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Which are the best computers for college engineering students?

Updated on July 29, 2014
“When you want to know how things really work, study them when they're coming apart.”  ― William Gibson
“When you want to know how things really work, study them when they're coming apart.” ― William Gibson

So you're thinking about becoming an engineer?

Getting into a good engineering college was the hard part. Now you'll need to prepare a list of all the things you'll need for the new school year. Aside from textbooks and writing utensils, you'll need a computer. Now whether you'll use a desktop computer or a laptop is something we'll be discussing a bit further in this guide.

A good computer will help you get all the work done and really aid you in learning all the necessary computer skills that lie ahead. You won't be using it just for work, since we all know "all work and no play makes Johnny a dull kid". The internal hardware of any computer dictates just how capable of a machine it really is. For the work that you will be doing, make sure you check up on the universities system requirements.

These requirements will ensure you buy a good capable computer that can run the needed software programs. Now some schools might require you to use a Windows-based computer, to avoid certain software incompatibility issues which might arise. Other will go so far as to specify the minimum CPU, RAM amount and graphics card needed to run the programs you'll be working with.

Bear in mind that you won't be spending all your time doing actual school work. So when you want to watch an HD movie or play a game just to release some of the stress, your computer should be able to handle such a task.

So what will it be: a desktop or a laptop?

This is one of the first questions you should be able to answer. Do you opt to buy a desktop, or go for a portable computer like a laptop?

Desktop computers come with their set of advantages over laptops. Just off the top of my head, I would think about the amount of performance you get per buck and the ability to run everything a lot better in the same price range. A laptop will typically cost a lost more and will offer a lower spec sheet than its budget desktop counterpart. Laptops do offer the increased advantage of portability, so it shouldn't be excluded from your shopping list just yet. If your budget can manage it, I would recommend getting both. The desktop you can keep in your dorm room and the laptop you can haul to class.

Why do I recommend getting a desktop over a laptop? If you compare a desktop and a laptop in the same price range, you'll notice the spec list is a lot better in the desktop. This is because it's much harder to stuff powerful components inside laptops, and the whole process of scaling desktop performance down to laptop dimensions will cost quite a lot.

Desktops are highly upgradeable. What I mean is that with a desktop, you can pretty much replace all the internals when newer and better hardware emerges. A laptop is limiting concerning upgradeability. With a laptop you can usually only add a bit more RAM to it, and that's that. Everything else is soldered into the motherboard, so when you need to upgrade, you can do so by getting another laptop.

In this short guide we will be looking at both desktops and laptops suited for engineering students.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

The MacBook Pro is perhaps one of the best laptops for working with design and engineering software programs.

It will run any program at an incredible level of performance and its Retina display is simply an experience you need to see to believe. At 2880x1800 pixel resolution everything is crisp and extremely clear.

It comes with the latest Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of system memory, a flash storage drive (SSD) with 512 GB storage space and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU.

As you can see it even tops the recommended system requirements above.

Apple - Introducing MacBook Pro with Retina display

MSI G Series GT70 17.3-Inch Laptop

Now this is a big laptop. At 17.3 inches it will be pretty difficult to carry around, but it's a great desktop replacement and will carry out tasks efficiently and quietly.

The screen produces a Full HD resolution so your designs will be as clear as they can ever be.

It comes with a 3.2 GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, 24GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive to suit your storage needs and the newest NVIDIA Geforce GTX780M dedicated graphics card with 4GB of VRAM.

This was created as a hardcore gaming laptop, but its specs point to the fact that it will run pretty much anything you throw at it.

Quick Computer Spec List

Hardware Component
Quad-Core from either Intel or AMD
6-16 GB of system memory
NVIDIA 600 / 700 series or AMD Radeon HD 6000 / 7000 series
Hard Drive
SSD drive with at least 256GB storage space

What should my computer integrate?

Since you're an engineering student, you will run programs that rely heavily on the processor and system memory. Some of these will require a good graphics card also.

