Physics researcher/student needing new laptop

In summary, a cheap laptop with a solid state hard disk and up to 12 gigs of ram should be sufficient for your needs.
  • #1
Hshc
14
1
Hello,

I'm a physics student (currently a senior in college, planning on going to graduate school for a Ph.D.). My current laptop is encountering major problems, mostly small things that make it not worth investing more money into the laptop, given that it's already old.

I currently do experimental particle physics research so I want to make sure I get a new laptop that is able to handle what I do: I do a lot of simulations and data analysis. C++ and ROOT are my go-to, but I also use Mathematica and Python quite a bit.

What specs would you recommend for a laptop? I was thinking an i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 256 or 512 SSD, but I don't want to go overboard and spend a lot of extra money if I don't need it. I also was thinking about getting a Unix-based OS (either Ubuntu or Mac), given that SO many tasks that I need four or five applications on Windows, I could just do on the terminal. Thoughts?

Thanks! :)
 
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  • #2
Hshc said:
planning on going to graduate school for a Ph.D.
In some places, you can get a laptop as part of the PhD position. Could that be an option?
Hshc said:
I currently do experimental particle physics research so I want to make sure I get a new laptop that is able to handle what I do: I do a lot of simulations and data analysis.
Does that happen on the laptop itself or on some remove machine where you just need ssh?
Hshc said:
I also was thinking about getting a Unix-based OS
That is probably a good idea.
 
  • #3
mfb said:
In some places, you can get a laptop as part of the PhD position. Could that be an option?
I will have to buy my own computer. I have computers in the labs I work in, but I like being able to do work from home, or while visiting my parents. Physics doesn't stop.

mfb said:
Does that happen on the laptop itself or on some remove machine where you just need ssh?
It happens on both. But, as a personal preference I want to be able to run it on my computer as well. I find it easier to edit on a text editor application (such as sublime, xcode, etc) than using Vim or Emacs while ssh-ing. Not 100% necessary though. The core of the data analysis is on a different machine, where the data is stored

As for Unix-based OS, is a Mac worth the money? Or should I get a PC and partition the drive and get a Linux distro or how should I go about it? I know how to handle a terminal and do stuff on it, but I'm not super advanced at computers and operating systems, and I'm worried Linux will be too much for me to handle.
 
  • #4
About the data-analysis, you will inevitably get better at commandline editing as you use it.
I'd say this is a good thing. On the other hand troubleshooting/testing can be cumbersome.
Samples of data sets can help you with that, minimizing your 'local load'.

The amount of RAM seems suitable, however extra RAM is never a waste.
If you browse the web like me for example, dozens of tabs open at the moment, it's clear you sooner or later reach the limits.

Hshc said:
[...] and I'm worried Linux will be too much for me to handle.


If you use a suitable linux distro I wouldn't worry about this to much. I recently made the transition to linux and so far I haven't met any difficulties.

Except for the fact I accidentally I installed a factory build of openSUSE (similar to a beta) which meant some software wasn't available yet.

For openSUSE the package manager (YaST is the GUI and zypper in the command line) is great in my opinion.
When searching for software on the opensuse website you will encounter one-click-install buttons. These do just that, click them, feed the computer your root password and install the software.

The downside is that I sometimes succeed in semi-jamming the user interface.
A simple reboot fixes this the first time after which you can search a command line solution (killall plasma-desktop to close it and kstart plasma-desktop to get it back up and running)

Another option is testing several linux distributions using liveCDs until you find something you like.

Or you could always opt for a dual boot (first windows, then linux is the easiest!)
 
  • #5
This question would be much easier answered if you gave us a budget range you'd like to stay in.
 
  • #6
Orbyt said:
This question would be much easier answered if you gave us a budget range you'd like to stay in.
Probably would want to stay below 1500.
 
  • #7
I'd say, get a cheap laptop and manually purchase a solid state hard disk and up to 12 gigs of ram. I'll bet you save 100s
 
  • #8
For $1500, you should be able to get a decent USED Intel mac laptop and run both Windows 7 (or 8.1) and Mac OS X on it. That gives you a lot of flexibility. When I was teaching at Penn, a huge number of students did this; they mostly used a third party boot manager so they could switch instantaneously across OS's. I did it using Apple's native boot manager (Boot Camp) which comes with OS X--I could boot into either Windows or Mac OS X, but not both at the same time.

My advice is, don't worry much about processor speed--they are all quite fast these days--but go for lots of RAM/memory instead. Get a minimum of 4 Gb; get 8 Gb RAM if you can. And a decent size disk (Min 250 Gb). But remember that disk can always be increased, these days, via USB drives.

If you should get a Mac and dual-boot using Apple's Boot Camp, my technical blog describes several adventures I had using it: http://harborsparrow.blogspot.com/2009/12/boot-camp-revisited.html
 
Last edited:

Related to Physics researcher/student needing new laptop

1. What are the minimum specifications I should look for in a new laptop for physics research?

For a physics researcher/student, some important specifications to consider are a fast processor (at least an Intel Core i5 or equivalent), a large amount of RAM (at least 8GB), a solid-state drive for faster data processing, and a dedicated graphics card for visualization and simulations.

2. Is it necessary to have a high-resolution display for physics research?

A high-resolution display can be beneficial for viewing and analyzing complex data and graphics, but it is not always necessary. A minimum resolution of 1080p should be sufficient for most physics research tasks.

3. Should I prioritize portability or performance in my choice of laptop?

This depends on your specific research needs. If you frequently travel for fieldwork or conferences, a lightweight and portable laptop may be more suitable. However, if you need to run complex simulations or data analysis, a more powerful and less portable laptop may be necessary.

4. Are there any specific software requirements for a physics research laptop?

Yes, some physics research software may have specific system requirements. It is important to check with your department or research supervisor to ensure that your new laptop can run all the necessary programs.

5. How much should I expect to spend on a new laptop for physics research?

The cost of a new laptop for physics research can vary depending on the specifications and brand. It is recommended to budget at least $1000 for a laptop that can meet the minimum requirements for most physics research tasks.

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