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What would be a good laptop for Computer Science in college?

Sep 17, 2013 11:04PM PDT

I'm really looking for a thin, lightweight computer. I have looked at the MacBook Air, and I love everything about it, except the price, the processor speed, and the OS. I know you can change to Windows with BootCamp, but it slows your computer down a little, and its just a hastle. But what computers could I have? Here are my prospect specs:
- Under 4.5 pounds
- Thickness under 1.0"
- Processor Speed of 1.7 or higher (preferably Intel i5 or i7)
- Under $1200
- Preferably Solid State Drive
Also, if I am completely wrong on this and these are not the computers I should be looking towards, please let me know simply, "What would be a good computer for Computer Science in college?"

Discussion is locked

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Clarification Request
Why the Solid State Drive?
Sep 18, 2013 12:48AM PDT

Most students want longer life spans and SSD has advanced but are still finite life span devices.

The other specs are suspect as no Computer Science student would quibble over a 1.2 inch versus 1.0 or the 5.0 LB versus 4.5.

Your money but something doesn't sound right.

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If you have to ask
Sep 17, 2013 11:36PM PDT

If you have to ask a question like this, I have to question whether a computer science degree is going to be a good fit for you. I've run into all too many computer science graduates who might be a virtuoso with Java or C++, but when it comes to actually using the programs they develop, they're completely and utterly lost. For example, your comment about how Boot Camp slows the computer down shows you have little to no understanding of what Boot Camp is. It's just a collection of Windows drivers and a boot loader. So unless you were making a broad and sweeping generalization about how you have to choose either Windows or OS X at every boot, Boot Camp won't impact performance one way or the other. Someone who's going to succeed in software development should be able to discern that just by observing how the program works.

Also, if you're an incoming freshman to college, don't even bother thinking about a laptop for probably at least two more years. Once you've declared your major and can actually get into the classes for your major, you can think about these things. However, for most people, the first two years of college are basically an accelerated repeat of high school. You'll be spending the first two years in english classes and other prereqs. You won't get anywhere near any hardcore coding theory classes.

Also, a SSD for software development would be a bad idea. You'll wear it out much faster than the average person because of all the temporary files the compiler will generate. Not to mention for larger projects you'll need a lot of storage space. You have your source files, the compiled versions of individual source files and then on top of all that is the executable and any support libraries you built. These are all things someone who's interested in software development should already be aware of and have considered if they hope to have much of a chance in the profession.

Note: This post was edited by a forum moderator to remove unnecessary paragraphs about life lessons. on 09/18/2013 at 8:36 AM PT

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Not sure why
Sep 18, 2013 1:44PM PDT

Not sure why moderators would want to remove valuable information like how student loan debt will survive declaring bankruptcy. It's not a widely known fact that many people end up finding out the hard way. With tuition rates going up by double digits every semester, taking the time to really think about the degree you want to pursue can save a LOT of money, because whatever debt you rack up will hound you wherever you go.

It may be something the OP doesn't want to hear at the moment, but in the final analysis they'd probably agree that it's something they needed to hear. That being that there are several indicators in their post that suggest they would be making a costly mistake going into CS as a career. The CS field is a very cutthroat one at that. You have companies like Microsoft swearing up and down that they have to have more H1B visas because there just aren't enough people graduating from US universities to fill the open jobs. Study after study has shown that, if anything, there's a glut of these people coming out of US universities, but these companies have essentially bought enough politicians off that they'll keep getting increases in the number of visas issued every year. A lot of the larger US based companies that come to mind when you think of software development are simply not interested in hiring US citizens. That's really just the top-most tip of the iceberg on some of the labor abuses that go on pretty much as standard practice in much of the tech industry. Software developers are the ones most openly discriminated against and a lot of it is legal in their case.

Like I'd tell someone who's looking to major in English or 18th Century Russian Poetry... Even if it is your burning passion that consumes most of your waking hours, there's just no way you're going to be able to make a living out of it. To work as a software developer is generally to invite being treated like garbage. And those are the good days. Things colleges should be telling students, but never will because colleges are businesses, and they're quite happy to let you flush your money down the proverbial toilet on a useless degree.

