School of Science & Engineering

Technology Requirements for All Computer Science, Physics, and Engineering Students

Philosophy/Rationale

Students are expected to spend significant amounts of time mastering software tools.  Our goal is to use software tools that are cross platform and easily installable on student laptops to remove as many barriers to learning as possible.  The laptop and engineering calculator are crucial to the learning process and thus justify the financial investment.  Selecting software tools that students can use directly on their laptops, as opposed to only in computer laboratories, has shown to increase the time students spend using the tools because they can use the software more easily, wherever they are working, and whenever they are doing homework and/or projects.  There are many auxiliary student benefits of owning and operating a laptop such as gaining experience with system administration, troubleshooting/problem solving, and a deeper understanding of computing systems.  Software not capable of being installed on student laptops is installed for student use in specialized computer laboratories.

Laptop

Each student is required to have a reliable laptop capable of running engineering and computer science software (provided by the university) such as AutoDesk Inventor, Spice, and software compilers.  Therefore we have established the following minimum requirements:

  1. Operating system options:

    1. Windows 10+ (64 bit) with a VM for Linux or BSD as necessary

    2. Mac OS X with a VM or bootcamp for Windows

    3. Linux or BSD with a VM for Windows

  2. RAM: 8 GB (16 GB recommended)

  3. CPU: modern 64 bit processor such as i5 or i7 with at least two physical cores

  4. Storage capacity: 200 GB (400 GB for a Mac, Linux, or BSD because students will need to run Bootcamp with a 200 GB partition for Windows)

  5. Connectivity: 2x USB2 or USB3 and 1000Base-T ethernet (adaptor OK)

  6. WiFi (IEEE 802.11n with WPA2)

  7. Graphics card needs to support at least one external display via HDMI (preferred) or VGA (adaptor OK) to be able to use the projectors for presentations.

Note that these requirements can change without notice (but within reason) due to changes in the system requirements from the vendors of the software used within the program.  Please keep in mind that these are minimum requirements and there are software packages that benefit from a more capable computer system.  The minimum cost for a new Windows machine that meets the requirements is $900 and for a Mac it is $1500.  About half the students use Mac and the other half use Windows.  Usually there are a few Linux users.

Calculator

Calculators are often allowed on exams and are needed for completing homework.  The calculator needs to be able to graph functions, use complex numbers, and solve linear systems of equations with complex coefficients.  It is also helpful if the calculator has a computer algebra system (CAS).  One of the following (or equivalent) is required:

  1. TI-89 (recommended)

  2. TI-Nspire CX CAS

The average cost of the above calculators is approximately $130.  Note that none of these calculators are currently allowed on the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering exam (the allowed calculators have a much more limited capability and are relatively inexpensive at around $30).