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Author Topic: Seeking best laptop for daughter entering civil engineering college program  (Read 1190 times)

kyrathaba

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My stepdaughter is starting the University of Kentucky this Fall and will be in a Civil Engineering program. She is required to have an i5 or i7 laptop, minimum 16 GB ram, 2.8GHz or faster processor, and Win 10 Pro/Enterprise/or Educational. If it supports a discrete or add-in graphics card, that's a plus. Can anyone recommend a good deal. We want to get her a machine that suffices, but we don't want to pay through the nose any more than we have to...

Shades

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Get one with at least one Thunderbolt 3 connector. That allows you to connect a separate desktop video card (in an enclosure) to the laptop. This connector has a throughput that is sufficiently fast, which your stepdaughter and the software running on the laptop will appreciate.

Such an enclosure is not that cheap, but it allows you to put in whatever video card you wish to put into it. For civil engineering, it might be wise to buy a video card that supports raytracing. An RTX 2060 from NVidia might be the best price/performance for your purposes. Going about this way, gives you many more options than buying an expensive laptop with 2 video cards built in. The separate enclosure doesn't consume battery power, it allows your daughter to either travel with or without the enclosure, which could be handy if she only needs to take notes or something like that. The laptop can be a cheaper model as long as it has a Thunderbolt 3 port. And if it breaks, you can connect the enclosure to the replacement laptop. Or your own laptop, if there is a (momentarily) need for it.

However, You'll still look easily at a 1000 USD, for just the enclosure and video card. A cheap, yet decent enough laptop will set you back at least that much as well and it is more than likely you still need to buy extra RAM to get to the 16GByte RAM requirement. Won't be cheap either. Most laptops have 2 DIMM slots for RAM, but depending on the RAM configuration in the laptop you purchase, you might need to buy 16GByte of new RAM anyway.

I would expect to pay at least 2.500 USD for such a laptop setup that meets the requirements you specify. A more expensive model with everything built-in, will set you back just as much. A Macbook running Parallels will set you back at least as much. Heavier to carry around all day, battery life is much more limited, because 2 video cards consume much more, even if you leave the discrete one turned off most of the time.

So, take into account how you expect the laptop to be treated by your daughter at school/study to decide which route you should take.

Myself, I am partial to Lenovo laptops. These units seem to last well, when compared with other brands I can buy here in Paraguay. Doesn't necessarily mean that Lenovo units are good, but that they are better than the crap units other brands dump into the South American market.

mouser

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Get one with at least one Thunderbolt 3 connector.
That sounds like serious overkill to me.

I would instead make reliability and trouble-free operation my top priority when it comes to this kind of thing.

In these cases having a super fast computer is way down on the priority list.  I'd find out whether she wants a heavier computer with big screen, or a very light computer that's small.
And rather than spending money on squeezing out performance that you'd only notice when playing the highest end games on, put the spare money towards things she can get some use out of, an online cloud backup service and/or a little plug and play backup drive, etc., or printer.

wraith808

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Get one with at least one Thunderbolt 3 connector.
That sounds like serious overkill to me.

I would instead make reliability and trouble-free operation my top priority when it comes to this kind of thing.

In these cases having a super fast computer is way down on the priority list.  I'd find out whether she wants a heavier computer with big screen, or a very light computer that's small.
And rather than spending money on squeezing out performance that you'd only notice when playing the highest end games on, put the spare money towards things she can get some use out of, an online cloud backup service and/or a little plug and play backup drive, etc., or printer.

I'd agree.  What you want is something that is reliable, and that has pretty reputable after purchase support.  What are you looking to spend?  And will she be taking it to class?  Always remember that you can get an external screen and keyboard to keep at her desk if she needs more real estate.

mouser

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Yeah we have to remember that what an extreme computer power user cares about is not what normal users care about.  Even the docking station, external keyboard/monitor stuff, most college kids won't give a hoot about that.  They are much more likely to be living in a smaller place and just want something reasonably fast and reliable that they can bring around with them.  For me the main question is still would you rather have a smaller super light laptop that you can carry everywhere without a second thought, or a bigger screen and keyboard that is significantly harder to lug around but is more enjoyable to type/read on.  Having said that, most kids won't know up front which is more important to them, so it's a bit of a shot in the dark.

Another thing to consider, most kids going to college probably care less about the specs and performance of their laptops than their phones and tablets.  Might be better to get a basic laptop and put spare money towards phone upgrade..

Shades

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Overkill? With the rest of the specs in mind, I understand that quite some rendering is required for the civil engineering classes. And that is why extra graphics are a "nice to have" as specified in the hardware requirements.

Any laptop that comes with this extra graphical power built-in, comes with a heavy price tag, extra weight and poor battery life (think 3 to 4 hours on a fully charged battery). Or buy one that is cheaper, but with a Thunderbolt 3 port, so you can have graphical "muscle" with desktop grade components if you choose to. There is even the choice of what video card you are using. It can even be a second hand card.