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Thank you
Sep 18, 2013 10:58PM PDT

Thank you for the great information. I simply asked a question about a computer, so don't judge a book by its cover. But I greatly appreciate the advice. I have questioned whether or not to go into computer science. I really enjoy programming and really want to get better at, pretty much: using computers. If not computer science, then what major do you propose? I'm not going to do business just so that then I will be successful, I want to do something I enjoy. Something along working with computers and some programming. Do you recommend, Game Design? IT? Thank you again, you have given me a great insight.

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If you like programming
Sep 19, 2013 11:46AM PDT

If you like programming, there's plenty of opportunities to do that without having to get a degree in it. You could get started in some open source project for example. There are plenty for Windows, even more for Linux. You can be involved with those in your free time as a hobby.

Game design is probably a bad choice as well. It sounds great, but you read stories from people who work in that industry and they work some insane hours. Based on stories I've seen, 80+ hour workweeks are not uncommon in the weeks making up the final push to get a game out the door. It's also become very formulaic these days, no one wanting to take a chance on trying something new. So if you like cranking out like a Grand Theft Auto clone time after time after time, and not having much of a social life, knock yourself out.

IT isn't bad, but you either have to be crazy good or have some knowledge of a specific program or platform that few other people do. People who know how do to things like program custom SAP modules, for example, can practically write their own checks. The catch is, you just won't find SAP anywhere outside of the enterprise or government. It's too big and too expensive. Database admins can make some decent money, but with the current love affair businesses have with "the cloud" there's dwindling demand.

My personal advice would be to get a minor or even double major in something completely unrelated to computers, but that you still enjoy. Just so long as it's not something like Psychology where you need a Masters just to be someone's research assistant. The IT world can be brutal. There are plenty of companies who simply don't want to hire US citizens, like those who are constantly lobbying for increases in H1B visas. Then you also get companies, like ASUS, who will discriminate against you unless you're a specific race or ethnicity. At least based on the experience of a friend of mine and some corroborating comments from other people. ASUS has about 300 employees, give or take, and my friend was saying how the number of non-Asian employees was in the single digits. Not only that, most of the Asian employees seemed to be ethnically Chinese or Taiwanese and guess where ASUS is headquartered and does most of its manufacturing? The math isn't difficult on that one. From what I've heard from Asian friends of mine, Asian tech companies are incredibly abusive to even Asian employees, but if you're not Asian then everyone else in the company will basically descend upon you like a pack of hyenas because they can basically.

The simple truth is, unless you luck into working for a company that treats its employees like people instead of cattle, and those are becoming increasingly rare, you'll burn out very quickly in IT. You will be discriminated against based on your age as well in IT. That'll work for you as a new college grad, but every 6 months or so there's a fresh group of new college grads who will work for a lot less because they haven't established a life like you have. A house/apartment, maybe a spouse, kids, pet, car, etc. Sooner or later, if the company is looking to lay staff off, all those raises and promotions you've racked up over the years will make you look like an appealing candidate for the chopping block. So make sure to have a fallback option, because after about age 35 or so, in anything that can be under the IT umbrella, you start to become increasingly unemployable. It's not right, it's not fair, but that's the reality and it's only getting worse. All those pro-business politicians get into office and come up with new and interesting ways to defang agencies like the EEOC, which are charged with preventing this sort of thing, so that their millionaire and billionaire benefactors can make even more money at the expense of the rest of us.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have a fallback option.

Anyway, rant over, if you're going to go into IT, my advice would be to make sure your skill set is as diverse as possible. Don't expect your college courses to teach you anything. Buy a cheap older computer and install Linux on it. Make sure you know your way around the command line, not just a graphical environment like GNOME or KDE. Just try things for the heck of it and don't worry if you break something. Learning how to fix what you broke is valuable experience. Linux will also have a wealth of development tools and opportunities to get a head start on learning to write code.

Expose yourself to as many different things as you possibly can and make sure you focus on the "how" of doing things. The best way I can think of explaining this, is don't spend time memorizing where every single feature of MS Word is located. Spend your time learning how all word processors work. So it doesn't matter if you're using Open/LibreOffice, WordPerfect, or anything else, you can be more or less equally proficient in any of them. Or put in programming terms, every language has the same basic constructs, such as variables, loops, keywords, etc. A for loop in C works pretty much the same way as a for loop in Ada95. The syntax is a little different, but the basic construct is the same. Once you learn that, you can pick up almost any language in a few days, since it's just learning new key words and a slightly different structure. It'd be like if you went to England or Australia where they speak English, so you'll be able to understand everyone for the most part, but sometimes there will be words or phrases that are unique to that particular dialect that you need to learn. Focus on the things that are the same, not what's different. And again, this part can't be stressed enough, expose yourself to as many different things as possible. If you put down experience in some program on a resume, and the person interviewing you has to ask what it is, you're doing it right. Even better is when the person doing the interview is familiar with this relatively obscure program and is impressed that you also know about it.

