Guide for Undergraduate Computer Selection

In this document:

The Colleges of Engineering and Science do not require a brand of computer (i.e. Apple Macintosh or PC) as long as it is configured with sufficient processing power and memory as described below.  Students are encouraged to choose the computer with which they are most comfortable.  No one computer is “perfect” in any major.  The below discussion highlights some advantages and disadvantages of each platform.

Operating System

Apple OS X (recommended)

OS X is popular with the students and faculty in the colleges of science and engineering. It is a variant of UNIX, making it a good platform in disciplines where F/OSS (Free/Open Source Software) is used for research. Apple Macintosh computers can run Windows and Linux as easily as OS X making these operating systems easily available.

Possible disadvantages of OS X include higher cost for hardware (though operating system upgrades are generally much less expensive); lack of native support for some applications you might already be using (but dual-boot and virtualization solution to run Windows would probably eliminate that); and initial learning curve for new users (though this is generally not a problem).

Microsoft Windows (recommended)

Microsoft Windows will run all the software students are expected to use during their undergraduate career. The hardware selection for Windows is much broader than for OS X, and can be found cheaper. Caution should be exercised when choosing only based on price. Poor build quality and hidden technical shortcomings are rife in “cheap” options.

Possible disadvantages of Windows include increased vulnerability to malware and viruses; exclusion from easy participation in the F/OSS community (this can be overcome with dual-booting, or compatibility and virtualization software to run Linux); and potential difficulty transitioning to the current version of Windows.

Linux (caution)

While Linux can be used successfully for many undergraduate activities, there is no guarantee that the operating system will be supported by all required software. Linux users will find less peer and official support for this choice. If it is the secondary operating system on a Windows or OS X computer, this should present no problem but it is not yet recommended that Linux be considered the primary operating system for an undergraduate. ESC is ready to help any student who would like to include Linux as part of her undergraduate computing experience.

If you’d like to run Linux, consider buying a Windows or OS X computer and setting it up to dual-boot so you don’t find yourself unable to participate in classwork.

Hardware

This can be divided into two categories: Apple Macintosh computers to run OS X and Windows-equipped machines. The Apple hardware is a much simpler case since the options are far more limited. The Windows choices are so varied that while we do have recommended models it is likely you will find them unavailable or changed by the time you read this. Please refer to the tables below to make a choice.

Apple Macintosh

There are a few options in the Macintosh range which offer sufficient capacity for an ND undergraduate. The prices directly reflect the trade offs in the models. When selecting a model it is important to consider not only the beginning but the end of the student’s undergraduate career. As a student progresses in her chosen discipline, more sophisticated demands will be made of the computer.

13″ MacBook Pro w/out Touch Bar (Good)

The 13″ inch model of the MacBook Pro without touch bar includes a dual core i5 or i7 processors with Intel Iris Graphics. This model is better for less intensive programs.

13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (Better)

The 13″ inch model of the MacBook Pro with touch bar includes a quad core i5 or i7 processors with Intel Iris Graphics. This is the Mac to get if you want a portable MacBook, but would still like great performance and battery life. This model will be slower than the 15 inch MacBook Pro for rendering and other graphic intensive programs.

15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (Best)

The 15″ inch model now includes a six-core i7 processor with an option to upgrade to a six-core i9. All models include a dedicated graphics card. This makes it the best choice for engineering and computational science work. The display is also larger, and while this makes the machine heavier and somewhat less portable, it makes working easier and may be worth the trade off for serious applications.

Windows Computers

Since Microsoft is not in the business of supplying notebook computers, a Windows machine will need to come from one of the many vendors who sell them. While there are many manufacturers to choose from, our recommended models come from Dell, Hewlett Packard, and Lenovo, three companies which are used regularly by faculty and research groups at Notre Dame. Since there are many models and they change regularly, the table of recommendations below can be used to help choose.

Feature Minimum Recommended
CPU i5 (dual core) i7 (quad core or six core)
RAM 8GB 16GB
Graphics N/A Dedicated Graphics Processor
Display 13″ 15″

Solid State Drives

We recommend that the student’s chose of computer contain a solid state drive. Ssd’s have faster read/write speeds and are less prone to failure than a standard hard disk drive. A 256GB solid state should be sufficient space in conjunction with university provided cloud storage. A 512GB or 1TB solid state is also an option if a student would like more local storage space.

Getting More Help

Engineering & Science Computing is the support group for teaching and research IT in the Colleges of Engineering and Science. We are happy to answer questions or assist as we can in getting the right computer for your Notre Dame undergraduate career. If you need additional help, please do not hesitate to call us at (574) 631-0101 or email to help@esc.nd.edu. If your questions require it, we will be happy to set up a consultation at your convenience. Because our staff is often assisting on-site, you might get voicemail rather than a person. Please leave a message! Our system will create a request and you will get a call back as soon as someone is available. Be sure to leave a phone number and good times for us to call. We look forward to helping you.