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I'm a CS student, which laptop should I buy?

A photo of mpalha04 mpalha04
I'm going into UW Computer Science and I'm hoping to buy a new laptop over the summer... Just wanted to hear some suggestions. I'm also a music kinda person so a laptop with a good sound system would be great to know (but it's not totally important). I hear Macs have different controls than PCs, so will this affect the sort of coding I do in the program? And I'm also looking for a laptop with lots of disk space to store my files. Thanks for ur inputs!
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A photo of chatmike chatmike
If you care about sound quality, then you should be investing in some external speakers, not fancy laptop speakers. Getting "good" laptop speakers is like polishing poop. Hey, its shiny, but its still poop.

Research what programs you need to run on your computer for your university and see if there are any compatibility problems with Macs. If its negligible and you don't mind being price gauged to death, go for the Mac.

Couple tips:

If you want lots of space, you're looking for something with more than 500GB (try and get it at 7200 rpm for extra awesomeness) at the minimum. You could also invest in an external hard drive for more space.

Buy a computer with a sandy bridge processor. Don't start behind the curve, get the latest and greatest to last you the longest.

Ram 4GB minimum of course

I don't know how intensive the programs will be that you'll be running, you should probably look that up too and see if it requires a powerful graphics card. If it doesn't and you don't game, get a cheapo one. It'll just drain your battery life if you get a powerful one that you'll never use to its maximum.

Lenovo's are always good, very premium brand. The new line of Dell XPS's and Inspirons are nice too. Go to their website and see the options and prices.
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A photo of mpalha04 mpalha04
*I meant to say media, not music lol
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A photo of Fasih Fasih
I bought myself a dell XPS. It is a bit pricey, but less than a mac.

15.6" Screen, i5 processer (sandy bridge) 6 GB RAM, 500GB HDD, 1GB NVIDIA 525M card (can run almost all games but not important for next year lol :P), backlit keyboard, 9-cell battery
All for about $1100.
A little pricey but im gonna be using it for four years. Build quality is really good, and they use anodized aluminum for the case material.

Also, they come with JBL speakers. These guys are really good, better than beats that come with HP Envy. Has a subwoofer at the bottom of the laptop too. Really clear sound.
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A photo of Arctic Arctic
Even a dinky USB-powered 7-inch speaker will beat any sounds a laptop could possibly make for cheaper.

Actually, those free/cheap-o-quality airplane earbuds will give you better sound than the laptop speakers.

I've got a pair of Philips speakers (MMS321) that need to be plugged in to a power outlet, but they do have good bass sound despite not having a subwoofer (and being $11 at a warehouse sale!).


Whatever you do get, load up your favourite flavour of Linux and get familiar. A lot of co-op jobs/internships give preference to these skills (and a lot of servers are powered by linux).
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A photo of ktel ktel
Yeah, reality is you might want to get to know Linux. As Arctic said, many companies will be looking for Linux/Unix experience. Most servers are run by Linux and a lot of research-oriented places run Linux because it's generally cheaper to get the software you need, plus free/open source software is more flexible and can be customized.
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A photo of AsianFail93 AsianFail93
@chatmike - personally would not recommend 7200rpm for laptops (mainly because of battery). But Dell does have a (meh) sale on the XPS 15 today for 900.

@Fasih - do you know if the NV 500 series are brand new (and not re-hashed?). Thats because video card RAM does not represent the amount of performance a graphics card has but rather how high of a resolution you can play it at.

Personally, I like asus or lenovo (build quality and usability) and i currently have a ul30vt. 10+ hours browsing the web and about 3-4 hours on black ops. But this laptop is not one of those raw power laptops with insane processing (really depends on what you need).

FWIW, the newer models featuring the more efficient Intel processors should be released around summer time (acer timelineX looks very nice).

Audio - just get a decent pair of headphones (respect for your roommates)
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A photo of inyoface inyoface
You must get to know linux as a CS student. Macs help in this regard as the backbone of the OS is similar to linux. If your program is anything like the UofT one, you will be using linux machines in the computer labs at school. You will also find that some of your C code may not compile perfectly in linux machines, even though it works on your windows machines, this has to do with the file formatting differences between the two OS. Many people end up purely coding on Linux/Mac or ssh-ing into a school linux machine using windows at home.

If you don't game, I think your best bet is to get a cheap laptop and then install ubuntu/debian on it. This is waaaaaaayyy cheaper and will still do everything you need for school.

If you do game, your best bet is to go with a PC, but your programming experience (and you will be doing alot of programming) may be quirky.

The compromise between gaming and coding is Mac, which also offers a decent media experience. But of course Macs are the most expensive.

Controls on Mac is not a big issue. I personally find it more intuitive and very convenient, though some of the same features come with ubuntu as well.

If you want to get a higher end PC, I suggest waiting a couple of weeks for the new AMD Llano chip laptops to roll out. These perform drastically better than the current Intel fleet out there in turns of integrated GPU (which translates to better gaming).

All in all, if it's just for school work, you don't need much for a computer. In fact I dare say you can get away with a netbook.
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A photo of Zion Zion
^ So you think Macs are better for programming than PCs?

I'm trying to decide which laptop to buy for next year myself, and I'm having a hard time coming to a compromise with weight and screen size. I watch a lot of shows/movies, so I'd like a decent screen. But I also don't want the laptop to be huge because I'll need to carry it around sometimes. Is 14-15" good? Or should I just bring a small TV?
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A photo of noxx98 noxx98
For UW, I recommend a Mac, or put Linux on something. you will be using Linux a lot at UW.

@Zion, a 14-15 inch is fine. Also getting an external monitor is great as well for any media. You should be able to get a 20'+ screen for a couple hundred.
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A photo of ktel ktel
You can put Linux on basically any hardware, can you not? Then the OS issue becomes moot.
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A photo of greygoose greygoose
I've never understood the big fuss about a laptop for CS.

My laptop's relevant specs are as follows: 2.2 GHz dual core processor, 2 GB RAM. Lousy integrated graphics chip. Lousy cooling system. Junk speakers. Some tiny amount of hard drive space. Basically, this thing is an outdated piece of junk.

For the CS program, anything I have encountered in terms of assignment work in first year ran on here without breaking a sweat. What are you expecting to code in first year, the next Crysis? :P

As for your own personal use, though, you may want to consider some more up-to-date stats. But what I've listed above works perfectly well for any CS student. Yes, your netbook would probably have sufficient juice for a CS program.

I think there are far more important things to consider in buying a laptop, though. Like keyboard shape (is it annoying to type on?), screen size (I like a decent amount of vertical space, laptop manufacturers seem intent on not giving me this...), hardware compatibility (does Linux have the drivers to support it?), aesthetic appeal (would I be embarrassed in the workplace if I pulled this laptop out?), build quality, etc. Enough power to run some games that are a few years old would be cool, too--then I won't have to pull out my desktop just to get my Civ IV fix. For these reasons, I have had a terrible time trying to replace my current piece of junk and basically gave up on it. I have a desktop for when power is necessary.

Once you start working on larger academic or personal projects, you don't bother to use your laptop for compilation anymore. That's what the *nix servers are for. For this and many other reasons, learning the basics of Unix will be highly valuable to you. I would not suggest the Apple approach for it though. I would suggest playing around with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, or another more user-friendly distro.
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A photo of Super Super
I recommend a Lenovo Thinkpad. But don't buy it for the build quality customer service or warranty... buy it for the appearance and brand. People will know you're serious crap and the matte rubber enclosure looks amazing.

They have employee sales every so often, but they do require a USA address.
To take advantage to US only deals, you could try mailing to a Buffalo P.O. box / holding service.
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