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New CS student needs help choosing a laptop

  1. Jul 7, 2007 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I really need some help now with choosing a laptop for the upcoming school year. This fall I will be a Computer Science student, and so it's important I choose a computer that will be most "appropriate." The problem is, I'm being told different things by different people.

    1. My tutor- This past year I had a physics tutor who recommended I get a Mac. I told him I planned to have a dual-boot with a laptop PC, even though I didn't know how to "install" a dual-boot. He then told me about Parallels, and that I could run Windows XP in addition to OS X, but more importantly that I would be able to run Linux (which is very important for me to learn as a CS student). I believe in general he thinks Macs are well-built machines that most people in CS use. While he doesn't have a degree in computers, he does have a PhD in physics and has done extensive work with computers.

    2. IT guy at my mom's work with a Master's in CS- My mom told him that I planned to spend $2300 on a Mac, and he told her that that would not be the computer for me since I'm just starting out in CS. Instead, he told her he has a Dell that he has upgraded, and that he would be willing to sell it for $800. He also added that the Mac would not be able to run everything a computer science student needs. I have never this guy, but hopefully I will be able to talk to him soon.

    Overall, the computer I have looked most at is the MacBook Pro mainly for Parallels, but also because Apple creates both the hardware and software (which means less crashes I guess). I also thought it might be important to learn a new OS (OS X and Linux). However, now I am also considering a ThinkPad and possibly a Dell. I'm very new to CS, and so I cannot really say what I will be doing on this computer. My guess is a lot of programming and writing papers. Anyone with a degree in CS or a similar field or anyone who is a computer buff, please give me your opinion. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2007 #2
    I would recommend a Thinkpad. And why not just use linux? Ubuntu would probably benefit your case the most. You have Open Office for paper needs, and a wealth of programming tools. I myself use Gentoo for more control.
  4. Jul 7, 2007 #3
    Is it possible that, say if I ordered the Thinkpad, to order it without Windows and possibly lower the price? Or I guess I could just remove windows completely and install ubuntu when it arrives.
  5. Jul 7, 2007 #4
    I'm not sure if they would do that or not. If so, I have no idea how much they would reduce it. The thinkpad I got last winter came with XP but that very day I removed it. You could easily just remove windows in 10 minutes with Ubuntu. As for MACs, well....if I had to, I would choose OSX over windows anyday, but then I dislike Apple as much as I dislike windows. Btw, what do you know about the hardware of the laptop of the IT guy at your mom's work ?
  6. Jul 7, 2007 #5


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    I like HP for laptops. I would also go with Linux if you can get it. I know Dell allows you to customize some machines with SUSE or Red Hat, and i don't think they allow you to get a machine without an OS (unless it's a server in which case it reduces the price significantely because of licensing).

    I would go with Debian instead of Ubuntu, but that comes down to personal preference, and Gentoo is also a good choice.
  7. Jul 7, 2007 #6
    I dont think it matters... I mean, I'm a beginner myself, and you basically need processing power for the compilers, and a basic notepad program which will work on any old dilapidated laptop. So, unless you're gonna game on it, or do graphics designing, get a basic laptop, as any half decent model now a days has decent processing speeds...
  8. Jul 7, 2007 #7
    I have no idea what the specs are of the guy's laptop, but as he apparently put it, it has all the "bells and whistles." Thank you all by the way for you input. Keep it coming!
  9. Jul 7, 2007 #8


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    You probably don't want to eschew windows completely -- that will lead to problems if you're ever asked to program in one of the .NET languages, or if a class requires auxilliary software that runs best (or only!) on Windows.
  10. Jul 7, 2007 #9
    would that make a dual boot my best bet then?
  11. Jul 7, 2007 #10
    You should check your computer science department's website to see if they have an computer purchasing recommendations for students. Unless they have specific recommendations, there are no specific technical reasons to choose a generic Windows laptop over an Apple laptop or vice versa.
    • Most undergraduate computer science programs start with courses that use programming languages and software development tools that can be run on any operating system (Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux). As you get further along in the program they tend to use more and more UNIX-based software development tools (gcc, make, etc.).
    • Since all current Apple laptop models use Intel processors, you have the option to dual-boot between Mac OS X and Windows via http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/" [Broken] projects enable easy installation of UNIX/Linux programs. (Fink is an adaptation of the apt-get tool in Debian and Ubuntu; MacPorts is an adaptation of the FreeBSD ports system.)
    • On a generic Windows laptop (Dell, ThinkPad, etc), you can repartition your drive using a third-party utility like http://www.symantec.com/home_homeoffice/products/overview.jsp?pcid=sp&pvid=pm80" which is similar to Parallels and can be run on either Windows or Linux. Running Linux in virtualization should solve any potential hardware compatibility problems because the virtualization program should provide software interfaces between Linux and Windows (which presumably has working drivers for these hardware devices).
    I personally recommend going with the MacBook Pro. I bought a first-generation MacBook Pro about a year ago, and I have not regretted it. I had a few issues with dead and/or recalled batteries (all of which were replaced free of charge by Apple), and sometimes the laptop does run a bit hot, but I imagine that even those kinks have been ironed out now. I love that Mac OS X combines an elegant graphical user interface with powerful UNIX underpinnings, and I love the cool applications that Mac developers are coming up with. I have both Parallels and Boot Camp installed, and at first I was dual-booting or running Parallels a lot, but as more Mac applications have been compiled to run on Intel hardware and as I have discovered replacements for Windows-only programs, I have been booting into Windows or running Parallels only on rare occasions. The only potential showstopper is that Microsoft Office does not natively support Intel-based Macs (that will happen when Office 2007 for Mac comes out later this year), but even that does not affect me because I write most of my papers (and soon my PhD thesis) using the LaTeX computer typesetting system (for which there are some fabulous Mac-only programs), and I do most of my calculations in MATLAB (which now supports Intel-based Macs). If there is an Apple Store or Apple-retailer near you, I suggest that you visit and test drive a MacBook Pro before making a decision.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  12. Jul 7, 2007 #11

