Specifications for buying a laptop for study and research purposes

Wrichik Basu

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Questions on specifications of laptop that will be used for study and (later) research
Father was thinking about buying a laptop that I can utilise for my studies. Our PC (windows 7 pro, 32 bit) is proving incapable for much of the software that I would like to have. Being 32-bit, I cannot install latest java and Matlab on it. In addition, if you have a look at this thread (mainly the later posts), you will understand what problems I am facing while installing MikTex.

Keeping these in mind, I would like to ask about the specifications for the laptop. As I said, this laptop would be configured for study purposes, especially research (no gaming).

First, what softwares are essential for any research scientist (irrespective of field)? Some trivial ones are below:
1. Java (very trivial, but worth mentioning)
2. Matlab (or some similar math software)
3. LaTeX editor and compiling systems
Can you suggest anything else (paid/free) that could be necessary?

Based on the above, what should be the minimum requirements of the laptop? By this, I mean:
1. RAM
2. OS
3. Hard disk size
4. Battery
Anything else? Should I consider an inbuilt disc drive, or should I later buy an external RW drive?

For OS, I am choosing Windows (actually I have to, as I am not familiar with Linux or Mac). Perhaps windows 10, 64-bit. Which version, professional or ultimate?

Also, I don't want to buy any third party antivirus. My experience with QuickHeal is already bitter. Dad was saying that Windows has its own antivirus, and it doesn't create problems like the third party software is creating. Is that good and can be trusted? Does it come free with windows?

Thank you for reading, and would appreciate your suggestions/opinions.
 

atyy

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Summary: Questions on specifications of laptop that will be used for study and (later) research

Father was thinking about buying a laptop that I can utilise for my studies. Our PC (windows 7 pro, 32 bit) is proving incapable for much of the software that I would like to have. Being 32-bit, I cannot install latest java and Matlab on it. In addition, if you have a look at this thread (mainly the later posts), you will understand what problems I am facing while installing MikTex.

Keeping these in mind, I would like to ask about the specifications for the laptop. As I said, this laptop would be configured for study purposes, especially research (no gaming).

First, what softwares are essential for any research scientist (irrespective of field)? Some trivial ones are below:
1. Java (very trivial, but worth mentioning)
2. Matlab (or some similar math software)
3. LaTeX editor and compiling systems
Can you suggest anything else (paid/free) that could be necessary?
Since you're planning to run Windows, it would be useful to have MSFT Office, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and several other applications. You can also opt for Libre Office, which is open-source and free.
For myself, I would also want MSFT Visual Studio, which is pricey unless you get the Community Edition, which is free. I've been fortunate enough to get free copies of Visual Studio up through VS 2017, as I have taught at colleges that have licenses for free downloads of the software for students and instructors. I would also get Python, which can be downloaded for free from python.org.
Wrichik Basu said:
Based on the above, what should be the minimum requirements of the laptop? By this, I mean:
1. RAM
2. OS
3. Hard disk size
4. Battery
Anything else? Should I consider an inbuilt disc drive, or should I later buy an external RW drive?
I'm thinking about getting a laptop for myself, but this wouldn't be my main computer -- just something I could take with me to the programming classes I teach. The desktop computers I own are an HP Pavilion I bought in 2013, running Win 7, and a Dell Precision that I bought last fall, running Win 10, with a 10-core processor. I'm very happy with the Dell, but I've heard enough bad things about Dell laptops, that I'm leaning toward a Lenovo Thinkpad for something to buy.

I did a search for Lenovo Thinkpad laptops, and came up with a site that offers an X1 Extreme model starting at $1389 (USD). The specs say up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7, up to 64 GB DDR4 RAM, up to 1 TB SSD hard drive, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 TI GPU with 4 GB RAM. I'm sure if you choose the high ends of the "up to" options, the price will go up significantly from what I quoted. My thought when buying a computer is that the more you spend up front extends the date at which the computer becomes completely obsolete. My HP is now six years old, but runs everything I want it to run, and I've never had any problems with it whatsoever. I do need to upgrade the OS soon though, as support for Win 7 will be running out soon.

Wrichik Basu said:
For OS, I am choosing Windows (actually I have to, as I am not familiar with Linux or Mac). Perhaps windows 10, 64-bit. Which version, professional or ultimate?
I would personally go for Pro, as it's likely to be a lot cheaper. I don't know enough about the two versions to give any other reasons than that.
Wrichik Basu said:
Also, I don't want to buy any third party antivirus. My experience with QuickHeal is already bitter. Dad was saying that Windows has its own antivirus, and it doesn't create problems like the third party software is creating. Is that good and can be trusted? Does it come free with windows?
My Dell Win 10 computer has Windows Defender as part of Windows, and from what I've read, this is pretty good AV software. A very useful addition that I haven't added to that computer is Malwarebytes anti-malware software. (I have a paid subscription on my older computer, and will do the same on my newer computer one of these days.)
Wrichik Basu said:
Thank you for reading, and would appreciate your suggestions/opinions.
 

Vanadium 50

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If your only problem is that you need a 64-bit OS, why not just install it on your present laptop?
 

