IT Advice for Taught Students
Students and prospective students often ask for advice on buying a laptop and on what software they can get for free from the School.
Do not spend money buying any applications until you are on campus and have an idea of what you need.
As an Engineering student at Glasgow you require access to many specialised packages, and we provide several of these Engineering applications for free to you as a student.
Matlab, Mathematica, Solidworks, AutoDESK, Cadence Orcad PCB, PSpice, Active-HDL, MoldFlow, Atena, Strand7, ArcGIS, Oasys, Simulia Abaqus, STAR CCM+, etc etc
Those packages highlighted in bold you can install on your own computer.
As part of your Campus account, you also get access to the full suite of packaged in Microsoft Office 365 for free.
This includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access, Publisher, Outlook, Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business. OneDrive provides you with online storage; excellent for backups of your files and synchronising with multiple computers.
Because you are a student in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subject Engineering IT Support can also make Microsoft development tools available to you through the Microsoft Imagine scheme.
This includes Windows desktop and server operating systems and Visual Studio.
If you are buying a new laptop for your studies then you should be aware that, generally speaking, any decent modern laptop will do. Your budget will always be your limiting factor.
Considering the lifespan of laptops and the creeping decrepitude caused by ever more demanding software caused by year on year upgrades, a decent laptop in Year 1 might seem less useful in Year 5.
A budget laptop might not be of much use for running CAD and simulations, but will still be perfectly useful for typing reports, and accessing web resources.
Processor: This is non-upgradable. Buy the fastest, newest CPU as you can.
RAM: Minimum 8G, suggest 16G. Some models can be expanded with additional RAM later, some come maxed out. Check the specifications. Can be harder to upgrade than hard disk. If you don't have a RAM hatch on the underside of the laptop, then an upgrade might require lifing the keyboard and can be fiddly and risk damaging the machine. You might need to be prepared to ask a shop to install it.
Hard disk: This could be SSD if that is within your budget, and make your machine run much faster. But mechanical drives are fast enough. You can buy a larger amount of internal storage, but you should also consider trading that in favour of additional external storage for backups. Consider how much space you will actually need and what you will use it for. 512GBytes is a lot. 1TByte is A LOT.
Apple Macintosh: All our labs run Windows. The entire suite of software you will use formally in the degree programme runs on Windows PCs. The School of Engineering has no Mac specific software. That said - if Macintosh is your thing then plenty of students get by perfectly well using a Mac for their productivity apps, and some BootCamp (dual boot) their laptops to run Windows (you need a separate Windows license) to run Engineering applications that you can get from the School. Also remember the School allows students to access our Windows PCs remotely and run applications as if it were their own PC. You will be hard pressed to not get access to the applications you need.
Screen size: While a larger screen will make any CAD work much easier, this is much more a subjective choice.
In summary, buy as fast and as big (storage/RAM) a laptop as you can. You will need to look at what models are available for your budget and weigh it up as best you can, but generally speaking any modern laptop will do.
Keep it backed up - don't risk losing all your data by only storing it on a single hard disk that could become faulty. Keep copies and revisions of your work on multiple separate hard disks and pen drives. Use online cloud storage as a backup service.
Keep it safe - Don't keep your backups in the same bag as your live data. Lose the bag then you lose the lot. Leave a copy of your data online in a cloud service or in your flat.
Keep it secure - use encryption. Engineering Lab PCs support Bitlocker and EncFS. Even if someone steals your drives they will not get your files, photos, music, documents.
USB drives - Take them with you when you leave a lab. If you don't, someone else will.