New CS student needs help choosing a laptop

In summary, the conversation is about a person seeking advice on which laptop to purchase for their upcoming Computer Science studies. They are considering a MacBook Pro for its ability to run both Mac OS X and Windows through Parallels, but have also been recommended a ThinkPad and Dell from others. They also mention the possibility of using Linux and removing Windows completely. Other participants in the conversation suggest sticking with basic models and checking the university's recommendations, as well as the option of dual-booting or using virtualization. The person summarizing the conversation personally recommends the MacBook Pro.
  • #1
Chromium
56
0
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.
 
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  • #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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #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 ?
 
  • #5
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.
 
  • #6
I don't 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 going to game on it, or do graphics designing, get a basic laptop, as any half decent model now a days has decent processing speeds...
 
  • #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!
 
  • #8
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.
 
  • #9
would that make a dual boot my best bet then?
 
  • #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/" 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.
 
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  • #11
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.
 
  • #12
Windows Machines
Pros
-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

Cons
-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
Pros
-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.

Cons
-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.
 
  • #13
-Job- said:
and Gentoo is also a good choice.
heheh

10chars
 
  • #14
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).
 
  • #15
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
 
  • #16
las3rjock said:
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/" 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.

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.
 
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  • #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?
 
  • #18
I'm curious about one thing. Why did you decide on laptops over desktops?
 
  • #19
FrogPad said:
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.
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.
 
  • #20
I figured I would have to take my computer to class with me, so a laptop would be the ideal choice.
 
  • #21
You'll never be required to bring a laptop to class (and in fact you may not even be permitted to use one during class). On the other hand, a laptop will be very useful to you, since you'll be able to do your studying anywhere you like. Dorm rooms are nigh impossible to study in.

- Warren
 
  • #22
A laptop will be nice. It gives you some mobility, which especially around finals can be important. Things can get quite hectic, and computer labs can get full fast. If you need to "live" on campus, a laptop is the way to go.
 
  • #23
las3rjock said:
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.

Sounds like cake. Thanks for the response!
 
  • #24
chroot said:
You'll never be required to bring a laptop to class (and in fact you may not even be permitted to use one during class). On the other hand, a laptop will be very useful to you, since you'll be able to do your studying anywhere you like. Dorm rooms are nigh impossible to study in.

- Warren

I've had classes where its required, studio based classes where the lab is integrated in the class.
 
  • #25
Hurkyl said:
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.

In case you haven't heard or just don't know, you can compile and run C# programs in linux now with Mono. I'm not certain which other .Net languages can be done.
 
  • #26
Yeah, you can't go wrong with a ThinkPad. If money is not a problem get the T series (T61 or T60) other-wize Z and R series are nice aswell.
 
  • #27
EDIT: I didn't read all of the intervening posts. This was directed at the OP.

Do you REALLY need a MacBook Pro? Why not just go with a MacBook? That's the laptop Apple has targeted for students anyway as inexpensive, but a damn good deal considering you still get quite a few great features (processor is still dual core etc.). Besides, why would you want to lug some 15" or 17" widescreen monstrosity on your back around a college campus? To me this defeats the purpose of having a portable computer. After being stuck with a 7 lb 14" Dell for four years, I vowed that my next laptop would be as compact and light as possible, subject to price. With the MacBook, you get that, but still at an affordable price. Sorry if I sound like salesman. I don't work for Apple. It just seems to me that the lesser model is by far the better choice IF you are going to buy a Mac. Unless the crap integrated graphics card that comes with the MacBook will be a detriment...but I can't see how. As Chroot pointed out, for a student all that matters is getting a reasonably modern, well-performing machine, it doens't have to be the state of the art.

I'm not sure if somebody mentioned this already, but you can run Windows XP or Vista natively on a Mac buy using software provided by Apple called Boot Camp to set up a dual boot system.

Again, I have a Dell myself, but it is four years old and falling apart. I have been thinking of switching to Mac. EDIT: For clarity, I still have the Dell and have not bought a new computer yet, Mac or otherwise. One thing I'd add to your "pros" list for Mac notebooks is the hardware...they generally seemed well-designed and put together.

If you decide to go the Windows route, I agree with comments made that you probably can't go wrong with a Thinkpad. I've heard that firsthand from Thinkpad owners. But again, it's expensive (T series). It's a high end laptop. It's marketed for business people. Sure, it's "robust" and well put together, and some of the newer ones even look cool in a utilitarian, ultra-serious "this computer means business" Thinkpad sort of way. I also considered a Thinkpad T series myself.

Again, ultimately it makes little difference provided you get a system that performs well for everyday personal computing, and I think that describes most new laptops. Do some research, and find the best compromise (for your needs) amongst portability, battery life, quality of hardware, number of features, and price. That's it.
 
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  • #28
So if you are interested in a Dell i think that they have a good breakdown of the different laptops that they have for each major at this website http://www.delluniversity.com/products/dell_systems

They have some great deals for students. PC's have gotten a bad reputation because of windows vista but i really think that you will be blown away if you try out a new loaded system with Windows 7 on it. And also if you have a campus that is primarially Dell pc's like my campus it helps to get a Dell or atleast a PC since we have a very small population of Mac's on campus.

hope that helps!
 
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Related to New CS student needs help choosing a laptop

1. What specs should I look for in a laptop for computer science?

When choosing a laptop for computer science, it is important to consider the processor, RAM, storage, and graphics. You will want a laptop with a fast and powerful processor, at least 8GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive for storage. A dedicated graphics card may also be beneficial for tasks such as gaming or graphic design.

2. Should I go for a PC or a Mac?

This ultimately depends on personal preference and what software you will be using. Both PCs and Macs have their advantages and disadvantages. PCs tend to have more options for customization and are generally more affordable, while Macs are known for their sleek design and user-friendly interface. Consider the software you will be using and make sure it is compatible with the operating system of your chosen laptop.

3. How much should I spend on a laptop?

The price of a laptop can vary greatly depending on the brand, specs, and features. As a computer science student, you will likely be using your laptop for several years, so it is important to invest in a quality machine. It is recommended to spend at least $800-$1000 on a laptop for computer science.

4. Is it necessary to have a touchscreen or 2-in-1 laptop?

No, it is not necessary to have a touchscreen or 2-in-1 laptop for computer science. These features may be beneficial for certain tasks, but they are not essential for your studies. It is more important to focus on the specs and performance of the laptop.

5. Are there any specific brands that are recommended for computer science students?

There is no one specific brand that is recommended for computer science students. It is more important to consider the specs and features of the laptop rather than the brand. However, some popular and reliable brands for laptops include Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Apple.

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