Wrichik Basu

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If your only problem is that you need a 64-bit OS, why not just install it on your present laptop?
At present, we don't have a laptop, it's our old and faithful pc. But we need a backup option. In addition, if I have to stay away from home for studies, I will need a laptop. So a simple upgrade of the pc might not be helpful.
 

Wrichik Basu

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Since you're planning to run Windows, it would be useful to have MSFT Office, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and several other applications. You can also opt for Libre Office, which is open-source and free.
Actually I didn't mention that, thinking it would be too trivial. Any windows computer almost always has MS office.
I did a search for Lenovo Thinkpad laptops, and came up with a site that offers an X1 Extreme model starting at $1389 (USD). The specs say up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7, up to 64 GB DDR4 RAM, up to 1 TB SSD hard drive, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 TI GPU with 4 GB RAM. I'm sure if you choose the high ends of the "up to" options, the price will go up significantly from what I quoted.
True. The price that you mentioned is already above the budget. Actually this is something that I have kept in mind too:
My thought when buying a computer is that the more you spend up front extends the date at which the computer becomes completely obsolete.
It would not be good if I buy a laptop, and within one year I find that it is not catching up with my needs. That's why I posted here, such that the laptop can be at least used till phd.

Maybe 64GB ram would be too much. Perhaps 8GB or 16GB would be good enough for now.
My Dell Win 10 computer has Windows Defender as part of Windows, and from what I've read, this is pretty good AV software. A very useful addition that I haven't added to that computer is Malwarebytes anti-malware software. (I have a paid subscription on my older computer, and will do the same on my newer computer one of these days.)
I know about Malwarebytes, but if Windows Defender works, maybe I'll not purchase anything else now. You see, I would basically be using this pc for studies. No Facebook, no twitter, maybe PF. So I hope that there will not be much of malware/virus problem.
 
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Actually I didn't mention that, thinking it would be too trivial. Any windows computer almost always has MS office.
Not necessarily. You can order it as an additional option when you get the computer, but if you do, it's an extra charge.
I know about Malwarebytes, but if Windows Defender works, maybe I'll not purchase anything else now.
From what I've read, the two work better than just Win Defender alone.
 
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I suggest that you might try doing a little hunting on ebay. You can find a good 15.6" quad-core I7 machine with Win 10 pro and 8GB RAM or or better for under $500. Here's an example of better-than-average for $600. For sellers with a high number of transactions, I look for a 99%+ positive feedback rating -- sometimes I'll take a chance on a seller with a low number of transactions but a 99.9% or 100% positive feedback rating.

I advise that you shouldn't feel too wedded to Windows, just because of it being the adversary you already know. You could, for example, check out how your current machine performs on Scientific Linux. You can download the Live CD image, burn it to a CD, boot from it, and then 'just jump in'. It wouldn't take you long to be comfortable with watching streaming video using VLC media player, or surfing the net with Firefox, on the SL platform.

That would allow you, for example, to buy a very good pre-owned/used machine that has had its HDD (often for privacy reasons) removed, for a much lower price than it originally sold for, into which you could add, say, a 1TB SSD, for around $100 or less.
 
Last edited:

Dr Transport

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microcenter has refurbished deals


I bought two refurbished desktops/workstations for less than $350 USD each, both are i-5 with a reasonable amount so RAM, the only thing I waswn't happy about was they only had a 500G hard-drive. I looked thru the p laptops, they are pretty reasonable price/spec-wise.
 
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microcenter has refurbished deals


I bought two refurbished desktops/workstations for less than $350 USD each, both are i-5 with a reasonable amount so RAM, the only thing I waswn't happy about was they only had a 500G hard-drive. I looked thru the p laptops, they are pretty reasonable price/spec-wise.
In my view, Micro Center is pretty good; however, at least most of the time, part of what you're paying for when you buy from them is their warranty, and they don't commit to anything substantial regarding what is meant by 'refurbished', beyond that it will be functional as described, and you can get an assurance as good as that when you buy from a good seller on Ebay and use PayPal to pay, instead of probably paying a significantly higher price to Micro Center than you would be likely to pay for something similar on ebay.
 

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Wrichik Basu

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I advise that you shouldn't feel too wedded to Windows, just because of it being the adversary you already know. You could, for example, check out how your current machine performs on Scientific Linux. You can download the Live CD image, burn it to a CD, boot from it, and then 'just jump in'. It wouldn't take you long to be comfortable with watching streaming video using VLC media player, or surfing the net with Firefox, on the SL platform.
I know that Windows is not the preferred OS for most people. But given my state, I would also consider whether I would get help and support for the OS. For Windows, as you know, a simple google search will give you answers to most of the problems. If I have to post in a forum or mail someone for every trifle, I would rather not choose that OS at the moment. But I would keep SL in mind. Maybe after a few years when Win 10 is obsolete, I will upgrade to SL rather than to another version of Windows.
 

Wrichik Basu

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One very nice set of things about Scientific Linux is that it's carefully vetted by Fermilab.
I know that, but there is little official support from Fermilab:
Please contact your support organization for their support offerings.

