that most computer science classes don't demand much from the machines -- the demands are upon the student. If you write a compiler, a database, a client / server, it will be mostly you writing code and the computer doing a little bit of the final work.

    There are exceptions (machine learning algorithms) but *you* will be the bottleneck with respect to most of your assignments and not the computer.
  10. Jun 7, 2016 #9
    Thank you. This is very informative
  11. Jun 9, 2016 #10


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    Much of the work you do you will be able to run the program using a pencil and paper. For undergrad work the goal is to learn the how and why of computer science rather than solve any major problems.

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