In my experience, most cheaper laptops nowadays come with 8GByte of RAM as a default. Which is in and of itself plenty for practically every use case. Except for rendering, you'll need as much RAM as the laptop can support and that is often still not enough, unless you wish to wait several hours longer before a render is finished. The requirements indicated that this is a problem previously encountered in the course, so they set the bar to 16GByte of RAM directly from the beginning. While that makes sense from the course's point of view, it sure limits the choice of laptops to buy.

Have done rendering on a laptop without extra graphic "muscle" or sufficient RAM? There is a reason why I have the opinion that laptops are a poor substitute for a desktop system. More often than I like to admit there are laptops on my desk with the request to "make it faster". My response is always the same: spent money on putting as much RAM in it as the laptop supports and change the standard spinning drive for an SSD hard disk. The answer is always the same too: you will get some money to use your "tricks" to make it more responsive, but that is all the money being spent on it.

Last time a co-worker asked me what laptop he should buy, I found a very decent second hand Lenovo Thinkpad laptop for him and made him buy 16GByte of RAM to put in it. He was able to sell the original 8GByte RAM module to a classmate of his, so he didn't spend that much and his classmate also has a 16GByte laptop of a sudden. My coworker is very happy with the laptop, because it feels solid, the extra RAM makes compiling software a "smoother" experience too and he likes the "look" of the Thinkpad. The laptop already came with an SSD (boot) and standard hard disk (storage), so that was of no concern.

Buying a laptop with all the RAM it can support, has a few more benefits. First one is that it will be of more use for a much longer period. And re-sale value goes up to, if that is the way you want to go. Purchase price is the only thing people see when buying a laptop. While that is a significant part of the TCO, re-sale value is too. If you can get 6 years of proper use out of it, instead of thinking you need to replace the unit again after the usual 3 years, that has value too. 

Maybe I have read too much in the hardware requirements, but if not, that will be an expensive lesson to learn. If possible, kyrathaba should ask the school why the laptop requirements are as they are and adjust his buying according to the answer he gets. Cheaping out in the beginning is likely going to "bite" him later.

wraith808

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i5 or i7, 2.8GHz or faster processor, with 16GB RAM is not very high end on the specs department.  And I think he meant that the Thunderbolt requirement was a bit overkill, as most laptops that you'd find with it are a bit much.  I was going to suggest something like an Inspiron 5480.  It doesn't have the Thunderbolt, but does have a discrete NVidia card and is only $900 base with 16GB and i7.  Add on tax shipping and the requisite warranty and you're looking a little north of 1100.  Buying a laptop with the idea of adding an eGPU makes no sense to me for most uses.


Deozaan

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Has she considered something like a Surface Pro? It has a small enough form factor that she can easily tuck it in her backpack and take it virtually everywhere, but it's still a powerful enough machine (if you're willing to spend the money for the higher tier models) to do most anything she'd want.

wraith808

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Has she considered something like a Surface Pro? It has a small enough form factor that she can easily tuck it in her backpack and take it virtually everywhere, but it's still a powerful enough machine (if you're willing to spend the money for the higher tier models) to do most anything she'd want.


I considered offering that up as an option, as I have one and it's one of the best things in my toolbox.  But the price consideration was what held me back from offering that up.

Shades

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i5 or i7, 2.8GHz or faster processor, with 16GB RAM is not very high end on the specs department.  And I think he meant that the Thunderbolt requirement was a bit overkill, as most laptops that you'd find with it are a bit much.  I was going to suggest something like an Inspiron 5480.  It doesn't have the Thunderbolt, but does have a discrete NVidia card and is only $900 base with 16GB and i7.  Add on tax shipping and the requisite warranty and you're looking a little north of 1100.  Buying a laptop with the idea of adding an eGPU makes no sense to me for most uses.

In that case laptops are much cheaper in the US than they are here in Paraguay.

Another thing to consider: Business laptops from brands that have separate business and consumer models are preferable. Dell's business models are a good option too. Hardware support and maintenance is easier with business models than it is for consumer models. Try getting a new battery for a consumer model after a year. You are immediately relegated to buy a replacement from a 3rd party brand that may or may not affect guarantee.

In the Netherlands you have guarantee for a reasonable product life, meaning with proper use you can get 3 years out of a laptop and you can still make guarantee claims, even if the manufacturer or store where you make the purchase says there is only one year of guarantee. 3rd party parts nullify any claim out right. A consumer is very well protected in NL, here in PY guarantee is on the complete other end of the spectrum, an utter joke. So this may or may not be an issue in your neck of the woods.

kyrathaba

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Thanks for all the great feedback. It's definitely helped us create a list of possibilities.

x16wda

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I suppose you have ruled out getting a "sufficiently beefy" laptop to lug around, plus a heavy duty desktop machine for when she really needs to crunch data.
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