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Laptop or Desktop + Netbook for Grad School?

  1. Apr 5, 2012 #1
    So, I'll be going to grad school in condensed matter physics in a couple years, and since my current laptop is on it's last legs I'll need a new computer. However, I do still have a nice monitor which still works. As I see it, I have two options:

    1. Get a new laptop, and hook it up to the monitor when I'm at home.
    2. Build a desktop (already have a case), and buy a netbook to use in class/coffeeshops/etc. The main reason I like this option is that a desktop will last longer and be more upgradable (right?). Building one would also be kind of fun.

    My budget is about $1000 to $1200. I imagine I'll be using the computer mostly for web browsing, mathematica, python scripts and maybe a basic simulation here or there. However, I'm not 100% sure what my needs will be, so I was hoping that people who have gone to grad school in physics could give me advice on what I might need.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2012 #2
    I had a similar story.

    I, like you chose between a desktop or laptop. I ended up going with a good desktop, good ram, lots of HDD, etc..., and skipped the laptop completely. I use the desktop for all of my work anyway and having two computers is a bit excessive in my opinion. If I am at the coffee shop, I just read over notes and jot ideas down, and because I am generally either at home (where I do most of my work) or at school (lecture + exercising), I couldn't see where a laptop would be of the upmost necessity.

    So it is really dependent where you do most of your work. Are you spending most of your time in coffee shops working? Or are you at home most of the time working? If it's the latter, I'd say go with the desktop (skip the netbook) and build a good PC with a good monitor to boot.
  4. Apr 5, 2012 #3
    I mostly (but not exclusively) work at home, and in the physics classes I've taken in undergraduate, I mostly just need a pen, paper and calculator. However, lately I've become somewhat enamored with computational physics and I may end up pursuing that more in grad school. If I do, will I need a mobile computer?
  5. Apr 5, 2012 #4


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    I'm an undergrad, but a friend of mine who is a PhD student in aerospace engineering went the desktop and netbook route.

    I started with a laptop but used it almost exclusively as a desktop, so I ended up building a desktop and using that as my primary computer. Multiple monitors are also great, especially if you have to do any programming.

    In retrospect I would have been better off (and would have saved a lot of money!) had I built a desktop and gotten a netbook from the start. YMMV.
  6. May 6, 2012 #5
    Go with the desktop, I have a laptop and every day I wish I would of gotten a desktop. I will get a customizable desktop from a friend in a couple of weeks, and I simply cant wait to use it.

    Also, I would put all of the money in your budget into the new desktop, dont spend another 300-400 on a netbook that you don't need. This is unless you have a desire to own one or you just simply must.
  7. May 22, 2012 #6
    Between your two listed options, I'd get a netbook and build a decent desktop, but tbh, why not just get a respectable laptop and a decent desktop (where respectable > decent)? You can build a competent desktop for relatively little money, especially considering you're not doing anything too hardcore. I don't really know computer prices in the USA, but I'd wager you could spend $400 on your desktop, and the rest on the a laptop. If you need help with specs, PM me.

    Also: set it up so that you can access your desktop and its files/programs remotely via your netbook/laptop. This will maximize your productivity imo, as you don't gotta worry about always carrying all relevant files with you. It's also what all the cool kids do.
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