General Computer Purchase Information
(Updated April 2013)
Students in the College of Design make extensive use of computers in their coursework and everyday lives. There is a lot to consider when purchasing computer hardware and software. This information should help students and parents making those purchases. Links to departmental computing requirements are also provided below, but please read this information before spending money on computer hardware and software. Each department in the College of Design has different computer requirements.
We recommend College of Design first-year students, except first-year students in the Department of Art & Design, wait until their second year to purchase a computer for coursework. Graduate students should check their departmental computing requirements. Most first-year students will not be required to use their own computer for College of Design coursework. First-year Art & Design students will take a digital imaging class via distance education and will need access to a computer and software. More information is available from the Department of Art & Design.
We recognize students are using computers constantly in their everyday lives. By waiting until the second year to get a “higher-end” computer for coursework, students can get a better computer for about the same amount of money as they would spend this year. Computer capabilities grow at a dramatic rate, so next year’s computers will be “bigger, better, faster” than this year’s models. Waiting a year will also decrease the need to buy a new computer in the later years of college to keep up with computing needs then. The College of Design’s Information Technology department maintains approximately 150 computers for student use, so students will have access to a computer when they need one. If the student must absolutely have access to their own computer, perhaps an older computer from home, a smart phone, a tablet or other device, along with the College’s IT Lab computers, will meet their needs until their second year.
College of Design students also have use of a high-speed data network in the labs and with their own computers. Through StudioNet, the College provides a wired, high-speed, network connection to all students taking second year or higher studio courses. StudioNet provides full network access. University “Nomad” Wireless networking is also available throughout the College of Design complex, as well as in many other areas on campus. More information on StudioNet is available at the StudioNet website. Students living in an on-campus residence hall or Greek Court chapter house can access the ResNet network. For more information, see the ResNet website.
Hardware and Software Purchases
The NC State Office of Information Technology and the NCSU Bookstores have made arrangements with several computer vendors to offer special pricing to students. Students should compare these prices before making a final purchase, since these prices can offer a substantial savings. For more information, contact the NCSU Bookstores or by phone at (919) 515-3400 before making your final purchase. The NCSU Bookstores’ Computer Connections department is a great resource for students purchasing computers (Apple, Dell, and Lenovo), software and peripherals. These manufacturers provide education discounts through the NCSU Bookstores. The NCSU Bookstores also provide an Online Store.
The College of Design has chosen Apple Inc. as one of its recommended computer vendors. Students, faculty and staff may obtain the maximum educational discount available from Apple by ordering through the NCSU Bookstores. Apple typically offers a Back-to-School promotion each summer, which may include a printer, gift card or other product with the purchase of a computer.
Many software companies bundle products together for even more savings, such Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office. The NCSU Bookstores have good prices on these software product bundles.
Software companies also offer free or significantly discounted licenses through educational discounts. Some of these include:
- Form•Z annual leases are available free of charge through their website.
- Autodesk provides some software free to students through their Education Community website. Other Autodesk products are available at a special price through the NCSU Bookstores and student organizations.
Students should always ask for educational prices wherever they buy. Companies usually offer significant discounts to students. Students should always compare prices on computing equipment and software. Several websites are good resources for comparing prices. There are many such websites, including:
North Carolina normally holds a Sales Tax Holiday each August. The NCSU Bookstores works with students each summer to place bulk orders for pick up during the Sales Tax Holiday, saving around 7% sales tax on computer hardware. Orders to the Bookstores are typically due by July 1 each year for pick up during the tax holiday weekend in August.
Computer purchases may be included as part of a financial aid package. Please contact the Office of Financial Aid online at http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/financial_aid/ for more information.
Laptop or Desktop Computer?
Again, each department has different requirements. The School of Architecture requires students purchase Windows-capable laptop computers. Other departments in the College of Design leave the choice of laptop or desktop computer to the student. Many people today are purchasing laptop computers for their mobility. A decision on the type of computer to purchase should be based on how well a laptop computer will suit the student’s lifestyle and needs on campus.
Mobility is appealing, but since students will be spending long hours using a computer, consider the addition of an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse at the studio desk. Students not using external monitors are encouraged to consider using a laptop stand or riser in conjunction with an external keyboard and mouse while at their desk. A well positioned screen can promote good neck and upper back posture.
Laptops provide the ability to work anywhere, anytime. Students can work in their studios and then take their laptops home, to the library, even outdoors to work. Students can use their laptops on class field trips. Since wireless networking is available throughout the College of Design complex and in many other places on campus, laptop users can access the network away from their desk, outside, in classrooms, etc.
Laptops are sometimes less capable than desktop computers and upgrade possibilities are more limited. Many innovations are available in desktops before laptops. However, desktop computers take up more space on a studio desk. Sometimes this isn’t a problem. Having a larger monitor or second monitor connected to a laptop can be helpful when working on large documents or layouts.
Finally, consider the purchase price, as well as repair and maintenance costs associated with laptops versus desktop computers. Laptops tend to be more expensive to repair and they may also be more vulnerable to damage since they may accidentally be dropped. We strongly recommend an extended warranty for laptops.
Macintosh or Windows?
While much of this choice depends on personal preference, students should strongly consider the recommended platform for their department. Most software applications used in the College are available on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms, but there are some exceptions.
Each department in the College of Design has different computer requirements. For example, the Department of Graphic Design uses Macintosh computers almost exclusively and recommends Macintosh for their students. While students could use a Windows computer for graphic design, their peers and instructors may not be able to help them as much if they run into trouble. Graphic Design instructors will use Macintosh for teaching. The opposite would true for the School of Architecture, which prefers Windows software. Architecture students need to be able to run Windows-based software.