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RE: If you like programming
Sep 19, 2013 2:15PM PDT

Wow. That was amazing. So thoroughly impressed, and thank you so much for the great information. It's hard to think of a response to that, it perfectly described me and my situation, and you have really opened my eyes. I think I will go into computer science, I have had my eyes set on that for a while, but as you said, look for a backup major, or even a major that will separate me from the other programmers out there. Maybe a business major so I could take my knowledge and make a business out of it. Obviously I need to do some thinking, but this info you gave me is going to the archives on this one, great, great advice.

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My daughter number 2
Sep 21, 2013 2:11PM PDT

LOL, remembring Charlie Chan shows. She graduated as Civil Engineer, majored in concrete structures and currently works with Maryland SHA. The one thing she always complained about when using her laptop in school was battery life. The second pain was weak internal wireless. For that she switched to using a USB wifi device on a USB cord so she could move it around for best reception. Of course then battery life past 2 hours was considered almost a miracle. Since time between charges can be a issue in college, you should consider a laptop that is both economical and low power so you can squeeze out every possible minute before needing recharge. Another complaint was fan making hot spot on her lap, so heat output is a factor to consider. All those point less to speed and more to economy of use, which conveniently also means economical in price over the "high powered" laptops. Less spent on computer, more on battery power and extra RAM is to your advantage. As Robert pointed out, more RAM may let you run without a pagefile at all, which will save more future writes for any SSD drive you may have installed in the laptop. You can also turn off a lot of logging activities which both saves writes to SSD and adds back a bit of speed.

10 of the longest battery life laptops.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230 = $1000

half that price you can get 8 hours on 6 cell battery with.
Lenovo Midnight Black 14" ThinkPad Edge E431

You also might consider running Linux on it later in virtual box or as a dual boot and no need for a power hog to do that. That's especially true if you go for computer science and programming. For instance here is some info on the computer I'm using to type this at the time running Mint Linux 14, it's been up for 2 days. I typically leave it on all the time since it's a low power chip. Tonight I've been on it a few hours doing my usual and still only using less than 800 MB of my 2 GB RAM available. What you should be looking for is utility of use less than power.

mint14@mint14 ~ $ inxi -v1
System: Host: mint14 Kernel: 3.5.0-28-generic i686 (32 bit)
Desktop: N/A Distro: Linux Mint 14 Nadia
CPU: Single core AMD Duron (-UP-) clocked at 849.980 MHz
Card: VIA KM400/KN400/P4M800 [S3 UniChrome]
X.Org: 1.13.0 drivers: openchrome (unloaded: fbdev,vesa)
Resolution: 1024x768@70.1hz
GLX Renderer: Gallium 0.4 on softpipe GLX Version: 2.1 Mesa 9.0.3Drives:
HDD Total Size: 280.1GB (56.9% used)
Processes: 133
Uptime: 2 days
Memory: 763.4/1985.3MB
Client: Shell inxi: 1.8.4

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Re: laptop
Sep 17, 2013 11:38PM PDT

I'd check what the college recommends and if they have a preferred supplier. A few remarks:
- You might prefer a model that can be serviced by a local repair shop in case of troubles above a model that you must send to a central service center in your state or (even worse) country and get back only 4 weeks later. Having a working laptop might be essential for a student of Computer Science.
- If the curriculum includes Game design there might be specific requirements for the graphics.
- If the curriculum includes Linux you can consider to ascertan you can install Linux on a separate partition. That's somewhat easier than running it in a virtual machine.
- If the curriculum includes a lot of graphic design they might even recommend a Macbook.


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Sep 18, 2013 11:18PM PDT

That's some great advice, I am thinking about getting a MacBook Pro, because they seem powerful, have lots of RAM, aren't SSD, 8gb and 2.9ghz, and then if I put Windows 7 on it through BootCamp, I can switch between OS' whenever I want. What do you think?