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Personal Computing Information for Students

Things to consider when purchasing a computer to bring to studio:

All incoming students are required to have a laptop computer throughout their academic career. We recommend a two-tiered approach to this laptop requirement: For the first two years, a less expensive general use computer is more than adequate. Using the two-tiered approach will keep you from spending all your budget up front on a high-end computer that will be mostly obsolete when you really need it beyond third year.

If you currently have a serviceable laptop that runs a modern operating system, it could conceivably see you through the first couple of years, saving some money right off the bat. On the other hand, if your current machine is slow and dodgy, we recommend purchasing something more modern to bring to school. While we do not endorse or recommend any particular brands or models, the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 series is a good deal at less than $500, but any budget model from the major manufacturers would be good.

For third year and beyond, you will need a much more powerful computer, so save most of your computer budget for this purchase. At this level, we do always recommend PC laptops for compatibility with the software packages you'll be using. If you must have an Apple product, choose a MacBook Pro rather than an Air (see caveats below about using Apple products). At a minimum, we recommend at least 8GB of RAM, a 6th gen. Intel i7 CPU, and a graphics card with dedicated video memory--this is one thing you should not skimp on. A video card with 2GB of dedicated video memory is recommended for decent performance. Inexpensive, good quality gaming cards like the ATI Radeon and Nvidia GeForce product lines will certainly work, but for increased performance in 2D and 3D modeling, look for an entry level graphic design-oriented card such as the Nvidia Quadro series or the AMD FirePro series. DO NOT settle for the built-in Intel graphics cards that seem to come with every laptop these days.

Screen size and hard disk size are a personal matter left to the user, but be aware of the trade-offs involved in screen size, battery life and portability. You should be able to run your system for a 5 hour stretch in studio on battery power, and still carry it home. Also, save some money and avoid the beautiful 4k displays for now. Some applications have problems with 4k and above screens. It goes without saying these days that you'll also need WiFi capability, as we do not provide wired Ethernet ports.

A decent PC laptop ordered from one of the major manufacturers online and configured as above will start at around $1100.00. Avoid “big-box” retail stores, where you may be pressured to buy what is out on the shelf, rather than what you really need. For a good example of a highly suitable, well configured laptop, see this Lenovo ThinkPad P50. As of July 2017 the starting price is listed as $1,303.20. Or for a sleeker, thinner look, this Dell Precision 15 5510 configured with an i7 processor is less than $2000.00 as of July 2017.

Please also consider purchasing an external hard drive of 500GB or more to store and archive your work. Pro tip: seek out the physically smaller size external drives that can be powered via the USB cable so you won't be scrambling to find a free outlet to power a brick-sized drive. You will also need at least one USB Flash drive 8GB or larger to transfer temporary files between computers. Matter of fact, get several flash drives - they're easy to lose but they're cheap.

Required Software

This is a minimal starting point. You will most likely be asked to purchase or download other software at some point. Note that new versions of some software titles come out almost yearly now, so just get the most recent version you can find:

Sophos Anti-virus: DO NOT mess around installing other virus/malware software. This is what the University recommends. It just works. It's free for our students. Use it.
Microsoft Office Suite: Don't buy online or as a package deal. Students can download a copy and a license for no cost through the University
Adobe Creative Cloud: Available by subscription from Adobe.
AutoDesk suite: Free download and 3-year license, available to students from Autodesk. There are many titles available, start with the ones your studio instructors recommend.
Trimble Sketchup: Start out with "SketchUp Make", the free version available to anyone. The Pro version is handy, and is discounted for higher ed. students.
Rhinoceros (Rhino 3D): Another one that is not free, but discounted for students.
Grasshopper for Rhino: A free essential add-on for Rhino 3D.

Additional concerns for those buying a Mac:

There are several issues to be aware of when choosing a Mac. Many of the essential software products listed above do not run natively on OS X. To run these programs, you will also need to purchase a copy of Microsoft Windows and install the dual-boot environment BootCamp. We consider this a hack and it will work, but poorly. You will have graphics card performance issues. Don't even consider running Windows in Parallels or VMware Fusion; just save yourself the frustration. Lastly, students are not permitted to print to School printers from their personal computers. Consequently, all files must be made PC-compatible, and transferred to a PC in the lab in order to print.


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