Should I buy a new Laptop for Uni?

Discussion in 'Which Laptop should I buy?' started by JerPostr98, Feb 22, 2016.

  1. JerPostr98


    Feb 22, 2016
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    Hello everyone,

    I am new to these forums and recently I have been debating whether or not I should buy a new laptop for university. I am attending university in the fall and would like to bring a laptop. I currently have an "Acer Aspire 5741G" but it is getting a little old. I still consider it an okay laptop but I am not sure if it will keep me going throughout the four years. I do have to take some computer science courses. Do you think this laptop will be okay or should I invest in a new one? Thoughts?
    JerPostr98, Feb 22, 2016
    IBMPC8088 likes this.
  2. JerPostr98

    Ian Administrator

    Apr 18, 2012
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    Welcome to the forums :).

    That laptop is a little dated now, but it still has an i3 CPU and 4GB of RAM - so it should meet the minimum requirements of most things you'll do on it, except gaming. As you're a student, there's no point in spending money on things that you may not need - so it may be worth giving it a "spring clean" in time for university and see how it goes?

    A very cost effective upgrade would be to change the 500GB mechanical drive for an SSD - this will give your laptop a huge performance boost and the price has come down considerably over the past few years. A comparable size SSD (like for like replacement) would be about $110 (USD) for a 480GB drive. Or, if you can make do with a 256GB SSD then it'll come down to about $70.
    Ian, Feb 22, 2016
    IcyBC and IBMPC8088 like this.
  3. JerPostr98


    Jan 21, 2016
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    I second that idea for upgrading the drive to an SSD. Now, you might also want to look at upgrading your RAM because certain IDEs do tend to get heavy and taxing on the system.

    Also, it doesn't make sense to buy a whole new laptop when you have an i3 processor. You should make sure you have the following on your system though - most of these are free and you'll need them with your CS classes. These will help you stay one step ahead:

    1. Install IDE - Eclipse latest version with git, android, ANT and Maven plugins.
    2. Install IDE - Android Studio with an external emulator
    3. Install Python
    4. Install Notepad++ with all major plugins
    5. Git Gui client
    6. VMware with a Win xp image and a couple of linux distros.
    7. Writing: (Try) Get Scrivener - You can write whole projects and keep all resources, pdfs, research links on the same screen.
    8. Writing: (Free)Get WPS office- its much MUCH better than MS office - my favorite is the tabbed docs feature.
    9. Entertainment: Get Kodi(formerly xbmc) and use it as your ultimate entertainment hub/center.
    10 Gaming: Install Steam

    In short, invest in the software if your heart is set on making your's the coolest laptop on campus!
    djtech, Feb 24, 2016
    Ian and IBMPC8088 like this.
  4. JerPostr98


    Feb 1, 2016
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    All good tips mentioned above here by @Ian and @djtech . You can also use Virtualbox as a free alternative to VMware (you can get vmware for free, and maye even reduced price as a student these days, but virtualbox is free for all and almost as versatile for single user emulation. If you're doing university classes, unless you're planning on doing network infrastructure with ESX server, using virtualbox will meet your needs for programming over the host machine with any target system you like, be it windows, linux, os x, or even android ports. VMware does run faster, but virtualbox has a better pricetag and can there's no cost invloved from any legal standpoint to use it freely)

    If you're doing Microsoft development, you'll probably want to grab the Studio and .NET packages also. If you're doing windows mobile or Silverlight development for the web, you'll want to grab those also. You'll already be covered with djtech's list if you're doing android development (and if you plan to do work in mobile devices with a language similar to Visual Basic instead of C++ or Java, then you may want to add B4a (Basic for Android), NSBasic (html5+webkit cross-platform basic development for iPhone, android, etc), and miscellaneous other tools to help you streamline development as you find them. Even though Microsoft's Visual Studio package includes a version of C++ for you to use, you may want to pick up GCC or G++ for any C development that is to be cross-platform, just to be complete. You can compile to Windows as always with it, but it makes compiling binaries for linux and other systems easier. If you're doing Apple development, you'll need a virtual OS X environment and probably a copy of XCode to make that work for you. There's more, but that's a great start and I don't want this to get too long. :D