The Department of Industrial Design leans heavily towards using Windows software applications for certain courses as well. Industrial Design has some specific computers that are tested for use with this software. The Department of Art and Design, the Department of Landscape Architecture, Design Studies, and the PhD Program use both Macintosh and Windows computers. The choice is left to the student.
Apple Macintosh computers allow both Macintosh and Windows software to run on the same computer using a dual-boot option. The College of Design Information Technology Labs use a dual-boot system on most of our lab computers. Other options for running Windows applications on a Macintosh using virtualization software are available. We consider the dual-boot method the better option for our students because dual-boot provides better performance than virtualization. Some of our students are choosing to the use dual-boot option on their own computers. Students interested in running Windows on a Macintosh computer are encouraged to speak with the College of Design Information Technology staff. Please note the cost of Windows operating system and Windows software will be in addition to Macintosh software.
See the departmental recommendation links on the right side of this page for specific information.
Recommended Operating Systems
For personal computers running Windows, the College of Design recommends Windows 7 Professional. We recommend students NOT use Windows 7 Home Premium because of issues in accessing campus resources. Many information technology groups at NC State are still evaluating Windows 8. The College of Design will use Windows 7 Professional in its labs for the upcoming academic year.
For Macintosh operating system, we strongly recommend using Mac OS X, version 10.7 or later. Mac OS X (10.8) ships on all current Macintosh computers. The College provides only limited support for Mac OS 10.5 or earlier. Students wishing to access College servers and printers from a Mac must run Mac OS 10.5 or later. The College of Design will use Mac OS 10.8 in its labs for the upcoming academic year.
Current versions of both Macintosh and Windows operating systems are available at reduced cost from the NCSU Bookstores.
Students are welcome to use other operating systems such as Linux or Unix and other open-source software with the understanding that support by College IT staff will be limited. Other resources for Linux and Unix help are available on campus.
Although freshmen are not required to have their own computer the first year, many students wish to have a computer on campus for other purposes, such as email, web browsing, typing class papers, etc. Older computers should meet minimum requirements to take full advantage of campus resources. This chart, Recommendations for Older Computers, will show the minimum recommendations for older computers. Expected useful life of older computers is about one year.
Sometimes parents will purchase a new computer to keep at home and send the older computer with their student for the first year. Then, before the second year, they will purchase a new computer for their student to use for the remaining college years.
There are over 150 computers available to students in labs throughout the College of Design. There are many other public computer labs across campus, as well.
Additional Recommended Options and Accessories
There are other things students should consider purchasing:
- A Category 5 or 6 ethernet cable, 15′ to 25′ in length (required for wired network connection). These are available at the NCSU Bookstores.
- An 802.11g on 802.11n compatible wireless network adapter for laptops (needed for wireless network connection). Most computers now include this.
- A quality surge protector or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect against power problems.
- A carrying case or backpack if you purchase a laptop computer.
- A lock and/or cable to secure all computer equipment.
- An external hard drive is strongly recommended for back-ups.
- A “thumb” drive or flash-memory drive to transfer files between computers.
- An extended warranty or service contract.
Students bringing their own computers to campus may also consider bringing a printer. Using DesignPRINT, students may print from any lab computer or from their own computer to a variety of black & white and color printers for a per page fee. However, some students find it more convenient to print their documents directly from their own computer to a printer in their studio or residence. Compare the costs of a personal printer and supplies though. Having a personal printer can be more expensive than many people realize because of the cost of supplies.
Students may also consider purchasing other peripherals such as scanners, digital cameras, etc. The College’s Information Technology Laboratory has a limited number of these types of peripherals available for student use, but some students may wish to have their own.
Anti-Virus, Security and Back-ups
NC State University REQUIRES use of an approved and up-to-date anti-virus program for all computers connected to the NC State network. Anti-virus software is available FREE to students at http://www.ncsu.edu/antivirus/. Don’t buy anti-virus software from other places, use the free version available from the University.
Students are responsible for the security of their own computer equipment. Students should purchase locks and/or cables to lock their equipment to their desk. Students with laptops should be especially careful to lock their equipment and keep it in a carrying case when moving from place to place. Also, make sure to write down the serial numbers of all equipment. To discourage theft, students may want to engrave their driver’s license or ID number on any computer equipment they bring to campus. Engraving tools are available from the NCSU Campus Police Department. Students should check with their insurance company to make sure their computer is covered.
Students are strongly encouraged to purchase an external hard drive to provide easy, continuous back-ups of their work. Current operating systems provide easy methods for making back-ups, but these require some sort of external drive on which to put the back-up files. Getting into the habit of consistently making back-ups will save pain and trouble in the future. The question is not IF files will be lost, but WHEN they will be lost. It usually happens when the files are the most critical. Students should do themselves a huge favor and get into the habit of making consistent back-ups. On-line back-up services are also available for monthly or yearly charges.
Computer Documentation, Software and Repair
Students should bring along associated documentation, warranty information, and software installation disks to college. These items may be needed to reinstall or reconfigure hardware or software on a computer. We recommend purchasing the full 3-year maintenance and repair agreement offered by the computer’s manufacturer. Documentation and proof-of-purchase may be needed to receive warranty repairs.
First, students should read the pages linked on the right side of this page for their appropriate department. Many questions will be answered there. The College’s Information Technology staff will be glad to go over purchase choices or answer any related questions. Contact them by sending an email to: email@example.com.