The processor you choose will determine just how much you'll be able to multitask and the amount of RAM will dictate how well your installed software programs will run. Your have to aim at getting a computer which carries a decent quad-core processor. While most people recommend computers which carry Intel Core processors, if you're on a tight budget you can find cheaper computers which carry the AMD processor iteration. Most people even say that AMD processors are better for gaming purposes, but this is beyond the scope of guide.

RAM or Random Access Memory will dictate just how well your computer will run. A good computer for engineering purposes will carry a minimum of 4-6GB of RAM, but the more your computer carries, the better overall system performance will be. Your goal should be a computer with 8-16 GB of system memory, just to be on the safe side.

The graphics card is used by most programs to render your work. It's also an essential component if you intend to run modern games. Your computer should be equipped with a dedicated graphics card either from the NVIDIA 600 / 700 series or a GPU from AMD's 6000 or 7000 series. These will allow you to render complex designs and play the occasional modern game.

The hard drive is another important component. Since performance is something you aim for with your computer, you have to focus on finding a computer with an SSD drive. These Solid State Drives contain no moving parts and will outperform a regular hard disk drive with speeds up to 10-12 times faster. Boot up times are in mere seconds while programs load really fast with an SSD on your side.

Apple now includes SSD drives into most of its modern Mac and MacBook line of computers. The downside of such drive is a sacrifice in storage capacity and increased costs / GB of storage space.

ASUS UX51Vz-DH71 15.6-Inch Laptop

This is another great laptop from Asus. It features a full HD display with a Vivid IPS panel which produces bright and crisp images with an incredible level of detail and color accuracy.

At the heart it integrates a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, running at 2.1 GHz, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid state drive and an NVIDIA GT 650M graphics card with 2GB of dedicated video memory.

It's a fast laptop and it will run everything smooth. It could use a few more RAM, but since everything else is top-notch, you won't experience any lag or workflow interruptions.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p 15.6-Inch Laptop

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p is a powerful entertainment laptop. This doesn't mean its sole purpose is entertainment, since it comes with a hefty amount of high-end hardware which make it a solid competitor.

It integrates a quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor which runs at 2.4 GHz, 16GB of RAM and a combination of a 1TB regular hard disk drive for massive storage space and a 24GB solid state drive which can hold the operating system and essential programs for fast boot up times and rapid loading programs.

The GPU is an NVIDIA GeForce GT750M with 2GB of dedicated video memory.

Now this laptop features an Ultrabay, which is an interchangeable bay that can be used to add another graphics card for doubling the visual performance, a hard drive for increased storage space or an aditional fan for cool and silent operation.

This feature is the next logical step in laptop upgradeability.

Samsung ATIV Book 6 15.6-Inch Full HD Touchscreen Laptop

This is more of an affordable option. It's a 15.6 inch touchscreen laptop, which adds another layer to user interaction.

It runs on an Intel Core i7 processor at 2.7GHz along with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and the AMD Radeon HD 8770M graphics card.

The bright 15.6 inch touchscreen offers a full HD resolution, so your designs are clear and you can even interact with them much easier, directly on the screen.

It comes with the Windows 8 64-bit operating system which is compatible with all the major CAD software programs.

Apple - Making the all-new Mac Pro

The New Mac Pro

The new Mac Pro proves what engineering and design can accomplish.

The new Mac Pro is something so unique, that only a world class team of designers and engineers could come up with a shape so perfect that it just stands out.

Don't let the small aluminum cylinder fool you. The new Mac Pro is a powerful workstation. It uses a 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor which runs at 3.6Ghz. There are also 16 GB of 1866 MHz DDR3 memory which add a new level of performance to anything you decide to run on your computer.

There's also a 256GB SSD for storage purposes and a dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics card configuration, each carrying 3GB of dedicated video memory.

This is perhaps one of the most advanced workstation any engineer can hope for. It will just fly through even the most demanding application with little effort.

