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MacBook for Computer Science Student

 
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My son is starting a 4 year program in computer science in the fall and will need a laptop/notebook computer for school. I am not a Mac user and not up-to-date on what might be required for university, so I am asking for some advise. So far, I am thinking MacBook Pro with Retina display and 16GB memory.

Questions:
  - How much storage is really required - 128GB or 256GB?
  - Is there a need to a higher speed processor, or would the lower speed be fine?
  - Which screen size?
    13": smaller footprint, lighter, longer running time, costs less
    15": more pixels, larger screen, more processing power (more threads)

Thanks.
 
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Ron McLeod wrote: I am thinking MacBook Pro with Retina display and 16GB memory.



Wow. That's what I use and I'm a pro (though I have an SSD in mine). I don't think he's going to be needing that kind of power in an undergrad program. I'd be tempted to get him an off-lease business-class laptop (my current employer-issued laptop is the very similar HP 8560p), at least for the first two years or so. Then, once he's proven he won't lose it or break it, is serious about his studies and makes the grade, get him something top-of-the-line.
That said, MacBooks are a fashion statement (All of my college-age nieces and nephews have them) and anything off-lease is going to be clunky, so if you're concerned about his rep among his peers go with the Mac. Don't sweat the specs. He won't need much storage and can always use the cloud. I'd get the 13" and a monitor for his dorm room.
 
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Ron McLeod wrote:
  - How much storage is really required - 128GB or 256GB?


Depends what type, size and number of files he'll be storing. I'd likely go big to be safe.

  - Is there a need to a higher speed processor, or would the lower speed be fine?


Memory is more important that processor, and since you are wisely going with 16G the slower processor should be fine.

  - Which screen size?
    13": smaller footprint, lighter, longer running time, costs less
    15": more pixels, larger screen, more processing power (more threads)



Another "it depends". More screen real estate is nice for development work (IDEs and such). But for lugging around to class and such, the smaller might be more convenient.
 
Bear Bibeault
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I'll respectfully disagree with Joe about the "fashion statement" Sure Macs look great, but that's far from the most important reason to get one, which to me is OS X.
 
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My personal development, and all round do anything else, machine is an entry level 11" MacBook Air. I throw all sorts of stuff at it, all sorts of programs in all sorts of programming languages, including the development snapshot of this here CodeRanch forum software. I have no problems with it at all.

My point is, if a chap like myself who programs for a living and for the craic can be perfectly happy with a bog standard model MacBook Air, then there's sure as anything absolutely no need for a Student to have a $2000 Retina MacBook Pro.

The other positive point about having a Mac is that it is a BSD based operating system, and getting familiar with the command line environment will set your son in good stead for working with UNIX based application servers.
 
Joe Ess
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Bear Bibeault wrote:I'll respectfully disagree with Joe about the "fashion statement"



I somehow lost in editing that statement the clarification "for college students".




 
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I think there is an important question missing here: what is he using it for?

If he is doing a Computer Science degree, then he probably wants something beefy. Or two machines - a beefy desktop sitting in his dorm, and a lightweight machine to go to class with.

If he is doing a course that requires a lot of graphics manipulation, then he again probably needs something beefy, and probably needs SSD.

If he is only writing his thesis on it, then the specs could be much lighter.
 
Bear Bibeault
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Andrew Monkhouse wrote:If he is doing a Computer Science degree, then he probably wants something beefy.


Hmm, good point. This is kinda what I assumed.
 
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Given the fact that nothing can be added later with the current version of the Mac Book Pro models, 16 GB RAM is a must I would say. A 256 GB HDD should suffice unless you don't want to store tons of images and videos. The Mac Book Pro is definitely worth the buy! After using a couple of Lenovo's with Windows, I started using a Mac Book Pro since 2012 and I can never see myself going away from this machine! It is awesome! I simply love the OS X!
 
Ron McLeod
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Thanks for all the feedback.

The motivation for a MacBook over a Dell/HP/Lenovo is like what Bear said, OS X. His daily driver is an iMac, and OS X is his platform of choice, but needs something that he can take to class. Also, OS X seems to be the preferred OS in Science and Engineering faculty at the university that he will be attending.

As Andrew mentioned, the reason for looking at some more than a Air is the horsepower. In addition to papers and presentations, I would expect that it will be used for development, modelling, as a test bed, and may need to host a couple of VMs.

I'm thinking a 13" MacBook Pro with 16GB memory, 256GB flash drive, and a 2.7GHZ Dual Core i5 processor. Cost with education discount would be around 1,900CAD/$1,550USD.
 
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At the risk of offending all you Mac fans, might I suggest an alternative:

Get a good Windows laptop with a similar spec to your chosen Mac, with at least 16GB of RAM (preferably with the ability to add more later if the machine survives more than a year of college life).
Shrink the Windows partition and install Linux e.g. Linux Mint in dual boot mode. He's studying CS so this will be a great (but not too difficult) learning exercise.
Use the remaining $1000 to buy a nice big monitor for his room, plus some insurance for when he drops the laptop/accidentally lets his 200 pound room-mate sit on it/has it stolen/leaves it in a bar/drowns it in beer.
 
Bear Bibeault
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No offense taken, but there is no way I'd trade OS X for another OS.
 
Joe Harry
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Bear Bibeault wrote:No offense taken, but there is no way I'd trade OS X for another OS.



I share the same opinion. I recently had a chance to use Windows 8.1 and the more I use it, the more I hate it! I love OS X. It is one of the reason why I would never buy any other notebook other than a Mac!
 
chris webster
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Bear Bibeault wrote:No offense taken, but there is no way I'd trade OS X for another OS.


On my usual hardware budget, I've never felt able to justify the massive premium for Mac hardware compared to PCs/laptops (especially now the components mostly come from the same sweatshops anyway), but I haven't really thought much about people paying specifically for OS X. I think I'm just going to have to save my pennies until I can afford a Mac and find out what all the fuss is about, eh?
 
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