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Laptop computer in EE

  1. Oct 10, 2006 #1
    Did anyone have a Laptop and acutally use it while studying EE?
    Maybe you had a laptop because you thought you needed it or maybe you had some money and bought it, although you didn't need it.

    Please, could you tell me is it needed or worthwhile to have a Laptop while being a student in EE program. Thank you all.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 10, 2006 #2

    chroot

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    A computer is a necessity for any electrical engineering curriculum.

    Whether or not you'd prefer a laptop or a desktop computer is, mostly, up to you. The advantages of a laptop are, of course, that you can do your work anywhere you'd like, and you can always take your environment with you. The disadvantage is greater cost, and greater likelihood that it will be damaged or stolen.

    If the additional cost of a laptop is not an issue for you, I'd certainly recommend getting the laptop. I can't tell you how many times I had to work from a lab, or from a library, and wished I had had the convenience of a laptop. Also, if you plan on living in a dormitory, you're going to have to make very efficient use of a very small space. A laptop is a great space-saver.

    - Warren
     
  4. Oct 10, 2006 #3
    I am in my second year of an EE program, and I am beginnig to wish that I had a laptop. I don't need one since I have a destop, but it sure would be nice. I will probably buy one next year.
     
  5. Oct 11, 2006 #4
    Warren, I do worry that somebody might stil it or that I might loose it somehow.

    Nothing000, if you have it where, how, would you use it, which courses in your 2nd year of EE.


    Thank you guys.
     
  6. Oct 11, 2006 #5

    chroot

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    My best advice for this situation is to get a renter's insurance policy and declare your laptop under it. If you already have auto insurance, you can often get renter's insurance essentially for free -- you get a multi-line discount which offsets the renter's policy premium.

    You may also be able to declare it under your parents' homeowner's policy.

    - Warren
     
  7. Oct 11, 2006 #6
    Warren, thank you Warren, I think that is a good idea. I will ask my parents to do it.
     
  8. Oct 11, 2006 #7

    berkeman

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    For my EE work, I have both desktops and laptops. The desktops run the main design packages, and have the most horsepower and biggest displays.

    But my laptops get a lot of work in the lab, in data acquisition and report generation. I have a National Instruments GPIB card in each laptop, and run National Instruments CVI data acq studio in concert with Microsoft's Visual Studio package. I also have Tcl/Tk installed on the laptops.

    This lets me pull in screenshots from various instruments like from my LeCroy oscilloscopes using LeCroy's free Scope Explorer package, and I can write programs in CVI or Tcl/Tk to acquire and process data for inclusion in my test reports. The olden days of taking polaroid pictures of oscilloscope displays and taping them into your lab notebook are (thankfully) gone. Now you cut and paste between various design and data acq packages, and end up with much better and more accurate documentation.

    I'd recommend that even as an EE student that you start to follow this paradigm, and get at least some basic data acq capability for your laptop. Then get into the habit of writing some test code (Tcl/Tk is pretty easy to use) and interfacing with various instruments in your lab work. You will be doing it in real life EE work, so the earlier you start getting comfortable with it, the better for you.
     
  9. Oct 11, 2006 #8

    chroot

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    berkeman,

    That's all well and good, but National Instruments stuff is incredibly pricey. I wouldn't recommend that anyone pay for such a thing until they're absolutely sure they need it. Most lab scopes found in most undergrad engineering labs aren't digital storage scopes, and don't have GPIB, anyway.... You're probably accustomed to using the sort of fancy 2 GHz+, $60,000 scopes that most industry uses, but the undergrad labs probably just have the trusty ol' 60 MHz, $1,000 analog Tek scopes.

    There are some "PC-connected oscilloscopes" on the market, which plug into a computer via USB and display their waveforms on the PC, but the cheap ones have impossibly tiny bandwidths that make them pretty much useless for any real work.

    Personally, I'd tell an undergrad to refrain from buying anything, hardware or software, until they're sure that a) they need it and b) it's not already available for free from the university.

    - Warren
     
  10. Oct 11, 2006 #9

    berkeman

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    Yeah, those are important considerations. I guess I'd at least start out with a simple USB data acq box -- those can probably be had for $200 or less, and have okay BW for simple lab work in EE. And I guess they can still just shoot digital pics of the cheap 'scope displays and upload those into their reports for documentation.

    Guess I'm a bit spoiled as you say -- quite a bit different from the low-cost undergrad days! But there is such a "force multiplier" in having that portable data acq and programming capability with you out in the lab (as I'm sure you know). Amazing how that wasn't really practical just a decade ago.
     
  11. Oct 11, 2006 #10

    chroot

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    It's actually a neat topic: What are some cheap tools, not required by most universities, that can make EE coursework more convenient?

    My short list would probably be:

    1) A simple USB oscilloscope box -- it'll definitely come in handy when you're building little synchronous circuits on a proto-board in your dorm room at 3 am. Make sure it has at least two independent channels. Cost: $200-$400

    2) Some proto-boards of your own. Cost: $30-$50

    3) A PIC or EZ-USB microcontroller development kit, so you can read digital signals and produce arbitrary digital patterns to test your circuits. Cost: $70-$100

    4) A copy of Linear Technologies' LTSPICE, easily the simplest and most direct SPICE tool on the planet. Cost: Free

    5) A copy of Octave, a numerical computation tool similar to MATLAB. Cost: Free

    What else can you think of?

    - Warren
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2006
  12. Oct 11, 2006 #11

    berkeman

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    6) Tcl/Tk from Activestate (free and very useful scripting language with pretty useful graphics in Tk)

    7) A generic free C compiler. I've used Pacific C, but there are better ones now, including some with graphics interfaces.
     
  13. Oct 11, 2006 #12

    chroot

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    Well, I'd recommend Python (with Tk or wxWindows) over plain Tcl/Tk, and I'd recommend Ubuntu Linux or Cygwin on Windows with gcc and ddd over Pacific C, but hey.... everyone has different preferences. :)

    - Warren
     
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