Fermilab does not offer official support to the general public. Fermilab users should contact the Service Desk.

The Scientific Linux community may volunteer to assist with some issues at their discretion.
It is not that I will get official support for windows, but apparently a lot more help material exists for Windows.

But I have not ruled out SL. As you have said, let me try using it on my PC. If I find it difficult, maybe I will install both Windows and SL in the laptop.
 
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I know that, but there is little official support from Fermilab:

It is not that I will get official support for windows, but apparently a lot more help material exists for Windows.

But I have not ruled out SL. As you have said, let me try using it on my PC. If I find it difficult, maybe I will install both Windows and SL in the laptop.
I have SL, Win 7, Win 10, and 2 other operating systems bootable from one of my HDDs on one of my PCs. In my opinion, SL is easier to install as a secondary OS beside an already existing OS than Windows is; SL doesn't arrogate to itself the idea that it's the 'onliest' as much as Windows does. Regarding the support issue: well, SL is based on RedHat, and there's plenty of support available from the nice guys over there, even if you're a white-labcoat-wearing Fermilab groupie.
:oldwink:
 

Wrichik Basu

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Anyone has any other software that is worth mentioning here? I'll be buying the laptop soon.
 

Wrichik Basu

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Also, to support external GPU in future, what do I need to look for in my laptop? Do these external GPUs connect via USB (type C), or do they require some other port that I must search for before buying the laptop?

By the way, we are thinking of a 1GB (internal) graphics card.
 

Dr-Flay

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The answer is always the same, get the best you can for the budget you have.
Get an AMD based system with a decent ATI GPU already in it.
You will get a more powerful system that runs cooler for the same money if you go with AMD/ATI instead of intel.
External device speeds are bottlenecked by the speed and length of the cabling. You only really need to worry about cluttering the table with external boxes if you buy an Apple.

Laptops do not have internal GFX cards, they have internal GFX chips which will share the RAM in the system.
If you want a 1 GB GFX then just allocate that much to it in the BIOS.
You then lose this from your main system RAM, so if you have an 8GB laptop, you then have a 7GB laptop.

Windows definitely does NOT come with MS Office. People mistake bundled deals with the price already included as "it comes with Windows".
Office is not free, but the online web version is.
LibreOffice is very favourable in comparison. You can try it yourself and see how you feel with it.
Don't like it, then MS Office is your only other real option.

Windows has come preinstalled with free AV since Vista. nothing new there. However it does rely on you only using Microsoft browsers and that your system passes their baseline security test.
It also relies on belief and faith rather than actual ability.
Yes it is less problematic than some others, but mainly because it isn't very capable, lacks features and does not integrate into non MS products.
If MS tried integrating into other browsers you would probably see the same issues some other AV have had.
Bitdefender, Avira and Kaspersky have excellent free options, and they stay in the top 5 AV test rankings more often than the rest (using the 2018 monthly tests as a guide).

Linux is likely to be needed at some point, so I would suggest you dual-boot and have both windows and Linux.

Treat your internal drive as your work space not where you store your important stuff. Laptops are easy to damage, lose or steal.
Don't worry so much about needing to store lots of data in the laptop, worry more about space for the OS and installed software.
Make use of an external drive for your archives. This also makes it more convenient if you need to work on a different PC or for some reason your laptop won't boot.

I would recommend Vivaldi browser for researchers due to the extra features and functionality. It is aimed at a more nerdy audience that needs more control.
 

Wrichik Basu

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I wanted to post an update that we have decided on buying a HP Probook G6. It comes with 8GB RAM preinstalled, and the other slot is empty, so we decided to add another 8GB. It has a USB 3 port as well. It comes with Windows 10 Professional, and will have Scientific Linux as the second OS. It has an Intel i7 processor.

Thanks everyone for helping out and posting your valuable suggestions.
 
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Could you maybe provide any more of the specs? e.g. which I7 processor -- is it the 8565U? screen size (15.6")?
 

Wrichik Basu

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Could you maybe provide any more of the specs? e.g. which I7 processor -- is it the 8565U? screen size (15.6")?
Yes, the processor is 8565U. The screen is 15.6". In addition, the laptop doesn't have an internal DVD drive, but it doesn't matter, as you can always buy an external drive.

I will see if I can add more information once I receive the laptop.
 
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I will add more information once I receive the laptop. But the screen is 15.6". In addition, the laptop doesn't have an internal DVD drive, but it doesn't matter, as you can always buy an external drive.
The 15.6" screen size has become a de facto industry standard for good reason. I agree regarding the optical media device; they're somewhat obsolescent now; Samsung recently announced that it would discontinue its manufacturing of Blu-Ray devices. One of my machines (HP 8560P) has a bay that is designed to be usable for either an optical drive or a secondary HDD (swappably).
 
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I have the Acer Aspire E 15 that I bought for $300 off Amazon. It has worked flawlessly so far, and I use Matlab a lot in my studies. I found this article helpful when I was shopping around: https://www.kyleshardware.com/best-laptops-under-700

Let me know if you're having more questions!
KingElon
 

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