    Dr Transport

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    I bought a dual boot laptop from shoprcubed.com earlier this year. Not a bad investment, Linux and WidowsXP and have not had second thoughts. I would suspect that if you wanted to put Mac OS X on it you would be able to down the road.
  13. Jul 7, 2007 #12
    Windows Machines
    -Allows me to program in any .NET language
    -Generic Windows laptops generally cost less than a Mac
    -Windows is the OS I am most familiar with
    -I could run other OS’s I need to learn using a dual-boot

    -In general, I have not heard many good things about Windows such as:
    -Many viruses aimed at Windows (albeit this is the result of Microsoft having a successful, yet widespread product).
    -Security in general not very good (although I did read an article that Vista is standing up quite well to attacks).
    -Specifically for Vista, the AERO GUI hogs a lot of memory.

    OS X and Macs in general
    -UNIX-based OS, so it’s very secure. Also allows most UNIX/LINUX programs to be compiled on OS X without using Parallels or Boot Camp (which I guess saves me money since I don’t need to buy these programs).
    -I haven’t read or heard anything bad about the AQUA GUI taking up a lot of memory, so I suppose it’s better than AERO?
    -Software and hardware are made by the same company, so as more Mac applications are developed, I’m assuming that the number of Windows-only titles that in a sense “limit” Mac users will decrease. Also, hardware-software compatibility shouldn’t be a problem.

    -It is not an OS I am familiar with. The only experience I have with it is messing around with the ones I have seen in computer and bookstores.
    -The MBP I originally planned on purchasing costs $2300.

    If anyone wishes to add to the list, please feel free to do so. I’ll admit I’m not a huge computer buff (not yet that is), so I happen to be incorrect regarding anything listed here, please let me know.
  14. Jul 7, 2007 #13

  15. Jul 7, 2007 #14


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    I would rather use VMWare or Virtual PC than have a dual boot because you can quickly switch between OSs. In my experience if i have a dual boot i will always use one of the OSs most of the time.
    Microsft Virtual PC 2007 just came out, and i believe it's free (at least through MSDN).
  16. Jul 7, 2007 #15


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    The computer itself makes absolutely no difference. It doesn't need to be powerful, or have much memory, or anything else. The programs you're going to write in your university classes will honestly run fine on a ten-year-old computer.

    It's a good idea to have access to some kind of a POSIX environment, but every operating system in existence can provide this. Linux and MacOS are natively POSIX, and you can install Cygwin on top of Windows.

    Get a decent, modern computer, but don't think that spending a ton of money is going to make you a better student, or make your studies easier -- it won't. Also, be aware that really fancy computers may be more susceptible to theft.

    - Warren
  17. Jul 7, 2007 #16
    I am in the market to buy a new laptop. When I found out that Apple now supports MATLAB, I made the decision that I would purchase a Macbook (not pro). I'll be buying it in the next couple of weeks.

    So, how was it to install MATLAB? Does it just install like any old' program on OSX (something I have no idea about), or does it require some additional steps to get it working? After it's running, does it run equivalent to how it would on a Windows box?

    Thanks man.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  18. Jul 7, 2007 #17
    Ok, I think I’m getting close to making a decision. How does this look?

    Lenovo Thinkpad

    -Intel Core 2 Duo (2.0 GHz, 4 MB L2, 667 MHz FSB)
    -Windows XP Home Edition
    -2 GB of RAM
    -80 GB hard disk, 5400 rpm
    -9 cell battery

    Also, I can run Linux under Windows using VMware, right?
  19. Jul 7, 2007 #18
    I'm curious about one thing. Why did you decide on laptops over desktops?
  20. Jul 7, 2007 #19
    Installing the current version of MATLAB on an Intel-based Mac is quite straightforward. The only thing that might be tricky is that I think you need to install X11 before you can install MATLAB, because the Mac version of MATLAB is basically the UNIX/Linux version recompiled to run under Mac OS X. An installer for X11 is included on the Mac OS X DVD-ROM. Once it's installed, it runs just like it would under Windows or Linux.
  21. Jul 7, 2007 #20
    I figured I would have to take my computer to class with me, so a laptop would be the ideal choice.
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