    Some of the tools can be a little top heavy on a system, so I'd either grab what you needed, or better yet, choose which virtual platform you want to use between vmware or virtualbox, and create a development VM and export a few copies of it to an external hard and flash drive so you have a backup of a computer within a computer you can install in minutes with all your goodies and complete development environment. I keep mine that way anymore rather than on a bare metal machine, and just organize them into VMs to where one is for system programming, one for mobile, one for graphic design and web development, one for experimental research and robotics, and the last one is for personal use. That way, if anything ever happens to the physical system or I need to upgrade it, I always have my computers right where they were since last export. :)

    You'll probably want to go with at least an Intel Core I5 if you do decide to get a new laptop. That, or a Core I7. I would recommend a Core I7 if you can afford the small price difference between them, since the performance is visibly better on the higher systems when you start to place it under moderate activity and processor load. Intel systems make emulation for some specialized target systems easier too, but you can still do most everything or everything you need to with a rival AMD A series quad core. Even if you run into a wall where for some reason Intel is absolutely required, you'll have enough power and speed to be able to emulate a full Intel processor over the AMD chipset using qEmu (which is different from VMware and Virtualbox since it emulates the entire CPU and hardware).

    One thing to be careful of if you're sticking with Acer or buying a newer Acer Aspire E series is that it does have strange issues with emulating USB on virtualbox (which may or may not extend to VMware) on Windows. It behaves strangely whether it's done on Windows or Linux, and some models like the other one I have here requires UEFI BIOS trick to get it to enable AMD virtualization for 64 bit systems. It's not normal to have to do this, so that's something you'll want to be aware of. The host system performance is great on it, so if you're not doing virtualization and using it like a regular computer, it's powerful. But to date, it's the only laptop I've had those kinds of issues on.

    Going with an Asus, Dell, HP, or any other laptop will have its plusses and minuses, but you won't have to worry about funky usb emulation woes on them.

    Getting a good CPU with more power than you need, a minimum of 4GB of DDR3L 1333MHZ ram (preferably 6GB, 8GB, or higher if you can afford to), and an SSD of at least 120GB to 240GB (480 would be great here too, but 240GB should meet most need requirements in 2016) will be enough to carry you through the next few years with it.

    If it were me, I'd look at getting a durable system. A lot of the cheaper ones are plastic and are ok, but the slightly more expensive ones have aluminum or solid metal cases which make them more resistant to wear and tear, metal keys on some which make it harder to scratch off or wear away, and ease of use to replace the hard drive, ram, or battery faster.

    Speaking of battery, try to steer clear of the laptops that make you take apart the entire thing just to get to the hard drive or battery. Those, in my humble opinion, are laptops that manufacturers sell as throw-aways hoping that most of the public will return them for recycling to profit the company or will get rid of them to buy a new system. You will want to avoid those like the plague to get as many years out of a good, stable laptop as you can.

    Before you go shopping (online or off), I would compare the hardware specs and look at all the features closely, just to make sure you're getting a powerful system and that it is a system you can upgrade and maintain for years to come.

    Last but not least, make sure it's a laptop that has a good touchpad on it and is really comfortable to type on. The last thing you ever want to have (and a pet peeve of mine) is to end up with a laptop that is hard to type on or where the mousepad jumps around on you while you try to type. If it's like that, it can slow down work or even interfere with some of what you type depending on where you have your hands on it. If price is an option, you might have to compromise a little, but not too much.
    IBMPC8088, Feb 25, 2016
    djtech and Ian like this.
  5. JerPostr98


    Jan 21, 2016
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    Yeah. If you're a heavy hitter when it comes to typing or clicking the mouse, I would definitely buy an external keyboard and mouse. I use both of these when I am at home working. I was always used to working on a desktop, so I really can't take myself seriously when working with a laptop. That's why I use an external everything when at home. You don't have to do that though. Just get some tough accessories to survive college. Wireless headphones would make sense too if you tend to pull the cords occassionally.
    djtech, Mar 1, 2016
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