Apple iMac

The iMac is another one of Apple's most successful computers. It features a beautiful 27 inch screen which produces a 2560x1440 pixel resolution - effectively a double-HD resolution. The panel is an IPS, which means colors are more true to life and viewing angles are truly wide.

It integrates a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor which can reach 3.9GHz via Turbo Boost. Now that's a lot of processing power right there. The 8GB of RAM is more than enough for an Apple computer and will ensure everything you run will behave nice and smooth.

There's also a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX video card which raises the graphics bar quite a bit.

As far as storage goes, the new iMac features a 1TB fusion drive, which is Apple's proprietary solution to massive storage without sacrificing performance.

I personally like the iMac experience. Designing on the massive 27 inch screen is something of a unique experience you just have to try.

Lenovo IdeaCentre All-In-One Desktop

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 27-Inch Desktop

Who says a desktop has to be boring? The new Lenovo A720 is an all-in-one desktop that allows you to do much more. It features a 27 inch multi-touch screen which offers a full HD resolution.

The screen is adjustable and you can set it to work straight on the screen, without the need for peripherals.

The A720 comes equipped with a fast 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM quad-core processor, 8GB of system memory and a 750GB hard drive for storage.

It's also a bit cheaper than the Apple computers presented above and carries an NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M graphics card, which is a decent choice which can run most graphically demanding design applications and modern games.

Dell XPS One 27'' All-in-One

This is another all-in-one computer which is perfect for designers and engineers.

It uses a 27" quad high definition touchscreen display.

At the heart of it, there's an Intel Core i7 processor which runs at 3.1 GHz, 8GB of RAM and a whooping 2TB of storage space, enough to keep thousands of projects in one place.

The graphics card is an NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M which will ensure you can watch full HD videos without lag and enjoy the latest games in high resolution.

It comes with the Windows 8 operating system, which is touch-friendly due to its enhanced tiled user interface.

Dell XPS X8700 Desktop

Now if the models above seem a bit pricey, but you still need a high performance desktop that's right for the money, you should consider the Dell XPS 8700 desktop computer.

It's a lot cheaper and you really get a big bang for the buck.

It runs on a 4th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, with 16GB of RAM and a massive storage space of 2TB.

The GPU is an NVIDIA Geforce GTX 660 which has 1.5GB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory.

Everything this computer integrates screams high performance and if you're on a tight budget, this is the desktop to get for school.

Apple or PC

What would you choose: Mac or PC?

See results

Mac or a PC?

Most people think of Macs as overpriced computers. While this might be the case, they don't take into account the whole picture. Macs come with everything built in. When you buy an Apple computer, you actually buy the hardware and the software. Mac OS is one of the best operating systems to date and comes included with each computer Apple creates. It's a lot more intuitive than Windows and many people preffer it over Microsoft's OS.

Some think about Macs as better for design and PCs for programming. Engineering requires both tasks. From a design perspective I would stick with getting a Mac since they are powerful and their displays are second to none when it comes to picture quality, resolution and color accuracy.

Apple has a powerful line of laptop computers, called MacBooks, which feature strong, durable aluminum housings along with top of the line hardware components. They also have the Mac line, which are basically powerful desktop computers.

Known PC brands create both strong desktop and laptop models. The added advantage of a PC is the upgradeability. While Apple will charge you a lot for a simple upgrade, it will cost you a lot less to upgrade your own PC to keep up with modern engineering software requirements.

© 2013 Bucsa Emanuel Ioan

Got something to add? Comment below!

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Good comparison on computer products. I love the PC, but my hubby wants to try a MAC next round. Thanks for the information and I'm certain students will appreciate the information.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      5 years ago from California

      There are the Apple and the PC group at our house. The apple folks go PC for their computers. The android phone people are PC people. Mac OS, all varieties of Linux and Windows are the only games in town these days. As much as the Mac fans like Mac's, I wonder about engineers who don't want to play with their own OS and apps

      Definitely well done hub.

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 

      5 years ago from India

      Well researched info, useful resource... thank you.

    • ologsinquito profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      This is a very useful article. Engineering students need good computers.


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