Computer Recommendations for CS Majors

The department is often asked what kind of computer a future CS major should buy, so we have put together this page to answer those questions. If you still have questions after reading the following information, contact Jeff Lucas, the department's IT Coordinator, at jhlucas1@olemiss.edu (jhlucas1 at olemiss dot edu) or (662) 915-7310.

First of all, the department does not require that students own a computer. We have two labs on the second floor of Weir Hall for computer science students to use. However, we strongly recommend students have their own computer.

Desktop vs. Laptop

Should you buy a desktop or a laptop? The short answer is, "it depends." Desktops tend to be cheaper, more expandable, and often have a longer life. However, the portability of a laptop can be very handy. You can carry them to class, a study group, or home for the weekend. The bottom line is that you must decide if the portability is worth it to you.

Below are general recommended specifications for desktops and laptops. We have included a date below to show when they were last updated.

Specifications

Updated: July 26, 2016

Component Specification Notes
Processor Intel Core i5 or i7 (2.5 GHz or better) More Info
Memory (RAM) 8 GB minimum More Info
Hard Drive 500 GB, 7200 rpm, SATA and/or 256 GB SSD (or better) More Info
Optical Drive(s) See notes below. More Info
Sound Card Any More Info
Graphics Card See notes below. More Info
Monitor 20" or larger (desktop); 13"-15" (laptop) More Info
Keyboard & Mouse USB Keyboard and Optical Mouse More Info
Network Adapter Gigabit Ethernet adapter and 802.11ac wireless adapter (Some laptops no longer include Ethernet adapters.) More Info

Processor

The clock speed of a processor (measured in gigahertz, or GHz) is no longer a true indicator of the computer's overall speed. CPU efficiency has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, allowing more work to be done with lower speeds. Laptops, especially, tend to have lower clock speed CPUs to maximize battery life. Look for Intel i5 or i7 CPUs with speeds at or above 2.5 GHz. AMD is an Intel CPU competitor. However, the AMD CPU line has not seen a major architecture refresh in several years.

Memory

The department no longer orders computers with less than 8 GB of memory (RAM). Adding additional RAM is a cheap, easy way to speed up an aging system. Note that RAM cannot be upgraded in some newer laptops, particulary Macbooks. If you choose a Macbook, be sure to order as much RAM as you can afford, because it won't be upgradable later.

Hard Drive

SSDs (solid state drives) are quickly becoming the norm for laptops, due to their speed and lightweight. However, they are still more expensive than a traditional spinning hard drive. If you decide to buy a laptop with an SSD, look for at least a 256 GB capacity drive. We recommend a 500 GB hard if possible. If you stick to a traditional spinning drive, be sure to get a 7200 rpm drive. 5400 rpm drives are significantly slower.

Optical (DVD) Drives

If you purchase a desktop, consider getting two DVD+/-RW drives. The advantage of having two drives is that you can read/write at the same time. However, optical drives are not needed for any CS classes. Laptops rarely have more than one optical drive, and many new laptops are not including optical drives at all, due to the low cost and speed of USB flash sticks. If you purchase a laptop without an optical drive, you can always buy an external USB DVD burner if needed later.

Sound Card

The sound card in your system is not particularly important for our purposes. An integrated card will work just fine in most cases. If you want a higher end card, Creative Labs is a good choice for desktops.

Graphics Card

For desktops, we suggest discrete graphics cards because of their performance boost over integrated graphics chips. Integrated graphics chips are fine for most uses, unless you want to play newer games. If you decide to buy a discrete card, shop around. Prices can vary widely. Also, read performance reviews on sites like anandtech.com and tomshardware.com. Performance is usually tied to price, the notable exception being the latest GTX 1060 cards from Nvidia, which have outstanding performance, equalling or besting cards twice its price. 

For laptops, you won't be able to get around integrated chips. However, if you plan to run graphics-intense software, look for laptops with integrated Nvidia or AMD Radeon chips.

Monitor

We suggest at least a 20" display for desktops. Once you start your coursework, you may find you want to have many windows in the screen simultaneously, and a good size monitor will be helpful. If you are building your own desktop, make sure your monitor supports the same type of video cable as your video card, i.e., if you have a video card with HDMI output, buy a montior that supports HDMI input.

Laptop prices (and weight) increase with screen size, so you may want to consider a smaller screen. A 15" display is comfortable for most users.

Keyboard and Mouse

Laptops can benefit from external keyboards and mice. While they might not travel well, they make operating the computer easier. As this is a major where you'll spend a lot of time at the computer, ease of use is a major consideration.

Other

Your computer should support USB 3.0. This allows you to take advantage of modern peripherals such as printers, scanners, cameras, and various storage devices. Thunderbolt ports on a Mac are similar to USB, but are faster. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows you to connect speakers, mice, keyboards, etc.

A memory card reader is generally not required for school work. An ever-increasing amount of peripheral devices (digital cameras, phones, etc.) are using SD cards, and if you're buying a new computer, a memory card reader might be something to consider. If you have peripherals that use memory cards, a reader in your computer will make life a bit easier.

The above specifications are for new computers. If you have an older computer, it may still be adequate. If you'd like to know if your existing computer would be adequate for a CS major, please contact us.

Brands

We don't really recommend a certain vendor, but we have ordered nearly all our computers from Dell recently. The University has special arrangements with several vendors to provide discounts to students.

Apple makes very good computers. They are more expensive, but use higher quality parts. However, Apple computers run a different operating system, Mac OS X. They can do anything a computer running Windows can do, but they do it a little differently.

Network Connectivity

The University of Mississippi has ethernet Internet connections in all dorms and academic buildings. To take advantage of this, your computer should have an ethernet card. Most computers come with them preinstalled now. You can use a network cable with RJ-45 plugs on each end to reach from your computer’s ethernet card to the wall.

Wireless

The University of Mississippi is equipped with wireless internet in all dorms and academic buildings. Currently we have both 802.11g and 802.11n. To use this technology you’ll need a wireless card for your laptop that supports one of these protocols.

Software

Operating System

If you buy a non-Apple computer, we recommend choosing Windows 10 Professional as your operating system.

Others in the department run Linux as their operating system. Linux is a free operating system developed by volunteers. It includes all the applications found in Windows as well as some tools not normally found on Windows. However, not all software works with Linux, particularly Microsoft Office.

Other Software

If you're running Microsoft Windows, the most important piece of software on your computer is your antivirus software. There are lots of Windows viruses out there, and you need to know if you've got one. The University has Symantec Antivirus software available for students. See our software page for details.

All students will need Microsoft Office at some point for their classes. The University offers Office 365 for Education free to current students. Once you receive your Ole Miss student email address, register your email with Microsoft at the Office 365 page to receive the software.

Most software vendors give discounts to college students. See our software page for special information on software available through our department and the University.

Useful Peripherals

The department offers free printing in its labs, but most students find it convenient to have a printer in their dorm or apartment. Most students have color ink-jet printers, but small laser printers are more economical if you're printing all black and white. HP has been making good printers for a long time.

USB flash drives are a great way to transfer data or backup your files. Most are small enough to fit on a keychain, and can hold anywhere from 1 to 128+ GB. They start out at around $10. They are extremely handy for transporting data from the dorm to the labs.

More Information

If you still have questions about buying a computer, please contact the department's IT Coordinator, Jeff Lucas, at jhlucas1@olemiss.edu or (662) 915-7310.