Computer Recommendations for Incoming Students

The Michigan Tech IT department is often asked about computer recommendations for incoming students. What students bring with them depends a lot on their budget, but the following are some general hardware recommendations.

Minimum specifications

  • Intel i5 processor
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • 500 GB hard disk
  • 802.11ac capable wireless adapter for laptops

Recommended specifications

  • Intel i7 processor
  • 16 GB of RAM
  • 1 TB hard disk
  • 802.11ac capable wireless adapter for laptops
  • Other: 1TB external drive recommended for backup and additional storage

Budget and primary intended use often dictate computer choice. Engineering/Gaming laptops tend to be heavier/less mobile (thicker because of heat dissipation needs) and more expensive, but they tend to have a longer lifespan (4+ years). Most mobile machines have low voltage or medium power processors that make the laptop lighter but become obsolete more quickly. For students who choose these types of machines, they often find that by the time they reach senior year, the older, slower hardware makes it more difficult to finish work, e.g., senior projects. At that point, a good portion of students are using University-provided workstations.

Common Questions

How large of a screen should I buy?
Screen size and resolution (clarity of text and images displayed on the screen) are personal preferences. While a larger screen will display more information, often making it easier for working, larger screens also result in heavier laptops. Most students have between 13" and 15" screens on their laptops and aim for a screen resolution of 1600x900 or 1920x1080.
Do I need a dedicated graphics card?
Most of the laptops retailing for $1000 or less do not have a dedicated NVIDIA or ATI graphics card. Heavy-duty engineering apps that do 3D modeling (AutoCAD, Catia, NX, etc.) will perform adequately on a machine without a dedicated graphics card but will be a lot happier with one. The laptops with dedicated engineering or gaming video cards tend to be in the $1500-$2200 range, which is often more than students want to spend or can afford.
What about engineering software?
We don't expect students to buy a very expensive laptop capable of running all engineering software and have upgraded lab computers in locations on campus for heavy duty engineering application usage. Our engineering workstations are Fourth Generation Intel i7 processors with 8 or 16 GB of RAM, 1TB hard disk and an NVIDIA Quadro K600 graphics card (or better). While many engineering software applications are available for students to install on personal computers, some are not.
Can I bring my Mac?
Students and parents often ask if Mac computers are supported. We do support Mac computers and many of our students and faculty use Macs, but please be aware that some engineering software does not run natively on Macs. A work around is to use a "virtualization environment" such as VMWare Fusion. VMWare Fusion runs on your Mac as an application creating a Windows environment that allows any Windows program to run.  Michigan Tech IT offers active students a free copy of VMWare Fusion which can be found on our software download site
Do I need a warranty?
A good three-year warranty is a life saver for students. It's worth the extra $100 to the student to have a warranty to fall back on when something inevitably happens to the laptop as it travels to/from campus and between classes. Most places offer two types - Return to the depot (ship it in) or on-site service.
Should I buy an external hard drive?
An inexpensive Western Digital or Seagate external hard drive can be a life-saver, and we encourage students to get in the habit of regularly backing up their work from their computer to the external drive. In the event something happens to the laptop, their data is safe. This also allows them to take the external drive to one of the computing labs and access their data. For under $100 you can get a drive big enough to back up the laptop many times.
Does Michigan Tech offer software for students?
Michigan Tech IT’s software download site contains a large amount of coursework software available to enrolled students for free, including Microsoft Office.
Is there any brand that Michigan Tech IT prefers over another?
We don't recommend or discourage any particular brand of laptop, and many companies offer discounts for students. The student discount sections can usually be found by searching on the Internet for "student discount" and a company name, e.g., Dell, HP.

Please contact IT Help if you have additional questions or need any more information at 906-487-1111 or emailing


Was this helpful?
100% helpful - 2 reviews


Article ID: 51580
Thu 4/5/18 11:43 AM
Fri 11/15/19 12:42 PM